Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Zarinsky

Cousin Theodore

Flash Forward - 1999

Because of Judith Sapsa's allegations, Jakubiec called the Union County Prosecutor's Office.

Union County Prosecutor's Office patch
Union County Prosecutor's Office patch

"Judith remembered things from that night very clearly. What she was eating...when they came in...where they were bleeding...," said Jakubiec. "Once I heard the details I thought, 'This could be factual.'"

That's when Detective Pfeiffer was brought onto the case.

"I knew who Zarinsky was...," Pfeiffer said, in an interview with Court TV's Crime Library. "I was part of a team created in the early 90s to investigate cold cases, and we came across a set of latent fingerprints in the Bernoskie case on a can of Prestone antifreeze that had never been identified."

The team had run nearly 700 sets of fingerprints and asked for the public's help in solving the crime, but to no avail.

Zarinsky had originally been a suspect in the case. He had been brought into custody after being caught with a .32 caliber handgun belonging to a friend's father, a lieutenant on the Linden police force. Zarinsky had intimidated the friend into stealing the gun for him. But ballistic tests proved negative on the gun, and Zarinsky's fingerprints didn't match the set that was found at the crime scene.

Questioned by police about the Bernoskie killing, Zarinsky replied, "I would never shoot a cop."

He was subsequently released.

Forty one years later, with Zarinsky now safely behind bars for another crime, Pfeiffer's goal was to find Schiffer.

According to the New York Times, "...law enforcement officials initially looked for Mr. Schiffer in Florida before tracking him to Lackawanna County (Pennsylvania) through his motor vehicle records."

Pfeiffer and Capt. William White of the Rahway Police Department drove out to Peckville, Pa., to question Schiffer, a retired carpet installer, who lived alone in a high rise apartment building.

Captain White of the Rahway Police Dept.
Captain White of the Rahway Police Dept.

They staked out his car, which had Florida tags, until Schiffer appeared at approximately 5 a.m. The two investigators approached and asked if they could talk to him about Robert Zarinsky.

"He denied having any involvement in the case. Emphatically. Schiffer couldn't understand how his cousin (Judith Sapsa) could implicate him. He said, 'There was no animosity between them.' He wanted to know, 'Why?'" Pfeiffer recalled. "I think the Zarinsky mystique carried over in that interview. His tentacles carried that far."

The investigators got a court order to take Schiffer's fingerprints, because they weren't on file.

"That's when the identification was made," said Pfeiffer. "It was a home run."

A Schiffer fingerprint matched the one left on the can of anti-freeze at the crime scene.

"The only crime that Ted Schiffer ever committed was this murder," said Pfeiffer. "He had kept himself clean. His fingerprints were never in the FBI's national data bank. He only screwed up this one time."

According to the New York Times, "The police also found a scar on Mr. Schiffer's chest where Ms. Sapsa said a bullet had been removed..."

Police in Peckville immediately arrested Schiffer as a suspect in Bernoskie's killing, charging him with first-degree murder and burglary.

Brought before the Lackawanna County Court in Scranton, Pa., Schiffer refused to waive his right to an extradition hearing. New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman issued and signed an extradition warrant that was then forwarded to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. A hearing was scheduled at the Lackawanna County Court House, where prosecutor's needed to prove that Schiffer had been in New Jersey at the time of the crime, and was, indeed, a fugitive.

New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman
New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman

Two months later Schiffer was shipped to the Union County Jail in New Jersey where he was held in contempt of court for declining to provide information to the grand jury.

His bail was set at $1 million.

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