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The Killing Season - Websleuths

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  1. #1
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    NJ - Jeannette DePalma, 16, Springfield, 19 Sept 1972

    Surprised to see that there is no existing thread for the unsolved murder of Jeannette DePalma.

    The crime was discovered on September 19, 1972 when a local man's dog returned from home with a severed human forearm in its jaws. A search of the woods surrounding an the nearby Houdaille rock quarry revealed the badly decomposed body of Jeanette DePalma, 16, who'd gone missing the month before. A person of interest was soon developed but the man skipped town after questioning and the case quickly went cold.

    The story passed into local folklore when the rumors began to fly that the murder of Jeanette, a deeply religious young woman and recovering drug addict involved in an evangelical outreach program that ministered to adolescent substance abusers, was, in fact, a ritualistic killing. There were rumors of occult artifacts being found at the crime scene and it was reported that her body was found posed with wooden crosses and occult symbols fashioned out of logs/branches surrounding it. Stories about cult involvement and a possible coverrup by police (who, it was alleged, did not properly preserve or take photographs of the crime scene) abounded.

    Of course, all this talk could be nothing but the work of a small-town rumor mill ginning up tall tales while local authorities remained tight-lipped so as not to compromise an ongoing investigation. (It is perhaps telling that all the satanism/witchcraft stuff comes up readily online while the actual forensic evidence is nowhere to be found.) For all we know, this could have been like so many other dreary crimes that happened in such communities back then, where the cops figured out pretty quickly who did it but, in the absence of reliable forensics, simply couldn't build a solid case against their suspect.

    Whichever holds true, this case is worth looking into with fresh eyes.
    Sources are below:

    http://weirdnj.com/stories/mystery-h...nette-depalma/

    http://landofcerptsandhoney.blogspot...e-depalma.html
    "There are such devils."
    -The Pledge

  2. #2
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    Putting the cult angle aside for a moment, there are several avenues of investigation and a number of possible persons of interest that need to be cleared.

    First, and most obviously: the man whose dog found the body. We don't know for sure, but the news clippings included at the links above imply that the quarry where Jeanette was found is some distance from the man's home. Perhaps the dog found the remains of its own accord. However, it's possible that it knew the area because it had been there before. This man needed to be questioned and ruled out and I sure hope he was.

    Secondly, Jeanette's outreach work and history of drug abuse should have been thoroughly explored. Who was she using with before her religious awakening? Did any of these people harbor any resentments toward her or perhaps take offense to her entreats, construing her as preachy or holier-than-though? Did she meet someone unstable through this work, someone who might have developed enough of an obsession to kill her?

    Jeanette's ministry was performed under the tutelage of a reverend in Elizabeth, NJ. He should have been pressed about his relationship with the victim. It's hard to ascertain whether this was done.

    Finally, the police suspect. His name is listed and his behavior (leaving town after being questioned) is, on its surface, highly suspicious. However, he was supposedly homeless and as such, a member of a traditionally transitory population. But the police must have had other reasons for suspecting him and these need to be explored.
    "There are such devils."
    -The Pledge

  3. #3
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    I could swear that there was a thread for Jeannette and I bookmarked it as I found the case fascinating. Then one day the thread was gone. After I read about it here I Googled and found the article on the Weird NJ site.

    It does not appear that the investigation was very thorough. Maybe LE did not tell all to the papers. Too much focus on the Satanic Panic angle. I have the same questions that you have.

    Thanks for starting the thread!

  4. #4
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    Even without the satanic panic angle, this is case is frustrating, as the original case files were apparently destroyed in a flood before they could be digitized.
    "There are such devils."
    -The Pledge

  5. #5
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    There's a book out now about this case, called Death on the Devil's Teeth .

