Death By Witchcraft: The Murder of Jeannette DePalma



Jeannette DePalma via Weird NJ

16-year-old Jeannette DePalma was known around town as a “religious girl” who was active in her church but also “a little bit of a wild girl,” according to Weird NJ. She lived in Springfield, New Jersey and worked at Sealfons, a clothing store in Summit.

On Monday, August 7, 1972, Jeannette left her house after telling her mother she was going to hitchhike and take the train to a friend’s house before her afternoon shift at work.

She never made it to her friend’s house, and she never returned home.

When Jeannette was still missing late into the night, her parents filed a missing person report with the local police department.

Six weeks passed before the body of Jeannette DePalma was found on September 19, 1972 when a local dog brought back the girl’s decomposing forearm and hand back to its owner. A search party led to the discovery of the rest of her body, which was found at the top of a cliff inside Springfield’s Houdaille Quarry known to the locals as The Devil’s Teeth.

The Devil’s Teeth via

Although descriptions of the crime scene vary, most stories agree that Jeannette’s body was surrounded by logs and makeshift wooden crosses.

An illustration of the crime scene via

Stories begin to vary from this point. Later on, more and more witnesses reported seeing occult objects, signs of witchcraft, and evidence of a ritual sacrifice taking place. Some people claimed the body was found lying on a pentagram. One anonymous witness told Weird NJ that “all around [Jeannette’s] body were dead animals tied to trees with string and some in jars.” This witness also reported that while searching for Jeannette’s body, “they found arrows carved in the trees that would [lead] you to the body.”

via Weird NJ

During this time there was lots of talk of witchcraft, rituals, and Satanism in Springfield. An anonymous witness told Weird NJ that “about two years prior” to Jeannette’s death “there was much talk in my school about a cult in the surrounding area. They were known as The Witches. They must have let it be known in the area that they planned to kill a child on or about Halloween, either by kidnapping and sacrificing them or by poison.”

Many suspected that Jeannette was targeted by Satanists or witches due to her involvement at her church, an Evangelical center, but her church was quick to claim they had no big impact on Jeannette’s life. One anonymous witness told Weird NJ that it was possible Jeannette “did herself in, because at that time there was a lot of Satan stuff going on” in the area.

Authorities rejected any suggestion of occult activity and suggested that Jeannette had probably overdosed while partying in the woods with her friends. However, after an autopsy, the police ruled out the possibility of an overdose since no drugs were found in her system or around the body. The coroner found no evidence of bone fractures, bullet wounds, or knife strikes either. Due to Jeannette’s body already being badly decomposed,  the police had a hard time determining the exact cause of death. For an undisclosed reason, the coroner eventually determined Jeannette’s cause of death to be strangulation. There was also an unusually high amount of lead in Jeannette’s body, but the police had no explanation for this.

Early in the investigation, the police received an anonymous tip that a homeless man called Red had been living at a campsite in the woods and fled after Jeannette went missing. While this seemed to be a promising lead, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office eventually decided Red had nothing to do with Jeannette’s murder, and no arrests were ever made.

“It would make sense that Springfield would cover up the murder so as to not tarnish the reputation of the town.””

— Anonymous Witness

Not long after Jeannette’s murder was discovered, it was forgotten. Her murder was only recently brought back to attention due to Weird NJ’s coverage of the unsolved case. Her murder may never be solved due to many factors, including the private nature of the DePalma family and the contradicting stories of friends, fellow students, and witnesses.