An autopsy has confirmed what family members and friends of Stephanie Parze had feared: a body found on Jan. 26 in the township’s wooded area off Route 9 is that of the missing woman.
Parze, of Freehold Township, vanished on Oct. 30. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office reported on Jan. 27 that with “great sadness we announce that Stephanie Parze’s remains were recovered yesterday in Old Bridge.” The Medical Examiner confirmed her identity earlier that morning.
During a noon press conference held by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office on Jan. 27 Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni, joined by members of his office and Parze’s parents Edward and Sharlene Parze, discussed the discovery of the body east of Route 9 stating preliminary evidence led the office to suspect it was the body of Stephanie Parze.
Parze disappeared following an evening out at a comedy club in New Brunswick where she joined members of her family including her mother, Sharlene. The family came back to their Freehold Township home. Stephanie departed around 10 p.m. to return to her grandmother’s house, 3.2 miles away, where she had been staying and where she cared for her grandmother’s dogs.
Stephanie was to have called or texted her mother upon her arrival back at her grandmother’s residence but she never checked in. A day later, family members grew concerned when she didn’t respond to any efforts to contact her.
Her family went to the house and her phone was found on a couch. Her car was found in the driveway and her purse was on the table. Her phone revealed several text messages from her employer. Parze was working as a nanny and a message noted that she had not shown up for work.
Investigators began investigating her ex-boyfriend, John Ozbilgen, who was soon classified as a person of interest in the case. He had told Stephanie’s sister on Oct. 31 that he had seen her preparing for work that morning but had not heard from her afterward.
The Prosecutor’s office had reported that Ozbilgen had been arrested Nov. 9 on child pornography charges following the execution of a search warrant at his home in connection with the disappearance of Parze.
Ozbilgen was never charged and his body was found on Nov. 22 at his parents’ Freehold Township home. His death was deemed a suicide by hanging according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. He had been awaiting trial on the child pornography charges and had just been released from jail two days prior.
The Prosecutor said “we had concluded and confirmed he was responsible for the killing before we found his suicide note. We have no reason to believe that there was anyone else responsible or that he was working with anyone else.”
Gramiccioni said a knife had been recovered in New York but the results had come back negative regarding whether it was involved in the murder. Ozbilgen had disposed of items from his vehicle but “those items were of no evidentiary value at the scene. We have a few loose ends to tie up and the next finding will be the cause of death and we are awaiting the results of the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office.”
It is the conclusion of the Prosecutor’s Office that Ozbilgen killed Stephanie Parze during the late hours of Oct. 31 “and disposed of her body in Old Bridge. Forensic teams will review the evidence concerning the time period of the death,” Gramiccioni said.
Ozbilgen had been facing a domestic violence charge that had been filed in September by Stephanie. Following her disappearance, her parents learned there had been two previous domestic violence incidents.
Sharlene and Edward Parze had previously expressed that they believed Ozbilgen was responsible for their daughter’s disappearance.
Family and friends had organized various gatherings to search for Stephanie Parze at various times since her disappearance. A strong social media presence aided in drawing awareness to the case and gaining volunteers to support the searches. Edward Parze said during the press conference that “We searched over 60 different locations. It was two angels that had found her on Sunday. That was the purpose of those two people being there,” he said.
Those searches had focused on areas between Freehold Township and Staten Island. A 19-mile area in Turkey Swamp Park was searched two weeks ago. That effort included a search of the lake at the park.
Cadaver dogs, drones, volunteers on horseback and others combing the area on foot were all involved in scanning the property for any sign of Parze.