Jerome Dennis


Jerome Dennis

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: 1991 - 1992
Date of arrest: April 12, 1992
Date of birth: December 14, 1966
Victims profile: Robyn Carter, 41 / Jamillah Jones, 16 / Elizabeth Clenor, 30 / Stephanie Alston, 30 / An unidentified woman
Method of murder: Strangulation - Stabbing with knife
Location: East Orange and Newark, New Jersey, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on March 2, 1993

Paroled Rapist Charged With Killing 5 Women in New Jersey

By Charles Strum - The New York Times

April 14, 1992

A 25-year-old paroled rapist who had been in prison since he was 14 was charged today with five murders and four rapes in East Orange and Newark that the authorities said began in December, less than a month after his release.

The suspect, Jerome Dennis, was arrested Sunday morning before dawn at his home in East Orange. He was formally charged today, two days after law-enforcement agencies formed a task force to investigate the deaths of several women whose bodies were found in desolate parts of East Orange in the last eight months. Three bodies, including the most recent victim, a high school girl, were found on Friday within a block of each other. A fourth was found Saturday afternoon.

At Mr. Dennis's arraignment today, an assistant Essex County prosecutor, Norman Menz, said the defendant had confessed to each of the crimes and had been identified by two East Orange women whom he is also accused of attacking. Mr. Menz said one of the women also identified a knife found near the body of the teen-ager as belonging to Mr. Dennis.

But in a news conference called by the prosecutor's office before the arraignment and in Mr. Menz's brief remarks to the court, there was almost no information about what had led the authorities to their suspect. Officials refused to comment on a motive or how the victims were selected. They also declined to discuss any possible links between Mr. Dennis and the women, or whether any witness to the attacks had come forward. And they would not discuss Mr. Dennis's early life or prison record. The only common thread, they said, was the race of the women, who, like Mr. Dennis, were black.

Mr. Dennis was "not just plucked out of the thin air," said the acting Essex County prosecutor, Peter J. Francese, having rebuffed all questions that went beyond the identity of the suspect and the victims.

The arrest also raised questions about whether Mr. Dennis was being monitored by state parole authorities and whether the pattern of killings and attacks had been under investigation previously. Again, the law-enforcement officials did not comment, although Mayor Cardell Cooper of East Orange, who attended the news conference, said he was satisfied that the task force had acted properly.

Residents Still Fearful

But this evening, as women and families poured into City Hall for a City Council meeting, some women said they remained fearful and were skeptical about the arrest because it was done so quickly.

"All the media was after them," said Renee Boone. "I think what they needed was a suspect fast."

More than 200 people jammed the meeting. Sitting with children on their laps, many said they were thankful for the police work, while others expressed anger at the unanswered questions. One man said the sketchiness of the information released reminded him of the Warren Commission report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

During his arraignment before Judge Joseph A. Falcone of Superior Court, Mr. Dennis, a slim man about 5 feet 7 inches tall, stood on one side of the courtroom with his manacled hands shielding his face. He spoke only when the judge asked him for his Social Security number, and pleaded not guilty to all the charges through his court-appointed public defender, Joseph Kracora. Bail was set at $2 million, pending a grand jury indictment.

Mr. Dennis was paroled from the state prison at Yardville on Nov. 19, after serving the mandatory minimum 10 years of a 30-year sentence for rape, criminal restraint and armed robbery, according to the Essex County prosecutor's office. He was initially charged in 1981 in Essex County and was sentenced as an adult, Mr. Menz said.

The bodies of the women Mr. Dennis is accused of killing were found in desolate, poorly lighted areas under train trestles or along highway embankments within walking distance of the East Orange police station on North Munn Avenue. The assault victims were attacked in the same vicinity. One was from Newark; all the rest who were identified were from East Orange, a city of 73,000. Mr. Dennis's home, at 254 North Walnut, is a few blocks north of where the bodies were found.

Bodies Found

The first victim identified in the charges today was a 26-year-old woman who was raped on Dec. 12. She survived the attack.

The second was Robyn Carter, 41, of Newark, whose body was found Dec. 16 in Newark. It was not clear how she died or how long she had been dead.

The third victim was another assault survivor, a 23-year-old woman who was attacked on Feb. 22.

Three bodies were found on Friday. The first was that of Jamillah Jones, 16, of Beech Street. She was found dead of stab wounds at 2:49 A.M. on Main Street at North Maple Avenue by an East Orange police officer.

Then, at 6:14 A.M., as the East Orange police widened their search for evidence, they found the body of Elizabeth Clenor, 30, of Crawford Street. Ms. Clenor, the mother of two children, was reported missing by her mother on Feb. 17. She died of a blow to the head, the Medical Examiner said.

At 4:04 P.M. on Friday, the body of Stephanie Alston, 30, was found.

