Welcome back to True Crime Sunday! This week we’re looking at an unsolved case in which the “why” and “how” are just as mysterious as the “who.”
On August 7, 1972, sixteen-year-old Jeanette DePalma left her New Jersey home to visit a friend, but she never made it. When she failed to return home, her family filed a missing person’s report.
On September 19, 1972, her body was found in Houdaille Quarry after a dog brought a decomposing forearm and hand home to its owner. An autopsy did not reveal a clear cause of death, and the coroner’s best guess was that Ms. DePalma died of strangulation. Strangely, there were high levels of lead in her system at the time.
The police investigation resulted in many theories. The first is that she was killed by a homeless man who had a camp in the woods. He allegedly left his camp when DePalma disappeared. However, police were unable to find any connection between him and the girl.
The second theory is that she died of a drug overdose. The problem with this theory is that no trace of drugs or drug paraphernalia were found in the area. There were reports that the area was a popular place to party. However, magazine and website Weird NJ said that the area was too overgrown in crime scene photographs and would be an unlikely party spot.
The most popular, albeit questionable, theory is that she was killed as a human sacrifice. Witnesses at the time claimed the body was found surrounded by strange objects and branches and logs arranged in the shape of a coffin, and there were crosses nearby made of logs. There are also witnesses who say she was found on a pentagram. However, Weird NJ, has investigated this theory as well.
The journalists say when they examined the crime scene photos, there was no evidence of any of the above. However, at the time, local newspapers ran with the story and were joined by the family’s pastor in saying that Jeanette was killed by Satanists or a coven of witches. It sounds like there are still people today who claim that’s what happened to her, but the crime scene photos tell another story.
Mark Morran, editor of Weird NJ, teamed up with writer Jesse Pollack to write The Devil’s Teeth, which that section of the quarry was known as. In this book, their research shows there were several other suspects, connections to other crimes, and other previously unreported information regarding this case.
So, what happened to Jeanette DePalma? How did she end up in that quarry? While Weird NJ and the Justice for Jeanette DePalma organization are keeping this case alive, it’s possible we may never know what happened that day.
Thank you for joining me! What case will we look at next week? As always, there’s only one way to find out…