LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

North Jersey prosecutors form tri-county cold case unit

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The year was 2005. Police responded to a call in Palisades Park after a woman said she was sexually assaulted at gunpoint. The suspect fled the scene and the case eventually went cold. But on March 29, after 14 years, police made an arrest.

“He was arrested in another state and that’s what put his DNA in the database, and of course our crime scene sample was already in the database, and we were fortunate enough that state police was able to make a DNA match,” said Robert Anzilotti, Chief of Detectives with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

Anzilotti says the suspect was located as he was attempting to flee to Jamaica and caught as he was boarding a flight.

“DNA hits are fantastic, but they’re rare. And a lot of cases are solved by just got old fashion detective work,” Anzilotti said. “A lot of it is re-interviewing witnesses, re-interviewing victims’ family members, looking at old crime scene photos.”

“Individual agencies are often stretched thin and they frequently do not have all the resources or the time that’s needed to focus attention on these older and more challenging cases,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

But the officials stressed victims and survivors deserve answers. That’s why the Bergen County Cold Case Homicide Unit is now being expanded.

“It will now be known as the North Jersey Regional Cold Case Task Force and it will be comprised of members of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the New Jersey State Police, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Newark Police Department,” said Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo.

Each agency has committed a detective to work full time on solving homicide and sexual assault cold cases from any jurisdiction represented in the task force.

“I can only speak to Bergen County in terms of homicides, we have over 100 cold case homicides still open,” Anzilotti.

“Passaic County has 125 open cases — and those are homicide cases,” said Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdez.

“With regards to Essex, I do not have a firm number, but one thing I can say definitively: we have more,” said acting Essex County Prosecutor Ted Stevens.

“By sharing personnel and expertise and ideas and technology and other resources, we can solve these older cases,” Grewal said.

This case is now the third cold case solved by the task force since it started. Prosecutors have been in contact with the victim.

“Just like a lot of these cases, a mixed reaction apprehension because it’s an old wound that you’re now reopening but relief that somebody cared and there’s been progress and some closure,” Anzilotti said.

The task force says they have 20 other cold cases that they’re looking at right now that they hope to solve. Some of those, officials say, date back to the 1970s.