The Egg Harbor Township detective had been waiting for months to capture the man accused of impregnating a 12-year-old girl. Now, as she and three other investigators stood on a New York City street, he was right in front of them.
“It was surreal,” said Detective Heather Stumpf, who began investigating the case in April, after it was discovered that the victim was going to have Joseph Caracciolo’s baby.
Caracciolo, 47, is currently in federal custody on charges of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor. He also has charges from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office that include aggravated sexual assault. Investigators believe there may be more victims, and are urging them to come forward.
But there wasn’t even a name to go on when the pregnant preteen was brought to Egg Harbor Township police five months ago. The girl knew him as Joe Crillo or Grillo. Another name he had used was Bobby Giovanni.
All of them were aliases. None of them led anywhere.
Stumpf reached out to the U.S. Marshal’s New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force to help. Even they couldn’t track the names. They tried his various tattoos.
“We kept coming up with zero,” said Inspector Rob Kurtz, of the task force.
“It drove me crazy,” Stumpf said. “It drove me nuts. Just knowing he’s out there and is he victimizing anybody else?”
They knew “Crillo” had traveled to Atlantic City casinos — and eventually to the victim’s township home — from New York, so the task force’s Manhattan and Long Island divisions were brought in to help the Atlantic City office. There was surveillance, interviews with ex-girlfriends and even visits to former residences.
Because “Crillo” also took the victim to the Poconos, crossing state lines, his crimes fell under federal jurisdiction, so Kurtz said the FBI was brought in last month.
Then, the investigators got a date of birth.
“We didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t at that point,” Stumpf said.
The FBI ran it and hit on a registered sex offender. As soon as his picture came up, Stumpf knew it was the face she had seen in pictures for months.
A phone call was taped between him and the victim Aug. 22. On Aug. 28, Stumpf and investigators from various agencies made an early morning trip to New York. The U.S. Marshal’s Service was able to use technology to trace him to within a four-block area in Midtown Manhattan, Kurtz said.
They scoured the city blocks, Stumpf said. Some were in cars. She was on foot with FBI Agent Tim Walsh, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Bill Adamson and Atlantic County Sheriff’s Officer Greg Engsler, of Innocence Lost Task Force.
Stumpf said the focus wasn’t as much on faces as it was on forearms, the places of Caracciolo’s tattoos.
As they stood waiting at a red light at about 11 a.m., Stumpf looked across the way and saw a left arm with the tattoos she knew Caracciolo had. At the same time, Walsh seemed to spot the right arm, she said. They started walking toward him, the four together.
“You’re wanted for aggravated sexual assault with a minor,” Stumpf recalled Walsh saying.
Later that day, the detective went to the victim’s home to tell her and her mother. She does not want to reveal how the girl met the man, since it would help in identifying her.
While Stumpf said she has training to deal with young sex assault victims, her talks with the girl were “just about being a human. Just being compassionate and empathetic to what she was going through.”
“The beauty of it is, he walked right into Heather,” Kurtz said of Caracciolo. “This guy would have never been caught if she didn’t stick to her guns and keep this case going.”
Stumpf insists it was a group effort. She is just glad to know he’s off the street.
“It was gratifying,” she said. “It makes you realize why you do what you do.”
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