Suspected serial killer Zarinsky dies

November 29, 2008 2:43:12 PM PST
Robert Zarinsky, the first person in New Jersey convicted of murder without a body for evidence and a suspect in several other unsolved murders in the state, has died in prison. He was 68. Zarinsky died at 8:25 p.m. Friday in the hospice unit at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, said Deidre Fedkenheuer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. An exact cause of death was not given, but officials said Saturday that Zarinsky had suffered from "major respiratory issues" before his death.

He had been in failing health in recent years, and during a March court appearance - where he pleaded not guilty in the slaying of a 13-year-old girl in 1968 - Zarinsky told a judge that he had pulmonary fibrosis and only had about six months to live.

At that hearing, Zarinsky was confined to a hospital gurney and needed an oxygen tube to help him breathe.

He had been jailed since 1975 for killing 17-year-old Rosemary Calandriello of Atlantic Highlands, who disappeared Aug. 25, 1969, on her way to the store for a carton of milk. She was last seen alive in Zarinsky's car, but her body was never found.

Zarinsky had proclaimed his innocence in the case for many years, but eventually admitted his guilt during an unsuccessful bid for parole, when he claimed he accidentally backed over her with his car.

For years, authorities had considered Zarinsky a prime suspect in a string of unsolved slayings in Middlesex, Monmouth and Union counties from the 1960s and 1970s, mostly involving teenage girls.

He was indicted earlier this year in the death of 13-year-old Jane Durrua, who was murdered in 1968 after leaving a high school football game in Keansburg. At the time of his death, he was awaiting trial in the case.

Those charges came about after prosecutors in Monmouth County claimed a botched DNA analysis led to the arrest of another man for Durrua's murder in 2004. After questions were raised about the analysis, her body was exhumed in 2005 and DNA samples provided a match to Zarinsky.

The former grocer in Linden also made headlines in 1999, when - while still serving his life term for Calandriello's slaying - he was arrested for the 1958 murder of Rahway Police Officer Charles Bernoskie during a botched robbery.

Zarinsky was fingered by his sister after she and her husband were implicated in the theft of more than $100,000 from a mutual fund Zarinsky had started with money he had inherited from his mother.

A jury acquitted Zarinsky of Bernoskie's murder in 2001, but a civil trial jury later found him liable and awarded $10.8 million to Bernoskie's widow; she later got about $150,000 from the mutual fund.

However, a state appeals court vacated the jury award in 2006, finding that the passage of time made it impossible for Zarinsky to mount an adequate defense.

The widow had given the money to her six children and faced the loss of her home, but law enforcement groups raised enough funds for her to return the money to Zarinsky. However, he had recently filed a notice that the amount did not include enough interest.

Zarinsky died on the 50th anniversary of Bernoskie's murder.

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