“He took a piece of my life away from me,” Jackie Vanderhoff said Monday as she tried to comprehend who would kill her daughter and leave her on the side of a Hamilton Township road.

Little information has been released about Joyce Vanderhoff’s death. The 25-year-old Egg Harbor Township woman’s body was spotted off Weymouth Road by a passing motorist Friday morning.

While her death has been ruled a homicide, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain has released no information on how Vanderhoff was killed. Those who knew the young woman said they don’t know who would want to harm her.

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“She was just a sweetheart all around,” said friend Anna Paskiewicz, who graduated Egg Harbor Township High School with Vanderhoff in 2006. “Nobody can say one bad thing about her.”

Vanderhoff also wouldn’t be taken down easily, they agreed.

“Whoever attacked her, I’m sure she has their DNA,” James Kelly said of the likelihood his stepdaughter fought for her life.

Vanderhoff was protective of her 13-year-old sister, Maria Jean Kelly, whose heart problems have required two open-heart surgeries and a recent visit to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“She hasn’t stopped crying,” James Kelly said of his daughter. “She won’t even eat. Every time someone mentions her sister’s name, it throws her even more.”

Friends had told the family they believed the body found on the side of the road was Joyce Vanderhoff’s even before investigators came to their Linwood home Friday.

Vanderhoff was open about past struggles on her Facebook posts, including about her time in rehab. But her past problems didn’t define her, including her last post about frustrations with the weather and life written at about 2 a.m. the morning before she was found, her mother said.

Jackie Vanderhoff worried that the public post in which her daughter wrote about “the urge to just quit it all” would make people think Joyce didn’t want to live. But she said that was not true of the the woman she called “the best thing that could ever happen to anybody in this world.”

“Whenever anybody was down, she was always the one to make funny faces to cheer you up,” Paskiewicz said.

James Kelly called his stepdaughter “one of the most caring human beings that I ever met in my life.”

She took care of the sick or hurting, whether it be a friend, a stray kitten that became her own, or an injured bird.

“Cool right?” Vanderhoff asked in a Dec. 31 post showing four photos of her with a pigeon she nursed back to health. “Found on side road ... could have disease, but never bit me (or) anything.”

Now, Jackie Vanderhoff said, she will never see her daughter married. Never boast of grandchildren, “all because of what this animal has done to my child.”

Instead, she is planning a funeral, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Adams-Perfect Funeral Home, 1650 New Road in Northfield. Friends are invited to arrive at 6:30 p.m. for a visitation.

Vanderhoff is the second woman to be found dead in Atlantic County this year. Last month, Tara Rogers-Alicea’s remains were found by a hunter on private property off Broadway Avenue in Egg Harbor Township’s Cardiff section. The 30-year-old Gloucester County mother of three was reported missing Oct. 22 by her mother in Clayton.

No arrests have been made in that crime. At the time, McClain said the area was being searched by cadaver-sniffing dogs to see if there were any other remains. He also said the DNA tests would be expedited, and his office would look into any possible connection to the killing of four women found dead in the township’s West Atlantic City section in 2006. No further information has been released about that, and at the time McClain stressed it was “just a possibility.”

“If anyone has any information, please, please come forward,” Jackie Vanderhoff said Monday. “I want closure for my daughter. I want her to be able to rest in peace.”

Anyone who may know what happened is asked to call the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office Major Crimes Unit at 609-909-7666 or Hamilton Township police at 609-625-2700. Information also may be called in anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 609-652-1234.

Contact Lynda Cohen:


@LyndaCohen on Twitter

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