What occurred to Springfield’s Jeannette DePalma in 1972

SPRINGFIELD – Forty-seven years in the past, a decomposing human arm was discovered exterior an residence complicated on Wilson Highway.

In line with police accounts reported in newspapers, the arm was carried by a canine to the flats from the Houdaille Quarry – a former crystal and gravel quarry now bisected by Interstate 78 and nestled between the world-famous Baltusrol Golf Membership and Watchung Reservation.

The arm was quickly traced to a physique that belonged to Jeannette DePalma, who was reported lacking by her mother and father on Aug. 7, 1972 – 4 days after her 16th birthday. She was discovered lifeless atop a towering rock formation six weeks later Sept. 19, 1972, the day the arm was discovered.

Jeannette got here from a Christian household and was identified by mates to be dedicated to her religion. Her household’s dwelling was on Clearview Highway, within the hilly middle- and upper-class neighborhood of Springfield. On a transparent day, Manhattan’s skyline might be seen within the distance from the winding suburban streets.

Nobody was ever arrested in reference to her loss of life and no new leads have ever been publicly reported in almost a half century.


Jeannette DePalma was 16 years outdated when she went lacking from her Springfield dwelling. She was discovered lifeless within the Houdaille Quarry. Her case was by no means solved.
Nick Muscavage, @nmuscavage

Her loss of life occurred throughout the Jesus motion within the early 1970s and generated a large number of newspaper articles speculating that she died as the results of an occult killing.

With a scarcity of any concrete solutions, theories have abounded for many years, ranging from a satanic ritual sacrifice to a coven of witches working towards black magic.

The thriller is partially why Edward Salzano has taken a passionate curiosity within the case.

Salzano is suing the Union County Prosecutor’s Workplace in hopes of compelling the company to check Jeannette’s clothes for DNA. 

Within the lawsuit, filed on June 18, Salzano claimed he met with the Union County Prosecutor’s Workplace in April to debate Jeannette’s case and ship paperwork that he stated Jeannette’s nephew, John Bancey, a detailed pal, gave him earlier than he died.

“I requested if Jeannette’s clothes could be DNA examined and I used to be advised ‘NO’,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, filed in Union County Superior Court docket and assigned to Choose Karen Cassidy, continues to be energetic, however the prosecutor’s workplace has filed a movement for dismissal, citing “lack of material” and “failure to state a declare.”

In its transient, the Union County Prosecutor’s Workplace stated it seems Salzano is in search of to compel the regulation enforcement company to “re-investigate the loss of life of Jeannette DePalma, who died mysteriously 47 years in the past.”

The movement for dismissal will probably be determined Aug. 30.

The Union County Prosecutor’s Workplace declined to remark for this story.

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Completely different theories

There are a lot of theories about Jeannette’s loss of life, however nobody agrees which is the reality.

The reality is, nobody is aware of what occurred to Jeannette after she went lacking in August 1972.

Demise information, nonetheless, present a small glimpse into the thriller that has shrouded Jeannette’s case.

Jeannette was discovered within the Houdaille Quarry close to Shunpike Highway “mendacity face down with a rock formation surrounding the physique,” based on the Union County Medical Examiner’s report accomplished by Dr. Bernard Ehrenberg on the day she was discovered 47 years in the past. 

Jeannette was recognized by way of dental information as her physique was too badly decomposed, based on the health worker’s report. Her physique was so decomposed that an post-mortem couldn’t be carried out. X-rays of her cranium had been taken, although, and there was no proof of fractures, bullet holes or traumatic accidents. 

The reason for loss of life has by no means been decided. Samples of Jeannette’s clothes had been packed up and despatched to the federal authorities for additional evaluation. 

In line with the FBI crime lab report on Jan. three, 1973, officers examined Jeannette’s clothes, together with her shirt, slacks and underwear, in addition to the soil from the scene, and in contrast them with hairs collected from her dresser drawer and on her physique.

The FBI’s microscopic and chemical evaluation discovered that had been no “obvious international hairs” discovered amongst Jeannette’s clothes.

The lab staff did not discover medication or poison in any of the samples.

There have been, nonetheless, stains present in her underwear, bra, shirt and slacks that “had been too decomposed for conclusive blood and semen examinations,” based on the crime lab report.

On the time of Jeannette’s loss of life, the nation was within the midst of a Christian revival often called the Jesus motion, because the hippie era was mellowing, and households had been turning to evangelical beliefs.

Jeannette’s household, based on newspaper articles, belonged to the Assemblies of God Evangel Church in Elizabeth.

Regardless of the flip to evangelical religion, it was additionally a interval marked by a paranoia of satanism and witchcraft. Jeannette’s loss of life occurred three years after the notorious Manson Household murders.

