Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery (that left me gobsmacked)

When I’m not busy keeping the government out of your bong, you might find me gorging myself on a podcast. The only thing I love more than a delicious new podcast is having a delicious new podcast recommendation for others.

And boy do I have a good one for you.

Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery, a podcast produced at WNYC and presented by Nancy Solomon, is a true crime whodunit that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Not only is it beautifully produced and suspensefully paced, it’s also impeccably researched and well-written by Ms. Solomon, one of the best journalists to ever cover the Jersey political beat.

In addition to the dramatic true crime component, Dead End is a New Jersey political story. And it’s also a search for justice. The seven-episode podcast focuses on John and Joyce Sheridan, a New Jersey political power couple who were mysteriously and brutally murdered in their home.

Their death was shocking enough. But what happened next left me breathless.

Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery left me rapt because it’s a riveting whodunit filled with political plot twists.

Without giving up and spoilers, I wanted to share a few times DEAD END left me gasping.

SOMEONE SCREWED UP

Very shortly after the bizarre and mysterious murder of Joyce and John Sheridan in 2014, the Somerset County Prosecutor rule the crime a murder/suicide. Two people were stabbed and the house was set ablaze, presumably to destroy evidence.

We quickly learn that local country prosecutor’s office failed to preserve the crime scene because they didn’t think it was a crime scene. Which might explain why first responders were basically tossing stuff around willy nilly. For example, a carpet that should’ve been tested for hair fibers and other clues was rolled up wet and tossed the bathroom.

They didn’t even take fingerprints!

When you learn what happened to the guy from the Somerset Prosecutor’s office who questioned the mistreatment of valuable evidence, you get an idea why no one else from that agency piped up on the matter.

In Episode 4 we meet Ed Stier who spent 17 years as a Federal and NJ prosecutor specializing in organized crime and corruption. He was the first director of the NJ Division of Criminal Justice, part of the AG’s office responsible for, among other things, convicting racketeers and corrupt public officials.

“For the Somerset County prosecutor’s office to walk into the crime scene and say, ‘Oh, this is obviously a murder-suicide’ before any investigation took place was criminal negligence,” Mr. Stier said.”I realize that’s a very strong term, but I’m very upset about it because it is completely irresponsible. They couldn’t have done a worse job if they intended to mess up that investigation. They destroyed the crime scene, made it impossible for anybody to come in later and do any decent forensic work. This is precisely what the Division of Criminal Justice was created to deal with.”

I had to catch my breath when I heard that quote.

AWOL AG

According to NJ’s Office of Attorney General’s website, the Division of Criminal Justice “investigates criminal activity across the state, focusing on high-impact cases that require significant or highly specialized investigative resources.”

If the Division of Criminal Justice ever investigated the Sheridan tragedy, we don’t know because no one from the AG’s office has publicly discussed this tragedy since it happened in 2014.

My question for NJ’s Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin is twofold: 1) why did the AG’s office never intervene in this high profile case and 2) who first decided to neglect a case that’s a perfect fit for the’s Division of Criminal Justice?

If Matt Platkin has time to draft memos outlining how cops can legally smoke weed, then surely he can weigh in on the Sheridan murder. It’s a matter of priorities and for the past 8 years, the Sheridan tragedy has been conspicuously de-prioritized by NJ’s top law enforcement agency.

 

CLUES CLUES CLUES

A bent fire poker. A missing kitchen knife. A neighbor who saw that mysterious car in the wee hours. A knife with traces of DNA from another man. The curiously overlooked second staircase. How could investigators neglect that?

DEAD END is littered with example of clues that might’ve blown the whole case open, all ignored (or neglected) by investigators.

 

PATTERNS, PATTERN, PATTERNS

In January, longtime NJ political operative Sean Caddle admitted hiring two hitmen to kill an associate named Michael Galdieri, a former candidate for Jersey City Council. The hitmen stabbed Mr. Galdieri in his apartment and set the place on fire.

We still don’t know the motive behind the crime.

Sean Caddle was deeply immeshed in NJ politics for decades, a track record that includes work for several blue chip names in North Jersey politics such as former Senator Raymond Lesniak and longtime Hudson Co. Commissioner Bill O’Dea, among others.

Comparisons between this crime and the Sheridan tragedy are hard to miss.

“In both cases, people involved in politics were stabbed to death, and the room set on fire,’ Ms. Solomon noted in Episode 1. “And both crimes happened just four months apart in 2014.”

Those similarities are profound. But the revelation that these murders took place just 4 month apart took my breath away.

JOYCE SHERIDAN

Listening to Joyce Sheridan’s best friend recount this tragedy broke my heart. NJ political wives are often an afterthought, the “lovely wife,” the reliable +1.

Early on, we learn that Joyce Sheridan was the beating heart in that family, a vivacious woman and a teacher who always there for whichever student needed her the most.

Hearing the anguish that came in the wake of this unsolved mystery seized my conscience.

Joyce Sheridan and her husband John deserve to rest in peace. Their four children and their loved ones deserve justice.

And if I was on the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee, I’d make Acting AG’s Matt Platkin’s confirmation hearing all about what the heck happened here.

GEORGE NORCROSS

Decades of covering NJ politics mean DEAD END presenter Nancy Solomon is well-versed in the Machine Culture of NJ politics. At the time of his death, Mr. Sheridan was CEO of Cooper Hospital in Camden where George Norcross is chairman of the board.

Mr. Norcross is often called the most powerful unelected politician in NJ.

In Episode 3 we learn that contrasting views created a contretemps between Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Norcross. While listening, mouth agape, I couldn’t help but wonder was George Norcross as riveted by this podcast as I am.

In Episode 4 we learn that he’s definitely riveted and he’s not particularly happy about it.

In Episode 5, which drops on Tuesday, we might find out why.

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning NJ political recounter who spent the past two decades legalizing weed and gay rights. His favorite new podcast is DEAD END, available on Apple Podcasts et al. 

PHOTO ART by Liam Eisenberg courtesy of WNYC Studios.

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One response to “Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery (that left me gobsmacked)”

  1. JOBSMACKED………utterly astonished; astounded
    Yes, Jay Lassiter, perfect description.
    Your column was gobsmacking as well as Dead End.

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