When Jonathan Zarate of Randolph asked the 16-year-old girl next door to come over, it was with the idea that they’d both watch television in the basement. But as his parents slept upstairs, Zarate beat his neighbor, Jennifer Parks, with a metal pole before stabbing her to death. Then, with the help of his 14-year-old brother, James, Zarate cut Jennifer’s legs off below the knee to fit her inside a steamer trunk. The dismemberment death was one of the most brutal crimes in recent New Jersey history.
The plan was toss the body into the Passaic River.
Zarate and his brother, along with a 16-year-old from Clifton, drove the trunk to Rutherford, where they tried to toss it off the Union Avenue bridge.
But Secaucus police officers, who happened to be passing through, spotted and arrested them. It was the first case of dismemberment in Rutherford anyone could remember.
The July 30, 2005 murder was especially bloody, with Zarate’s father testifying he’d found his son’s bloody clothes.
The only motive given was that Zarate had been pissed at the girl for getting his younger brother into trouble with police over vandalism to the girl’s mother’s car.
According to published reports and court testimony, Zarate punched Jennifer’s face until it was no longer recognizable. He stuffed a bandanna down her throat. He beat her with the pole and kicked her. She was stabbed three or four times, according to court testimony.
An intense blow to her abdomen sent the food in her stomach back up to her throat, and she aspirated on vomit and blood, according to the Bergen County medical examiner. That blow was “so intense and severe that the victim would lose consciousness on the spot,” Singh said.
Zarate first tried to amputate her right leg at the thigh to fit her body into the trunk, but it was too difficult, so he cut her legs off at the knees, he confessed. Singh told the jury Parks was still alive when Zarate attempted the thigh amputation.
The brothers were each sentenced to a maximum of life in prison.