Apartment 31, Cranetown apartments, Montclaire, New
This is the scene for one of the worst curses in
history, if Jerry Spraggins is to be believed.
In November 1981, Lillian Harris, 83, died from what
was diagnosed as a heart attack while the apartment was being
Then on April 18, 1983, Joan Light, 51, suffered the
same fate. The apartment was being burgled and she had a heart attack (according
to the coroner).
On September 2, the new tenant, 68-year-old Sarah
McHale, was found dead in the living room. She had been smothered with a
pillow. Police showed their immense thinking powers and deduced that
there may have been a connection with the previous deaths.
On April 11, 1985, Jerry Spraggins was arrested for
the murders of McHale and Light. Spraggins had just beaten a charges of
sexual assault and burglary at another apartment complex and was serving
a two year probation for similar crimes.
Ultimately Spraggins was convicted of only one murder,
Sarah McHale, and is currently serving a 30-year sentence. Police
suspect him in numerous other cases.
Since Jerry Spraggins arrest the 'curse' has not been
in affect. Strange co-incidence that.
The Wacky World of Murder
broke into the apartment of his sixty-eight-year-old victim, sexually
assaulted and suffocated her, and stole her pocketbook and a gold neck
He was arrested two years later and linked to the
murders of two other women in the same building, one such homicide
occurring prior to the enactment of the capital punishment statute.
Defendant was acquitted of both homicides.
In his capital prosecution for the murder of the
sixty-eight-year-old victim, defendant was convicted of purposeful and
knowing murder, felony murder, aggravated sexual assault, and burglary.
At the penalty-phase trial, evidence of defendant's
good character was offered by his mother, as well as testimony
concerning prior mental health counseling and evidence of his compulsive
and voyeuristic behavior toward women.
The jury found the c(5)(d) (diminished capacity) and
c(5)(f) (no prior criminal history) mitigating factors. Defendant's
penalty trial resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment with thirty
years' parole ineligibility plus a consecutive twenty-year term with ten
years' parole ineligibility on the aggravated sexual assault charge, and
a concurrent ten-year term for burglary.
Spraggins, Jerry Jerome
There seemed to be a curse on the Cranetown Apartments, in Montclair, New Jersey -- more specifically upon Apartment 31.
In November 1981, tenant Lillian Harris, 83, died of an apparent heart attack while her apartment was being burglarized. Seventeen months later, on April 18, 1983, 51-year-old Joan Leight died under identical circumstances, at the same address.
Her replacement as tenant in Apartment 31, 68-year-old Sarah McHale, was found dead in her living room September 2, smothered with a pillow. Police spokesmen made veiled references to "similarities" in the three deaths, refusing to offer more details for fear of jeopardizing their investigation.
On April 11, 1985, authorities in Essex County arrested 30-year-old Jerry Spraggins, a mechanic and dispatcher for a local taxi service, on charges of murdering Sarah McHale and Joan Leight. Also considered a prime suspect in the death of Lillian Harris, Spraggins escaped charges in that case through lack of conclusive evidence.
Twice charged with criminal trespass and sexual assault at another Montclair apartment complex, in December 1984, the suspect had escaped with a $600 fine and two years probation after the judge suspended an 11-month jail term.
Additional charges in the Cranetown Apartment cases included burglary, theft, and sexual assault. Spraggins was ultimately convicted in the death of Sarah McHale, sentenced to a term of 30 years in prison.
While the other crimes remain officially unsolved, Montclair authorities maintain a firm conviction of their suspect's guilt across the board. It is worth noting that the "Cranetown curse" was lifted when he went to jail.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Jury Recommends 30-Year Sentence
The New York Times
January 31, 1986
An Essex County jury today recommended that
a 31-year-old cabdriver serve at least 30 years in prison for sexually
assaulting and murdering a Montclair woman in 1983. The jury recommended
against the death penalty.
The jury of five men and seven women
deliberated for about four hours today before deciding that the
cabdriver, Jerry Jerome Spraggins of Montclair, should be sentenced to
serve 30 years to life in prison. The jury said he should not be
eligible for parole until he had served at least 30 years. Judge John J.
Dios, of the Superior Court here, said he would impose sentence April 3.
The jury convicted Mr. Spraggins last week
of raping, assaulting and strangling Sarah McHale, 67 years old, in a
burglary of her apartment at the Cranetown Garden Apartment complex on
Orange Road in Montclair in 1983. But the jury acquitted him burglary,
sexual assault and murder of two other women in the same building.
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: S MOTIVE:
MO: Burglar-rapist linked to
deaths of three women in the same apartment over two-year period.
DISPOSITION: 30-year sentence on
one count, 1985.