Philadelphia, like all major cities had its share of crime and psychos, but it was a more innocent time - most of us not yet hardened and cynical enough to shrug off a sex murder of a child by another child as just another story in the newspaper or just another day in the hood. For many Philadelphians, my parents included, it was a first time experience with a juvenile crime of this magnitude sending shock waves through Philadelphia neighborhoods that scared people into becoming more aware there was an evil presence lurking in the shadows, bringing about a bitter realization that their children would now have to be protected not only from the buggie-man but from monsters donned in corduroy and horn-rimmed glasses.
The story began to hit the papers in January of 1949, and soon Seymour Levin would become a household name. Seymour was only sixteen when he comitted the murder. There was no reference point for this. No one could remember it happening before - a middle class kid from a nice family commits this senseless brutal act. Seymour Levin had single-handedly blazed the trail for a whole new generation of psychopaths and maniacs that would soon follow in his wake.
The victim, twelve year old Ellis Simons defiled body was found lying dead in his underwear in Seymour's backyard. The press had a field day with the gruesome details of the murder. With kitchen knives and scissors Seymour had slashed the boy multiple times and kept on going after the boy was dead. One blow was directly through Ellis's heart and the coroner said there wasn't a drop of blood left in the boys' body which Seymour laid to waste in a rage of misguided passion and fear. The detectives on the case said it was the most violent act they had ever seen. It was like the boy was attacked by some wild animal slashing the child from head to foot leaving no part of his body unscathed.
After he murdered Ellis Seymour hog tied him with a rope and dragged him from the second floor bathroom where he killed him, pulled the body down the stairs and through the kitchen and out a back door. He tried to drop the boy in the neighbor' yard but couldn't get him over the hedges so he left the body behind a detached garage on his own property. Seymour made a half-hearted attempt to clean up the mess by wrapping the boy' clothes in newspaper and throwing it out the window, and then tried to wash up the blood, but there was too much to hide. Seymour's parents didn't get home until late that night and they woke him up to explain the mess. Seymour said his Chemistry Set exploded.
The next day the police found Seymour and started to question him. Seymour told his story. He met the boy on a corner not to far from his home. They struck up a conversation and Seymour invited Ellis back to his home to see his chemistry set. Ellis tagged along. Seymour told the detectives he brought the boy into the bathroom to show him his chemistry set, but the boy was not impressed and made fun of it, telling Seymour that it was cheap. Seymour said he got mad and told the boy to leave the house, and according to Seymour the boy pulled a knife and they began to fight. All Seymour could remember was the initial struggle and then he blacked out. He stuck with the black-out story through-out the trial.
Seymour's neighbors started talking to the cops and the press painting his image as a bully who picked on and beat on smaller kids. Eighteen months before the slaying it was found that Seymour was put on probation by the juvenile court for kidnapping. He had taken a boy for a ride on his bike and disappeared for a couple of hours. The parents panicked when they found the boy missing and called the cops. The court hearing which resulted in probation and a psychiatric evaluation was done on Seymour. The evaluation determined that Seymour had discipline and academic problems. Although he was of average intelligence he had managed to fail seventh grade.
It was later found that Seymour did not meet Ellis Simon on a street corner but in a movie theatre. Ticket stubs were found on in the dead boy's clothes and in Seymour's pocket. They were at the Pix Theatre at 19th and Market where they watched the Marx Brother's "Night at The Opera," and "San Francisco" starring Clark Gable. It was never explained how they boys met inside the theatre, but they did leave together and took the Market-Frankford El home.
What happened in the house was never drawn out graphically. The three judge panel saw no purpose in reciting the details. What they did know was a thirteen year old boy was lured to a home by a stranger whom committed perverted sexual acts upon the child, which was irrefutably established with forensic evidence. The panel questioned Seymour's motive for killing the boy after he satisfied himself sexually. Their conclusion was Seymour, afraid of being exposed by the victim as a sexual pervert, killed Ellis to keep him from talking.
Several people observed that Seymour was never fully aware of the gravity of his crime. He clinged to his father and cried - asking him when he was going home and back to school. His lawyer entered a plea of guilty. The court ordered a psychiatric examination to help with the sentencing. The psychiatric report concluded that Seymour was neither psychotic nor feebleminded, and that he could distinguish from right and wrong. They said the crime was motivated by sadistic homosexual impulses.
The doctors made their diagnosis by coming up with the term Constitutional Psychopathic Inferior which soon turned into the acronym CPI. CPI was characterized by one's inability to exercise self-control, impulsive behavior and disregard of ethical and moral considerations. Pop Psychology and the Media would soon label legions of children considered abnormal or having emotional problems with CPI.
Less than two months after the murder a frightened and shaking Seymour stood in front of the Judges Panel as they pronounced sentencing. He was sentenced to life in prison. The judges said his age was the only thing that saved him from the Electric Chair. After sentencing Seymour was remanded to the Eastern State Penitentiary to serve out his life sentence.
In the aftermath of the trial there were some editorials about the need to separate psychopathic children from normal children. There were some neighborhood meetings in West Philadelphia, the area where the crime was committed, wherre concerned parents discussed problem children. Nothing was ever really accomplished.
It wasn't until June of 1977 that Seymour Levin was released on parole. The boy who spent his seventeenth birthday in prison was now 45. Ellis Simon's father was enraged at Seymour's release. Seymour told the parole board and the press that he knew he had committed a horrible crime and that could not be changed. But he had truly repented and would continue to repent for the rest of his life. He is now over sixty and lives in obscurity with his father in New Jersey. For those who lived in Philadelphia at the time of the murder the name Seymour Levin brings to mind a shift in the social paradigm about caution and child protection. Mother's and father's now thought twice about letting their children roam the streets alone.
I'll always remember the look in the eyes of my mother and grandmother as they related the tale of Seymour Levin, which for some reason I never grew tired of. There was a fear in their eyes when they told that story - a fear of the unknown, and a fear of instinctively knowing there were more Seymour's on the rise. My mother would point her finger at me and say, "Don't you ever go anywhere with strangers. Never get into a strangers car and never go back to a stranger's house, do you hear me." I always nodded yes because I knew she was right. Seymour had struck a nerve in my psyche too and I will never forgot his story. My mother always said he would never get out, but he did. If Seymour were around today would he have made front page news or would he have been relegated to the back section of the newspaper? I'm sure there would have been a blurb on the Internet, at least for an hour or two.
I have long since moved from Philadelphia and it was a dangerous city when I lived there. Now it vies for contention with cities like Washington DC and Detroit for Murder Capitol of the Country. At least one to two murders a day are committed in Philly. Many of them are gang and drug related and most of them are not sex crimes, but they are still murders. For some reason in a world gone mad, I will never forget corduroy clad and be-speckled image of Seymour Levin. (Details of this case were chronicled by Ron Avery)
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