Enigma: Jeannette DePalma

Enigma: Jeannette DePalma

One mundanely normal autumn day in Springfield, New Jersey, a woman walking her dog was about to meet with a gruesome surprise. Her dog, catching a whiff of something she did not quite register, ran off in the direction of the nearby Houdaille Quarry. What it returned with was about to turn this mundanely normal day completely upside down. Her dog had just dragged back the decomposing arm of Jeannette DePalma, a 16-year-old who had gone missing six weeks prior. Thus begins the decades long enigma that is Jeannette DePalma’s mysterious and perplexing death.

Jeannette DePalma was born on August 3rd, 1956, to a family residing in idyllic Springfield, New Jersey. Many described the DePalmas as steadfast Christians, a trait they often associated with Jeannette as well.

Jeannette DePalma

Jeannette had celebrated her sixteenth birthday on the 3rd of August, just four days before her disappearance. On the 7th of August 1972, Jeannette told her mother that she was off to see a friend and was taking the train there. This was the last time anyone would ever see Jeannette alive.

Jeannette never made it to her friend’s house, nor had her friend heard from her that evening. As dusk was slowly settling in, Jeannette’s mother kept a close eye on the clock ticking on the living room wall, noticing how Jeannette’s curfew was drawing closer and closer with each tick of the hand. Jeannette did not come home before her curfew and her parents grew increasingly more worried when she did not call to let them know why she was running late. Panicking, her family reported her as a missing person.

The DePalmas were not put out of their anxious misery till six weeks later. On September 19th, 1972, Jeannette’s decomposing arm was found in Houdaille Quarry, Springfield. Search operations uncovered the rest of Jeannette’s skeletonized remains on a cliff at this quarry that was ominously referred to as the “Devil’s Teeth”.

The discovery of Jeannette’s body and the surrounding crime scene is perhaps the most bizarre part of this case. Jeannette was found lying face down, surrounded by various strange items. It is important to note that the facts regarding this part of the case are quite hazy due to it being clouded by rumors and myths. However, the most agreed-upon recounts set the scene as follows. Jeannette was surrounded by logs that resembled the shape of a coffin. There were also wooden crosses lying inside this makeshift coffin. Other accounts claim that there was a pentagram and other objects related to the occult that were also found. While law enforcement denied these claims, they continued to spread throughout the community in hushed whispers.

A rendition of the crime scene based on witness accounts

Jeannette’s autopsy could not conclude her cause of death. However, authorities determined that she may have been strangled to death due to the lack of physical damage to her remains. A toxicology report discovered an unusually high level of lead in her system while all other factors remained unremarkable. There have been reports that Jeannette’s hyoid bone was found crushed but this claim is unsubstantiated. All in all, the discovery of Jeannette’s remains had brought up more questions than answers.

When talking about Jeannette DePalma’s death, it is vital to also speak about the Satanic Panic. The Satanic Panic refers to a widespread moral panic that resulted due to beliefs of Satanic ritual abuse. It is therefore unsurprising that Jeannette’s case had many believing that the occult or Satanists were responsible for her demise. Local newspapers started reporting that Jeannette was a victim of an occult sacrifice that was either carried out by Satanists or a local coven of witches that resided in nearby Watchung Reservation. In the 1990s, a magazine by the name of WeirdNJ investigated Jeannette’s story. Weirdly enough, all case files related to Jeannette’s murder were missing. The Springfield Police Department maintains that the files were simply destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, a claim that was met with much scrutiny. It seems as though every added piece of information about Jeannette’s death had only further complicated this already convoluted case.

No one knows what happened to Jeannette DePalma on that chilly autumn day in 1972. The sinister implications of a ritualistic human sacrifice, a police cover up, a coven of witches and the occult have made this cold case all the more bizarre and bewildering. Perhaps this is why this case is still discussed and mulled over decades later to this day.

– Rtr Shayari Jayasooriya

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