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25-year-old Mount Vernon murder mystery: Who is Jane Doe?

Body discovered 25 years ago still unidentified


Written by Will David

December 15, 2013


MOUNT VERNON — She was brutally strangled to death, her naked body laid out on the sidewalk in broad daylight in front of a south side junk yard on Valentine’s Day 25 years ago.

The woman was found lying face-up, her body carefully placed on a set of used garage door springs. Her name is still a mystery; investigators call her Jane Doe.

Mount Vernon detectives, swamped with unsolved murders and other serious crimes, set aside their investigation of the 1988 murder for most of the past three years. The slaying of the blond, hazel-eyed woman in her late teens or early 20s took a back seat to other cases that were more recent and considered more solvable.

“Her death is as important as anybody’s death,” Detective Capt. Edward Adinaro, commander of the city’s Detective Division, told The Journal News. “Unfortunately, we have warmer leads in other people’s deaths.”

The department’s handling of the unsolved murder has left a Mount Vernon cop who for years investigated the bizarre case at odds with his former co-workers.

“The reason nothing is happening is nobody cares about this,” retired Mount Vernon detective George Ossipo complained.

He thinks he knows not only who Jane Doe might be, but also who might have killed her.

Mount Vernon police say he’s wrong on both counts.


Twists, turns and dead ends

The victim’s body was discovered at 11:54 a.m. on Feb. 14, 1988, opposite 22 Carlton Ave., in a desolate, industrial area. A large German shepherd stood guard behind a fence nearby.

An autopsy found the woman had bruises above the left eye and ligature markings around her neck, wrists and ankles. She had been killed roughly six to 12 hours before that, and moved to the location sometime after 10:20 a.m.

She had not been sexually assaulted but may have engaged in sexual activity before she died. She had broccoli in her stomach and some trace of cocaine in her blood.

Initially the search for the identities of the woman and her killer moved at a fast pace. Investigators believed the woman might have been an exotic dancer, and checked Westchester and New York City topless bars, underground sex businesses and organized crime-owned hangouts for clues.

Mount Vernon police consulted with Interpol, the Royal Canadian Police and the case was even on Brazilian television. Dozens of missing persons cases were compared. They checked dental records, fingerprints and tattoos.

Then, a possible connection to other deaths cropped up. An unknown serial killer murdered three Yonkers women: Maria Ramos in 1989, Tawanda Hodges in 1991 and Kimberly Moore in 1996. Like the woman found in Mount Vernon, those three victims’ bodies had been posed by their killer. Police were convinced the Mount Vernon body might be the fourth.

In April 2010, however, the Yonkers women’s killer, Francisco Acevedo, was identified through DNA evidence. His DNA did not match the Mount Vernon Jane Doe, and investigators learned Acevedo had been in custody in Connecticut at the time she was killed.

Mount Vernon detectives were left without a suspect.

“I guess you could say they hit a dead end,” Adinaro said.


A New Jersey lead

Now a private investigator, Ossipo strongly believes the unidentified woman is Cathleen Marie Martin, who went missing from Cape May, N.J., the year before Jane Doe’s body was found. He said he made arrangements to have DNA samples from Martin’s son and daughter checked for a match but the tests were never performed.

Several of her relatives agree with Ossipo’s conclusion about the Mount Vernon victim’s identity.

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Retired Mount Vernon Police Detective George Ossipo stands near the scene on Carleton Avenue in Mount Vernon where a naked body of a young adult female was found on Valentine's Day 1988.

 Matthew Brown/The Journal News



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Martin’s daughter, Shantelle DelConte, and her ex-husband, John Martin, viewed pictures of Jane Doe and told The Journal News they believe the woman is Cathleen.

“(The killer) threw her away like trash in a junk yard,” John Martin said.

On the other hand, Cathleen Martin’s sister, Irene Fox of Florida, is skeptical. Although Fox agrees the pictures have striking similarities, she is bothered by a key discrepancy.

“I thought it was my sister,” Irene Fox said. “The only problem is the height.”

Jane Doe is 5 feet 3 inches tall. Fox said her sister was four inches taller.

