Earth Day Was Not Founded By Convicted Murderer Ira Einhorn

Ira Einhorn, returning after his 2001 extradition
William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

Monday, April 22, is the annual Earth Day, and each year, there’s a round of stories alleging that Ira Einhorn, the “Unicorn killer” who was convicted of the 1977 murder of his girlfriend Holly Maddox, was in fact the founder or cofounder of Earth Day.

“Earth Day Co-Founder Killed His Girlfriend, Shoved Her ‘Mummified Body’ In A Closet,” The Daily Caller writes. “The Grisly Murder That Haunts Earth Day,” Ozy.com wrote in 2017. “Sick Secrets of Murderous Earth Day Founder,” The National Enquirer wrote last year. NBC News, in an oft-cited story in 2011, went with “Earth Day Co-Founder Killed, Composted Girlfriend.”

The implication is that Earth Day itself, or perhaps environmentalism itself, is discredited by its association with the perpetrator of a notoriously grisly murder.

However, Ira Einhorn was not, in fact, the founder of Earth Day. He has claimed to have played a role in its founder, but most associated with Earth Day’s creation say he has lied about the importance of his contributions.

According to Philadelphia Magazine in 2015, the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, with then-U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson organizing the event commonly known today as Earth Day, and picking the date of April 22. An activist named John McConnell has been credited with first proposing such a holiday.

Einhorn was never mentioned in any media account related to his claim to have founded Earth Day until the late 1980s, when Steven Levy, an author who had written a book about the murder, referenced the claim in an interview.

The future murderer appears to have been present not at the creation of Earth Day itself, but rather its first regional celebration in Philadelphia in 1970. However, a 1998 op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer by a pair of the actual local organizers claimed that Einhorn was lying.

“A group of very dedicated young people worked very hard to organize Earth Day, but Einhorn was not one of them,” organizers Edward W. Furia and Austan S. Librach wrote in 1998. “In fact, Einhorn was asked to leave several meetings of the organizing committee that he attempted to disrupt. He was not welcome there, nor did he contribute in any material way to the committee’s activities.” They also say that Einhorn grabbed a microphone without permission at the 1970 rally, which is the source for the photo of Einhorn that is often included in such stories.

Einhorn was accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Holly Maddux, in 1977. Shortly after Maddux’s body was found in 1979, Einhorn jumped bail and fled the country. Convicted in absentia, Einhorn was found in France in 1997, and after a four-year legal battle, he was extradited to the U.S. in 2001, at which point he was tried again for the murder and convicted.

In addition, various stories have claimed that Einhorn “composted” the body of Maddux, but per The Stranger, that’s not true, either.