It was a crime that shook the nation to the very core and it remains unsolved today.
On the 8th of March, 1966, 7-year-old Wendy Wolin and her mother, Shirley, left their Pierce Manor apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to run some errands and pick up Wendy’s older sister, Jodi, from Hebrew School. Shirley told Wendy to meet her at Irvington Avenue and Price Street, which was one of the busiest intersections in the industrial community, while she went and retrieved the car from the parking lot behind the apartment.1
It was broad daylight and Wendy stood waiting for her mother near the fire department headquarters. What happened next is truly unfathomable.
A man approached Wendy from the opposite direction. He was wearing a three-quarter length green corduroy coat, dark trousers and a felt hat. He walked rapidly towards Wendy. As he got close, he bent low and thrust a hunting knife through her coat, deep into her abdomen. Wendy staggered and cried out in pain as the man continued on his way as if nothing had happened.2
Three little girls who had witnessed the entire ordeal ran into the fire department headquarters and told Director Edward F. Deignan what had happened. He rushed to Wendy’s side where she cried out: “He punched me!” Assuming that Wendy had just been punched, he helped her up and led her into the fire department headquarters, sat her down, and had a dispatcher bring her a glass of water.
Police arrived shortly thereafter. Sgt. Frederick Grimm and Patrolman Peter Melchione helped loosen Wendy’s coat and it was at this moment that it was finally noticed that there was a patch of blood on her right side. Wendy was rushed to Elizabeth General Hospital and carried into the emergency room where a team of six doctors worked tirelessly to save her life but to no avail. Wendy died of shock and hemorrhage shortly before 5PM.
An autopsy would show that Wendy had been stabbed by a sharp knife that had penetrated her ribs and lacerated her liver.3 At the crime scene, investigators discovered a hunting knife and deduced that it was the murder weapon. A search party for the child killer was immediately launched. The three witnesses described him as being around 6 feet tall and weighing around 220lbs. He was white and around 45 to 50-years-old with grey hair and a slight limp.
Over 1,500 men were questioned over the forthcoming months. Prisoners and patients in psychiatric institutes were questioned and a troop ship heading for Vietnam was docked and searched. Door-to-door searches were immediately conducted and trains and buses were boarded and searched. A special phone line was installed to handle the thousands of tips that poured in from potential eyewitnesses and concerned citizens. Wanted posters blanketed the city and copies were sent to every police department in the nation. The search was unfruitful – the killer was nowhere to be seen.
The brutal and senseless murder rocked the community, particularly parents who in the aftermath, refused to let their children out of their sight. “Oh, it definitely changed Elizabeth,” said Charlie Williams. “Yes it did. It was always a quiet community. Who would ever suspect that something like this would happen in Elizabeth at that time?” Wendy was laid to rest on the 9th of March, 1966. Her funeral was held in Temple B’nai Israel and she was subsequently buried in Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge.4
Early on in the investigation, it was speculated that the killer was the same man who had attacked two other girls earlier on in the day. 10-year-old Patricia Lavolpe had been wounded in the buttocks by a man with a sharp object. She was rushed to Elizabeth General Hospital where she made a full recovery. 45 minutes before this attack, 12-year-old Diana De Nicola had been punched in the face by a man while standing in front of a department store. She too was taken to Elizabeth General Hospital to be treated for a bruised right cheek and eyelid.5
Over the forthcoming years, there were numerous suspects and each lead and tip was thoroughly investigated. Investigators had kept the case open and active in the hopes that one day, there would be a break in the case.
In 1995, First Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Lapolla announced they had received a tip from an Elizabeth woman who recalled seeing “something which had turned out to be significant on the investigation.” According to Lt. Edward Johnson, a commander of the prosecutor’s homicide unit, the woman had initially balked at calling police because she thought that what she knew wouldn’t make a difference because so much time had passed.
The woman had named a potential suspect and while he was never identified, investigators said that he had been questioned. The update in the case led to a flurry of other phone calls from people with potential information and potential suspects. Investigators encouraged any of the original witnesses to please come forward so that they could be shown photographs of the new potential suspects to see if they could identify them.6
Furthermore, it was announced that The Union County Crime Stoppers Program would be offering a reward of $5,000 for information that could lead to the arrest and indictment of Wendy’s killer.
With the update, Wendy’s family said that they were hoping the tormenting cycle of sorrow, anger and hope that had haunted their lives for almost three decades may finally end. “My family and I are grateful to those of you who have been helping to bring this unsolved tragedy closer to an end. The aching of our hearts will never disappear, but perhaps, some consolation can be achieved at this crucial time,” said Shirley.
Sadly, however, the lead never panned out. The man was never identified and never arrested. Presumably, it had been determined that he was not involved in Wendy’s murder.
It was the biggest manhunt in New Jersey history yet her killer still remains at large. Aside from a deathbed confession, investigators have admitted that they have little hope of ever finding her killer. A small display of rocks and flowers, funded and built by the city of Elizabeth, marks the spot of Wendy’s murder. In 2016, for the 50 year anniversary of Wendy’s death, the site was dedicated as a memorial to Wendy. According to her sister, Jodi, she has accepted that she will most likely never know who killed Wendy. “You live with it,” she said. “You don’t get over it, ever.”7
- The Kansas City Times, 10 March, 1966 – “Girl Stabbed Fatally”
- The Star-Ledger, 29 October, 1995 – “Family’s Hope and Sorrow”
- The Star-Ledger, 9 October, 1995 – “New Information Surfaces in 66 Wolin Murder”
- Daily News, 10 March, 1966 – “Pink & White Party Dress is Shroud for Wendy Sue”
- The Tipton Daily Tribune, 9 March, 1966 – “Jersey Police Seek Slayer of Young Girl”
- The Star-Ledger, 25 October, 1995 – “Stories Prompt Calls to Authorities Offering Help in Wolin Murder Case”
- The Star-Ledger, 13 October, 2016 – “Cold-Case Murder Victim Remembered 50 Years Later”