Cops: 'Cat Lady' killer captured

Georgianna S. Jedrzejewski (right) was killed on Dec. 10, 2012. Known as "The Cat Lady," she is pictured with Pastor Giselle Coutinho of Camden's Bridge of Peace Community Church.

Neighbors knew her as “The Cat Lady.”

On an unseasonably warm night in December 2012, Georgianna S. Jedrzejewski was beaten and stabbed to death on a South Camden street corner in a dispute over a bottle of liquor.

For 18 months, the Cat Lady’s killer walked free. On Tuesday, a suspect in her slaying was captured in Florida.

The arrest is the first by Camden’s new Cold Case Unit -- a team of four seasoned detectives, two from the Camden County Metro police department and two retired veterans of Camden County Prosecutor’s Office.

Before she became homeless, Jedrzejewski served in the U.S. Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1980. It’s unclear what led her to the streets of Camden’s Fairview section during the next 34 years. Her family could not be immediately reached.

Shortly before her murder, she had joined the Bridge of Peace Church and enjoyed the fellowship of the congregation of evangelical Lutherans.

“She collected stray cats and created a bond with them. She spent her time gathering food for them,” said Camden County Detective Bob Chew of the new Cold Case Unit. “That’s an honorable person. Obviously, she fell on hard times. But she was someone who had previously worked hard to preserve our freedom in the Air Force.”

The case had languished for 15 months. Homicide detectives in Camden had been overwhelmed by a 67 killings in 2012, a staggering number for a city of 77,000 people. The investigation had cooled because witnesses would not to talk to police. Investigators moved on to other cases.

The new cold case squad chose it to be one of 10 that would get a second look.

“We restarted the investigation,” Chew said. “We just applied old-fashioned detective work.”

They located witnesses, interviewed them again, and earned their confidence.

Two witnesses provided a name: Tino Cruz.

The detectives learned that shortly before midnight on Dec. 10, 2012, an enraged man with tattoos on his face approached the Cat Lady on the 800 block of Tulip Street and accused her of stealing a bottle of his liquor.

Cruz allegedly attacked, punching the slight woman several times in the face until she collapsed onto the sidewalk. As she lay on the ground, Cruz pulled a pocket knife and lunged at her repeatedly, the witnesses told investigators. In June, the detectives found a third witness, who claimed that Cruz had admitted to killing the Cat Lady.

With new information, the detectives reached out to the Camden division of the U.S. Marshals. Cruz, 32, was tracked Jacksonville, Fla., where he was living with a friend. Marshals took him into custody on Tuesday night without incident.

The arrest brought closure to Jedrzejewski’s family members, who weren’t sure the case would ever be solved, Chew said.

“This was an important case for me. She was an honorable woman,” Chew said.

“The victims’ families sometimes think you’ve forgotten about them," he said. "I just want to tell them we haven’t.”

Contact Sam Wood at 215-854-2796 or Follow @samwoodiii on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.