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The other day we were talking about crime filled areas, and somebody mentioned that I must have experience with that coming from Northern Jersey, and having lived so close to New York. Actually, my town had very little serious crime at all. Until January 8th, 1975 that is.

I had been at the next door neighbor’s house playing, and walked across the driveway to the back door. I found it locked and banged on the glass to be let in. My sister, peeking through the door, quickly opened it up, pulled me in, and locked the door behind me.

Then she said, “There’s been a murder in town.”

What? IN LEONIA? To make matters worse, it had happened just a few blocks away. And I had just been out in the near dark alone…with a murderer on the loose.

Over the course of the next few days we’d all hear the gruesome details of how Joseph Kallinger, a shoemaker from Philadelphia and his son, forced their way into a house in my town and murdered a young nurse, Maria Fasching, in the basement.

After the murder Kallinger and his son had walked down to a park in our town that is literally a few houses from where my husband grew up…they probably walked right past his house to get there. They had washed off in a puddle in the park, and Kallinger discarded his bloody shirt there, which was a dopey move because the shirt had his name imprinted in it from his cleaners in Philly.

He was caught days later.

Maria Fasching’s face was plastered on the cover of every newspaper for days, and I remember feeling so sad for her. She was young, and was going to be married. And she just happened to stop by that house to check on a patient at the wrong time.

Oh, and that house – it scared the crap out of me for years and years. If I had to walk past it in the daytime, I’d try to not stare at the basement windows. But at night? I kept my eyes on the sidewalk and walked very, very fast.

There was a book written about Joseph Kallinger and his life leading up to the murders called “The Shoemaker.” I’ve read it, and let me tell you, this guy was really wacko. It amazed me that someone so mentally ill could slip through the cracks and live right out in the world with the rest of us. It scares me to think of how many similar characters are out there now…

Yesterday marked the 40 year anniversary of that murder. It really changed our little town – it smudged it. Made it seem less of haven and slightly haunted.

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