Murder of Jeannette DePalma
Jeannette Christine DePalma
August 3, 1956
|Died||c. August 7, 1972 (aged 16)|
|Cause of death||Unknown; believed to be homicide by strangulation.|
|Body discovered||September 19, 1972|
|Known for||Murder victim|
Discovery of the body
On the afternoon of Monday, August 7, 1972, 16-year-old Jeannette DePalma left her home on Clearview Road in Springfield Township, New Jersey, telling her mother that she was going to take a train to a friend's house.
When she did not arrive at her friend's home or return later that evening, her parents filed a missing person report with the Springfield Police Department.
Six weeks later, on September 19 her remains were found atop a cliff inside of Springfield's Houdaille Quarry. This occurred after a local dog brought her decomposing right forearm and hand back to its owner.
According to several witnesses at the scene, Jeannette's skeletal remains were surrounded by a series of strange and possibly occult objects. Descriptions vary, but the most commonly agreed upon account states that the remains were found inside a coffin-shaped perimeter of fallen branches and logs, and inside this perimeter were several small makeshift wooden crosses.
Later, some Springfield residents claimed that DePalma's remains were actually found lying on a pentagram, surrounded by mutilated animal remains. Law enforcement authorities have denied that this was true. Further controversy was aroused when it was discovered that the body had been found on a cliff known to locals for several decades as "The Devil's Teeth".
Her remains and clothing showed no evidence of bone fractures, bullet wounds, or knife strikes. No drug paraphernalia was found on or around the body. For undisclosed reasons, the coroner suspected that strangulation was the cause of death, leading the Union County Prosecutor's Office to treat the case as an unsolved homicide. The coroner also discovered an unusually high amount of lead in the remains, but no explanation was found for this occurrence either.
Early in the investigation, the Springfield Police Department received a tip regarding a homeless man living in the woods near the place where the body was found. This man was known to locals simply as "Red", and it was alleged that he fled his campsite in the woods shortly after DePalma went missing. While this lead initially looked promising, the Union County Prosecutor's Office ultimately decided that "Red" had nothing to do with Jeannette's death.
Investigators continued to attempt to find leads, but due to the DePalma family's private nature, along with inconsistent stories told by her friends and peers, the case eventually went cold.
Allegations of human sacrifice
Around two weeks after the discovery of DePalma's remains, several newspapers, including the Star-Ledger and the New York Daily News, began reporting that she may have been the victim of an occult sacrifice carried out either by Satanists or by a local coven of witches who operated inside nearby Watchung Reservation.
This coverage was spurred by reports that the body had been found surrounded by strange objects, and by the theories of the DePalma family's Evangelical pastor, James Tate of the Assemblies of God Evangel Church. Rumors about the case set off a panic in several Union County communities, which were still recovering from the shock of the John List murders, which had occurred only 10 months earlier.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Weird NJ magazine began to report on the decades-old cold case after receiving several anonymous letters regarding Jeannette's death.
Editor and co-founder Mark Moran began investigating the case and wrote about many purportedly suspicious details, including the allegation that the Springfield Police Department had lost or destroyed the case file.
Moran eventually teamed up with Weird NJ correspondent Jesse P. Pollack to write the book Death on the Devil's Teeth: The Strange Murder That Shocked Suburban New Jersey. Throughout the course of their research, Pollack and Moran discovered several instances of a possible cover-up, connections to other unsolved murders, and previously unknown suspects.
- "Coffeehouse Aides Discount Murder Tie-In". The Elizabeth Daily Journal. October 3, 1972.
- "Haunting Tales Told in County". The Union County Local Source. October 29, 2009.
- "The Unsolved Case of Jeannette DePalma". Weird NJ.
- "Conspiracy or serial killer? Two theories offered on unsolved 1974 murder of NB teens". The Hudson Reporter.
- Weird NJ, Issue #22. p. 41.
- "Find Body Atop Cliff". The Elizabeth Daily Journal. September 20, 1972.
- "Springfield Cops Find Girl's Body". The Star-Ledger. September 21, 1972.
- Weird NJ, Issue #20. p. 81.
- "Murder Probe Sheds Light on Witchcraft Cult". The Star-Ledger. October 8, 1972.
- "Priest's Theory: Devil's Disciples Killed Girl". The New York Daily News. October 4, 1972.
- "Girl Sacrificed in Witch Rite?". The Elizabeth Daily Journal. September 29, 1972.
- Weird NJ, Issue #22. p. 43.
- Weird NJ, Issue #22. p. 42.
- Weird NJ, Issue #22. p. 44.
- "Dead Girl in N.J. May Have Been Strangled". Bucks County Courier Times. September 21, 1972.
- Weird NJ Volume 2. Sterling. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-4027-3941-5.
- Weird NJ Volume 2. Sterling. pp. 81, 82. ISBN 978-1-4027-3941-5.
- Death on the Devil's Teeth: The Strange Murder That Shocked Suburban New Jersey. The History Press. p. 122. ISBN 1626196281.
- "The Glen Jones Radio Programme featuring X. Ray Burns, July 13, 2014". WFMU.
- "'Witchcraft' Implicated in DePalma Murder". The Star-Ledger. October 3, 1972.
- Weird NJ, Issue #22. p. 47.
- "Death on the Devil's Teeth: The Strange Murder That Shocked Suburban New Jersey". Amazon.