FREEHOLD – Nancy Carol Fitzgerald was 16 years old when she sat down to dinner with her family on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972. The following day she vanished and she was never seen or heard from again.
Following an intensive long-term investigation involving numerous interviews and extensive DNA analysis, human remains recovered near the Henry Hudson Bike Trail in Atlantic Highlands in 1988 have now been positively identified as the teenager. The circumstances behind her death, however, remain a mystery.
Fitzgerald’s skeletal remains were recovered during a community clean-up event held along Bayside Drive in Atlantic Highlands on December 10, 1988. The remains were thereafter examined by New Jersey State Forensic Anthropologist Donna Fontana, who ultimately concluded that they had belonged to a young white female, between the ages of 15 and 18, who had probably been deceased since sometime around the mid-1970s.
An initial joint investigation into the matter, conducted by members of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Atlantic Highlands Police Department, used a variety of investigative techniques, none of which were successful in establishing the deceased’s identity. In the 1990s, a DNA profile was obtained from the remains and used for comparison purposes – which were also initially unsuccessful.
However, in 2020, MCPO Lt. Andrea Tozzi and Detective Wayne Raynor contacted a Virginia-based DNA analysis firm, Bode Technology, in order to pursue a forensic genealogical review of the case using technology far more advanced than had been previously available. That effort resulted in the identification of a distant relative of the Jane Doe, a female resident of Georgia.
The relative agreed to an interview, and later agreed to upload DNA from her own mother into a Bode database, which then led to the identification of another lead: a woman living in Pennsylvania, believed to be Jane Doe’s younger sister.
That woman was interviewed in August and also agreed to provide a DNA sample, which last month indicated a 99.9997-percent probability of an immediate familial match to Jane Doe.
Dr. Lauren Thoma, Deputy Medical Examiner with the Middlesex Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, then reviewed the new information and made an official identification of the remains as belonging to Nancy Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald’s known surviving relatives were subsequently notified, with transfer of her remains to them for burial now pending.
Monmouth County Prosecutor Raymond S. Santiago said the discovery “marks the culmination of decades of hard work by a network of individuals whose collective determination and ingenuity proved inexhaustible. 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.
“While we are certainly encouraged that the identification was made, solving a 50-year-old mystery, this is ultimately a puzzle that will remain unfinished until we locate the final missing piece: the circumstances behind Nancy’s death,” Prosecutor Santiago said.
He added, “we are urging anyone who may have any information about this matter whatsoever to come forward and tell us what they know. 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.”
Fitzgerald’s family was living in a home on Mohr Avenue in Bloomfield (Essex County) at the time of her disappearance, having moved there from a home on Crown Street in Bloomfield about three years earlier. She is known to have attended Bloomfield’s Berkeley Elementary School and North Junior High School (today Bloomfield Middle School).
Those with information about Fitzgerald are urged to contact MCPO Detective Raynor at 800-533-7443 or Atlantic Highlands Police Department Lt. Michael Zudonyi at 732-291-1212.
Anyone who feels the need to remain anonymous but has information about this or any crime can submit a tip to Monmouth County Crime Stoppers by calling their confidential telephone tip-line at 1-800-671-4400; by downloading and using the free P3 Tips mobile app (available on iOS and Android –p3tips.com/1182), by calling 800-671-4400, or by going to the website at monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com.
The Prosecutor’s Office thanked the various members of the agencies and organizations that assisted in this investigation, including the New Jersey State Police Forensic Anthropology Unit, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Middlesex Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, Cobb County (Georgia) Sheriff’s Office, Atlantic Highlands Police Department, Bloomfield Police Department, and Bode Technology.