CrimePAY$ – $8,000 Reward
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It’s been nearly four decades since Patrick O’Neill was gunned down in his family’s Deptford Township (NJ) farmhouse.
The structure was razed years ago, but the questions — who killed the 17-year-old and why? — remain.
The oldest cold case listed by the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, O’Neill’s 1975 death continues to puzzle investigators. In 2011, a $10,000 reward was offered in the hope someone might come forward.
That offer now stands at $8,000.
It’s hard to say if the money will help solve the O’Neill case. But a review of reward fund procedures in the area shows funding the quest for homicide answers can be futile.
For information leading to the killer of Donald Farrell III, a Rowan University student killed not far from campus in 2007: $100,000.
Desiree McGraw, shot to death behind a Deptford fire house in 2006: $5,000.
Vanessa Tomlin, a victim of a 2010 hit and run in Waterford: $506.
Last Sunday, Woodbury gas station attendant Surinder Singh was fatally gunned down on the job. Authorities have offered an $8,000 reward for information in that case.
Although research into the effectiveness of rewards is limited, both police officials and families say it’s a chance worth taking.
“Maybe poke some memories — and offer a benefit to people,” said Michael O’Neill, Patrick’s 62-year-old brother, on the reward fund.
“It’s kind of a long shot, but it’s worth it because it draws some attention to the case.
“There might be more of a chance of someone who was keeping their mouth shut back in the day saying something now,” noted O’Neill, now living in Louisiana.
“My mother and father both went to their graves not fully knowing what happened.”
In Camden County, payouts are rare. Save for one pending homicide case, officials with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office and the Citizens Crime Commission of Delaware Valley — which partners with the county — couldn’t recall a case in recent memory that netted a reward.
“It’s definitely infrequent,” said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office. “And that’s unfortunate.”
In the November 2012 beating death of Gregory Holder in Camden, a tipster received $500 for information leading to the arrest of Michael Winters, 37, and Andrew Alford, 39.
Both city men were formally indicted this month for the murder of the 45-year-old Cherry Hill resident. If the two are convicted, the person who provided the information will receive an additional $1,000.
A tip in another recent homicide helped yield an arrest, but the tipster never came forward, Laughlin said, and the case still is also pending.
The Philadelphia-based Citizens Crime Commission holds more than 30 active reward funds in the county dating back to 2008. The Prosecutor’s Office currently maintains three accounts.
The nonprofit commission works with law enforcement agencies by administering reward funds and taking anonymous tips through its TIPLINE program, an outgrowth of the national group Crime Stoppers.
The organization was unable to provide an instance of payout in Camden County for a homicide case, but Vice President Santo Montecalvo said the group has paid out more than $300,000 in the Delaware Valley region during the last five years.
Police departments, civic groups, friends and family are typically among the donors to specific case funds, said crime commission President John Apeldorn.
In some cases, contributors agree to pledge money but reserve the option to rescind the offer if a rewardgoes unclaimed.
In Gloucester County, no reward money has been dispensed in the last decade by the Prosecutor’s Office, according to spokesman Bernie Weisenfeld. Three cold cases have been solved since 2003, but none required reward payout.
The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, on the other hand, doesn’t handle any reward funds, said spokesman Joel Bewley. If police departments or individuals offer them, the office will help promote the reward.
Still, experts say the rewards can be useful.
“Rewards in specific cases are much more a case-by-case situation,” explained Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and prosecutor.
“It’s hard to say exactly how effective rewards are. We certainly know the size of the reward can be helpful but doesn’t ensure a solution.”
Laughlin said his office is serious about paying out, and even if the funds aren’t tapped, they can be effective.
“The other benefit (of) the reward and announcing the reward is (that it’s) an opportunity to remind the public that this case is unsolved.”
O’Donnell, now a professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, agrees.
“If a case is either cold or getting cold … you’re trying to get a hook for the media, really. You want people to give you whatever they have.
“It’s not necessary to turn over a DNA sample of the bad guy.”
It’s those small strands of information Dawn Centanni sought when she turned to the Internet to raise money for a reward fund in the death of her mother, Carol Reiff.
Reiff was found dead near her apartment complex in Gloucester Township at the end of June. Officials haven’t declared the case a homicide or said how the 59-year-old runner died, but her death is considered an active criminal investigation.
The case is still young, Laughlin said, and both family members and authorities are hopeful someone will come forward with information.
Thousands of dollars await.
Often tips come from someone who’s charged with another offense but has information about an unsolved case — a ploy to “lighten the load on themselves,” according to Laughlin.
“We know that people who are walking around … are sitting with information. The sooner we can get it, the sooner we can get the case to bed.”
And in places where the so-called “no-snitch” culture reigns, there’s a chance no amount of money would yield answers.
“It’s very hard to develop relationships in Camden that lead people to come forward,” Laughlin argued. “There’s no amount of money that’s going to encourage someone if money is their only motive.”
Reward funds remain a tool in an investigator’s arsenal, he added, and should be utilized. Unsolved homicides are burdensome for families, but they also can take a toll on detectives.
“They want to look the family in the eye and tell them, ‘We got the guy.’ ”
CrimePAY$ – $8,000 Reward
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