I find that I am fascinated and drawn to cases that have the element of the unknown, and also those that have allegations of the occult. Today’s case covers both of these realms and it’s one that comes from 1972. Sadly it remains unsolved so there was no justice for the family. Let’s talk about Jeannette DePalma.

Jeannette DePalma – 1972

16-year-old Jeannette lived in Springfield Township in New Jersey. She had left the house in the afternoon of August 7, 1972, telling her mother that she was going to a friend’s house and would be taking the train. Jeannette never made it to the friend’s house, and she never came home. Her parents filed a missing person’s report the next day.

The DePalma home

September 19, 1972, she was found on a cliff in the Houdaille Quarry. The reason she was located was that a dog had brought her decomposing right forearm and hand back to his owner. Police were called, and bloodhounds were dispatched. They then found the remains of Jeannette DePalma. After her remains were found, the police department opened an investigation after the cause of death was undetermined from the autopsy. There was no evidence that showed bone fractures, bullet wounds, or knife strikes. There was no drug evidence on or around the body. The coroner suspected strangulation was the cause of death as he could not rule it out during the autopsy.

The investigation progressed with very little to go on. And then it was suggested by some residents that Jeannette was found lying in the center of a pentagram with other occult and satanic markings surrounding her. From there it snowballed; witnesses claimed that strange objects were surrounding her, and they were possibly occult objects. The most agreed upon is that Jeannette was found inside a coffin shaped perimeter of fallen branches and logs. There were also makeshift crosses around her body. The theory of Satanic activity was more believed when it was learned that she was found on a cliff known by locals as “the Devil’s Teeth.”

Since the beginning people wanted to believe that Jeannette died from occult activity. But as the crime scene photos would show (above), there was no evidence or images that showed there were occult symbols or other animal remains in the area. The crosses that were said to be there, and the stones, along with the coffin shaped perimeter is not there at all.

Sadly, since the case was never solved, it’s impossible to know the entire story, or how Jeannette ended up where she was. So, from here, it’s mostly theory, police speculation and a lot of controversy. Many questions remain:

Weird NJ magazine, has reported on this case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. They had received several anonymous letters about the case, and they started their own investigation. Editor and co-founder, Mark Moran and correspondent Jesse P. Pollack wrote a book on the case, Death on the Devil’s Teeth: The Strange Murder That Shocked Suburban New Jersey. When researching the case, it was mentioned that the Springfield Police Department who had maintained the file, claimed it was lost due to flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Others say a copy is still on file. Why two different stories?

The site where Jeannette’s body was found, as it looks today

The police wanted people to believe that Jeannette died of a drug overdose, however she smoked marijuana socially, and she was not known to use drugs otherwise. There was no paraphernalia at the crime scene and during the autopsy there was no mention of any drugs. The police claimed that the place that Jeannette was found was a well-known “party spot” but when looking at the crime scene photos, it’s hard to believe this was a “party spot” as police wanted people to believe. The vegetation is much more overgrown and large plants and bushes surrounded the remains. Why the push for the public to believe this?

In 1972, DNA testing was not an option, but there was evidence found on Jeannette’s clothes, there were stains on her underwear, bra, blouse, and slacks but it was too decomposed to conclusive blood and semen examinations. At this time DNA testing has not been done.

What was missing from the scene is Jeannette’s purse and a cross necklace that she was wearing. The contents of her purse were found near her remains, but the purse and any money or wallet she may have had were missing. The fact that her personal belongings were missing, is a plausible motive for her death. It is believed that the killer kept these. Why were her cross necklace and purse stolen from her body?

Jeannette’s death has not been officially declared a homicide and remains open.

Ray Sajeski, 44, the son of Jeannette’s older sister, Gwendolyn, said the reports of satanism can be chalked up to newspaper sensationalism. He also believes Jeannette’s death was not an overdose, but he does believe that she was murdered.

“That’s not what happened,” he said. “My aunt was no angel, but she wasn’t a drug addict. It was the ’70s, a lot of people smoked pot, it was normal. But no, it wasn’t drugs. No way. Whoever did it knows they did it, and I don’t even know if they’re still alive. I don’t think it’s too late. They solve murders way older than this. I wish the people who actually really know the facts would come forward. I want to know what happened.”

Stay Curious my Friends!

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