Prosecutor Says He 'Cannot Exclude' A Possible Murder Connection

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Is there a serial killer on the loose in New Jersey?

Detectives are investigating the murders of three older women. All three appeared to have lived alone and while they weren’t killed in the same way, what happened after their murders is eerily similar.

The body of 70-year-old Barbara Vernieri was found inside her East Rutherford home, and while prosecutors said the home was intentionally set on fire, they said it wasn’t the smoke that killed Vernieri.

The Medical Examiner said Vernieri, of East Rutherford, died from blunt force trauma to her head early Friday morning.

Vernieri worked as a realtor and lived alone since her husband died three years ago from a heart attack.

“She has no enemies. There’s no one who doesn’t like Barbara,” said friend Olivia Schettino. “She does anything and everything for anybody.”

Vernieri was found on the first floor of the home after it went up in flames.

“Although the inhalation of carbon monoxide may have been a contributing cause, it was the blunt force damage to her head which was the primary cause of her death,” Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said in a statement.

Now investigators are trying to figure out if the person who murdered Vernieri also killed two other women, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.

It was back in April of 2010 that the body of 69-year-old Dolores Alliotts was discovered in her Palisades Park home. Her killer also set her home on fire to cover up the crime, prosecutors said. The only difference was that Alliotts was stabbed, as was 74-year-old Joan Davis, who was found in her smoked-out Teaneck home.

Molinelli said that while he “cannot exclude” the individual who killed Vernieri is the same individual “responsible for the murder of Ms. Davis and Ms. Alliotts,” he said he is “not necessarily saying it is the same person.”

“While the utilization of fire is common to all three, there appears nothing remarkable to this incident, which would leave law enforcement to assume that one or both of the prior incidents were committed by Ms. Vernieri’s assailant,” Molinelli said. “For the same reason, we have not ruled out the possibility of such a connection.”

Detectives were still at the scene of the latest murder Monday trying to uncover clues in the hope of solving the case involving Vernieri and possibly the others.

Prosecutors said one clue leads them to believe the person who killed Vernieri may not be responsible for the other homicides.

Vernieri lived in a cul-de-sac and investigators said criminals typically don’t randomly target people who live on cul-de-sacs, CBS 2 reported. This theory may indicate Vernieri knew her killer.

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