April Kauffman’s friends and family are preparing a vigil Friday to mark the first anniversary of her death.
They would much rather be attending a court hearing for her killer.
Nearly a year after the local radio host and avid veterans advocate was gunned down in the bedroom of her Linwood home, nobody has been charged in the case.
Kauffman, 47, was found at about 11:30 a.m. May 10, by the man who took care of her birds, after her husband, local endocrinologist James Kauffman, was unable to reach her by telephone, then-Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said at the time. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.
A day later, Housel held a news conference, where he said: “We have sufficient information to conduct an ongoing investigation that we believe will ultimately be successful.”
Then, nothing more.
The silence has stirred anger, frustration and even suspicion in this quiet community, where violent crime is rare. There has been only one other Linwood murder in recent memory, and Kauffman’s killing was one of just five violent crimes there last year, according to the State Police Uniform Crime Report.
“She would never let the word ‘no’ or a closed door get in her way,” Kauffman’s daughter, Kimberly Pack, said at her mother’s funeral. “She always had a solution.”
Now, her friends are trying to do what they think April would have done: Demand answers.
Silence, however, doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made, said Joseph Giacalone, a retired New York police detective sergeant who worked hundreds of homicide and missing persons cases in his more than 20-year career.
“They don’t want to give away their case,” he said of the Prosecutor’s Office.
Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain agrees: “It is tremendously important to not release too much information in order to maintain the integrity of an investigation.”
Law enforcement officials don’t want a potential suspect to know where the investigation is going, and they want to have some unreleased information to validate any confession, both men explained.
At the scene there are immediate questions, Giacalone said: Where is the body situated? Are there signs of a struggle? What is the estimated time of death?
Investigators will usually trace back the last 48 hours, he said. “Generally, people foretell if they have problems.”
Just before her death, Kauffman was likely happier than ever, said Arthur Gropper, who — known as “King Arthur” — teamed with her once a week on his WIBG radio show.
She had just been honored with the Governor’s Award for Community Service, and earlier in the week, had called into the show to announce that Shore Medical Center in Somers Point had been certified to provide health services for veterans covered under TRICARE, a program paid for by the Pentagon. She had been among the leaders of a successful petition drive for the program, which will save many veterans from having to travel out of state for care.
She talked about the program in detail during their last radio broadcast — less than 24 hours before her death.
“That might be something that’s hindering the investigation, I don’t know,” Gropper said. “She probably called 200 people in the last day or so of her life.”
A friend told The Press of Atlantic City at the time of the killing that Dr. Kauffman said his wife was asleep with a pillow over her head when he left around 5:30 that morning. His attempts to check in with her that morning proved unsuccessful, so he called the bird caretaker, Will Gonzalez, to check in.
“My boss is flat on the floor in her bedroom,” Gonzalez says in an 11:29 a.m. 911 call. “She has a cut on her arm. She’s not answering.”
It’s not certain what was edited out of the tape when it was released by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, and McClain would not comment on how long the original call was. Gonzalez could not be contacted through either the address or phone number listed in the report.
Within four minutes, five police officers and the medics had arrived.
Then the medical examiner was notified.
That she was in her bedroom is a good indication the killer was someone Kauffman knew and trusted, said Giacalone, who spoke from his own experience and is not involved in the case.
“Who do we let into our bedrooms other than very close friends and intimates?” he asked. “You would expect the attack to happen right at the doorway and the foyer if it’s a stranger.”
Kauffman’s husband gave “a lengthy statement” to investigators after the killing, attorney Ed Jacobs previously told The Press of Atlantic City.
Jacobs said Dr. Kauffman contacted him after that interview just because of the case, not because there was a problem.
“Any good prosecutor will first direct an investigation toward eliminating spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends,” Jacobs said. “That’s an obvious first step.”
The doctor has declined requests to be interviewed.
An easy way to exclude him — and anyone else who may have had access to the home — would be by testing for gun residue, Giacalone said.
“It’s something you can’t just wash away,” he said. “That could eliminate many suspects off the bat.”
The couple had several legally owned guns, although whether one was used to commit the crime has never been released. The couple had reported a gun missing in 2009, but no suspects were named in that police report.
That none of the guns was reported missing after the killing, however, is another clue that the motive was murder, not robbery, Giacalone said, as guns are worth a lot of money on the open market.
“Anything can be a motive, including money, love, drugs, arguments,” said Giacalone, an author and adjunct professor at John Jay College.
There is also the question of means, he said. “Is the person capable of doing this?”
And, opportunity. “Who is available to do the crime? Means, opportunity and motive,” Giacalone said. “When you have all three, you have a suspect.”
