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Crime News Missing Persons

Officials Seek Answers After Skeletal Remains ID’d As NJ Teen Missing Since 1972

In 1988, Atlantic Highlands residents came upon the skeletal remains of a female believed to have been dead for some time. Now, officials say the remains belong to Nancy Carol Fitzgerald, who was last seen in 1972. 

By Jax Miller
How To Use DNA To Crack A Case

New Jersey officials say they’ve identified the body belonging to a teenager who vanished half a century ago.

On Dec. 10, 1988, members of an Atlantic Highlands community cleanup event came upon the skeletal remains of a Jane Doe, later determined to be a white female between the ages of 15 and 18. The area in which the body was found was described as a “wooded hillside” off Lower Bayside Drive, leading to a Sandy Hook Bay beach, according to the National Center of Missing & Exploited Children.

A local resident helping to clear the area for a bicycle path (now the Henry Hudson Bike Trail) had mistaken the female’s skull for a plastic ball, according to The Doe Network. More skeletal remains were found nearby.

A state forensic anthropologist determined the then-unidentified person had been dead for some time, possibly since the mid-1970s.

RELATED: Skull Found In Montana Wilderness Nearly 50 Years Ago Identified As Belonging To Wisconsin Hitchhiker Who Vanished In 1976

On Monday, the Office of the Monmouth County Prosecutor announced that a 2020 forensic genealogical review led authorities to identify the deceased as 16-year-old Nancy Carol Fitzgerald.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Raymond S. Santiago said Fitzgerald was last seen having Easter dinner with her family in Bloomfield — about 50 miles north of Atlantic Highlands — on Sunday, April 2, 1972.

She disappeared the following day without a trace.

A NCMU handout of Nancy Carol Fitzgerald

“Today’s announcement marks the culmination of decades of hard work by a network of individuals whose collective determination and ingenuity proved inexhaustible,” Santiago stated. “In addition to being a testament to their efforts, it’s also reflective of our firm commitment to uncover the truth and serve the interests of justice, regardless of how much time has passed or what investigative obstacles might ever stand in the way.”

Santiago said that even though Fitzgerald had been positively identified, there exists “a puzzle that will remain unfinished” until how and why Fitzgerald died can be learned.

Little could be found about the investigation into Fitzgerald’s disappearance over the years, though much existed about the investigation into the Jane Doe. According to a student newspaper, locals suspected Jane Doe might have been a victim of suspected serial killer Richard Zarinsky.

In 1975, Zarinsky, who died in 2008, was convicted of murdering Atlantic Highlands teen Rosemary Calandriello, 17, who disappeared in 1969 and remains missing, according to NJ.com.

Forensic tests were once performed on Jane Doe to determine whether her remains belonged to Calandriello, according to a 1999 Asbury Park Press article. Of course, the results were negative.

In 2016, Monmouth County prosecutors announced DNA posthumously connected Zarinsky to the 1963 rape and murder of 18-year-old Mary Agnes Klinsky. He remains the suspect in several teens’ murders in the 1960s and 1970s.

Still, due to the state of Fitzgerald’s remains, foul play could not be definitively determined.


Prosecutors say that following the 1988 discovery of Jane Doe’s body, a joint investigation with the Atlantic Highlands Police Department “leveraged a variety of investigative techniques, none of which were successful in establishing the deceased’s identity,” per their release.

However, a DNA profile was created in the 1990s, though comparative inquiries yielded no results.

In 2020, investigators working on behalf of Monmouth County prosecutors enlisted Bode Technology — a Virginia-based lab specializing in DNA analysis — to use genetic genealogy to help identify the remains.

The scientific line of inquiry led investigators to a “distant relative” in Georgia. The relative provided DNA belonging to her mother, which then led authorities to a woman “believed to be Jane Doe’s younger sister” in Pennsylvania.

In November, experts concluded the Pennsylvania woman’s DNA had a 99.9997% probability of being Jane Doe’s immediate relative, leading them to positively identify Jane Doe as Nancy Carol Fitzgerald.

Family members are now awaiting Fitzgerald’s remains to be transported for burial, according to prosecutors.

Through interviews, officials learned Fitzgerald and her family had lived on Bloomfield’s Crown Street before moving to Mohr Avenue just three years before her 1972 disappearance. She was also once enrolled in Bloomfield’s Berkeley Elementary School and North Junior High School, now Bloomfield Middle School.

Investigators hope people can help them learn more about the circumstances surrounding Fitzgerald’s mysterious death.

“We are urging anyone who may have any information about this matter whatsoever to come forward and tell us what they know,” said Prosecutor Santiago. “Ms. Fitzgerald’s peers would all likely be in their 60s today, so we firmly believe that it is not too late to determine what happened to her and why — and, if possible, to hold any living person who may be responsible accountable for it.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Raynor at 1-800-533-7443 or the Atlantic Highlands Police Department’s Lt. Michael Zudonyi at 1-732-291-1212.

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