|Jesse Pollack stands below the looming "Devil's Teeth".|
The details that had first drawn me to the sad story of Jeannette were the lingering rumors around the towns of Union County that the disappearance and subsequent murder had ritualistic overtones. The remote hilltop location where the body was discovered was said to have been strewn with cult related symbols and the body of the young girl was rumored to have been placed on a makeshift altar in the woods. The various versions of the Jeannette DePalma story that I had heard either blamed a coven of witches or a local group of Satanists who had sacrificed her. The strangest thing that I encountered in my investigation of the mystery was that after more than thirty years most people who remembered the crime were still too frightened to speak about it.
|Abandoned machinery in the old Houdaille Quarry.|
Jeannette’s bedroom at the time of her disappearance was decorated with all manner of religious symbols and posters. One bore a picture of Jesus Christ and proclaimed “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Hopefully with this book the truth will become a little more known, so that Jeannette and all those who mourn her shall finally be set free.
The murder of Jeannette DePalma is one of the most bizarre and controversial homicide cases on record, and yet it is largely unknown outside the state of New Jersey. Many postulate that this was by design. Rumors of a nefarious coverup in this case originated only days after Jeannette’s body was found on top of a cliff, surrounded by supposed “occult objects.” If one side is to be believed, the teenager was one of the first victims of ritual occult murder in suburban America. If the other is taken, this case could be one of the earliest examples of “Satanic panic,” decades before the infamous West Memphis Three case.
The story vanished from the newspapers only two weeks after Jeannette’s body was discovered, but memories of the girl’s death stayed fresh in the gossip of New Jersey residents for years to come. It seemed likely that this was where the story of Jeannette DePalma would remain—dying with those who knew her personally. However, in 1998, the offices of Weird NJ magazine received a letter regarding an “alleged ritual human sacrifice” in Springfield’s Houdaille Quarry. The letter’s author was unsure whether this “sacrifice” actually occurred or was purely myth, but the publication of his vague memory led to a rebirth of interest in this cold case.
|Mark Moran and Jesse Pollack investigate the forgotten crime scene.|
A few short years after the letter’s appearance in Weird NJ, I started writing short pieces for the magazine. A decade would pass, however, before I began researching the case for this book. Leading up to this point, my co-author, Weird NJ’s co-founder Mark Moran, worked diligently to bring as many facts as possible about Jeannette’s murder to light, conducting interviews with her friends and family and sifting through dozens of letters regarding the case—nearly all of which were mailed anonymously. Eventually, Mark hit a dead end, and the trail again went cold.
I became familiar with Jeannette DePalma and the circumstances surrounding her murder in early 2012 while flipping through back issues of Weird NJ. In Issue #22, I found several pages devoted to the case, and I could not shake from my mind the mysterious death of this young woman. I began searching reel after reel of microfilm for articles about this supposed victim of murderous cult members. I then located the surviving investigators who had worked Jeannette’s case. Many were willing to speak on the record with me; others were less than enthusiastic, to say the least. I also tracked down many of Jeannette’s friends, along with members of the DePalma family, spending countless hours meeting with them and conducting interviews.
It soon became apparent that, despite the many years that had passed since the teenager’s death, a multitude of her friends and acquaintances were still terrified of whoever was responsible for the horrible act. A significant number of these people would speak to me only under the strict condition of anonymity.
Armed with a wealth of new information about the case, Mark and I decided to team up and write the definitive account of this incredibly strange cold case. A lot of the evidence that we have found is controversial, to say the least, and sometimes contradictory. We have done our absolute best to separate myth from fact wherever possible, all while objectively presenting the many sides of this captivating story. We can only hope that this book will lead to a better understanding of the senseless murder of a young woman and the bizarre events that led up to that dark day in August 1972. Even stranger events surrounding this crime continue to unfold today. The key to finally solving this cold case may lie within these pages. Only time will tell.
~ Jesse P. Pollack
Jesse was born and raised in the Garden State, and has served as a contributing writer for Weird NJ magazine for nearly two decades. Also an accomplished musician, Pollack’s soundtrack work has been heard on Driving Jersey, an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary series. Death on the Devil’s Teeth is his first book.
Mark graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City, where he studied fine art, illustration, and photography. In the early 1990s, Moran teamed up with Mark Sceurman to create Weird NJ magazine, the ultimate travel guide to the Garden State’s local legends and best-kept secrets. The magazine has since spawned several books and a History Channel television series.