BY JENNIFER CROWLEY
He’s got deductive reasoning skills like Holmes (Sherlock), a doggedness like Mason (Perry), and a mustache reminiscent of Magnum (P.I.) His name is Don Tubman and unlike the fictional characters just used to describe this 70-year-old lifelong Scottsville resident, he’s the real deal: a former police officer turned private investigator. Over the coming weeks Tubman along with Michael Benson, a true-crime writer originally from Ballantyne in Chili, will embark on a book tour promoting their literary collaboration, Nightmare in Rochester: The Double Initial Murders.
The “double initial” murders were named so because between 1971 and 1973, three adolescent girls – Carmen Colon, Michelle Maenza, and Wanda Walkowicz – were kidnapped in Rochester and subsequently murdered, their bodies left in the open, and in towns that started with the same letter as each victim’s name (Churchville, Macedon, and Webster). Tubman co-authored and provided research and investigative expertise with Benson for the recently published book, one of several books that Tubman has assisted Benson with.
“Mike and I both attended Wheatland-Chili, though seven years apart. Our lives took very different directions. Mike has written over 60 books. We got together in 2011 when he was working on The Devil at Genesee Junction, a book on the cold case murders of Kathy Bernhard and George-Ann Formicola. These girls were both friends of Mike’s. They went missing from a swimming hole on Black Creek next to the Genesee Junction where the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads crossed, on the night of my high school graduation in June 1966. Their mutilated bodies were found a month later by the railroad tracks just east of Archer Road to the west in Chili. The case was shocking to our small community and it was never solved,” explained Tubman.
The book was released in 2015 to strong interest given it is one of the Rochester area’s more high-profile cold case crimes and Benson and Tubman concluded that two men were responsible for the murders. Both had since died.
Chapter 14 of the book is entitled, “Don Tubman” and is dedicated to the memories and insights of Tubman who forged a career in law enforcement. In 1972 he joined the Wheatland Town Police Department leaving as a sergeant in 1987. He worked another twenty years as an investigator in the Finger Lakes Region for New York State, retiring in 2007.
While Tubman and Benson were working on the Chili murders of Bernhard and Formicola for The Devil at Genesee Junction book, information was developed relating to the unsolved double initial murders, which happened only years later. Newspaper articles relating to child abductions pointed them towards suspects that were still alive.
The research that Tubman has spent hours compiling around the unsolved triple murders draws conclusions around who the likely killer (or killers) may be. Prior to sharing some details of the girls’ murders, Tubman expresses a bit of skepticism – that the cases may not be connected. “Is this some sort of Agatha Murder mystery or a pedophile unable to control urges and just attacking opportunistically? That is what always weighed on the police,” said Tubman.
As Tubman describes reports of Carmen Colon jumping out of a car on RT. 490, half naked and begging for help, one can hear the disappointment in his voice that in the early 1970s there simply was no means to act on such reports quickly. He recounts that one of his neighbors actually witnessed her attempted escape and though he called the police, as did many others that night, nothing came of the calls, perhaps because it was reported that a woman corralled Carmen Colon back into the car. “Too easy back then to chalk it up to an unruly child,” he added.
There were a number of suspects identified for the murders, but arrests were never made. One suspect was Kenneth Bianchi, better known as one of the Hillside Stranglers that killed many women in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. Another suspect was a known rapist which the Rochester Police were surveilling. When he was caught in the midst of an assault, he shot and killed himself.
“Cold cases truly trouble and bother me,” Tubman offered prior to describing the next case he may take on. Though he left the Wheatland Police Department in 1987 before it dissolved, he kept active as an investigator working on cases revolving around medicological investigations at the state level, including controlled substances, pharmacy investigations, sexual misconduct by licensed practitioners, medical malpractice, prison and jail medical mistreatment, and inmate deaths and wrongful deaths. Today Tubman still works as a licensed private investigator, primarily involved with criminal investigations.
While there are likely to be more Benson/Tubman collaborations in the future, for now the two are gearing up to promote The Nightmare in Rochester: Double Initial Murders. As book store and community presentations are scheduled, The Sentinel will report on those dates and locations. Until then, the book is available at RIT’s Barnes & Nobles, Lightbridge Books in Brockport and for order on amazon.com.