About 25 years ago, a string of New Jersey girls were brutally murdered. This page tells the story of the
Richard Biegenwald's childhood was as volatile one. His father was an alcoholic and, by the time Biegenwald was 5 years old,
his mother could no longer control him. When police were digging up the yard of her Staten Island home, Sally
Biegenwald described her son as a hyperactive child.
He was prone to lighting fires in his bedroom. Once, he ignited his bed and threw himself in the fire. At the age of 5, he was institutionalized and received shock treatment. He spent most of his childhood in New York state youth detention centers. One medical report said young Biegenwald had a death fantasy and suffered from night terror.
He was released when he was 15 and began high school the next year. But about six months later, he dropped out of school and drifted through the South. Over the next three years, Biegenwald had several brushes with the law. In Nashville, Tenn., he was arrested for stealing a car. In Kentucky, he was arrested for loitering and served 30 days in jail. When he was released, he returned to New York. Then, on Dec. 18, 1958, Biegenwald and a companion walked into a Bayonne, N.J., corner grocery store and shot and killed the owner, Stephen F. Sladowsky, who was also a municipal prosecutor. Biegenwald was captured two days later in Salisbury, Md., after a high-speed chase and shootout with police.
On Aug. 6, 1959, Biegenwald was convicted and given a life sentence.
When Biegenwald entered Trenton State Prison in 1959, he went to work at the prison's machine shop. He kept that job for five years and then was assigned to the print shop. On May 1, 1973, Biegenwald was transferred to Rahway State Prison and worked in the dental lab, where he made false teeth.
On March 12, 1974, Biegenwald was denied parole. Then, on Oct. 12, 1974, his parole was approved, effective June 12, 1975. A member of the parole board estimated that by the time Biegenwald was released from prison, the state had spent more than $250,000 on his care and custody.
And what did the public receive for their money? "He was neither the Birdman of Alcatraz nor Jack the Ripper," the parole board member said in a recent telephone interview.
Initial parole reports were positive. He lived in Perth Amboy, then Teaneck, and, on July 1, 1977, he left the area without the permission of his parole officer. An arrest warrant was issued for parole violation.
In June 1980, Biegenwald was picked up by police in New York for questioning about a rape. He was never charged with the rape but was returned to Rahway State Prison for violating parole. He was released in February 1981.
After his release, Biegenwald hooked up with a former prison friend, Dherran Fitzgerald. They lived together in Asbury Park,
along with Biegenwald's wife, Dianne, 22, who had grown up next door to Biegenwald's mother on Staten Island.
A week after Anna Olesiewicz's body was found, Fitzgerald and the Biegenwalds were arrested and charged with the murder. Fitzgerald then led police to the bodies of two young women who were buried in shallow graves outside Biegenwald's mother's home.
Oct 31 1981 Maria Ciallella was last seen by her parents on Oct. 31, 1981, when she left her home on Village Way about 6:30 p.m. to go out for the evening. Before she left, she borrowed $1 from her father and promised to be home by midnight. The last time the girl was seen alive was shortly after midnight when a Point Pleasant police officer, responding to a radio call, spotted her walking along Route 88 toward her home, Lehrer said. "His intention was to finish answering his call and then return and pick up the girl," Lehrer said of the officer. "When he returned about 10 minutes later, she was gone. It is believed that Richard Biegenwald picked her up and murdered her." 27 August 1982- Friday, Anna Olesiewicz, 18, the youngest of five children of a Camden fire captain, left her home with a girlfriend for a weekend at the Jersey shore, in Asbury Park. For Anna, it was the first such trip of the summer. According to her brother, Robert, Anna wanted to get one weekend away before beginning classes at Camden County Community College. She was due back home on Sunday. Sometime on Saturday, Anna was lured into a car driven by a man who investigators believe was Biegenwald. When she did not come home that Sunday, her brother said in a recent telephone interview, the family knew that something had happened to her. "I knew something was wrong, because she wasn't the type of person to go off without