Officially unsolved, the case of New York City's "Charlie Chopoff"' murders occupied police for more than two years, from March 1972 through May 1974. The files are officially open today, despite the arrest of a promising suspect and his eventual commitment to a mental institution for the criminally insane. While he remains incarcerated and incompetent for trial, the crimes may not be cleared, but lead investigators on the case are quick to note that "Charlie's" random depredations ended when their man was taken off the street. Erno Soto's marriage seemed to be the root of all his problems. Separated from his wife for several years, he made a stab at reconciliation, but was startled to discover she had conceived a black child in his absence. (Soto and his wife were Puerto Ricans.) He pretended not to care, but as the boy's eighth birthday rolled around, Soto's behavior grew increasingly erratic, resulting in his commitment to Manhattan State Hospital in 1969 and 1970. He would return for further treatment at sporadic intervals thereafter, but the evidence suggests that Soto found his primary relief by stalking small, dark boys on New York's streets. The first to die was Douglas Owens, black and eight years old, found murdered two blocks from his Harlem flat on March 9, 1972. Discarded on a rooftop, Owens had been stabbed 38 times in the neck, chest, and back, his penis slashed but still appended to his body by a bloody flap of skin. An anonymous phone tip, received by police on March 23, fingered Soto as a suspect in the case, but it was not pursued. Another black boy, ten years old, was attacked on the city's Upper West Side, on April 20. Stabbed in the neck and back, he was also sexually mutilated , his penis severed and carried away by the man who left him for dead. The boy survived his injuries and offered homicide detectives a description of the suspect, but the trauma he had suffered limited his value as a witness. On October 23, another black boy -- nine-year-old Wendell Hubbard, was killed in East Harlem, six blocks from the site of the Owens murder. Hubbard was stabbed 17 times in the neck, chest, and abdomen, his penis removed by the killer and carried away from the scene. Five months later, on March 7, nine-year-old Luis Ortiz, a dark-skinned Puerto Rican, vanished on an errand to the corner store. His body -- stabbed 38 times in the neck, chest, and back, penis severed and missing -- was found in the basement of an apartment house along his route of travel. The death of Steven Cropper, on August 17, 1973, appeared to break the killer's pattern. Cropper fit the victim profile perfectly -- a black boy, eight years old -- and while he had been murdered on a rooftop, he had not been stabbed. Instead, the fatal wounds were razor slashes, and his genitals were still,intact. Police initially suspected that a second killer was responsible, but they eventually decided it was too coincidental for a pair of slashers to be simultaneously stalking young black boys. On May 25. 1974. Soto was arrested after bungling the abduction of a nine-year-old Puerto Rican boy, surrounded by neighbors and held for police after the child escaped his clutches. In custody, he confessed to the Cropper slaying, but "Charlie Chopoff's" sole surviving victim refused to pick Soto out of a lineup, saying only that the suspect's appearance was "similar." Officials at Manhattan State Hospital initially provided an alibi, stating that Soto was confined on the date of Cropper's slaying, but they later admitted he sometimes slipped away from the facility, unnoticed. Found to be insane, the suspect was returned to the hospital under closer guard, the "unsolved" murders terminating after he was locked away.