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The Strange, Unsolved Murder of Joan Freeman

Her skull was bashed in beyond recognition, and her throat slit from ear to ear. She was only a thin layer of tissue away from being decapitated.  It was clear the young woman had been killed ten times over. It might sound crazy, but it appeared as though Joan Freeman’s head was pecked apart by a blood thirsty animal.

Joan, a clerical secretary at the pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche, must have had the unfortunate luck of coming face to face with a giant, killer chicken the company was experimenting on.   At least that was the macabre theory whispered among children across Passaic County in New Jersey. The rumor has it that the mutant fowl still roams northern New Jersey to this day.

And that rumor is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Joan Freeman was not killed by a giant, mutant chicken. She was killed by a real monster.

SOURCE: The Record, February 13, 1980

Before she left her house on Saturday, August, 31, 1968, the pretty 22-year-old told her parents she was on her way to Hoffman-La Roche to get some work done. She clocked in at noon. Just three hours later, she would be dead.

The murder scene revealed that she was obviously startled by her attacker. The time cards she was holding in her hand were scattered all over the floor. A heavy wooden mallet used to crack dry ice at the plant was also found near her. It was later identified as the weapon used to viciously bludgeon Joan. The instrument used to slit her throat was never found. Joan Freeman’s murder was truly horrific. Even Harold Kent, director of the funeral home where her body was taken, remarked that the murder was “a crime of extreme brutality.” But why? Why was Joan, a described “studious type who minded her own business,” so savagely murdered?

SOURCE: Philadelphia Daily News Sep 4, 1968

A theory floated by investigators suggested that Joan was involved in industrial espionage. The murder scene was perplexing to begin with because Joan’s body was found in the medical library in Building 34, although she did not usually work there. “She may have seen something so important it was considered necessary to shut her up permanently,” an investigator offered at the time. The spying angle proved to be little more than a catchy newspaper headline.

But there was one person, a friend, who may have known more about the murder than he let on. The friend in question was Joan’s former co-worker at Hoffman-La Roche. Even though he didn’t work there any longer, he still continued to use the company’s library on Saturdays unbeknownst to security.

He was there the day Joan was murdered. He claimed to have left the library at noon, but he could not provide an alibi for the next three hours. Police kept a close eye on this friend. He even took a polygraph test and failed miserably. The results were ultimately dismissed because he was taking medication for his nerves at the time. With no fingerprints and no substantial evidence to hold him, Joan’s friend was released and no charges were ever filed against him.

With their only suspect eliminated, detectives were forced to use unconventional practices in order to find Joan’s killer. Their search for answers led them down some very strange paths. In desperation, they enlisted clairvoyants for leads. They even turned to potted plants for information.

Investigators hired a polygraph expert who believed that plants could remember who had committed violent acts in their presence. He hooked up the plants that were in the medical library when Joan was murdered to polygraph machines and observed their reaction to different employees as they walked by.

One of the investigators, Detective DeSimone, thought the process was a waste of time. “We paraded damn near half the plant through there. Nothing happened, but the guy we suspected most wasn’t working there then and we didn’t test him. We always wondered what might have happened if we had.”

The investigation into Joan Freeman’s murder ended in 1969 when a grand jury declined to vote a “John Doe” indictment.  After almost 50 years, her case remains open. When asked recently if there were any new leads, Clifton Police Spokesman Lt. Robert Bracken stated, “I can tell you 100% there are no updates.” Right now, Joan is the only person who knows for certain who killed her. And it wasn’t a giant chicken.

If you have any information on Joan Freeman’s murder, please contact the Clifton NJ Police Department.

Special thanks to the Weird NJ team for their assistance with research for this story and for keeping Joan’s memory alive.

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