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Hawthorne’s History: Murder on Goffle Road

John+Van+Winkle
John Van Winkle

John Van Winkle

John Van Winkle

Alexander Nadirashvili, Editor

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Hawthorne is often a town viewed as nothing more than plain and uneventful, especially by its own residents. Almost every day, you are bound to hear someone say something along the lines of: “Nothing ever happens in Hawthorne!” However, what the residents of Hawthorne, New Jersey fail to acknowledge is the rich history the town actually has, as many fascinating events took place on the streets we all walk today. In order to introduce such events to the residents of Hawthorne, a new series has arrived at The Clarion, once called Hawthorne’s History. While the last installment of the series explained the origins of the hit band Blondie, the series will take a darker turn this time in its discussion of the first murders within Passaic County, ones branded as the Goffle Road Murders.

 

The hour was sometime between 2 and 3 o’clock, the night of January 9, 1850. Judge John Van Winkle and his wife Jane had been sleeping in their home at 868 Goffle Road, formerly within the Manchester Township, which Hawthorne was once a part of.

Simultaneously, within the house of their neighbor Mr. Van Blarcom, items such as a pair of boots, a shirt, hatchet, and knife went missing, all at the hands of John Jonston, the former farmhand of the Van Winkle household.

It was on this fateful night that Judge Van Winkle arose to the shriek of his wife, meeting face to the face with the man who had just stabbed his beloved in her chest and thigh, bringing about her death. Upon receiving several blows to the face with the blunt force of a hatchet, the judge proceeded to wrestle with his wife’s murderer before he was stabbed under the arm and stomach. With his job completed, the mysterious assailant fled the house, leaving behind nothing more than footprints in the snow, a bloody knife, and a ladder leaning against the home’s window.

Several moments passed before another resident of the house called for the neighbors’ help. Still alive, though not for long, Judge Van Winkle was composed and collected, able to describe his attacker as a short and broad-shouldered man who wore a shirt over his clothing. It was only a short time after this that Judge Van Winkle passed away as well, following his recently deceased wife.

Determined to find the brutal murderer, the group of people who had gathered within the Van Winkle house decided to split up in different directions, some heading towards Godwinville, or present-day Glen Rock, and others towards the Ramapo and Paterson stations. The final group followed the leftover trackers which led away from the house, though these tracks only seemed to lead the group on a wild goose chase, bringing them in circles around the house, following a stream, and into a swamp.

Meanwhile, those who had headed towards Godwinville found themselves at the town’s station, finding there a waiting man who wore a shirt over his clothes and held an ominous sack in his hands. It was soon discovered by the party that the man had been heading to Hackensack, and they advised him to take a later and more direct train. Afterwards, an Irishwoman who was the wife of the  railroad company’s agent invited the waiting people into the small shack she lived in nearby. There, the man removed his clothes and essentially revealed himself as the object of the group’s search, as fresh blood stained his clothes.

At the same time of this revelation, the group following the murderer’s tracks had arrived at the same train station, to the exact spot where the man had been waiting.

Eventually, the mysterious man was revealed to be John Jonston, a former worker of the Van Winkle family, and he was sent to Paterson to be jailed as a suspect. The thirty-four year old who hailed from Liverpool was tried and executed soon enough, and with his sentence, 868 Goffle Road, Hawthorne, New Jersey was closed for several years and the first murder within Passaic County was concluded.

If you still have questions about the case, a book has been written by Don Everett Smith Jr, The Goffle Road Murders of Passaic County: The 1850 Van Winkle Killings, specifically about the crime. An old newspaper article from the Paterson Intelligencer which was written about this occurrence has also emerged, along with cries of the house on Goffle Road being haunted. You can find this information here: http://www.themindofdcs.com/the-goffle-road-hauntings-of-passaic-county/.

Ultimately, it is evident that Hawthorne is not as bland as it’s residents think, as the Goffle Road Murders have left a permanent blood stain on Hawthorne’s history.

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Hawthorne’s History: Murder on Goffle Road