If Yablonski’s murder was intended to eliminate Boyle’s opposition, it failed. Almost immediately, two more formidable adversaries sprang up in Yablonski’s place.
The first was the Inspector Javert of his day, Richard A. Sprague, a short, jowly Philadelphia prosecutor who rarely smiled and who seemed to derive his sole pleasure from the relentless pursuit and prosecution of suspected killers. Sprague—no relation to the family that owned C. H. Sprague & Son—had arrived in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in 1958 as a thirty-three-year-old former defense lawyer; by 1970 he was Philadelphia’s first assistant district attorney, with nearly ten thousand prosecutions under his belt. He had won convictions in nearly all of the four hundred murder cases he had tried. He was already a local legend, if only for his successful prosecution of a 1961 case in which the alleged victim, Marie Coleman, had never been found.
In that case, Sprague had devoted the better part of a year to an intensive study of Marie Coleman’s habits, which led him to conclude that she had been murdered by her common-law husband, Thomas Burns. At the subsequent trial, the defense attorney, in his closing statement, stunned the courtroom by announcing that Marie Coleman had been found and was standing behind the courtroom door at that very moment. As every head in the jury box turned to the doorway, the lawyer explained that in fact Marie Coleman was not there—but he added, “What I did was show each and every one of you that you had a reasonable doubt, because you looked. ”
This was the sort of prosecutorial test that Sprague relished. In his closing statement, Sprague acknowledged that the jurors had indeed looked