Amazing Stories: Confession Forces a Family To Relive Decade-Old Killing - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the December 2011 Juniper Berry Magazine

Amazing Stories: Confession Forces a Family To Relive Decade-Old Killing

December 14, 1990 • In the 10 years since her mother, Jacqueline Hogan, was killed in Queens, Celeste Stofan and other family members have bitterly come to accept the idea that the killer would never be caught and the motive never known.

But then a little more than a year ago, the police say, a Queens man named Richard Degrijze walked into the Forest Hills station house and, saying he could not "live with myself anymore," confessed to having stabbed Mrs. Hogan, 50 years old, in a bungled robbery attempt. But after he was indicted for murder, Mr. Degrijze pleaded not guilty and is now fighting the charge ‒ insisting that the woman he killed was not Mrs. Hogan.

For Mrs. Stofan and other members of Jacqueline Hogan's family, the sudden revival of the long-dormant case ‒ and the twisting new circumstances ‒ have meant raw agony revisited. After a decade in which the pain had softened somewhat, anguished memories are now being dredged up in a case that may not be resolved after all.

'Trying to Cope'

"You're never at rest, but time heals feelings and they become less over the years," Mrs. Stofan, 38, said recently from her home in Los Angeles. But the latest developments "bring back all the horror where you just end up being weepy and crying for days and thinking about my mother and praying for her and trying to cope," said Mrs. Stofan, a telephone operator who sometimes performs as a professional singer.

One of her comforting memories, she said, has been how her mother, a divorced legal secretary, "nurtured the talents" of her four children, all of whom were grown at the time of the killing and who today are scattered in California, Alaska and Germany.

Yet the new developments, painful as they are, have still been welcome. Despite the 38-year-old Mr. Degrijze efforts to fight the murder charge, Mrs. Hogan's relatives say they are convinced that it was her murder he confessed to, and that at last they have an explanation.

"There was always doubt," Mrs. Stofan's husband, Richard, said. "We never knew what the circumstances were. When you live in mystery like this it's quite difficult."

There were no eyewitnesses to the slaying. The victim's screams drew two neighbors who found the mortally wounded woman, but they did not see her attacker, the prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Robert J. Aiello, said. The knife used was never found, he said. The $40 or so Mrs. Hogan had just withdrawn from a nearby bank was still with her.

Many Unsolved Crimes

The police explored theories that she had been the victim of a failed robbery attempt or of a would-be rapist or even of somebody she had known, perhaps a man she had dated. But the investigation led nowhere, and eventually it moved to the bottom of an ever-replenished pile of murders.

"It was just going to be one of the many unsolved crimes that happen a lot of times in any large city," Russell G. Harknett, a cousin of Mrs. Hogan, recently recalled.

But aides to the Queens District Attorney, John J. Santucci, say that the mystery ended in November 1989, when Mr. Degrijze, a laborer from Middle Village, Queens, walked into the 112th Precinct station house. They say that although he did not know his victim's name or the precise location or date of his crime, he provided enough specifics to make clear that he was confessing to Mrs. Hogan's murder. It occurred on the afternoon of Aug. 13, 1980, in the hallway outside her fifth-floor apartment at 97-25 64th Road.

But Mr. Degrijze disagrees with the investigators' conclusions, said his lawyer, Marvyn Kornberg.

Do Not Match the Facts

"He's saying, 'I may have committed a murder, but I did not commit this murder because the facts that I recollect do not match the facts of this murder,' " Mr. Kornberg, said.

The lawyer said that Mr. Degrijze had told the detectives he committed his murder seven years before his November 1989 visit to them, not nine years before, and that he did it in a building elevator, not a hallway. He also quoted Mr. Degrijze as recalling that his victim had platinum-blonde hair and was not a brunette as Mrs. Hogan was, and as saying that the picture of Mrs. Hogan the detectives had shown him was not of the victim.

But investigators say the details of Mr. derriere confession that match those of the Hogan case far outweigh any discrepancies. They say he admitted following his victim home from a bank on a summer day and that he recalled a nearby store that, in fact, is near the bank Mrs. Hogan had visited.

They say he recalled killing the woman ‒ in a panic as she resisted his robbery attempt ‒ on the fifth floor of her building, which is where it happened, and that he said he had stabbed her in the chest, where she was stabbed. They also say he did identify Mrs. Hogan's picture as that of his victim.

The Only Evidence Against Him

Mr. Kornberg declined to permit an interview with the jailed Mr. Degrijze. The lawyer has also argued in pretrial hearings in State Supreme Court that his client's confession ‒ the only evidence against him ‒ should be declared inadmissible in court, on the ground that the detectives who took it did not give Mr. Degrijze the required notice of his right to have a lawyer present. The prosecution says he was given all legally required notices.

While the legal skirmishing continues -- a trial is expected shortly -- Mrs. Hogan's far-flung relatives say they have no doubt that the case has been solved.

"What I want now is revenge for that poor girl who is lying in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx," Mr. Harknett, said from his home in North Edgecomb, Me. "I want justice done. Perhaps then she can truly rest in peace."