Alex Tresniowski
September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

THE SLEEPY, RUSTIC VILLAGE OF Champagne-Mouton in southwest France was just beginning to stir at 7:30 a.m. on June 13 when three plainclothes officers cautiously approached the door of a converted water mill with a red-tiled roof. Suddenly the bucolic scene right out of a Van Gogh painting became something more suited to a Van Damme movie. A dozen gendarmes closed in, surrounding the property; nearby, a police helicopter stood ready for takeoff in case the target of the raid tried to flee. “We were told he was a murderer,” says a police official. “We went in with hands on our Magnums.”

At the door, officers rushed past Annika Flodin, 46, the tall Swedish wife of the killer. Upstairs, police found their man lying naked in bed. He claimed he was 53-year-old Eugene Mallon and this was all a mistake. Nonetheless, the portly, bearded fugitive was arrested, handcuffed and eventually taken to a Bordeaux jail. “We were very surprised by the press, by all the calls from America,” says the official. “We had no idea he was some kind of guru.”

But that’s precisely what the man in custody had been. He was not Mallon, an assumed identity, but Ira Einhorn, 57, the charismatic counterculture leader from Philadelphia who had helped found Earth Day back in 1970. Once friends with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, he had been living on the lam in Europe since 1981, two years after he was accused of killing former girlfriend Holly Maddux and keeping her body in a trunk at his apartment for 18 months.

The arrest brought particular satisfaction to Richard DiBenedetto. As head of extradition for the Philadelphia district attorney, DiBenedetto has played an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with Einhorn for the past 16 years. He’d tracked his quarry across Europe, interviewed dozens of his former friends and lovers and each day wondered if that was the day Einhorn would be caught. “I really think the guy felt he could just go off and get away with murder,” says DiBenedetto, 48, an investigator with the district attorney’s office for 22 years. “Einhorn believed the police don’t care about a guy who kills his hippie girlfriend. This shows we don’t forget about you.”

Few who met Ira Einhorn were likely to forget him. Though rumpled and unwashed in his hippie days, he was also funny, charming, sophisticated. The oldest of two sons born to a car salesman and a homemaker in a middle-class Philadelphia neighborhood, Einhorn graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an English degree in 1961. “He was a fast talker and always fascinating,” says Claude Lewis, a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer who met Einhorn in 1966 and became one of his weekly lunch partners. “He would talk to people about things that they didn’t understand and that made him look brighter.”

An antiwar activist and a staunch environmentalist, Einhorn said that he came up with the idea of Earth Day to focus attention on the world’s pollution problems. (An estimated 20 million Americans participated in the 1970 event.) But perhaps his greatest skill was dispensing soundbites. “His lifestyle was his job,” says Lewis of Einhorn, who depended largely on the generosity of friends, family and girlfriends for his daily needs.

But Einhorn’s magnetic personality had a dark side, particularly toward women. “He was a con man who told you what you wanted to hear,” says Hank Harrison, the father of rock star Courtney Love and formerly associated with the Grateful Dead, who met Einhorn in 1971. “If you were a woman with a scar on your face, he made you feel beautiful.” Certainly he made an impression on Helen “Holly” Maddux, a bright, beautiful former cheerleader from Tyler, Texas, and a 1971 graduate of Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia. Maddux, then 25, met Einhorn in 1972 at his favorite Philadelphia hangout, La Terrasse restaurant, and “was fascinated with the way his mind worked,” says her childhood friend Toni Ferrell, “and the ideas he’d throw out.” Ronald Scott, who knew Maddux in high school, says she “was determined to get out of that stifling East Texas environment.” Maddux soon moved into Einhorn’s apartment, much to the dismay of her family. “He was a total slob who went out of his way to be obnoxious,” says her sister Buffy Hall, 37. Her brother John, 49, recalling how Einhorn dominated Maddux, says, “Holly would sit at his feet like a pet or something.”

Despite her apparent devotion, the relationship was clearly troubled. Einhorn would go to parties with Maddux, then leave with someone else. Ferrell recalls how Maddux once told her that Einhorn “made her have sex with other people while he watched. I think Ira convinced her she had to do these things to realize her full potential.”

