LINWOOD — Who killed April Kauffman? If authorities have a lead, they haven’t said so in five years. The mystery has haunted her family and friends and caused rampant speculation in the quiet city.
Dr. James Kauffman, 68, has never been named a suspect in the killing of his wife, but that has not stopped suspicion.
Now, Kauffman’s arrest on charges of brandishing a handgun as local and federal investigators executed a search warrant at his medical office Tuesday has reignited those suspicions in this small, white-collar city.
Kauffman’s attorney, Ed Jacobs, who has maintained his client’s innocence, did not respond to a request for comment for this report.
Kauffman’s arrest last week was not related to his wife’s killing, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said. But that, and an earlier request by the Prosecutor’s Office for a DNA sample from Kauffman, has only fueled talk, while putting an intense focus on the investigation, the city and the unsolved homicide.
“People don’t go around killing their wives in this area. It’s not normal,” Sylvia Baker said Thursday outside Linwood Greene Plaza.
Baker, who grew up in Linwood but now lives in Egg Harbor Township, was critical of Kauffman’s alleged actions earlier this week.
“Who meets law enforcement with a gun?” she said. “I think it’s finally waking people up that we need an answer.”
Linwood has about 7,000 residents and a median household income of $82,000. Charming homes are situated along the tree-lined streets. Children are often seen riding bikes, and residents frequent the many locally owned shops and restaurants.
“Some people make some very radical and strange comments,” said Lee Darby, who was a close friend of April Kauffman. “Everybody has an opinion and everybody’s entitled to it.”
Brigantine resident Michele O’Connell, who works in Linwood, said she has been following the case, and the fact that it has remained unsolved so long has been stressful on the community.
“I think that there’s people on both sides of what they think happened. And I think that that’s been difficult for the town. I think there’s a lot of strong opinions,” O’Connell said.
Resident David Sparenberg said Linwood is a quiet community.
“I only hope that there’s an end in sight and that, whichever way it ends, it ends lawfully and for the benefit of Dr. Kauffman and his stepdaughter (Kim Pack),” Sparenberg said.
On the morning of May 10, 2012, when April’s slaying was discovered, Darby said it was Dr. Kauffman who called her to break the news. Darby was in disbelief and immediately went to the house, which was surrounded by police and news media.
She had flashbacks to that scene Tuesday, when Kauffman was arrested.
The Kauffmans’ massive home sits in a cul de sac at the end of Woodstock Drive. Once an immaculately manicured property, the shrubs are now overgrown and trash litters the lawn. James Kauffman owned the home before he met April.
The Kauffmans were avid gun collectors, reportedly owning about 100 guns. They also went out frequently, Darby said. About a year after April’s killing, James Kauffman married Carol Weintraub, and the two own an apartment in Philadelphia, although he still owns the Linwood home.
At the other end of the street is the well-traversed Linwood bike path, where a bench and a tree are now dedicated in April’s honor.
On Thursday, Darby sat carefully on April’s bench and talked about her longtime friend, sometimes holding back tears as she remembered Kauffman’s dedication to the community, selfless attitude and fun-loving spirit.
“We raised our daughters together, we traveled together,” Darby said of the friendship that began in the 1980s.
April Kauffman, who was 47 when she died, was most well known in the area as a strong advocate for veterans. She was also a radio host, a business owner and a voracious volunteer.
Kauffman had a loud personality, Darby said. She drove a red convertible and had Barbie-blonde hair. Kauffman never shied away from talking to strangers, and Darby said she would make friends wherever she went.
“A lot of people felt a closeness with April, and they should, because April loved everybody. She made you feel like you were her best friend,” Darby said. “I envied that beautiful heart of hers.”
April Kauffman’s death soon became regional, statewide, then national news when it was featured on the America’s Most Wanted website, which is now defunct.
The Linwood Police Department declined to comment on the impact of the killing on the small community. Mayor Rick DePamphilis and Council President Tim Tighe could not be reached for comment.
The effects of a unexplained or controversial death can have a lasting impact on a community. Mike Voll is the former mayor of Middle Township and recalls a similar case that rocked his small town in the 1990s.
Now a successful and popular dentist in Cape May Court House, Eric Thomas was in the center of scandal in 1997 when his pregnant wife died after her vehicle crashed into a utility pole. The medical examiner said Tracy Thomas’ death was accidental, but when Thomas tried to sue Ford Motor Co. over the airbag, the company attempted to implicate Thomas in a murder plot. There were accusations of lies and of affairs, and eventually both cases were dropped. However, the dramatic story became fodder for a Lawrence Schiller book, “Cape May Court House.”
“There was a lot of talk. A lot of speculation, a lot of accusations, a lot of hearsay and, of course, as mayor, I had to listen to all of it. I always left it up to the Police Department and the Prosecutor’s Office (to) come to a conclusion,” Voll said.
He said the case put the community in the spotlight, but eventually the light dimmed and things got back to normal.
“Life goes on and Dr. Thomas is a successful practicing dentist in Cape May Court House. So everybody can have their own opinion. I relied on law enforcement and the judicial system for their conclusion, and that’s where I left it,” Voll said.
Rocco Cipparone, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in Haddon Heights, said speculation is normal but should never drive an investigation. He said having a suspect helps the community heal.
“Solving a crime always brings a measure of comfort to a community,” he said.
Darby, who helps run a website and Facebook page dedicated to April Kauffman, said attempting to try the case in the media is unfair. But she is hopeful for a resolution so that she, and the community, can move on.
“It never goes away. It never leaves. It just haunts you all day long,” Darby said.