Adinaro said the height difference is a key reason detectives doubt their Jane Doe is Martin.

Ossipo discounts the report of a height discrepancy. He contends Fox is judging her sister’s height from pictures where Cathleen was wearing high heels.

Fox’s husband, Joe Fox, was the last family member to see Martin alive. He took her to the airport on March 13, 1987, to drop her off for a vacation to Florida.

After arriving in Florida, Martin called her sister, whom she had been living with in Cape May, and said she was extending her vacation. Martin, who had studied accounting, had recently lost her job and had left her children in her sister’s care. She told her sister that she was going to take a ride up the East Coast with a limousine driver she met.

She never was heard from again.


Many unsolved cases

Jane Doe is one of 53 unsolved murders since 1988 in Mount Vernon, a four-square-mile city of roughly 70,000 people.

Unlike New York City to its south and Yonkers to its west, Mount Vernon does not have a cold case detective squad. This year police reassembled a Major Case unit, but Adinaro said it is so swamped that Westchester County police have assigned some of their detectives to help out.

“You kind of have to know who the person is,” said Adinaro of the victim. “It’s not like we don’t want to do it. We have a slew of fresh homicides. I have families of known victims. The hottest lead gets chased the furthest.”

Ossipo complained that, in addition to failing to explore the possible identification of Martin, investigators have not pursued a potential suspect. He said the lead was developed after he left the department: DNA taken from under Jane Doe’s fingernails pointed to a Massachusetts man.

“They had a DNA link in 2010. Why didn’t they do anything?” asked Ossipo. “He’s a viable suspect that needs to be explored.”

Adinaro said detectives have not interviewed the man because they learned from Massachusetts authorities that he was in jail at the time the Mount Vernon victim was slain, and the DNA match was only partial.

Ossipo argued evidence collected in 1988 — when DNA technology was not as precise — might create a partial sample or one that might be tainted. He said to his knowledge the man was not in jail at the time in question.

 “Someone should have talked to him,” Ossipo maintained.

After The Journal News began making inquiries about the case this summer, the Major Case Unit re-launched its investigation into the death: re-interviewing witnesses — including the worker who found Jane Doe’s body — and entering her information into two national unidentified victims networks.

No new clues have developed.

Adinaro does think that whoever killed Jane Doe had probably killed before.

Ossipo says there’s not enough evidence to conclude that.


'Like she was a nobody'

Cathleen Martin’s ex-husband said the family is frustrated by the slow speed of the Mount Vernon investigation.

“It seems like nobody’s investigating this,” John Martin said. “It’s like she was a nobody and they said, ‘To hell with this.’

“All I ask is that somebody cares,” the Indianapolis resident said.

DelConte, her daughter, now a grade-school teacher in New Jersey, was in elementary school when her mother disappeared.

“I don’t know who did this, but I want them brought to justice,” DelConte said. “Even if this is not proven to be my mother, whoever this person is that did this heinous crime should be behind bars.”


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Expert: Killer took big risk

December 15, 2013

Daytime display of body said to take lot of time

Written by Will David


Vernon J. Geberth

– Whoever strangled Jane Doe took an unusual amount of time and a big risk displaying her naked body

 in broad daylight, criminologist Vernon J. Geberth told The Journal News.

Geberth, a retired lieutenant commander in the New York City Police Department with more than 40 years of experience, said he couldn’t tell if the slaying was the work of a serial killer.

“What I can tell you is this person was comfortable spending his time making a presentation,” Geberth said. The average killer, he said, is not so meticulous about the appearance of his victim.

“The average killer kills,” he said.

Jane Doe’s killer appeared to have been making a presentation of a sexual fantasy to degrade the woman or to make police believe someone else committed the crime, said Geberth, who had supervised and handled over 400 murder investigations a year in the Bronx before he retired.  Geberth actually investigated, supervised, consulted and researched on over 8,000 homicide investigations during his career and has written four books on the subject. [Editorial Correction]

 “It is absolutely odd,” Geberth said. “It is beyond odd. It is bizarre.”

Geberth said the positioning is “one of peace versus the brutality that was inflicted on her. It is like an undoing.”