Of the most interesting details released at a press conference on Monday, Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said Saturday would have been the victim's 74th birthday.
Romankow said Clark resident Vera Pecoraro (born July 7, 1938) was discovered by her son Anthony, who entered the home at 15 Rolling Hill Way on her birthday after he had not heard from his mother.
When police were called to the scene around 7 p.m., they found Pecoraro on her couch in the living room of her home, where she lived alone, her throat cut with a serrated knife that was found nearby. Romankow said they believe the attack happened sometime on Friday.
"She was dressed in her night clothes," Romankow said. "It would seem that she got up on a Friday, she may have made a call or two and then something happened after some time, we think, in the latter part of the morning."
Romankow said Pecoraro was in her home with all doors and windows locked. He said officials do not believe that this attack was part of a robbery, at least at this point in time. Given the circumstances surrounding the death, officials believe that Pecoraro was targeted and knew her attacker.
"She may have let someone in, she may not have," Romankow said. "We don’t know."
He added that the house was not in any way ransacked.
"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," Romankow said. "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 Union County Homicide Task Force is now receiving the cooperation of Pecoraro's three sons (Anthony, Michael and Theodore). He was asked if they 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 successful 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. Romankow said Pecoraro's husband died a few years ago of a heart attack.
"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."
During the conference Romankow was asked what the motive could be if the attack was not part of a robbery.
"We’re investigating various possibilities on that," answered Romankow. "I can’t discuss that. We’re not 100 percent sure on that either. ... It’s my understanding that she was going to move from this residence. She intended to move to a shore residence and subsequently 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."
Romankow was then 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 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. 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.
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.
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 there was other forensic evidence as a result of the medical examiner’s evaluation, which they received late yesterday, that indicated it was a homicide.
Union County Prosecutor's Office issued release from Monday's press conference:
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.
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