Tiny red dot on a map could be key to solving Hamilton cold case
The map in Robert Garrow's orange Volkswagen had 27 dots on it.
Inspector Henry McCabe found the document in Garrow's abandoned car. It was 1973 and summer had come to the Adirondacks. McCabe, a detective with the New York State Police, was part of the 200-person manhunt combing the scenic mountains for Garrow, who had just savagely murdered a rope-bound camper.
Garrow would become the state's most infamous serial killer, charged with the death of four people and suspected of many more murders and rapes.
McCabe held onto the map along with other evidence from the car. The map would become a tantalizing clue that McCabe and other investigators on the case believe points to where dozens of Garrow's victims met their end.
Almost all the dots on the map were clustered in New York State. But Garrow had placed one dot four hours away by car — in Hamilton, Ont.
On May 15, 1973 — two months before McCabe discovered that map — the body of 26-year-old McMaster student Adele Komorowski was found in the woods behind Brandon Hall, a Mac residence.
She had been strangled, her body arched back from the tension on a length of half-inch jute rope expertly tied from her wrists and deeply embedded into her neck. Investigators think the killer had used the rope as a handle to drag Komorowski off the wooded path.
When McMaster security guards found her, she was naked from the waist up, her jeans pulled partially down, as though her killer had been interrupted in his crime. That killer was never found despite years of dogged investigation by Hamilton detectives.
Now Jim Tracy, a New York State author and an expert on the Garrow case, thinks Komorowski was one of the serial killer's victims.
How Tracy connected Garrow to Komorowski and how I learned of his discovery is a long, circuitous tale.
In 2000, Tracy was working on a six-part series on Garrow for The Post-Star, a daily newspaper in upstate New York. In the course of his research he interviewed another Garrow case investigator, John Wood.
Wood worked under McCabe on a five-man team on the Garrow case. For months Wood visited Garrow in hospital as he recovered from a shotgun wound suffered when he was arrested in the woods shortly after the July 1973 Adirondack murders.
It was Wood's job to get what information he could from Garrow, playing the good cop to McCabe's tough guy.
"Garrow was a cordial, polite guy, he never swore, not once," says Wood. "But he was a sadistic killer. Like Jekyll and Hyde."
Wood is now retired and living in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. But he remembers the interviews clearly.
"Garrow used to call me Johnny," he recalls. "He'd say, "Johnny, you sonny gun, you're always trying to get me to talk.'"
Garrow wouldn't admit to anything. But Wood believed the dots on the map spoke volumes.
"The murders we knew of matched some of the dots. We felt he was guilty of many, many more murders than he finally admitted to, and that the dots indicated locations of those crimes," Woods says.
"That was his way of life. That's what he did, travelling from place to place, murdering folks."
Connecting the dots
Writer Jim Tracy says that one of the names Wood tried to get Garrow to talk about decades ago was Adele Komorowski. But it was only a few months ago, while reviewing his 2000 notes for an upcoming book, that Tracy connected the name to another piece of information — the map McCabe found in Garrow's car.
According to Tracy, McCabe told him: "The thing that surprised me was that there was [a dot] in Hamilton Ontario."
Tracy says McCabe told him that the New York State Police got in touch with a local FBI agent who confirmed a young woman had been killed at a campus in Hamilton. "And there was a dot there" McCabe explained to the New York state author.
Henry McCabe died in 2002. But Tracy went online and found mention of a long feature I'd written about the Komorowski story for Hamilton Magazine back in November, 1981. The piece outlined the exhaustive investigation two Hamilton detectives, Clive Paul and Jim Willis, undertook looking for Komorowski's killer.
I emailed Tracy a copy.
"I read the story with a blank-slate mentality because I didn't want to jump to conclusions," Tracy wrote me. "But the more I read, it became chillingly evident it was Garrow. He was a rapist who if the victims cooperated he let them go. If they didn't he killed them.
"She was bound quickly and the investigators concluded it was someone with a farming background. Garrow grew up on a farm and became a skilled farmhand. He butchered animals sold for meat. He used rope on all his victims. He was quite adroit at it," Tracy explained. "The investigators concluded he must have been very strong. Many people who knew Garrow said he was the most physically powerful person they had ever encountered. His strength was notorious."
Tracy also pointed out that a Volkswagen was spotted on Mayfair Crescent, near the head of a trail that meanders behind McMaster University. Garrow drove an orange VW, which is where McCabe found the map in the summer of '73.
"The Hamilton investigators were coming up on dead end after dead end, but it's clear to me now they may have been looking in entirely the wrong direction," he says. "You can't blame them — when Adele was killed, Garrow wasn't known to anyone as a serial killer."
Despite all the similarities between Adele Komorowski's killing and Garrow's known murders, it's the map and its 27 dots that intrigue Tracy the most — many of them, in his mind and in the minds of the New York State investigators, represent a brutal, unsolved crime.
When Garrow was given a life sentence he admitted to only four killings.
"It took New York state two years to get Garrow convicted on those four local murders down here, and I think the state was exhausted of both energy and resources to pursue any more, especially one in Ontario," says Tracy.
But, the author says, those remaining dots stuck with McCabe until his death.
"It always bothered him until the day he died," says Tracy. "He said, 'If I was one of the parents I would want to know what happened.'"
Tracy has been in touch with Detective Sergeant Dave Beech of the Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police. Beech is intrigued by the possible Garrow connection. He plans to check the evidence from the Komorowski case to see if they missed anything in the communications that investigating detectives had with New York State authorities.
He's also going to see if any DNA testing was done on items found at the crime scene. If it has been, he'll check to see if any specimens from Garrow can be tested now.
"Is it more likely that one of the suspects Jim Wills and Clive Paul favoured is responsible? Probably," he says, "but the Garrow information is intriguing, absolutely."
Robert Garrow died in 1978, shot repeatedly during a foiled escape from the Fishkill prison in New York state.
And the map?
Wood says he's got some artefacts from the Garrow case, including the bracelet the serial killer wore in hospital, but he doesn't know what happened to the map.
Tracy says McCabe told him that when the New York State Police moved offices a few years back the map, and the stories marked on its surface, were lost.
(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.)