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Former real estate agent indicted in murder, burning of East Rutherford woman, 70

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: An out-of-work real estate agent who prosecutors say bludgeoned a 70-year-old East Rutherford woman before torching her and her house was indicted today by a Bergen County grand jury .

Daniel T. Rochat, 38, a Waldwick native who most recently lived in Wood-Ridge, continued to be held on $3 million in the grisly death of Barbara Vernieri. He is charged with murder, causing death during a burglary, and arson, among several offenses in the 14-count indictment handed up by the grand jury in Hackensack.

Rochat’s father, Gene, was a principal at Kurgan-Bergen Realtors Agency in Rutherford, where Barbara Vernieri worked for decades.

She fought hard against her killer, who hit her several times before pouring an accelerant on the East Rutherford real estate agent and setting her on fire on Sept. 14, 2012.

  • EXCLUSIVE: Highly sensitive state-of-the-art DNA testing by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office led investigators to the man arrested last night in the bludgeoning and burning of a 70-year-old East Rutherford woman, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned. READ MORE….

The murder of Vernieri at her Sheppard Terrace home bore similarities to two other unsolved Bergen County murders, both in 2010, in which elderly victims were doused with an accelerant and set ablaze.

Daniel T. Rochat

Dolores Alliotts, 69, was stabbed to death and her Palisades Park home set on fire in April 2010. Five months later, 74-year-old Joan Davis of Teaneck suffered the same fate.

In each of those cases, as with Vernieri’s murder, prosecutors said the fires were set in an attempt to cover up the crimes.

The advantage in the recent case was the quick response of East Rutherford police and firefighters, who quickly extinguished the blaze, Molinelli said at the time. It allowed a forensic examination of her body that authorities didn’t have in the two previous cases, he said.

That Vernieri’s house is on a cul-de-sac, along with the fact that no sign of forced entry was found leads investigators to suspect she either knew her killer or let the person in for some reason, the prosecutor said at the time. Cul-de-sacs aren’t necessarily destinations of choice for random attackers.

In addition to murder, the indictment returned against Rochat accuses him of:

  • desecrating human remains;
  • placing Vernieri in danger of death or bodily injury;
  • causing a death during the commission of burglary;
  • one count of arson in her death;
  • two counts of putting Vernieri’s two upstairs tenants at risk of death or injury as a result of setting the fire;
  • two counts of trying to kill them;
  • unlawful entry into Vernieri’s house;
  • hindering prosecution.

The final count involves accusations that Rochat removed Vernieri’s cell phone and blood, DNA and other forensic evidence from the crime scene; gave false information to Wood-Ridge police; lied to them under oath, and threatened Wood-Ridge Sgt. Brian Griefer and Detective James McMorrow of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office with while resisting arrest.

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