    Here's the preview for the book

    ‘Death on the Devil’s Teeth': Unsolved 1972 Murder of Teenage Girl

    What does Moran think? “I think we present — Jesse [Pollack] and I who is the other co-author who did a tremendous amount of research on this, digging up all the living people that he could find, friends, family, police officers — I think we came up with three very plausible scenarios about who killed this girl and we’re not going to tell you definitively outright but each one of them would make a terrific case,” he said.

  6. #6
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    Interesting interview with one of the Devil's Teeth authors, from io9.com:

    A Cult Murder Emerges from the Darkness in True-Crime Tome Death on the Devil's Teeth

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by wfgodot View Post
    Interesting interview with one of the Devil's Teeth authors, from io9.com:

    A Cult Murder Emerges from the Darkness in True-Crime Tome Death on the Devil's Teeth
    Interesting. I've never seen Jeannette linked to John List before but it's making me really want to read this book!
    "There are such devils."
    -The Pledge

  8. #8
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    Just finished Death on the Devil's Teeth. It clears up a lot of misconceptions and rumors about Jeannette's murder.

    First, the occult/ritual sacrifice angle appears to be hogwash, with investigators disagreeing about the presence of any kind of religious iconography at the scene. (The source of the cross rumors was, allegedly, a pair of dead trees that just happened to fall in such a shape.)

    Secondly, the reformed addict/counselor aspect has been further explored. Jeannette may have worked the phones at a church-run crisis center geared toward troubled teens, with drug use being a common issue. However, it seems she was likely conflated with her older sister who, at the time of Jeannette's disappearance, was undergoing treatment for addiction at a rehab center out west. In fact, all of the conflicting stories of Jeannette as hyper-religious outcast vs promiscuous druggie seem to be little more than that: stories attached after the fact to a normal, well-adjusted (if occasionally contradictory) teenage girl.

    Third, tales of Jeannette's religious awakening, as it were, were likely due to her parents' involvement in a church in Elizabeth associated with the burgeoning "Jesus Movement" (a liberal, back-to-basics form of Christianity popular among west coast hippies in the early 1970s.) This particular church reportedly attracted a number of young people.

    Finally, suspects. There were several:

    -Baltusrol Red: Drifter who caddied seasonally at the Baltusrol Golf Club. His camp in Houdaille Quarry was located roughly 50 yards from Jeannette's body was found. He was later tracked down and interviewed by police, who no longer consider him a suspect. Died in the late 1980s.

    -Tommy R: Night watchman at Houdaille Quarry. Late 20s/early 30s, supposedly mentally slow. Ruled out because the hilltop crime scene was too far outside the boundaries of his evening rounds (a dubious reason to dismiss a suspect IMO). Still living.

    -Mike A: Acquaintance/classmate who used to give Jeannette rides. Was said to have been obsessed with her, with an interest in the occult. (Mike was a self-proclaimed "warlock.") A vehicle matching the car he drove was allegedly seen in the area on the day Jeannette went missing and he reputedly sexually assaulted a number of local girls. Died in 2010.

    -Otto Nilson: South Orange accountant with a long history of mental instability and domestic violence. Arrested, tried, and acquitted in the murder of Joan Kramer, POI in the double-murder of Mary Prior and Lorraine Kelly. Later remanded to a state psychiatric hospital following an armed standoff at a VA hospital. I believe he's still alive too.

    All in all, the book's well worth reading and an invaluable primary source. The biggest thing it does is to lay bare that, for all the hype and small-town innuendo, the untimely death of Jeannette DePalma was likely the result of an opportunistic abduction, the kind of routine crime that happens far too often to young women in this world.
    "There are such devils."
    -The Pledge

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pettibon Junction View Post
    -Otto Nilson: South Orange accountant with a long history of mental instability and domestic violence. Arrested, tried, and acquitted in the murder of Joan Kramer, POI in the double-murder of Mary Prior and Lorraine Kelly. Later remanded to a state psychiatric hospital following an armed standoff at a VA hospital. I believe he's still alive too.
    Otto Nilson died in 1992 at the state psychiatric hospital in Trenton.
    "There are such devils."
    -The Pledge



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