MAYS LANDING — The quick and vicious attack that ended two Canadian tourists’ lives in Atlantic City last year was shown in court Thursday, just before their killer was sentenced to two consecutive 40-year terms.
Po Lin Wan, 80, and her youngest daughter, Alice Mei See Leung, traveled the world together and especially loved Atlantic City, according to two books chronicling their lives that their family presented the judge.
But as Wan and Leung walked down Pacific Avenue about 10 a.m. May 21, 2012, Antoinette Pelzer rushed up to them with a 13-inch butcher knife and began stabbing, video surveillance shows.
Leung, 47, was attacked first, as her mother tried to intervene.
“Can you imagine the state of horror, despair, pain and helplessness (the older woman was in) at that moment?” her daughter Ophelia Leung asked the judge.
Surveillance cameras at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, where the two women would be pronounced dead, captured the scene from two angles.
Seconds in, Officer Jacob Abbruscato pulled up in his patrol car, jumped out and rushed to stop the attack.
Pelzer showed no emotion as she watched herself on the screen. A psychiatrist report quoted in court says the woman cannot recall exactly what led her to kill the women. She has insisted it was not a robbery, though she is seen grabbing the purse of one woman.
Public defender Holly Bitters objected to the playing of the tape, but Judge Mark Sandson allowed it.
The family, who already had viewed the tape, wanted to stay in the courtroom as it played, Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy told the judge.
Pelzer, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 24, was expected to plead insanity, but two psychological tests showed “she knew right from wrong,” Levy said.
“Her family didn’t fail her,” Pelzer’s mother, Gladys Pelzer, told the judge. “The system of mental illness failed her.”
But a month before the killings, Gladys Pelzer said, her daughter could not stay with her. The woman eventually left Philadelphia and had been living in Atlantic City for a few weeks “bumming change, walking the streets, eating food from garbage cans and sleeping at the train station,” according to the report read in court.
Pelzer had armed herself well, it seems. She had scissors in her bag, a nail file in her sock and the 13-inch knife she later used to end two women’s lives.
The two women had been living in Scarborough, Ontario, but were from Hong Kong, where their family still lives.
“My grandmother was the most loving person I ever knew,” Victor Au said of Wan. “She was a big part of raising me. I wish I’d had the chance to thank her for everything.”
Leung was a generous person whose optimism was so contagious that “even on a bad day, you couldn’t help but feel happy,” Au said.
Antoinette Pelzer apologized for the killings, the first sign of remorse she showed, Sandson said.
“I was real sick back then at the time,” she told him.
But Levy said hundreds of thousands of people suffer mental illness without acting in such a horrific way. He pointed to the psychiatrist report that found Pelzer knew what she was doing was wrong at the time.
Pelzer will have to serve 68 years in prison before she is eligible for parole, meaning she would have to live to be 104 years old.
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