Bodies identified after 13 months officer charged

September 29, 1990|By Ginger Thompson

After working for 13 months to identify two female bodies found in a trash bin behind a Joppatowne supermarket, Maryland State Police detectives not only found out yesterday who the women were, but learned that the suspected murderer was a police officer from New Jersey.

The break in the case came when a Philadelphia police officer matched composite pictures of the women made by the Maryland State Police with Teletype descriptions of two missing women from Gloucester County, N.J.

The suspect, Sgt. Andrew J. Woodrow, 26, a six-year veteran of the police department in Woodbury, N.J., was already under arrest and in jail in New Jersey.

He had been charged with killing the two missing women -- his wife and mother-in-law -- even though prosecutors had not been able to find their bodies.

"People thought we were crazy to charge this guy with murder when we didn't have the bodies," said Gloucester County prosecutor Richard Hickey III. "But we knew the women were dead. We just didn't know where they were."

The women were identified as 67-year-old Yolanda Palumbo and her 32-year-old daughter, Diane Palumbo-Woodrow, both of New Jersey.Officials at the medical examiner's office said the identifications were made after a review of dental records and other forensic evidence.

Sergeant Woodrow, who colleagues said had a very good record and performed his duties exceptionally well, was suspended from the Woodbury Police Department without pay when he was arrested Sept. 13. He is being held at the Ocean County Jail in Tom's River, N.J.

Yesterday in Gloucester County, N.J., a judge refused to lower Sergeant Woodrow's $500,000 bail, agreeing with prosecutors that since he owned no property and has no children in the area he is likely to flee.

The sergeant was charged in the two deaths nearly a month ago after one of Mrs. Palumbo's nieces reported that she hadn't seen her aunt and cousin in a year. Sergeant Woodrow was also charged with 13 counts of forgery and one count of theft for cashing Mrs. Palumbo's Social Security checks over the past 10 months. The checks were valued at more that $5,000.

Prosecutors refused to discuss a motive for the murders.

On Aug. 12, 1989, the bodies were discovered in a trash bin behind a Super Fresh Grocery store off U.S. 40 in Joppatowne. Mrs. Palum-bo, a widow, was clad in a green nightgown, and her daughter was wearing green slacks and a green shirt. But neither had any form of identification. Both women had been strangled.

At that time, neither woman had been reported missing.

Maryland State Police sent information about the women to law enforcement agencies on the East Coast. Composite pictures were distributed at several law enforcement conferences attended by police officials from the Middle Atlantic and Great Lakes areas.

It was one of those composites that stuck in the mind of the Philadelphia police officer.

Officer Nadia Opuszynski had been given one of the composites last year.

A few days ago, she received a flier that was being circulated by the Gloucester County prosecutor's office, which had descriptions of the missing women. She matched the descriptions with the composites and then notified the appropriate agencies.

Mr. Hickey said Sergeant Woodrow had lived with his wife and mother-in-law in a trailer park in Williamstown.

The prosecutor believes Sergeant Woodrow killed the women in their home, brought their bodies to Maryland and dumped them in the trash bin in Joppatowne.

He said that all of Mrs. Palumbo's identification and most of her clothing were found during a search of the trailer, which she owned.

Most of her daughter's clothing was also there.

He also said that Sergeant Woodrow gave conflicting accounts to various relatives about where his wife and her mother had gone.

He told one inquiring neighbor that the women left for California and he didn't expect them to return.

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