LOWER TOWNSHIP — Nicole Angstadt led a rebellious, troubled life cut short by her killing last month in Middle Township.
The 15-year-old Erma teenager, whose body was found Dec. 14 in the crawlspace of a vacant Rio Grande home, had a tumultuous family life with only sporadic public instruction in school. Her friends said she earned a hard education on the streets among a crowd of adults much older and more streetwise than she.
But her older sister disputed that description of Nicole and her family. Heather Bradley, 24, described Nicole as "very intelligent, very smart. A great kid."
"She was one of the ones who brought the family together," Bradley said, adding she and her sister did gymnastics and basketball and played the clarinet.
She added that Nicole went on many vacations with her family, including to Disney World in Florida and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Police records indicate officers paid regular unwelcome visits to the family’s ranch-style home on Willow Drive, a residential street a short walk from the empty home where her body was found. Police knocked on the family’s front door for noise complaints, truancy and domestic disputes between her parents, Jacqueline Giordano and Harry Angstadt.
“We’ve been to the residence 160 times, and the vast majority, 135 times, since 2012,” Lower Township police Capt. Marty Biersbach Jr. said.
Giordano declined multiple requests for an interview. Angstadt, who was jailed briefly in January on a contempt charge, could not be reached for comment.
Bradley defended Giordano.
"Her mother loved her extremely like she loves the rest of us. As far as I'm concerned, my mom is my best friend," Bradley said. "Every family has issues, has things within their family. For people to just bash my mom, I think it’s absurd."
Asked whether she felt any guilt over her sister's death, Bradley said, "Every single one of us feels guilty about what we could have done for Nicole. The reality is there is nothing that we could have done to prevent this."
Records of those calls for service show the first police visit was in 2004 and often involved the parents reporting Nicole, a fraternal twin, having run away from home after an argument.
“At least 13 times she’s been entered as a runaway and maybe a couple more where we went to enter one but she was found a short time later,” Biersbach said.
The last time Nicole ran away, she never came home.
“We were used to her taking off, but she would always come back,” Willow Drive neighbor Julie Burke said.
But when Harry Angstadt began plastering missing posters with his daughter’s face across Rio Grande and Wildwood in early December, Burke grew concerned.
“I thought this is real. This isn’t good,” Burke said.
She fondly recalled Nicole as a friendly girl who went out of her way to pet Burke’s dogs during their nightly walk down the street. And she posted photos of her own dog to social media along with selfies where she makes the same kissy-face expression.
“She was only 15. She was still just a little girl, after all,” Burke said.
But she and other neighbors were all too familiar with Nicole’s troubled home life and the parents’ regular dealings with police. Burke, who lives two doors down, said she couldn’t help but hear whenever officers paid the family a visit.
“In the summer, you could hear them outside just screaming at police. They were verbally abusive to the cops. I give the cops kudos for putting up with that,” Burke said.
Besides handling 16 calls for alleged domestic violence, two with assaults, police responded to 22 disorderly conduct calls, eight 911 hang-ups and 10 emergency medical calls. Sometimes police went to the home to help other agencies address truancy and check on the children’s welfare. Others were so investigators could serve warrants or conduct follow-up investigations.
According to police logs, officers went to the home to investigate complaints about theft, aggravated assault, trespassing, fraud, harassment, local ordinance or traffic violations and check on the well-being of the children, among others.
Next-door neighbor Neil Salmonsen Jr. still has an outstanding noise complaint against Harry Angstadt.
“He would get in his truck and rev his engine at all hours of the night,” Salmonsen said. “The police were constantly over there. At Christmas, I joked the police must have had the night off.”
But Salmonsen said he always liked the children, even Harry Angstadt Jr., Nicole’s brother, who is serving a two-year sentence at Bayside State Prison for a home-invasion robbery in the Villas section of Lower Township. He pleaded guilty to theft and burglary.
Nicole and her twin sister, Alexis, had an unstable home life even as toddlers, according to court records. At age 4, Nicole and Alexis were in the back seat of their mother’s car when she allegedly crashed into a telephone pole in Rio Grande. Police found the abandoned car with the family dog still inside. When they went to Giordano’s home, she answered the door holding a beer and told police that Lilo, the animated character from the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch,” had been driving.
