Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said that Saturday would have been Clark resident Vera Pecoraro's 74th birthday. Her body was discovered on her living room floor by her son Anthony after he had not heard from his mother. When police found her, her throat was cut with a serrated knife that was found nearby.
Initially, officials had questions about whether or not this might have been a suicide. "That may sound somewhat strange," said Romankow, "however we’ve had situations where people actually have cut their throat by suicide."
Romankow said in a Monday press conference there was other forensic evidence as a result of the medical examiner’s evaluation which they received late yesterday which indicated that it was a homicide.
Romankow said Pecoraro was in her home, where she lived alone, with all doors and windows locked. He says officials do not believe that this is a robbery, at least at this point in time, and given the circumstances surrounding the death, they believe that Pecoraro was targeted. He added that the house was not in any way ransacked. Romankow said Pecoraro's husband died a few years ago of a heart attack.
"This is not a random act, we do not believe that the residents of Clark are in danger of some lunatic going around in the area doing this sort of thing to other people," said Romankow. "We think that this lady was in fact, as I said, targeted. I have conferred over the past few days with Mayor Sal Bonaccorso who is out of state. He’s been trying to get back to be with his people in Clark. We’ve kept him fully apprised of all this. We know that the residents of the community are concerned that there might be someone who is walking through the streets, but we do not believe that that is the case."
Romankow said the Task Force is now receiving the cooperation of Pecoraro's three sons.
"It’s my understanding that she was going to move from this residence," he said. "She intended to move to a shore residence and susequently to a home somewhere else. There were bags of things that were ready to be moved out of the house. I think she was planning to do that. I can’t say that a moving van came there at this point in time, I don’t know. We’re looking into that possibility also."
During the conference Romankow was asked what the motive could be if this is not a robbery, as officials believe it is not.
"We’re investigating various possibilities on that," answered Romankow. "I can’t discuss that. We’re not 100 percent sure on that either."
Romankow was also asked if the three sons (Anthony, Michael and Theodore) had been ruled out as suspects.
"No, I’m not ruling out anyone as suspects at this point in time," he answered. "I’m not ruling out anyone as a person of interest. As I’ve said, since it’s not a random act, everyone has to be considered as a possible person of interest until we find the killer of Mrs. Pecoraro."
Romankow said he had learned Pecoraro was a longtime resident of Clark and that she and her husband had a very sucessful business, the South Plainfield-based Transit Safety Service (TSS). Today, the site's banner read "We are saddened by the loss of our matriarch, Vera Pecoraro."
Romankow said the company paints stripes on major highways and supplies traffic cones and signs. He said that two of Pecoraro's sons, Michael and Theodore, are still operating the business.
"She was very successful, she was very well-known, very popular, well-liked," said Romankow. "I was told that she was a strong-willed women and she was willing and able to stand on her own after her husband passed away."
Romankow said they are also looking for information from anyone who had contact with Pecoraro in the days and weeks prior to her death.
"It’s imperative that we receive the cooperation of the children in this matter, and any neighbors that may have seen anything," said Romankow. "We’d like them, if they could, to reach out to Clark Police or to the Homicide Task Force. We’re trying various avenues to determine who may have seen her before her death."
In addition to there being no evidence of forced entry, Romankow also confirmed that authorities believe whoever killed Pecoraro locked the door after they walked out. Romankow said they believe Pecoraro's death may have happened sometime after Friday morning. He also said that they believe she may have known her attacker.
"She was dressed in her night clothes," said Romankow. "It would seem that she got up on a Friday, she may have made a call or two and then something happened after sometime, we think, in the latter part of the morning."
Romankow said she was found on her couch and authorities do not believe she was sexually assaulted.
Romankow said that they do not know if Pecoraro let her attacker in or if the person had a key. He added that there are other ways to enter Pecoraro's house, including the garage (with a code), but that he didn't want to get into speculation about whether or not someone had a key or she opened a door.
"She may have let someone in, she may not have," said Romankow. "We don’t know."
Romankow was asked whether Pecoraro was recently retiring and stepping down from her post in the business and if so, whether that might indicate a motive.
"That’s what we’re trying to find out from the sons, to get the background on this," answered Romankow. "We haven’t been able to get that yet, which I might add has been a problem, because we need that. But it would be speculation on my part."
Romankow also stated that gathering that sort of information has been difficult.
"Normally, when there’s a homicide of any sort you want to get as much information as you can, immediately, within minutes if you can, much less hours," said Romankow. "Here we’re talking about some days passing before we’re getting all the information we need. But we’re working on it. We’re trying to elicit information from any source, including the family. We’re hoping to have that type of information very soon."
Romankow confirmed that Pecoraro's son Anthony was the one who discovered the body.
"From our understanding, he hadn’t been to the house for quite some time, although he operated a business in South Jersey and his mom had been there on weekends to visit him," said Romankow.
Michael, another of Pecoraro's sons, will be speaking to police this afternoon, according to Romankow.
The Union County medical examiner has determined that a 73-year-old woman found deceased inside her Clark home over the weekend was the victim of a homicide, Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said during a 1 p.m. press conference today.
At approximately 6:48 p.m. on July 7, the Clark Police was called to 15 Rolling Hill Way on reports of a deceased female. When officers arrived they found the owner of the home, Vera Pecoraro, in her living room, the victim of knife wounds. A son of the victim made the discovery, said Romankow.
Given the nature of the scene, a determination on the manner of death was needed by the medical examiner before the prosecutor's office could treat the case as a homicide investigation. Prior to the medical examiner's determination late on Sunday it was treated as a death investigation.
Based on the information available it appears that Pecoraro was specifically targeted. There were no signs of a forced entry, Romankow said. The medical examiner determined that Pecoraro likely died on Friday, July 6.
"There are a number of investigative avenues that the Homicide Task Force is perusing," Romankow said. "We do not believe that residents in the area are in any danger as we do not believe that is this a random act."
The Homicide Task Force is continuing the investigation with the Clark Police Department, Union County Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Unit and the Prosecutor's Office Forensic Laboratory. Additional information will be released as it becomes available.