Finally, Maddux had had enough. On Labor Day weekend 1977 she went to New York’s Fire Island and became involved with another man. However, she returned to Philadelphia to break things off with Einhorn. “She said she had to calm him down,” says Joel Rosen, the assistant district attorney who tried Einhorn in absentia in 1993. “Apparently she couldn’t.” In mid-September of 1977, Maddux simply disappeared. “Einhorn never discussed where she went,” says Lewis. “He seemed to really miss her. He was a great performer.”

After her family didn’t receive their regular birthday cards from Maddux in October, they contacted the Philadelphia police, who found nothing sinister in her disappearance. Her family then hired private detective Robert Stevens. But following up leads proved difficult. Because of his influence and reputation, “Einhorn was the big man in town,” says Stevens. “It limited our sources.” After 14 months of digging, Stevens brought his suspicions about Einhorn to the police, and soon veteran homicide investigator Michael Chitwood was on the case.

But it took a foul odor detected by Einhorn’s neighbors to finally break the case. In March 1979 police, armed with a search warrant, entered Einhorn’s apartment and headed for the source of the awful smell—a closet just off the bedroom. “When I opened the door,” says Chitwood, “I knew it was the death smell.” Inside a large, dilapidated steamer trunk was the body of Holly Maddux, mummified by the heat. She had been killed by several blows to the head with a blunt object. “I said, ‘It looks like we found Holly,’ ” remembers Chitwood. “He said, ‘You found what you found.’ ”

Einhorn was arrested and represented at his bail hearing by Philadelphia attorney Arlen Specter, now a U.S. senator. Released on only $40,000 bail, Einhorn told friends he was innocent and looking forward to the trial. But two weeks before his 1981 court date, he disappeared. (After a law was changed in 1992 to allow in absentia trials, he was found guilty of murder the following year.)

Einhorn’s first stop as a fugitive was London, where he stayed with a friend and was soon joined by his new American girlfriend Jeanne Morrison. The couple then rented an apartment in Dublin, but after the FBI learned he was living there under his own name, Einhorn slipped away to Wales. Around that time, DiBenedetto assumed control of the investigation and tracked Einhorn down, but again he narrowly escaped capture.

Morrison broke up with Einhorn in 1984. When she returned to the U.S. two years later, DiBenedetto interviewed her and learned that Einhorn was receiving funds from a friend he’d met through his Earth Day activities: Barbara Bronfman, a Canadian citizen then married to Charles Bronfman, heir to the Seagram’s fortune. It took two years to arrange an interview with Bronfman in Canada, but from her DiBenedetto discovered that Einhorn had taken up with Annika Flodin, a daughter of well-to-do parents in Stockholm. The Swedish police found Einhorn’s address, but he was already on the run again, using the identity of Eugene Mallon, a Dublin bookstore owner who had befriended Einhorn years earlier.

On May 15 of this year—Einhorn’s 57th birthday—DiBenedetto got a break. Swedish police told him that Flodin had applied for a driver’s license in France. Through French authorities, DiBenedetto tracked the couple to the secluded village of Champagne-Mouton, where, for the past four years, they had been living in a charming, two-story mill they’d bought for roughly $100,000. Flodin was frequently seen around town riding her bicycle and running errands; Einhorn passed himself off as a writer of mysteries, joined a bridge club and even took an active role in protesting a proposed nuclear facility in the area. “I never got the feeling they were hiding,” says Daniel Antoine, an architect and fellow antinuclear demonstrator. “He was very peaceful and lived a healthy life.”

These days, Einhorn is no longer at peace. He sits in Gradignan prison in Bordeaux, insisting he’s innocent, anxiously awaiting his fate. Annika is sticking by him. “Her commitment to him is firmer than steel,” says Theodore Simon, the lawyer who defended Singapore caning victim Michael Fay and who was hired by Einhorn to block his extradition to the U.S. on the grounds that France does not recognize trials in absentia. Whether or not he succeeds, the process is sure to take months.

DiBenedetto, for one, can wait. On the Monday following Einhorn’s arrest, DiBenedetto bought a fine bottle of Bordeaux wine at a Philadelphia liquor store to celebrate the capture of the man he had chased for 16 years. But he drank only a single glass. “I’m saving the rest,” he says, “for when he gets back here.”

ALEX TRESNIOWSKI

BOB CALANDRA in Philadelphia, CATHY NOLAN in Champagne-Mouton, ELLISE PIERCE in Tyler and NINAA. BIDDLE and SIMON PERRY in London

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