CBC Hamilton recently reported on a possible link between the unsolved 1973 murder of McMaster University student Adele Komorowski and New York state serial killer Robert Garrow.Adele Komorowski, a 26-year-old McMaster student, was murdered on May 15, 1973, and her body left in the woods behind Mac residence Brandon Hall. Her murder hasn't been solved. (Hamilton Magazine)
The investigators who were in charge of the murder in the ‘70s say they now believe that Garrow is the best suspect they’ve ever had.
“Based on what I’ve read [on CBC Hamilton], I’d say the case is solved,” says retired Hamilton detective Clive Paul. “I’d have to learn more, but it’s the best suspect we’ve seen. The circumstances fit perfectly.”
Komorowski was murdered on the evening of May 15, 1973. She was dragged into the woods behind Brandon Hall, a Mac residence. The 26-year-old was strangled, her body tied with carefully knotted rope.
Two months later, in the Adirondacks in upper New York State, Robert Garrow was the subject of a massive manhunt after a spree of vicious murders involving binding victims with careful knots.
The connection between Garrow and Komorowski was brought to light only recently by New York writer Jim Tracy, who contacted CBC Hamilton after reviewing his notes for an upcoming book on the Garrow case.
Jim Willis, the other main detective on the Komorowski case, is now retired and living in eastern Ontario.
“I really, really wish someone – the FBI or the New York State Police – had gotten in touch with us at the time about Garrow. But we never got any indication,” he says. “It would have completely changed the direction of our investigation.”
Willis agrees with Paul that Garrow is, “the best suspect we have. It’s not 100 per cent, but there is lots of circumstantial evidence.”Jim Tracy, a New York State author and an expert on the Robert Garrow case, thinks Adele Komorowski was one of the serial killer's victims. (Courtesy Jim Tracy)
Paul says the knots that bound Komorowski were “expertly tied” and, for the first time, revealed that the rope used on Komorowski contained traces of horse and cow hair. That detail is of interest to the detective, given Garrow’s farming background.
“At the time [of the original investigation], we visited circuses and considered sailors, but this makes a lot of sense now,” he says.
Paul said that Garrow’s possible involvement could explain one of the oddest aspects of the case. The bra found near Komorowski’s body was not hers.
“Her girlfriend told us it was too large for Adele and was a style worn by a much older woman,” explains Paul.
The retired detective said that at the time he and Willis couldn’t make any sense of it, but now, with a serial killer as their best suspect, it fits together.
“He could have taken it as a trophy from an earlier rape or murder and left it,” Paul says.
At the conclusion of their investigation in the ‘70s Willis and Paul had narrowed down different suspects as the murderer of Komorowski.
'A case like this never leaves you. It fades, yes, but it’s always there.'—Clive Paul, retired Hamilton investigator
“But neither were great," Paul says. "We always said if it isn’t one of these guys it could just be a random killer.”
Willis feels Hamilton police should actively pursue the case given this new evidence. “The first thing I’d do is call Clive and me. We’d come out of retirement.”
Detective Sergeant Dave Beech of the Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police says he hasn’t been in contact with the retired detectives, but has spoken with Komorowski’s brother.
“He’s intrigued by the Garrow connection, but doesn’t think much can be done at this point,” says Beech.
Robert Garrow died in 1978, shot repeatedly during a foiled escape from the Fishkill prison in New York state.
The detective added that he has looked into the case and that DNA testing had been done on some evidence.
“We’re checking to see if we missed anything,” he says.
Paul, now 74 and living on the Hamilton Mountain, knows the feeling. “A case like this never leaves you,” he says. “It fades, yes, but it’s always there. You always ask yourself, ‘What did I do wrong? Was I not competent? What did I overlook?”
(Wayne MacPhail was the managing editor and a feature writer for Hamilton Magazine from 1977 to 1983. He currently runs his own emerging media consulting company, w8nc inc., based in Hamilton, and is an online journalism instructor at the University of Western Ontario.)