New Leads in 1966 Street Slaying of Child : New Jersey: A 7-year-old girl was knifed as she skipped down the sidewalk, and no one was ever charged. But after all this time, one tip could prove crucial.
Michael Lapolla was 10 years old when a man in a green fedora plunged a knife into a 7-year-old girl as she skipped down the street a few blocks from her mother.
“If you were a kid in Elizabeth when this murder occurred, there’s no way you can forget it,” Lapolla said. “It shook this city right to the core.”
Lapolla, now a 39-year-old Union County assistant prosecutor, believes he is closing in on a suspect in the 1966 killing of Wendy Sue Wolin.
A woman called police recently after remembering something about the murder that “turned out to be significant,” Lapolla said.
After an article about her call in the Star-Ledger of Newark, two other witnesses contacted police, giving the investigation new life, Lapolla said.
A man in his 70s has been questioned but not arrested, Lapolla said. He refused to be more specific about the new leads.
Wearing the green fedora and a corduroy coat, Wendy Sue’s killer walked stiffly, crossed the sidewalk and shoved a hunting knife into her side as she skipped down the sidewalk.
The many witnesses thought the girl had only been punched. She was taken to a nearby fire station, where firemen opened her coat. It was full of blood.
“It scared the hell out of the city,” said former Mayor Tom Dunn, who retired in 1992 after a 28 years in office. “It was a senseless killing.”
Columnist Robert J. Braun wrote in the Star-Ledger last month that Wendy’s murder “was the beginning of the end of Elizabeth as a livable city. That’s probably a stretch . . . but what the survivors have is a memory of what it was like then. A place where you could trust people.”
Elizabeth’s population, now 110,000, was about 107,000 at the time of the killing.
The 300-member police force questioned more than 1,500 people. They scoured prisons and psychiatric hospitals in 13 states and questioned troops aboard a Vietnam-bound ship docked in Port Elizabeth.
Hundreds of tips were phoned to authorities. Everyone in town became a detective overnight, “everyone watching everyone else,” Dunn said.
“And yet, despite a lot of suspects who were picked up, not one turned out to be a valid lead,” he said.
Then-Police Chief Michael Roy, who was said to look like the stout, 6-foot-tall, middle-aged killer, had himself made up and posed for TV cameras disguised as the murderer.
All to no avail.
“I’ve been retired 22 years, and I still keep thinking about it,” said Walter Truzack, 76, the detective captain who led the investigation. “It breaks your heart.”
The killer was suspected of stabbing and injuring three other girls, none seriously. One was Lapolla’s grammar school classmate, he said.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult to convict anyone unless the killer himself confesses,” Truzack said. “I hope it comes together and is finally solved.”