letting anyone know," Robert said. For several weekends after that, Robert went to Asbury Park with a picture. He walked along the boardwalk, showing strangers the picture and asking if they had seen her. Sep 1982 -The body of stabbing victim Virginia Clayton of Freehold Township,is found in a wildlife refuge. It is believed by police that Biegenwald was responsible for this as well. Nov 20 1982-19 year old Betsty Bacon of Sea Girt is last seen alive. Biegenwald took his victim to the garage behind his Asbury Park house, where he shot her twice in the head. A friend of Biegenwald's, Dherran Fitzgerald, helped move Bacon's body. Fitzgerald later cooperated with authorities Jan 14 1983 Anna Olesiewicz's decomposed body was found dumped in Ocean Township; an autopsy determined she had been shot in the head. Jan 20 1983 Biegenwald was apprehended after police staged a fake arrest behind his house. When he came to the back door to see what was going on, he was arrested. Also in the house and arrested were his wife, Diane, 22; Darran Fitzgerald, 48, also of Asbury Park; and Jennifer Metz, 29, of Bradley Beach, N.J. 14 Apr 1983 in Tinton Falls, Monmouth County, the task force found the body of a female with a bullet wound in the head. 17 Apr 1983 behind Mount Calvary Cemetery in Neptune, Monmouth County, the task force found a fully clothed male body with multiple gunshot wounds to the head, buried six feet below the ground. 19 Apr 1983 The bodies of two women are unearthed from the yard of Beignwald's mother in Staten Island. One is Maria Ciallela, who disappeared on Halloween, 1981. 23 Apr 1983 Prosecutors yesterday identified two people whose bodies were found in shallow graves in central New Jersey last weekend, and linked the slayings to Richard Biegenwald , an Asbury Park, N.J., man already named in two other killings. Speaking at a news conference in Freehold, N.J., Monmouth County Prosecutor Alexander Lehrer identified a girl whose body was found last Friday in Tinton Falls as Betsy Bacon, 17, of Sea Girt, N.J. He said Miss Bacon was last seen about 11 p.m. on Nov. 20, when she told her mother that she was leaving their Monmouth County home to buy a package of cigarettes. Lehrer also identified a man whose body was found Sunday in Neptune, N.J., as William J. Ward, 34, of North Wildwood, N.J. Lehrer said Ward was a "self- employed video-game operator." The prosecutor said investigators had linked Biegenwald , 42, to the deaths of both Miss Bacon and Ward. Biegenwald already has been named in the death of a Brick Township teenage girl whose body was one of two found buried in Staten Island, N.Y., this week, and he has been charged with murder in the slaying of a Camden teenage girl found dead in January. May 11 1983-John Petrone's body is discovered in Jackson Township Jun 17 1983-Biegenwald is denied public money to pay a psychiatrist to help with his insanity plea. Aug 1983-Biegenwald's wife, Diane, gives birth to a girl. Nov 14 1983-Biegenwald's attorneys drop the insanity defense without explanation. Nov 28 1983-Biegenwald's trial begins. Dec 8 1993: A description of one day's testimony at the trial of Biegenwald:
The only reason the lawyers needed Michael Knoblauch in court was to identify the ring.
It was a gold band with a dark sapphire. It had become evidence in the murder case, and was passed between lawyers and witnesses and touched and discussed by a dozen people or more who knew nothing of what the ring really meant. Then on Monday, they put Knoblauch on the stand.
Yes, he said, he had been Anna Olesiewicz's boyfriend. Yes, he could identify the ring. Yes, he had given it to her.
That was it. Thank you, the judge said. That was it for Knoblauch's public expression of everything that had existed between himself and Anna. Then he left the witness box and returned to his own private grief.
He was in court again yesterday. After the verdict came back declaring Richard Biegenwald guilty of murdering Miss Olesiewicz, and after Knoblauch told the television cameras and microphones that were pushed in his face that he was happy with the verdict and would like to execute a death sentence against Biegenwald, he returned to his own private grief.
He sat in the cafeteria in the Monmouth County Courthouse, his eyes fixed on the void.
He considered the verdict. "It doesn't mean nothing," he said.
What meant something was that ring. Knoblauch gave it to Anna on June 5, 1980, the eighth anniversary of her mother's death. "I wanted to give it to her to cheer her up," he said. "She was pretty down and out."
