VENTNOR, N.J. — Richard Rosen said he warned his sister and mother not to let his troubled niece live with them in their eighth-floor apartment in the sunny Vassar Square Condominiums on the Boardwalk.
"I told them not to let her in," Rosen said Thursday. "My mother didn't want her in. My sister pushed it."
The result was tragedy. On Sunday, Rosen, of New York City, traveled to Ventnor and found a grisly scene inside the apartment: His mother, Elaine, 87, a Philadelphia native who moved to New York in 1950 and married a wedding musician, and his sister, Michelle Gordon, 67, a patient-care technician, were dead on the floor, having been bludgeoned with a nightstick, authorities said.
"It's unimaginable," he said. "It was horrible. They were both on the floor. There was blood all over. I was hoping they were alive, even though they were dead."
On Wednesday, his niece, Heather Barbera, 41, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, robbery, and weapons possession in the deaths of her mother and grandmother. Police said she fled Ventnor and was arrested at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. Autopsies revealed that both victims died of multiple blunt force trauma.
A security guard inside Vassar Square told residents that a woman had called down from the apartment Saturday night for a taxi and left in one. On Thursday morning, Barbera was being held at the New York Police Department's Midtown South Precinct, awaiting extradition to New Jersey.
Rosen said his mother and sister were living a happy life at the Shore, a life filled with simple pleasures like regular lunches at Annette's Restaurant on Dorset Avenue, where Elaine Rosen ordered either two eggs over easy or a grilled cheese, tomato, and bacon sandwich, and Gordon favored kippered salmon. Barbera often joined them.
"They were very good people," he said. "Very nice, honest."
Longtime family friend Stan Reisler described Elaine Rosen as "the sweetest person you could ever meet," who loved to knit and crochet. Her daughter was an avid concertgoer, he said. Later in life, Elaine Rosen and her husband began staying in Ventnor for part of the year.
"You have to know that Elaine was a one-of-a-kind, classy woman," Reisler said. "This whole thing is just unimaginable."
Cheryl Venezia, owner of Annette's, remembered Elaine as a very "well-put-together" older woman, but said her daughter, Gordon, and granddaughter, Barbera, were "at each other's throats," and were always fighting at the table.
Venezia also remembers catching Barbera in the odd act of stealing rolls of toilet paper from the bathroom, squeezing them into a large Louis Vuitton handbag.
Richard Rosen said that his niece was stealing money from his mother and sister, and that he believes that robbery was the motive in the killings.
"She wanted money," he said.
He said that his niece was long separated from her husband, and that her two children, 14 and 10, were living with their father. He said she had been troubled all her life with emotional problems, and he believed she was addicted to prescription pills.
Still, he was unprepared for the violence that took the lives of his mother and sister, he said.
"No, not like this," he said. "I was very surprised."
Funeral arrangements were incomplete, he said.