Gloucester County authorities seek new clues in 35-year-old killing

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Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton

Patrick O'Neill was 17 and a senior at Deptford High School when he was shot to death in October 1975 in the kitchen of his family's white-shingled farmhouse on a rural road just a few hundred yards from the New Jersey Turnpike.

Nearly 35 years later, Gloucester County authorities issued a public plea last week for help in cracking the seemingly cold case - and hinted that investigators' initial theory, that O'Neill had been killed after coming home and surprising intruders, may not have been accurate.

Detective William Perna "has uncovered new information that be believes makes this 35-year-old killing worth pursuing," the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office said. New investigative technology has also helped revive the inquiry, the office said in a news release.

Bernie Weisenfeld, an office spokesman, declined to elaborate, but he said Perna "has people of interest in this case" and had been conducting new interviews.

O'Neill was shot the afternoon of Oct. 30, 1975, in the kitchen of a farmhouse that stood at 1154 Almonesson Rd., investigators said. He was found about 40 minutes later by a friend who had stopped by to return an eight-track tape.

The Inquirer reported that a television taken from the house had been found in the backyard. The victim's father, design engineer Joseph O'Neill, said the house had been broken into five times in the previous year.

"Police believe young O'Neill walked in on two or possibly three men who were burglarizing the house," said the article by staff writer George Anastasia, who wrote that O'Neill "was shot three times in the head at close range."

The Inquirer said O'Neill had returned home an hour earlier than usual. He attended high school classes in the morning, then worked for a contractor as part of a vocational education program. He planned to be a carpenter.

In its plea for new leads, the Prosecutor's Office suggested that Perna had been pursuing alternative theories.

"There was speculation at the time about why a burglary would end in a homicide, especially when there appeared to be no struggle between the assailant and the 130-pound victim," the office said.

The office said O'Neill's slaying had been "extensively investigated" by Deptford, county, and state police. Even so, Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton said he hoped a new inquiry might bear fruit.

"Time, although certainly not an ally, sometimes brings new leads and evidence from citizens who care about their community," he said in a statement. "Hopefully that truth will come out, and the killer of a promising young man will be found."

O'Neill was the youngest of four brothers. Both parents are dead, and the farmhouse has been demolished.

Anyone with information can contact Perna at 856-384-5645. To submit an anonymous tip on the Web, go to http://go.philly.com/gloucocrimetip

To read more about the case, go to http://go.philly.com/oneill

 


Contact staff writer Jeff Gelles

at 215-854-2776 or jgelles@phillynews.com.