In an article printed on Sept. 30, 1972 within the Dwelling Information Tribune, the Related Press wrote native authorities had been “investigating the likelihood that black witchcraft and devil worship had been concerned within the loss of life” of Jeannette. The report was attributed to an article within the Each day Journal of Elizabeth that was printed a day earlier.

In line with the now-defunct Each day Journal, the searchers who positioned Jeannette’s physique stated they discovered “items of wooden had been crossed on the bottom over her head. Extra wooden framed the physique ‘like a coffin,'” the paper stated.

The article additionally quoted Jeannette’s mother and father, as “somebody who tried to guide others to Jesus” and stated that she was concerned in group work to help drug addicts and deliberate on attending a Bible faculty.

In line with the newspaper’s report, “various sacrifices involving lifeless animals” had been reported across the Watchung Reservation, which was lower than 2 miles away from the place Jeannette was discovered. Within the park across the identical time, Union County Park Police had discovered “burning candles, a bowl of blood and feathers and pigeons with their necks snapped.”

On Oct. three, 1972, the Courier Information ran an Related Press article reporting that Union County regulation enforcement officers could have introduced a witch to the location of Jeannette’s loss of life.

“I by no means did hear if the witch discovered something,” the household’s pastor, Rev. James Tate of the Assemblies of God Evangel, was quoted, “however I do know she was there on the scene.”

In line with newspaper accounts and interviews, there have been self-professed witches and warlocks in New Jersey on the time. An Related Press article printed on Halloween in 1972 interviewed a girl named Lilith Sinclair who based her personal “grotto,” or group of satanists, as an off-shoot of the San Francisco-based Church of Devil.

By all accounts, Sinclair’s grotto was based mostly within the small Middlesex County borough of Spotswood and had greater than 30 members. The witch who was reportedly dropped at the location of Jeannette’s physique was by no means named. 

Donald Schwerdt, although, was one of many Springfield law enforcement officials on the scene when Jeannette was discovered. 

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‘An amazing huge mound’

“I am the one who discovered the physique,” Schwerdt stated.

Regardless that he is been retired for 3 a long time, Schwerdt, 91, stated the case nonetheless stands out in his reminiscence.

“It was exhausting,” he stated. “I had 5 daughters, and this might have been one in every of my daughters, you recognize?”

Jeannette was discovered on high of a “nice huge mound” within the quarry, Schwerdt stated.

“Once I received up there, the physique was mendacity proper there,” he stated. “She had tan pants and a navy-blue shirt.”

Schwerdt, who was a patrolman on the time, does not purchase into reviews making an attempt to hyperlink the loss of life to occult sacrifice and satanism.

He stated he believes that rumor began after different regulation enforcement officers had been radioed and started climbing the rock face, and “one man observed some rock or little stones round her head and all that and he made a comment that it seemed like Devil stuff,” Schwerdt stated.

“There was nothing to that,” he added. “I do not know what occurred. There’s a whole lot of theories on the market, lots of people speculating this and that — I do not purchase it.”

Schwerdt’s personal idea, from the best way her physique was positioned, is that “they had been in all probability doing medication and he or she OD’ed,” though there isn’t any proof of drug use within the health worker’s report.

“Someone needed to be together with her together with her as a result of she had flip-flops,” Schwerdt stated, “and I had mountain climbing boots on and I had hassle getting up that little hill as much as the place she was laying.”

He stated there may have been a couple of individual together with her “as a result of with flip-flops, she would have had a hell of a time getting up that hill.”

Schwerdt, who rose by way of the ranks to lieutenant earlier than retirement, stated police knew that a number of the children who hung round with Jeannette had been “drug addicts.”

“We figured after this time period anyone would perhaps have a coronary heart and say, ‘I used to be there,’” he stated, “or ‘I do know what occurred, here is the reality,’ however no person’s come ahead.”

Salzano, who, along with Holly Zuelle, runs the Justice for Jeannette DePalma Fb web page, cannot say with certainty what occurred to Jeannette, however he does consider some suspicious characters had been concerned.

“There was a extremely dangerous group of individuals right here on the town,” Salzano stated. “There was some evil stuff occurring right here, and there was lots of people caught up in it, and LSD was being mainly launched for the primary time.”

Salzano does not consider Jeannette was doing medication however did say “there was only a sequence of unlucky occasions, and he or she received combined in with the mistaken individuals, and so they killed her.”

He grew up close by and was at all times fascinated by the case.

“I do know quite a bit about her,” Salzano, 56, stated. “I reside right here in Springfield, I am from Maplewood. I’ve identified about this case my entire life.”

“Jeannette was an excellent child,” he added. “She was 15 years outdated and he or she had a job working at Sealfons division retailer in Summit, which was a extremely ritzy, ritzy place and so they did not simply let any slouch child go in there and get a job.”

