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Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Several motives
Number of victims: 2 - 40 +
Date of murders: December 26, 1953 / 1978 - 1979
Date of arrest: July 2, 1979
Date of birth: 1923
Victims profile: A 16-year-old boy / Men and women / Claudine Eggers, 78 (his wife)
Method of murder: Beating with a rock / Stabbing with knife
Location: Several States, USA
Status: Sentenced to 25 years to life on May 16, 1980. Died in prison on December 1991

FISCHER, Joseph J.

A native of New Jersey, born in 1923, Joe Fischer was raised in Newark and Belleville, later describing his childhood as one of continuos conflict and violence. 

His mother was a prostitute who brought "tricks" home while her husband worked on various construction sites.  "l guess what really helped me hate the woman," Fischer later sald, "was that she didn't care if me or my brothers were home when she brought her customers in."

The strangers sometimes passed out pocket change, urging the children to "get lost," but Joe stayed behind, watching his mother perform with a seemingly endless series of men.  His disrespect for her grew over time, provoking frequent arguments that led to beatings, sometimes interrupted when his father waded in to whip them both.  "I would have killed her 10 times over," Fischer said, "but I really believed that ˇt would have broken my father's heart."

Enrolled in Catholic school, Fischer was a rebellious student who clashed frequently with police in his adolescent years and was finally sentenced to reform school for robbing St. Peter's Church.  Released in 1938, at 15, he lied about his age to join the merchant marine but soon jumped ship, returning to New Jersey.  Desertion charges were dismissed when the authorities found out that he was under age, and Fischer had a clean record, more or less, when he joined the Marine Corps, following the japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

By that time, Fischer was well on his way to fullblown alcoholism, serving 30 days in the brig for drunkenness before he finished boot camp.  He later saw combat on Guadalcanal, Kwajalein, and lwo jima, before he was posted to mainland China, guarding milˇtary trains. 

His wartime record remains controversial, Fischer variously claiming a Bronze Star, a S'Iver Star, and two Purple Hearts for various battles, though he could never produce the medals or certificases to verify his alleged heroism. 

Regardless of the details, ˇt is clear that he saw action and loved every minute of it, remarking years láter that "killing felt too good to stop" at wars end.  He apparently murdered a number of Chinese civilians under the guise of "protecting" military freight, and while he was never court-martialed, he was diagnosed as a dangerous paranoid schizophrenic prior to his discharge from service in 1945.

A series of arrests and committals to mental institutions followed his return to civilian life, climaxed in 1948 by Fischers conviction for robbery and assault.  Paroled in December 1953, he was free for a matter of days before he attacked a 16-year-old boy in New Jersey, beating him to death with a rock on the day after Christmas.  That crime sent him away for the next quarter-century. 

He was paroled in June 1978 to marry a pen pal, 78 year-old Claudine Eggers.  The attraction was apparently financial, Claudine picking up the tab for an aimless 13 month jaunt across country that turned into a nonstop murder spree.  One of the last to die was Claudine herself, found stabbed to death in the home she sometimes shared with Joe in Wassaic, New York.  Fischer surrendered to New York police on July 2, 1979, and freely confessed to the slaying, landing in the Dutchess County jail on a charge of second-degree murder.

That might have been the end for Fischer, but he felt like talking-more specifically, confessing to another 18 homicides.  He had set out to kill 25 victims, Joe told detectives, but was still six short of the mark when he grew weary and surrendered. 

By July 28, authorities in Arizona and Oklahoma had issued warrants for his arrest in the spring 1979 murders of a man in Flagstaff and a female victim, Betty Jo Gibson, in Moore, Oklahoma.  Other victims claimed by Fischer in his confessions included "a couple" of deaths in the Bowery, with others in Los Angeles; San Francisco; New Mexico; Cooperstown, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine.

Authorities in different jurisdictions often seemed to work at cross-purposes in tracking Fischer's claims.  The New Jersey Department of Corrections refused to release his prison psychiatric files, although ˇt was admitted that parole had been granted in 1978 on twin conditions that Fischer join Alcoholics Anonymous and remain subject to "close supervision."

A photo found in his possession, meanwhile, was identified as a likeness of 26-year-old Pamela Nolen, missing from Ruidos, New Mexico, since October 30, 1978. (Fischer admitted stabbing a woman to death in New Mexico; he simply didn't catch her name.) Flagstaff police cited evidence confirming Fischer's presence in the motel room where a male victim died on March 31, 1979, but they now called the death accidental; Fischer, for his part, insisted that he beat the man to death. 

By mid February 1980, Joe was claiming a total of 32 victims, and police in Norwalk, Connecticut, declared that they had sufficient evidence to charge him in the additional stabbing deaths of two 17-year-old girls, Alaine Hapeman and Veronica Tassielo.

In fact, Joe went to trial in April 1980 only for the murder of his wife.  By that time, press reports of his confessions cited "dozens" of victims, one article claiming "up to forty," but Fischer had changed his tune for the moment, denying Claudine's murder when he took the witness stand on April 11. jurors dismissed his testimony as a self-serving lie, convicting him of second-degree murder on April 23.  Three weeks later, on May 16, Fischer received a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Warrants remained outstanding in Connecticut and Oklahoma, but neither jurisdiction was disposed to extradite Fischer for trial.  Confined at Sing Sing he soon reverted to his early boastful mode, granting interviews to such tabloid TV programs as Geraldo and A Current Affair in 1989, claiming a body count of "over 100" victims. 

By February 1991, when Fischer was profiled on America's Most Wanted, the number had jumped to llabout 150," including allegations of a private graveyard undiscovered by police, with 16 corpses buried in one place, but no one had the interest or the energy to check his stories out. 

By the time he died in prison seven months later, at age 68, Joe Fischer was largely forgotten, his passing barely noted in the hometown newspaper.  Officially, he was responsable for two homicides, suspected of at least three more.  His true body count-like that of DONALD GASKINS, HENRY LUCAS, and other boastful killers-will probably never be known.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers



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