NJ man charged in wife's 1992 death

December 18, 2008 6:39:01 AM PST
A man who claimed his wife had accidentally fallen to her death from a cliff in Bergen County in 1992 was charged Wednesday with her murder. Stephen F. Scharf, 57, of Hackettstown, was being held on $1.5 million bail in the death of Jody Ann Scharf, who fell about 250 feet from a bluff in Palisades Interstate Park on Sept. 20, 1992.

Authorities believe Scharf pushed her off the cliff, possibly to collect on her life insurance policy, and noted that Jody Ann Scharf had filed for divorce shortly before she died.

At the time, Scharf told authorities that he and his 44-year-old wife had scaled a 4-foot fence and made their way to the edge of a cliff near the Rockefeller Lookout in Englewood Cliffs. Scharf said his wife slipped and fell shortly after 8 p.m. and was pronounced dead there after rescue workers reached her body about three hours later.

However, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said the evidence did not support Scharf's claims.

Molinelli told The Record of Bergen County that the arrest followed about two years of fresh investigatory work on the case, including interviews with witnesses, a review of medical records and financial documents and an examination of the scene.

"The story was that she had fallen off a cliff," Molinelli said. "But based upon our current analysis of where the body was found and the height of the cliff, we determined that it was not possible for her to be where she was and to have simply fallen."

Molinelli said Stephen Scharf stood to collect about $700,000 from a life insurance policy that included coverage for accidental death. However, it was not clear when Scharf bought the policy, and Molinelli would not say whether Scharf collected on it.

Molinelli also said Jody Ann Scharf had filed for divorce from her husband shortly before her death. The couple, who lived in Morris County, had been married for 14 years and had a son, who was 10 when his mother died.

Stephen Scharf later remarried, Molinelli said.

He is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday in state Superior Court. It was not clear if he had retained a lawyer.

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