EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (PIX11)—East Rutherford neighbors are now left to wonder if a serial killer is in their midst: they're reacting to the latest killing of an elderly woman--70 year old Barbara Vernieri, an East Rutherford widow who was beaten to death, her home set ablaze to cover the crime.
The successful real estate broker was killed mid-morning on Friday, and investigators aren't ruling out a link to two other Bergen County murders as they work over the scene of the crime looking for more clues as to why she was violently beaten, and who did it.
"It's a little scary," admitted Lydia Carella, who lives two doors down from the murder on a quiet cul-de-sac. Police have already questioned her about a red car seen lingering on the street the night before the murder. 70 years old herself, she worries if there is a killer targeting elderly women.
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli briefed reporters late Monday. He confirmed Vernieri was beaten to death, with blows to her head and upper body. Forensics has so far not been able to identify if it was just fists or if something else was used. And an accelerant was poured on her body, and ignited. An upstairs tenant called the fire in; because it was extinguished so quickly, investigators are hopeful they will find evidence to either link or exclude the murders from two years ago.
"She was a very successful real estate broker, so we have hundreds of transactions to look at, and potential witnesses," said Molinelli of the complexity of this particular investigation. And insisted the murders from two years ago had not "gone cold." Molinelli faced reporters questions, "Those are still very active investigations."
The beating and fire come two years after two equally as vicious murders in Teaneck and Palisades Park of Joan Davis and Dolores Alliots. The women, 69 and 74, were beaten and stabbed, hands bound, and homes set ablaze to cover the tracks of the killer or killers, who've never been identified or arrested.
Paul Ostrow, a former Teaneck mayor, knew Joan Davis well. "She was frequently on my front lawn, with a stack of papers, talking about an town issue. She had an option about everything abut on the same token wouldn't hurt a fly," reminisced Ostrow.
He, like so many other residents of Bergen County, was struck by the similarities of the crimes.
"You don't bash someone's head in, suffocate them, and set their house on fire unless you're very, very angry."
Ostrow says the killings have left residents hoping police will at last get good evidence from this latest murder--and bring a killer to justice. "It's very upsetting to people."