Miss Olesiewicz was wearing it that summer night two years later when she is believed to have met Biegenwald on the Asbury Park boardwalk, left with him to smoke marijuana and wound up shot to death with four bullets in the head. Biegenwald, according to testimony at the trial, gave the ring to his girlfriend. Police found it in Biegenwald's wife's jewelry box, which was one of the ways they connected Anna Olesiewicz to her killer. The lawyers might not have been interested, but that ring meant something about what there was between Mike and Anna. They were neighbors in South Camden, classmates in elementary school and in love in high school. By June 1982 they had been going out for more than three years when Anna called it quits.
"I don't know what the reason was," Knoblauch said. "I never got a reason." He believed they would get back together. She
was wearing his ring the night she died. That meant something. Knoblauch did his part at the trial, and then he and Gino
DiBattista waited at the courthouse for another day and a half for the verdict. DiBattista, a carpenter, and Knoblauch, who
works at a car-rental agency, are both 21 and are friends from the old Camden neighborhood. Outside the courtroom in a crowd
of spectators who were there for the drama of the trial, the two young men from Camden met two young women from Brick
Township - Maria Kotelnicki, 20, and Janine Seme, 20, both friends of MariaCiallella .
One January night two years ago, Miss Ciallella left her home to get a pack of cigarettes. That was the last that was known about her until June, when her body was found buried in the backyard of Biegenwald's mother's home in Staten Island, N.Y. It was in three pieces.
Biegenwald has pleaded not guilty to killing Miss Ciallella , as he has pleaded in the three other murders with which he has been charged and as he pleaded in the murder of Miss Olesiewicz, for which he was convicted yesterday.
Between the young men from Camden and the young women from Brick Township, there was an immediate and miserable bond of pain. "It's getting better," Miss Kotelnicki said of the pain caused by the loss of her best friend. She wished Knoblauch well, and she left before the verdict was delivered, saying, ''It gets better."
As with Knoblauch's full story of the ring, the pain of the victims who have not gotten better was a little lost at the trial
. Most of the spectators were older folks - as many as three dozen of them - who watch trials here as if they are watching
daytime television shows. From the talk in the hallways, these veteran observers - people like Otis, a dignified man with a
clean shaven head, and Henry, who had three days' growth on his beard, had declared Biegenwald guilty from the day the
When they were proven correct yesterday, they went out into the hallway and talked about the case on their way to another murder trial in the next courtroom.
But Knoblauch did not have the luxury of distance. This was his life and the life of his girlfriend. He remembers it all. The call from Anna's brother that awoke him that weekend, and the next three days they spent in Asbury Park looking for Anna. They looked everywhere. They looked, but they didn't find.
He says he is still shaking from the experience, and his social life is not what it might be for a man of 21. "I'm not really interested in looking for anybody else," he said.
Yesterday, as far as the law was concerned, the case of Anna Olesiewicz's death was closed. But as far as Michael Knoblauch was concerned, there was still a void, and he sat yesterday in the cafeteria, staring at it.
On Dec 8, 1983, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to die by lethal injection. However, for years he managed to fight it in the courts, and three times the courts spared his life. He is currently serving several life sentences.
In return for his testimony, Fitzgerald was only charged with one count of possession of a weapon and one count of accessory to murder after the fact and served a 10-year prison sentence. Fitzgerald was released from New Jersey State Prison in 1994.
On Feb 16, 1984 he Richard also found guilty of killing William Ward. According to Fitzgerald, an admitted "hired killer" who
was also the key witness in the December trial, testified that Ward came to the Asbury Park apartment to discuss killing a
member of Ward's drug trafficking operation.
Fitzgerald said that Biegenwald left the apartment before Ward arrived and suggested that Fitzgerald keep him busy until he returned. Fitzgerald and several others indicated that Biegenwald shot Ward four times in the head as Ward was struggling with Fitzgerald behind Biegenwald's apartment. Corroborating testimony came from a neighbor, who saw parts of the struggle from her upstairs window, and from two women who were told of the incident - Biegenwald's former lover, Theresa Smith, and Fitzgerald's girlfriend, Kathy Bertucci. Fitzgerald said Ward's body was buried near a cemetery in nearby Neptune Township, where it was discovered on April 16, 1983.