Even the little that has been released is telling, he said.
There was no forced entry. There didn’t seem to be anything taken. And, at the time of the killings, both Housel and Linwood Police Chief Robert James insisted there was no additional danger to those in the neighborhood, including nearby Mainland Regional High School, which was in session when Kauffman’s body was discovered.
“That means to me, they had their suspect,” Giacalone said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, we know who the killer is, it’s just that we don’t have the evidence yet to charge someone.”
But proving that is what can take time.
“You only get one chance to successfully prosecute any crime,” former Prosecutor Housel said. “You need to make sure you can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt before you charge someone.”
What Giacalone has read of the case seems to indicate it is not one that will be solved by forensics, especially considering Kauffman’s popularity and that her home was open to many, including gatherings to promote her causes. Instead, “it will take good old-fashioned police work. Collecting evidence and getting a confession.”
“I think they are doing this in the right way, deliberately taking their time,” the veteran homicide detective said. “They have a list and are knocking people off one by one. Even if you know who you think did it, you still have to exclude everybody else.”
“Who knows how many people she was in contact with within 24 hours before this happened?” Gropper asked of his friend, who was ecstatic over the movement in getting local veterans medical help close by. “That whole week, actually. It had to be in the hundreds.”
So investigators may be taking their time.
And time does not make a case cold, said Giacalone, who headed the Bronx Cold Case Squad. Leads and the suspect pool drying up do, he said.
That is not the case with Kauffman, McClain said.
“I consider a case to be cold when all available investigative leads have been explored and exhausted and there is still insufficient evidence to support a criminal charge,” the prosecutor said. “The homicide of April Kauffman is an active investigation and is not being regarded as a cold case.”
Hers is one of 11 homicides from last year that remain open of the 29 cases, or a solve rate of 62 percent.
From 2006 through last year, 54 of the 168 homicides in Atlantic County remain unsolved, including the 2006 killings of four women found dead in the marshes off the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township’s West Atlantic City section. All four worked as prostitutes. Two other killings that year in Atlantic City involved women with similar histories, although they have not been linked to the four others.
In 2010, Atlantic County had the worst homicide solve rate in the state with 29 percent, closing just six of the 21 killings that year. But in the past few months, arrests have been made in eight cases from prior years dating to 2009. Some of that has been the result of a two-person unit McClain created within the Major Crimes Unit to focus on “cold” cases.
Andrew Garland was arrested in January in the Aug. 3, 2009, killing of Shaddiy Dixon, after those investigators found more witnesses in the case, according to information released in court.
The notoriously tight-lipped county office does sometimes release information, but only if the public can help.
After the Sept. 18, 2011, fatal carjacking of a couple from the Trump Taj Mahal parking garage, Housel held a news conference to ask if people recognized the three suspects from surveillance video as they allegedly scoped out potential victims. Within days, all three were arrested and have since pleaded.
Last month, McClain put out fliers in English and Spanish asking for any information in the April 4 killing of Wlio “Wally” de los Santos in Galloway Township, the only one of this year’s three homicides that remain open.
But those tactics aren’t necessary in the Kauffman case, McClain said.
“My office has received dozens of phone calls from members of the public offering information,” he said. “In this particular case, there is no need to release any additional information in order to create public interest or response.”
And that isn’t stopping.
“We demand justice for April now,” a Facebook announcement for Friday’s 7 p.m. vigil says. “Let’s make a difference.”
But friends don’t know what to do, Gropper said, expressing a mix of frustration and helplessness. He knows his friend would fight if she were the one left behind with no answers. So, he and others remain vocal.
“I’m sure April would be irate and frustrated, just feeling a lot of the same feelings that we are,” Gropper said.
He mentions the case on his show at least once a week and gives out the number for the Prosecutor’s Office and Linwood Police Department for anyone who may have information.
“For all I know, the person who did this is listening to my radio show every day,” he said.
Meanwhile, Housel’s early prediction of an “ultimately ... successful” investigation seems to have done more to fuel that frustration than offer promise. The positive outlook turned into a perceived guarantee of a quick capture.
“Police are close to making an arrest in the fatal shooting ...” the Daily Mail Online reported May 12.
That same day, on Judge Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News, a crime reporter said: “It looks like they’re closing in on ... someone and they have the right information.”
“Yesterday they said an arrest was imminent,” Pirro said.
“I never used that word,” Housel now says.
The prosecutor’s Major Crimes Unit continues to work the case with a Linwood detective also assigned, Chief James said. Another Linwood detective checks in as well.
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Follow Lynda Cohen on Twitter @LyndaCohen