DNA & Justice Delayed: Closing The Cold Cases Of NJ Serial Killer Robert Zarinsky

BRIDGETON, NJ — On November 28, 2008, Robert Zarinsky breathed his last. After a lengthy battle with pulmonary fibrosis, the 68-year-old convicted murderer succumbed to the lung disorder within the confines of South Wood State Prison. Few mourned.

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In 1975, Zarinsky got life for killing Rosemary Calandriello in 1969, despite that fact that authorities never located the 16-year-old’s body.

Over the ensuing decades, Zarinsky turned out to be the main suspect in a number of unsolved murders — cold case crimes he reportedly bragged about and said he’d confess to in exchange for time off his sentence. It never happened.

As DNA technology grows ever stronger, though, New Jersey authorities are at last definitively identifying Zarinsky as a serial killer, victim by tragic victim.

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After a childhood of acting out, Zarinsky’s anti-social tendencies escalated from serious to severe in his teens.

He referred to himself as “Lt. Schaefer, leader of the American Republican Army,” and launched a one-maniac campaign of major vandalism that included desecrating Jewish cemeteries and burning down five entire lumberyards.

Once captured, the prisoner of his own imaginary war did 13 months in a psychiatric facility.

Upon getting sprung, Zarinsky got married, had kids, and opened a small produce business in the town of Linden. All the while, the diabolical impulses of “Lt. Schaefer” grew darker — and more active.

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Girls began dying in the vicinity of Robert Zarinsky in April 1969. Linda Balbanow, 17, vanished while walking home from her local pharmacy job in Union County. Her body floated to the surface of the Raritan River several days later.

Police eyeballed Zarinsky for the crime, but could find no evidence. They didn’t wait, however, after Rosemary Calandriello disappeared on October 25. With searchers frantically combing woods and beaches for Rosemary’s remains, officers brought in Zarinsky and charged him with kidnapping. Initially, that strategy backfired.

So much time passed while authorities searched for Rosemary’s remains that Zarinsky’s attorney got the charges dropped after arguing that his client had been denied the right to a speedy trial.

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In December 1974, the bodies of Doreen Carlucci, 14, and Joanne Delardo, 15, turned up in Manalapan Township. The girls were naked and had been strangled with an electrical cord. Police were stymied until multiple tips came in regarding Robert Zarsinksy.

Robert Zarinsky in 1975 [New Jersey Department of Corrections]

Apparently, as the horrifying news spread through the interconnected New Jersey communities, Zarinsky bragged that he had, in fact, murdered Rosemary Calandriello back in ’69, but the cops couldn’t pin it on it him because they never found her body.

Various law enforcement agencies furiously went to work, then, to make exactly that happen.

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Officers arrested Zarinsky in February 1975. This time, he definitely go a speedy trial. A jury convicted Zarinsky of first-degree murder that April, and the judge sent him away for life.

Zarinsky’s case marked the first time in New Jersey history that anyone had been found guilty of murder in the absence of a body. Union County Assistant Prosecutor Attorney John Mullaney explained:

“We had four eyewitnesses who put the girl in his car. Then we found the car, and the handles on the doors and the windows were missing.”

A year later, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the conviction, pointing out how Zarinsky had even done himself in by running his mouth.

In 1988, Zarsinky finally admitted to killing Rosemary Calandriello. He said her death had been “accidental” and that he buried her remains in the northwest New Jersey woods. Later, though, he claimed he dumped Rosemary’s corpse in the ocean.

Related: 3 Bodies, 2 Missing Women — Is There A Serial Killer On The Loose In Lumberton?

Years passed before Zarinsky made headlines again. In 1999, police investigated Judith Sapsa, Zarinsky’s sister, for stealing from her brother’s trust fund. She quickly implicated Zarinsky in the November 1958 murder of Rahway Police Officer Charles Bernoskie.

The death occurred while Zarinsky and his cousin Theodore Schiffer were burglarizing a Pontiac dealership. Officer Bernoskie happened upon the scene and a shootout erupted.

Bernoskie died and the two cousins allegedly came away wounded. Sapsa, who was very young at the time, said she watcher her mother use a kitchen knife to remove bullets from Zarinsky and Schiffer. When Sapsa asked what happened, she said her brother answered, “Teddy and I shot a cop.”

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Alas, prosecutors could not definitively prove that Zarinsky and not Schiffer fired the fatal shot, and the jury voted to acquit in 2000. Still, the trial reopened interest in connecting Zarinsky to the various cold cases in his orbit.

Specifically, Assistant Prosecutor Mullaney set out to nail Zarinsky for the murders of Joanne Delardo, Doreen Carlucci and Linda Balabanow. Each girl died in neighboring counties between 1969 and 1974 — among other unmistakable similarities. As Mullaney put it:

“All indications were [Zarinsky] did it. All of the girls had electric cords around their necks. There was clearly a pattern … When we searched Zarinsky’s car, we found a ball-peen hammer that had a hair on it that was not Rosemary Calandriello’s. Forensic technology was changing and later showed the odds indicated that it was Linda Balabanow’s hair … We knew he was a serial killer.”

Robert Zarinsky in 1999 [New Jersey Department of Corrections]

While Mullaney never successfully got to prosecute Zarinsky for those crimes, on March 28, 2008, Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin officially charged Zarinsky with the 1968 murder of 13-year-old Jane Durrua in Keansburg, New Jersey.

Alas, the Jane Durrua case, too, would end in frustration as Zarinsky died while awaiting trial.

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Even in death, though, evidence continues to mount against Zarinsky.

On February 17, 2016, the New Jersey State Police Major Crime Unit and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office announced that a DNA test connected Zarinsky to the 1965 rape and murder of Mary Agnes Klinsky, whose body was found in Holmdel’s Telegraph Hill Park.

As DNA technology continues to evolve, the other cases about which Zarinsky boasted he was withholding information will likely continue to be solved. Let us hope, from there, that knowledge will bring the murdered girls’ loved ones at least some measure of relief and closure.

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Main image: Robert Zarinsky [Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office]

  • Martha Bartha

    Zoo Jersey!