The next afternoon, another body was found decomposed beneath foliage near Oraton Parkway and Route 280 West. That victim has not yet been identified.

Attempted-Murder Charges

The authorities said three of the dead women had been raped. Mr. Dennis was also charged with attempted murder in the attacks on the two women who survived.

The deaths of two other women under investigation by the task force were not listed today in the charges against Mr. Dennis.

One was identified over the weekend as Maria Ferguson, 27, of East Orange. The other, whose body was badly decomposed, has not been identified. Ms. Ferguson's body was found Aug. 28, 1991, before Mr. Dennis's release; the other was found last Wednesday. Both were discovered in an abandoned building about a mile from the area where the other victims were found or attacked.

At 254 North Walnut Street, where Mr. Dennis lived in a three-family Victorian house, the shades on all three floors were drawn this afternoon. The house, with weathered yellow siding and a broad open front porch in need of a paint job, sits on a street of older homes, some single-family, some two- and three-family houses. Signs on nearby streets warn would-be criminals that it is a "crime watch" neighborhood.

Neighbors said they did not know the suspect and were not even sure they had ever seen him.

Troy Cofield, a superintendent who works for the owner of the house next door, said crime is usually more common in an area across Park Avenue, a major thoroughfare here.

"We still got a woman out there who's an unsolved murder," he said. "It makes you feel odd that it's in your neighborhood and even odder that it's next door. I have a wife and two kids and I had told her not to go out alone."

Mr. Francese, the acting prosecutor, said the investigation by the task force into all the crimes would continue, and he urged citizens to call a 24-hour hot line, (201) 676-0406.

The task force consists of representatives from the state police, the East Orange police, the Essex County Sheriff's Department, the New Jersey Transit Police and the Newark Police Department. Mr. Francese said that Federal Bureau of Investigation had been asked to join the task force today. The investigation is being coordinated by Mr. Lenz, who is also head of the homicide squad in the prosecutor's office.

A Model Inmate, and Now a Suspect Again

New Jersey Officials Say Parolee Accused in 5 Slayings Showed No Signs of Trouble

By Charles Strum - The New York Times

April 15, 1992

Jerome Dennis, the East Orange man accused of killing five women since his release from prison last fall, was a seventh-grade dropout who grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Newark and had run-ins with the law even before his arrest on rape charges in 1981.

But during the 10 years he spent in prison for rape, and in the five months he was on parole, Mr. Dennis was described as a model inmate and parolee. He attended vocational cooking classes and a Bible study group behind bars and held two jobs after his release under a parole program that provides intensive monitoring.

Parole Officer 'Shocked'

"There are cases where someone is paroled and convicted, and you go back and with hindsight you can see it was a problem waiting to happen," said Robert Egles, executive director of the state parole board. "But the file is 100 percent, nothing missing. It's hard to see how this alleged behavior will end up being explained."

Mario Paparozzi, the supervising parole officer for the New Jersey Bureau of Parole, said Mr. Dennis's parole officer was "surprised and shocked" when his client was charged Monday with five murders and four rapes since December.

While the authorities have refused to say how they came to focus on Mr. Dennis, who has pleaded not guilty, they asserted that two of the women who survived the attacks had identified him. Most of the bodies of the murder victims were found within a block of each other, in desolate or dimly lighted areas within walking distance of Mr. Dennis's home.

A special task force of law-enforcement agencies continued work on the case today, as one of the victims, 16-year-old Jamillah Jones, was buried. A spokesman for the Essex County Prosecutor's office, Ray Weiss, said the investigation included testing on samples of Mr. Dennis's hair, blood and saliva.

Mr. Weiss said that he did not know when a grand jury would be convened. Under goals set by the State Supreme Court, a defendant who is held under no bail or high bail, like the $2 million set for Mr. Dennis, should have his case heard by a grand jury within 30 days, and should be brought to trial within 60 days after that.

Mr. Dennis was released Nov. 19 after serving the mandatory 10-year minimum of a 30-year sentence for rape. As a special condition of his parole, he was ordered to participate in the parole agency's Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Program, which assigned him to a parole officer who maintains a relatively small caseload in order to devote extra time to each case.

An official familiar with Mr. Dennis's case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Dennis was also required to continue the psychological treatment or counseling that he had begun in prison, and he apparently complied.

Mr. Dennis's parole officer in East Orange had no more than 25 cases, Mr. Paparozzi said, compared with as many as 80 or 90 for other workers. Mr. Paparozzi said that before Mr. Dennis was released, a parole counselor at the prison would have begun the process of finding him a job, housing and financial aid to prepare him for his return home.

In Mr. Dennis's case, home had long since become a dim memory.

In custody since 1981, when he was 14, Mr. Dennis spent almost half his life in prison. Instead of going to school, playing sports and learning to live independently, he was learning about baking and cooking at the Garden State Reception and Youth Correctional Center in Yardville, N.J. Worked at Bakery

Asked if the intensive supervision program could substitute for those 10 lost years, Mr. Egles, the parole board director, said, "You've just made an ideal argument for halfway houses."