Earlier than his curiosity within the case became a mission, Salzano labored as a non-public investigator in New York Metropolis with a specialty in finding runaway youngsters. He was on an A&E tv present, “Runaway Squad,” that looked for lacking youngsters.

Salzano questions quite a bit about Jeannette’s case, however that is as a result of there’s been so few solutions.

For one factor, he questions the narrative of the arm and the canine, and as an alternative stated he thinks somebody may have positioned the arm close to the flats to have Jeannette’s physique positioned.

He additionally stated he would not rule out the occult, pointing to the notorious Listing murders of Westfield and Patrick Michael Newell’s homicide in Millville.

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Listing and Newell

One yr earlier than Jeannette’s loss of life, John Listing in close by Westfield rigorously carried out a plan to homicide his household.

Listing shot his spouse, mom and two youngsters within the head one-by-one. Then, after driving his son dwelling from a soccer recreation, he shot him a number of instances within the chest and face. He intricately positioned every of the our bodies on sleeping luggage and organized them in a line on the ballroom flooring of his Victorian mansion — aside from his mom, whom he left in her residence within the attic.

The our bodies went undiscovered for almost a month, and Listing, who assumed a brand new id and life in Virginia, wasn’t arrested till 1989.

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In an article written by the United Press Worldwide in April 1990, the physician who examined Listing after his arrest stated the husband-turned-murderer had not too long ago misplaced his job, telling the jury in Union County Superior Court docket that “Listing believed doing what he did do to his household was allowed as a result of he was sending them to hitch God and saving them from the embarrassment of getting to be on the general public dole.”

Listing’s protection lawyer, Elijah Miller Jr., tried to introduce testimony that Listing’s daughter, 16-year-old Patricia, was “a working towards witch,” however with every try Choose William Wertheimer barred the testimony from the report, based on the article.

Listing was convicted in 1990 of 5 counts of homicide and was sentenced to 5 consecutive life-sentences. He died in 2008 whereas nonetheless imprisoned.

Simply months earlier than the Listing case, one other New Jersey homicide left a group terrified of Devil’s grip on youth.

Patrick Michael Newell was 20 years outdated when two mates sure his legs and arms behind his again, threw him right into a sand pit pond in Millville, and waited for him to drown, based on a July 1971 article in The New York Occasions.

One among his mates advised police that Newell “belonged to a ‘Devil worshipers sect’ and felt he needed to die violently with a view to be put answerable for ’40 leagues of demons,'” based on the report

The teenager stated Newell had “urged the 2 mates to bind him, which they did, carried out a ‘Satanic ritual’ after which had them push him into the pond,” based on The Occasions. The allegations had been sufficient to name within the Prison Investigation Part of the New Jersey State Police “to research the doable existence of a voodoo cult.”

Each of the kids had been ultimately convicted for Newell’s loss of life.

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Looking for solutions

One one that’s doubtful of the occult’s involvement in Jeannette’s loss of life is her personal nephew.

Ray Sajeski, 44, the son of Jeannette’s older sister, Gwendolyn, stated the reviews of satanism might be chalked as much as newspaper sensationalism.

“I do not suppose that is true,” he stated. “In no way.”

He additionally believes Jeannette’s loss of life was not an overdose.

“That is not what occurred,” he stated. “My aunt was no angel, however she wasn’t a drug addict. It was the ’70s, lots of people smoked pot, it was regular. However no, it wasn’t medication. No manner.”

He does, nonetheless, consider that Jeannette was murdered.

“Whoever did it is aware of they did it,” Sajeski stated, “and I do not even know in the event that they’re nonetheless alive.”

Regardless of the case remaining chilly into its 47th yr, Sajeski is hopeful it could possibly nonetheless be solved.

“I do not suppose it is too late,” he stated. “They clear up murders manner older than this.”

Though Sajeski by no means met his Aunt Jeannette, he remembers that his mom at all times had her framed  on the tip desk of their lounge. With out ever understanding each other, Jeannette’s presence was at all times there.

“I did not know my aunt, however I really feel unhappy for my household,” Sajeski stated. “I noticed what it did to them, my mother and her sisters. That was their little sister, and it affected them essentially the most.”

Jeannette grew up in a big Italian household, one in every of 5 daughters of Salvatore and Florence DePalma. She additionally had three brothers.

Sajeski is hoping that anybody who could learn about her aunt’s loss of life will come ahead and share info with the police in order that her household could lastly have justice.

“I want the individuals who really actually know the information would come ahead,” he stated. “I need to know what occurred.”

Workers Author Nick Muscavage is an award-winning watchdog reporter whose work spans many matters and has spurred the creation of a state law. Contact him: 908-243-6615; ngmuscavage@gannettnj.com; @nmuscavage.

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