Between August 1974 and November 1975, residents of northern New Jersey were alarmed by a series of random, brutal homicides that claimed the lives of eight young women, perpetrated by a man who liked to pick his victims off in pairs. He would resort to solitary targets in a pinch, however, and he kept authorities off-balance by continually altering his methods - suffocation, strangulation, gunshots - on a whim. The first to die were 17-year-old Mary Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Kelly, reported missing from North Bergen on August 10, 1974. The girls were last seen on August 9, when they left Pryor's home to do some shopping, and police believe they were hitchhiking when they met their killer that afternoon. Their bodies, raped and smothered, were recovered from a wooded area near Montvale, four days later. On December 13, 1974, 14-year-old Doreen Carlucci and 15-year-old Joanne Delardo vanished from a church youth center in Woodbridge, their bodies discovered two weeks later, in Manalapan Township. Beaten and strangled, one victim was completely nude when found, the other dressed only in shoes and a sweater. The killer's garrote, an electrical extension cord, was knotted tight around Carlucci's neck. The first solitary victim, 26-year-old Susan Reynes, disappeared from her home in Haworth, New Jersey, on October 6, 1975. Eight days later, in Demarest, 22-year-old Susan Reeve vanished without a trace on the short walk home from her bus stop, after work. Both were still missing when 15-year-olds Denise Evans and Carolyn Hedgepeth disappeared from home in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 24, their bodies - shot execution-style - recovered in Salem County, New Jersey, the following day. On October 27 and 28, the remains of victims Reynes and Reeve were found, seven miles apart, in a wooded region of Rockland County, New York, just north of the New Jersey state line. Searchers were led to one corpse by an arrow, scratched on a highway embankment above the name "Reeve." Autopsies revealed that both women were strangled. On October 31, 1975, police arrested 35-year-old Robert Reldan in Closter, New Jersey, on a charge of attempted burglary. A resident of Tenafly, Reldan was convicted of raping a woman at Teaneck, in 1967, serving three years in prison before he was paroled. Five months later, in 1971, he assaulted another woman in a hospital parking lot, pulling a knife on her moments after his latest therapy session. Convicted a second time, he emerged as a "model graduate" of Rahway prison's rehabilitation program for sex offenders. Authorities were so impressed with Reldan's progress that they chose him for a television interview with David Frost, aired shortly before his parole in May 1975. Held without bond on the burglary charge, Reldan was questioned about the murders of Reeve and Reynes, but on November 2, homicide detectives publicly announced that he was "not considered a suspect" in the slayings. They had changed their tune by January 1986, but another full year elapsed before Reldan's indictment on two counts of murder, in January 1977. Four months later, on April 21, he was charged with plotting to arrange the deaths of a wealthy aunt and her boyfriend, hoping to expedite a hoped-for inheritance. A Bergen County detective, posing as a hit man, twice visited Reldan at Trenton state prison, where he was serving three years on the burglary charge, and their conversations were secretly recorded as evidence . Convicted of conspiracy in June 1978, Reldan drew a term of 20 to 50 years in prison, but the worst was yet to come. Reldan's first murder trial ended with a hung jury, in June 1979, and a retrial was scheduled for October. On October 15, Reldan used a smuggled key to unlock his handcuffs, sprayed his guards with chemical Mace, and escaped from the courthouse in Hackensack. He was recaptured hours later, at a hospital in Tuxedo, New York, after crashing his stolen getaway car into a ditch. The trial resumed next day, despite the anonymous mailing of $100 bribes to several jurors, and Reldan was convicted of two murders on October 17. He remains a suspect in six other homicides, although no further charges have been filed.
Copyright 1995-2005 by Elisabeth Wetsch
Copyright 1995-2005 by Elisabeth Wetsch