Toms River, NJ – Crime is a daily occurrence in any society, even in the relative safety and remoteness of the Jersey Shore. Each day police blotters are filled with minor crimes, the rapidly increasing violent crime, and the also growing rate of gun violence and murder. There are some crimes that we’ll never forget, either because of their deviousness, heinousness, or public impact. Here are 5 crimes committed at the Jersey Shore that we’ll probably never forget.
Robert Marshall, a Toms River resident, and his wife Maria were heading home from a night in Atlantic City at Harrah’s casino when Marshall decided to make a pit stop to check what he claimed to police officers was a vibration in one of his car tires. The couple pulled into the Oyster Creek service area in Lacey Township. What happened next turned Ocean County upside down. Marshall claimed he was knocked unconscious and woke not only to find his $15,000 winnings from Atlantic City gone, but his wife was shot dead in the front seat of his car with two gunshot wounds. It turned out Marshall hired two gunmen to kill his wife so he could collect a $1.5 million insurance policy. Marshall hired two Louisana men to execute his wife. Marshall and his wife were on the outs. He thought she was getting ready to file for divorce because he was dating Saraan Kraushaar, the vice principal at Pinelands Regional High School. The event was eventually turned into a book and 1990 miniseries called Blind Faith. Marshall was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection. New Jersey Governor Corzine abolished the death penalty in 2007 and Marshall’s sentence became a life sentence. He died in South Woods State Prison on February 21, 2015.
Jackson’s Mafia Burial Ground
If you drive down Cook Road in Jackson, you’ll see an unassuming faded yellow farmhouse surrounded by newer homes and a large new residential development. While today, it’s a quiet neighborhood street, residents in the neighborhood still wonder what lies beneath the ground. That’s because, in 1967, the FBI led then by J. Edgar Hoover descended upon the Cook farm and uncovered a mafia burial ground. The body of mafioso Angelo Sonnessa was found buried beneath a chicken coup on the farm. Another body was found in an oil drum filled with hydrochloric acid. Realizing the farm is where New York and North Jersey mobsters sent their bodies, the FBI and local officials began excavating the farm but never found any other bodies. In 1964, the body of a man who was set to testify against the mafia, Anthony Scanella was found in the woods in Jackson. The house was recently on the real estate market after the passing of Joseph Celso who owned the farm from that time until he died in 2013.
Michael Ritacco’s name will always be synonymous with political corruption in Toms River. Ritacco was a well-liked and powerful superintendent of the Toms River Regional Schoool District. Ritacco, in perception, had brought the Toms River School District into a Golden Age by turning the district into a profitable business. The district built an arena that carried his name and held large concerts with top entertainment acts, a restaurant in the district administrative offices, and the purchase of a three-story office building which it leases out to private commercial tenants. It turns out Ritacco was also taking bribes. The FBI raided Ritacco’s home and was convicted later of taking $2,000,000 in bribes and made to pay $4.3 million in restitution to the district. Ritacco has since been released from federal prison.
Liam McAtasney, Sarah Stern murderer
In December of 2016, teenager Sarah Stern went missing. Her car was found abandoned on a bridge and at the time, many had thought she jumped off and committed suicide in the Shark River. It turned out, she didn’t commit suicide but was brutally murdered by her former classmate Liam McAtasney. McAtasney told police he and Sarah were friends and that she was troubled and wanted to “get away”. It turned out, it was he who strangled the teenager and stole a safe from her home. He later dumped her body into the river off of the bridge. For murdering his childhood friend, McAtasney was convicted and received a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Shawn Milne, Barbara Renee Harrison
It was November of 1985 and I was in Mr. Jaeger’s art class at Toms River Intermediate East when we realized Barbara Renee Harrison was never coming back to class. Harrison sat across the large art table from me that year and we were all in shock to learn she had been murdered and her body dumped in Goose Creek along Fischer Boulevard. Her murdered, Shawn Milne received a 30-year prison sentence for the murder. During the trial, Milne said he was the victim, attacked by a “worldly young girl”. The jury decided Milne sexually assaulted Harrison and killed her to cover up his crime. Milne was released from prison in 2015 after serving his full 30-year sentence. In July of 2016, Milne was arrested and charged by the Toms River Police Department for failing to register as a sex offender, required by law in New Jersey. According to the New Jersey Sex Offender registry, Milne now lives in an apartment building in North Arlington.