DNA links suspected NJ serial killer to 50-year-old homicide
It's been 50 years since the body of 18-year old Raritan High School senior Mary Agnes Klinsky was found face-down near a parkway entrance ramp. For decades, the case went unsolved but police say thanks to modern science, they can now link the teen's murder to a suspected New Jersey serial killer.
The Monmouth County prosecutor's Office announced Wednesday that investigators have managed to link "DNA and corroborative evidence" to Robert Zarinsky, a convicted killer who, according to police, "carried out several murderous deeds across the region during the 1960s." Zarinsky died in prison almost eight years ago while serving a sentence that began in 1975.
"If Robert Zarinsky were alive today, he would be prosecuted for the homicide and sexual assault against Klinsky," Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said in a press release Wednesday.
The 18-year-old Hazlet girl's body was found at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 16, 1965 by a Garden State Parkway road crew. Authorities say she was naked and her body showed signs of "extreme physical trauma" when she was discovered in the grass behind a guardrail, near the southbound entrance ramp of what is now Exit 116.
"The victim’s jewelry was still on her body, and a ring from Raritan Township High School with the initials 'MAK' offered investigators a clue to her identity early in the investigation," the press release states. "An autopsy revealed that Klinsky died as a result of multiple skull fractures from significant blunt force trauma to her head. The post-mortem examination also found evidence of her being sexually assaulted prior to her death."
Investigators have followed numerous leads over the years in an attempt to track down Klinsky's killer. Although they were able to remove evidence from the crime scene, the scientific advancements available at the time didn't enable police to detect DNA of a potential suspect.
But thanks to modern advancements in DNA testing, police say they were able to re-examine the evidence collected in 1965 and based on the findings, investigators came up with a DNA profile for the suspect. That - along with corroborating the suspect's motive and whereabouts at the time of the murder - made it possible to tie Zarinsky to the young woman's death.
Zarinksy had previously been convicted in the 1969 murder of 17-year-old Rosemary Calandriello of Athlantic Highlands. He was found guilty and began a life sentence in prison in 1975. While carrying out the sentence, he was indicted in the 1968 murder of Jane Durrua, 13, of Keansburg, authorities said. The case never went to trial, however, as Zarinsky died in 2008 at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton. During one of his last court appearances in 2008, Zarinsky was wheeled into the courtroom on a stretcher, hooked to an oxygen tank.
In addition to the murder conviction and indictment, Zarinsky also had been implicated in 1999 by his sister, Judith Sapsa, in the 1958 unsolved murder of Rahway Police Officer Charles Bernoski. He was acquitted of the murder following a jury trial in 2001 and died on the 50th anniversary of Bernoski's death, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
According to NJ Advance Media, the officer's widow, Elizabeth Bernoskie, filed her own lawsuit against Zarinsky for her husband's death. A jury initially awarded her $9.5 million in damages, but in 2007, an appeals court ordered her to pay it back. When she did, Zarinsky went on to demand that she pay him additional interest, the article states.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor said the DNA testing linking Zarinsky to Klinsky's murder will bring closure to the young girl's family.
“The dogged determination of our investigators and those at the New Jersey State Police has provided closure for the Klinsky family. After more than half a century, they know who killed their sister and the residents of Monmouth County have a clearer understanding of the murderous reach of one of our most notorious serial killers in our history,” Gramiccioni said in a statement. “I am grateful for all the hard work and commitment exhibited by these consummate professionals.”
NJ State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes went on to commend the "unwavering determination" of investigators to bringing the cold case to a close.
"On behalf of Mary Agnes Klinsky’s family, two siblings met with investigating officers today in Freehold," authorities said in a press statement. "The family commended the work of every law enforcement agency involved, and indicated they are gratified that Mary Agnes can now rest in peace."
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.