Anyone who lived in the Pittsburgh area in December of 1988 likely remembers hearing the news that a severed head had been found in a Pittsburgh suburb only two days after Christmas. Nearly three decades have passed and many may still remember the severed head while having forgotten exact details of this crazy unsolved murder in Pittsburgh.
(Please note: Very few photographs of Anthony Michalwoski, the victim, appear online. To avoid breaking copyright laws, links to photographs and articles from that time are included.)
A Christmas Eve Disappearance
Anthony Michalowski often went off of the radar, sometimes for days at a time, and some painted him as a “drifter.” The 22-year-old from the North Side of Pittsburgh was last seen alive on Christmas Eve of 1988. Family and friends thought little of his being gone since they were used to his absences. Michalowski was unemployed and spent much of his free time on Liberty Avenue, known at the time as being a hub for prostitution. Some speculate that Michalowski himself was a prostitute, a claim that his family vehemently denied. See a picture of Michalowski
Scattered Body Parts
Panic ensued when a severed head was found in a bag in a dumpster in North Versailles on December 27, 1988. Several more body parts – including lungs and teeth – were found dumped in other Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including in Whitaker. Very few remains were recovered but what was found was enough to identify the victim as 22-year-old Anthony Michalowski.
Cause of Death
Because only about 15 percent of Michalowski's body was found, Joshua Perper, the Allegheny County Coroner at the time, couldn't pinpoint the exact cause of death and, in turn, couldn't classify the death as a homicide. What was known was Michalowski had sedatives in his system, meaning he could have either been drugged or have overdosed before he was dismembered. Perper, however, asserts that Michalowski was either dead or unconscious when he was beheaded.
The authorities received plenty of calls about potential human remains that had been found – many were the remains of deer and other animals – but solid tips were illusive. Law enforcement and the local media worked together, hosting a live call in show on WTAE, to gather tips from viewers. The case, however, pretty much went cold until 1992.
Four years after the discovery of Michalowski's severed head, sanitation workers uncovered a thigh in a dumpster in Shadyside. Eventually, other body parts were recovered, all in trash bags placed in dumpsters around the city. Authorities identified the remains as those of 30-year-old Michael Hickmott. The victim, who had been disemboweled and dismembered like Michalowski, had been unemployed, although he had previously worked as a prostitute.
Hickmott's death led authorities to a suspect who, according to
The Beaver Valley Times
, described himself as a “neo-nazi vampire.” Thirty eight year-old Robert Wayne Marshall wore his hair in a crew cut, often donned camouflage, and was said to be an alcoholic. Law enforcement found several connections to Marshall and Hickmott. The shoulder was found in a dumpster not far from Marshall's apartment and, even more incriminating, witnesses told police they had seen the two together the weekend before Hickmott's remains were discovered.
A Manhunt Ensues
Authorities issued an arrest warrant for Marshall on May 6, 1992, setting off a manhunt for the suspected murderer. Simultaneously, authorities contacted the FBI to determine if any unsolved cases shared any of the same characteristics of Hickmott's murder. Michalowski's death mirrored that of Hickmott's: Both men had been disemboweled and dismembered with their body parts scattered in several dumpsters.
Suicide Leads to Unanswered Questions
Marshall was never questioned or arrested in either Hickmott's or Michalowski's deaths. He committed suicide only two days after he was charged with Hickmott's murder. Marshall left a note, proclaiming his unhappiness and confusion, confessing that he would no longer be in this world by the time his friend received his letter. Authorities considered him a potential serial killer, with perhaps additional victims.
28 Years Later
Michalowski's murder remains unsolved, although the media has revisited the case numerous times, particularly around the Christmas holidays when Michalowski's body parts were first found. Marshall was perhaps law enforcement's strongest lead but hope of ever solving Michalowski's murder may have died with Marshall.