07 April 2021

The Unsolved Murder of Philip Jankowitz, 1978

Two years before America was asking "who shot JR?" - the fictional millionaire oilman of TV's Dallas - Somerset County was asking "who bludgeoned PJ?" - Hillsborough's real-life millionaire recluse Philip Jankowitz. Television viewers waited 8 months for their answer. Hillsboroughians are still waiting nearly 43 years later. 

10 August 1978 Courier News

Philip Yankelewitz came to America from Russia in 1908 with his mother Esther, brother Jacob, and sisters Sarah, Lottie, Rebecca, and Annie. The seven-year-old - who was apparently the only family member to change his surname - was the youngest of the clan. They landed first in Brooklyn and then came to Hillsborough in the 1920s. 

Ads from The Rural New Yorker - 
1934, 1939, 1941

They settled on a 96-acre farm on South Branch Road near where the Norz Hill farm is today. In the previous century it was known as the Hoagland Farm but was now called Maple Lane Farm (not to be confused with the Maple Lane Farm in Belle Mead). On the 1930 census Philip listed his occupation as electrician. His brother Jacob - ten years his senior - had been a baker in Brooklyn. Now they were both farmers.

27 February 1931 Home News

The first mention of the Yankelewitz family in a local newspaper was in 1931 when an untended oil stove in Jacob's bedroom caused a fire that burned down the 100-year-old ten room house. At the time, Jacob and Philip - both unmarried - lived on the farm with their mother. At some point after this - and certainly by the time of Jacob's death in 1969 - Jankowitz found himself living alone in a converted chicken coop on the property. The building had electricity and phone service but no running water. He put bathroom waste out to be picked up with his garbage.

25 August 1978 Courier News

When a cousin failed to reach Jankowitz by telephone on August 9, 1978, she called the police. They found his body outside the home. He had been beaten on the head. He had been dead about 24 hours. Despite his living conditions, Jankowitz was actually wealthy. He had a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank and the farm had recently been appraised at more than $600,000. His wealth was not entirely a secret leading police to suspect robbery as a motive.

25 August 1979 Home News

Police had two suspects within a couple of weeks and there was a swift indictment by a grand jury. But it turned out that the only evidence the prosecutor had was the testimony of two people who reported that the suspects had told them that they committed the murder. Those witnesses later admitted they lied and the prosecutor was forced to drop the case. It remains unsolved to this day.

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