Giordano pleaded guilty to third-degree child endangerment in 2004, avoiding a possible 10-year prison sentence. She received probation with no jail time.
Nicole started seventh grade at the Richard M. Teitelman School but went to class for only a few months before transferring to Cape May County’s Special Services School and later withdrawing to home instruction.
Due to privacy laws, Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Christopher Kobik said he could not discuss Nicole’s case.
The school district can account for a student’s time when they’re in class. But that’s not always the case with home instruction, Kobik said. And sometimes parents enable truancy in their children.
Even in cases in which a district files a truancy complaint, the judicial system provides leeway when students have not committed other major offenses that would land them in a juvenile justice facility.
Kobik said schools expend tremendous energy on individual students, but often the real failure is with the parents.
“If a parent enables truancy or navigates the system in a way where the child ends up in a less-monitored program, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Kobik said.
Pat Devaney, director of Cape May County Human Services, said problems with children in dysfunctional families must be addressed very early on. Counseling with the family and child needs to start as early as third grade to be successful, but most schools can’t afford such programs.
“You need early intervention to assist the family to function better,” Devaney said.
Such intervention is very hard, Devaney said, unless you have “a partner in the home.”
Nicole also was partying at the vacant house on Vermont Avenue where her body was found.
Neighborhood teens broke into the house and would hang out, smoke marijuana and drink beer. Fronting a vacant lot, the home has no close neighbors and a tall privacy fence that screened their illicit comings and goings.
Real estate agent Jeanne Rhoads, who has the listing for the house, said it had been a constant problem since its elderly owner died. A daughter who grew up in the house but now lives out of state is selling it.
“It had been vandalized several times prior to this one particular situation. Kids in the area were breaking in and using it as a party house,” she said.
Rhoads said the entire neighborhood bordering Rio Grande’s big-box retail corridor is in decline.
“It used to be a really, really nice neighborhood,” she said.
Family and friends piled stuffed animals and Christmas decorations in a makeshift memorial in front of the fence that conceals the crawl space where Nicole was found. Someone hung Christmas ornaments from the lowest branches of a tree. A big stuffed bear wore a white T-shirt with inscriptions from friends.
“RIP Nikki. Love Crystal ‘n’ Johnny B,” someone wrote.
Vincent Martinez, 35, of Middle Township, said Nicole was a regular member of his circle of friends, all of whom were much older than she.
“She was like a kid sister to us. She liked to hang out with the older crowd,” he said.
Martinez said he sometimes told Nicole to go home, but she always answered defiantly.
But Martinez said she was generous with her friends, sometimes paying for fast-food meals.
At some point, the teen hangout drew unwanted attention from outsiders, making it decidedly more dangerous. These newcomers included convicted criminals much older than Nicole, such as Charles Mosley, 32. He was arrested the day Nicole was found, charged with sexual assault of a victim less than 16 years old, endangering the welfare of a minor and trespassing.
He was released from state prison in August after serving 10 months at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton for convictions on assault, eluding police and burglary.
MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — They were built to entice summer vacationers who could not afford oceanfro…
Once released, he came to Rio Grande and obtained a voucher from Cape May County Social Services to stay at a low-rent motel on Route 47.
Martinez said he was familiar with Mosley but did not know him well.
“He was the last person I saw her with a week before she went missing,” he said.
Martinez, however, said he thinks Nicole’s killer is still at large. So far, nobody has been charged with her killing.
“She got caught up in the wrong crowd. She was around dangerous people,” he said.
Nicole and her twin, Alexis, were described as best friends by Willow Drive residents who watched them grow up.
“They were always together just smiling and laughing. They were the sweetest little things, always hugging each other and riding down the street. They used to climb those trees,” said Mary Hammer, pointing to several ornamental trees with low-hanging branches.
Hammer, however, said Nicole had an obvious independent streak.
“She was going to do things the way she wanted to do them. She wasn’t going to follow the rules. She was a free spirit,” Hammer said.
She and her husband, Robert, said they didn’t sleep for two nights after hearing of Nicole’s killing.
“She got in with the wrong crowd, but nobody deserves that,” Hammer said.