868 Goffle Road Murder

Stephanie Doot, Staff Writer

On the night of January 9, 1850, Judge John S. Van Winkle and his wife Jannetje went to bed as usual in their home across from the duck pond at 868 Goffle Road, Hawthorne, N.J.  By morning, they were dead. 

These were the first, and probably the most famous murders in Passaic County.  Between 2 and 3 a.m. Judge Van Winkle was awakened by the screams of his wife struggling with an invader.  Mrs. Van Winkle had been stabbed in the breast and had taken a fatal stab from a knife to the artery in one of her thighs.  Judge Van Winkle was hit with a hatchet in the face and then stabbed under the arm and another in the abdomen.  Mrs. Van Winkle was dead almost instantly while Judge Van Winkle was able to wrestle with the stranger long enough to call for help.

Scared, the stranger left the house from where he entered in the attic and fled down a ladder that was later found still leaning against the side of the house.  Judge Van Winkle’s 16-year-old servant, David Baker, heard the Judge’s cries for help and was the first to find Mrs. Van Winkle dead and Judge Van Winkle gravely injured.  Sheriff Nathaniel Lane, who lived near Judge Van Winkle, was notified around 6 a.m. of Van Winkle’s murders and rushed over to the property to learn of Mrs. Jannetje Van Winkle’s death and Judge Van Winkle’s injuries.  Sheriff Lane sent out search parties throughout the morning and throughout the next day to find whomever it was that murdered Mrs. Van Winkle and Judge Van Winkle.  Van Winkle dies a few hours later.

By using the evidence found at the crime scene (a ladder, tracks in the freshly fallen snow, and a bloody knife) the search parties split up and followed the tracks until they found John Jonston.  Jonston told them that his intention was to board the train from Godwinville (which is now known as Glen Rock) train station to Hackensack.  Jonston had marks of blood on his shirt, face, and hands.  When questioned about the blood, Jonston replied that he had been killing hogs and had a nose bleed.  Jonston was arrested and taken into custody at the Paterson Jail.

Denying any knowledge of the Van Winkle murders, Jonston was found guilty, and on Aril 30, 1850 Jonston was sentenced to death by Judge Elias Ogden and was hung.  Jonston was the first convicted murderer of Passaic County.

Rumors of this story have been the source of gossip in Hawthorne since the murders occurred 162 years ago.  Some say that Jonston murdered the Van Winkles because of money or simply because he was drunk.  Nobody knows Jonston’s motive but what everybody knows is that the event would from that day forward always be remembered as “the Van Winkle House murders of 1850.”

All the details of this murder mystery can be read in newly published book The Goffle Road Murders by Hawthorne resident Don Smith, which is available in our Library Media Center.