Year since Stephanie Parze went missing, homicide case still open
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — A year ago, Stephanie Parze returned to her late grandmother's house after a pre-Halloween night out with her family, never to be seen again.
Her family never gave up on finding the 25-year-old alive and organized several searches in Monmouth County parks while investigators searched Staten Island, where ex-boyfriend John Ozbilgen had lived before moving to Freehold.
Parze's body was found on Jan. 27 along Route 9 southbound near the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge by two venue employees walking to work.
Months before the gruesome discovery, Ozbilgen hanged himself in November while facing charges of child pornography as his violent past with both Parze and another woman came to light.
Authorities never got the chance to charge Ozbilgen with Parze's disappearance or death but Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said in January that the only person responsible for Parze's death is Ozbilgen.
The case is still considered to be open, which is why a spokesman for Gramiccioni said he could not comment for this report.
Richard E. Incremona, the attorney for Ozbilgen’s parents, told New Jersey 101.5 that he filed a motion to recover personal property the investigators confiscated from Haken and Cynthia Ozbilgen's home. The items include gaming systems, cable boxes, computers and telephones.
"Prosecutors objected to that, fought against it declaring that there was an open investigation and that my clients were the subject matter of that investigation," Incremona said. "The prosecutor did not go into detail but what was intimated, it had to do with hindering or some sort of obstruction regarding the content of their electronic devices."
Incremona said investigators have unsuccessfully tried to get into at least one of the phones, which they suspect would show that Ozbilgen's parents participated in the events leading to Parze's disappearance. Their attorney doubts that.
"The parents cooperated fully with the police for weeks. There were multiple searches and multiple search warrants executed. Nothing found. They took cars — you name it, they took it — and my clients have not been charged," Incremona said.
"What else the prosecutor's office is looking at, I don't know. You'd have to ask them," Incremona said.
The attorney said that there will never be a sense of closure for the parents of either Parze or Ozbilgen.
"They both lost a child. Both of them are dealing with their grief, both of them are dealing with the horror that comes with having a child die before they do. There's no closure no matter what happens," he said.
The Ozbilgens said in January that they do not believe their son is responsible for Parze's death.
"We don't truly know what happened to Stephanie, but what we do know is John never said that he hurt Stephanie to us or in the note he left us. We believe he is innocent, but all the pressure from the false child pornography charges and the constant searches and relentlessness caused him to take his own life," the Ozbilgens said in a written statement.
Stephanie's father, Ed Parze, told New Jersey 101.5 that his family's mood has dropped as Oct. 30 draws closer.
"We're pretty much going to take it easy and spend time with the family and not do very much trying to keep our minds off things. It's starting to creep in. The family's starting to get down," he said.
The pandemic slowed activities planned by the Stephanie Nicole Parze Foundation, the charity created to promote awareness of domestic violence, sexual abuse and missing people. But it did hold two fundraisers in October, a golf tournament and a 5K Color Butterfly Run/Walk, which raised more than $46,000.
"The volunteers, Stephanie's Angels, they came out of the woodwork. We had over 150 of them," Parze said.
Their next event will be Light Up The Night on Feb. 19 to celebrate Stephanie's birthday, which will be outdoors but could become a gala held indoors in the future.