In the intensive supervision program, because the officer's caseload is limited, he is able to visit with the client once a week, or pay extra visits to his work place or home. A parole officer in this special program usually helps find jobs and housing and acts almost as a surrogate family member in budgeting or other personal decisions.

Mr. Dennis was employed for several months at the Pleasantdale Bakery, a kosher bakery on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange. Employees said Mr. Dennis, who worked as a porter, was quiet and diligent. They said they knew he had been in prison. He also worked part time at a cleaning job in an East Orange Burger King.

Arrested With Brother

Mr. Dennis entered the criminal-justice system 11 years ago as a teen-ager, after committing three rapes in Newark in the fall of 1981.

According to court records and conversations with people familiar with the case, Mr. Dennis was the seventh of nine children, who were raised primarily by their mother in the Columbus Homes, a huge housing project, now abandoned, next to Route 280 West in Newark.

Records suggest that he had been in trouble with the authorities before his arrest, but he was never charged as a juvenile delinquent. He dropped out of the Newark public school system in the seventh grade.

He was arrested with an older brother, William, on Nov. 6, 1981, the night of the third attack. The prosecutor who handled the case, Richard Banas, said today that he remembered the arrest as "bizarre."

After the attack, the two youths went to a phone booth in Military Park in downtown Newark and called the Essex County police, Mr. Banas said.

"They told the police what they were doing, on the tape-recorded police phone system," he said. "They were bragging." He said they described the attack in obscene detail and asserted that two Newark police officers were also involved.

The phone call lasted almost an hour, Mr. Banas said, by which time the police had traced the call and dispatched officers to apprehend the boys. Mr. Banas said the boys' father was called as a prosecution witness in the trial, but he did not recall details of his testimony or what became of the man. William Dennis is still in prison.

As the family broke up, their home, at 4 Sheffield Drive, disappeared. In 1982, Newark began to abandon the Columbus Homes, tall red-brick monuments to a failed housing policy that now stand empty with their windows smashed and debris blowing through barren courtyards.

But the authorities believe that Mr. Dennis, in a sense, returned home after 10 years away.

On Dec. 16, a Newark police officer discovered the body of Robyn Carter, a 41-year-old Newark woman, inside the building at 14 Sheffield Drive. Mr. Dennis is charged with her murder.

New Attempted-Murder Charge for Suspect in Women's Deaths

The New York Times

April 18, 1992

The paroled sex offender charged with the murder of five women has been charged with an additional count of attempted murder and assault, the Essex County prosecutor has announced.

The suspect, Jerome Dennis, 25 years old, was arrested early Sunday morning after investigators found the bodies of four women in a one-block stretch of East Orange, several blocks from where Mr. Dennis lived.

The body of a fifth murder victim was found near the site where Mr. Dennis grew up in a Newark housing project. At least three of the women were raped.

Identified in Lineups

Mr. Dennis was previously charged with the attempted murders of two East Orange women. Prosecutors say both have identified Mr. Dennis in police lineups.

Meanwhile, another East Orange man was charged today with the murder of a woman whose body wasfound in an abandoned building. The body was originally linked to the investigation that led to Mr. Dennis's arrest.

Curtis Lee Stone Jr., 28, was charged with killing 27-year-old Maria Ferguson, whose body was found in August in an abandoned building on Washington Street. Ms. Ferguson had been strangled, officials said.

The third charge of attempted murder against Mr. Dennis, filed Wednesday and announced Thursday evening, was an April 3 attack on a 32-year-old Newark woman who was stabbed in the neck, said Ray Weiss, a spokesman for the Essex County prosecutor. The woman was treated at a hospital and released.

Mr. Dennis was paroled in November from a state reformatory after serving 10 years. He and his brother, William, were convicted in 1983 of two rapes and an attempted rape in Newark.

William Dennis, now 29, was sentenced to 30 years without parole and is at East Jersey State Prison.

Prosecutors charge that Jerome Dennis committed the first of five slayings less than a month after his release.

Guilty Plea to Killing 5 New Jersey Women

The New York Times

February 28, 1993

A paroled sex offender has pleaded guilty to killing five women and assaulting two others last year in East Orange.

Jerome Dennis, 26, pleaded guilty Friday to four counts of murder, one manslaughter count and two counts of aggravated assault. In return for the guilty pleas, prosecutors said they would drop 30 lesser charges against Mr. Dennis, who has spent a decade in prison for rape and robbery.

Prosecutors said they would ask Judge Joseph A. Falcone of Superior Court to sentence Mr. Dennis to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 60 years. Judge Falcone set March 12 as the date for sentencing.

Jerome Dennis