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Rosemarie D’Alessandro of Hillsdale still driven 40 years after daughter Joan’s murder

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

TRIBUTE: After all she’s done to help others since her 7-year-old daughter was horrifically murdered 40 years ago, there’s so much more for Rosemarie D’Alessandro – beginning with a pair of commemorative, fund-raising events that she hopes will draw huge crowds next weekend.

Final arrangements are in place for a full day, with an afternoon event for kids – featuring food, refreshments, music, games and other activities – followed by a four-course dinner/dance party for adults, both at the Westwood Elks Lodge, on Sat., Sept. 7 ( more below ).

After a bit of back-and-forth among local officials, the re-wording also is finally set for a butterfly sculpture dedicated to Joan D’Alessandro, a Brownie Scout slain by neighbor while selling cookies door-to-door (see below).

Sept. 7 is Joan’s birthday.

And if that weren’t enough, D’Alessandro has found herself a subject in an ambitious TV documentary about women throughout the world who have made significant and lasting differences in people’s lives. The director is one of Joan’s former babysitters.

“I’m excited,” she told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Someone just bought a basket for the dinner. A stranger called yesterday asking for a table.

“We’ve got the wording for the butterfly. And now this movie,” D’Alessandro said. “Joan was magnetic, and she still is.”

That magnetism drew Ray Coneys, a former Westwood resident and “urban hipster,” as D’Alessandro calls him, who returned to the area when he heard about the ongoing 40th anniversary commemorations, including a candlelight vigil held in April ( SEE: 40th anniversary candlelight vigil tonight for Joan D’Alessandro in Hillsdale ).

Coneys, of Goshen, N.Y., joined the board of the Joan’s Joy foundation established by D’Alessandro to help youngsters and raise awareness of child safety issues. He’s also been involved in discussions with Hillsdale’s elected representatives over the wording of a plaque that will go with the white butterfly sculpture.

“If you were a kid that, year, things changed,” Coneys said, “and you knew it.”

Joseph McGowan, a former high school science teacher, was convicted of raping and murdering Joan on April 19, 1973 (Holy Thursday), before dumping her body in Harriman State Park, where it was found on Easter.

The youngster had come to McGowan’s home, three doors down, looking to sell her last two boxes of cookies.

Her murder prompted the passage of Joan’s Law, signed by Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997 and by President Clinton in 1998. It mandates life in prison for the killing of children under 14 during a sex crime.

Because it was adopted after McGowan was sentenced, the law doesn’t apply to him. But he remains in prison for his crimes, having repeatedly been denied parole – thanks in large part to D’Alessandro’s tireless advocacy.

D’Alessandro is hoping Joan’s Joy (officially known as the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation ) raises enough money to build the sculpture and surrounding garden at the Hillsdale train station as a lasting symbol of child protection. It will feature a plaque with Joan’s photo, and have a butterfly bench nearby.

The white butterfly was chosen, D’Alessandro said, because it symbolizes Joan’s “joyful and free spirit, giving hope to many.”

“Her life and death inspired a movement to keep her killer in prison and spurred law changes,” she told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Joan’s legacy is more alive today than it ever was. It is a force for good in today’s society.”

D’Alessandro had hoped to unveil the statue on Joan’s birthday. But plans got snagged a bit by debate over the plaque’s wording – particularly the phrase “molested and murdered.”

Working with the borough council, D’Alessandro came up with something she said she’s happy with. The plaque also cites four laws that D’Alessandro helped convince legislators to enact the past two decades – while leaving space for one she hopes they’ll approve: extending the parole ban to anyone who is convicted of killing and committing a sex crime against any minor, instead of only those under 14:

Plans now are to unveil the statue on Oct. 30, if the borough approves.

Before then, D’Alessandro will be working with filmmaker Peggy O’Connor, a singer and musician who also spent time in the ministry.

O’Connor is making a film for which she said she is selecting “Mother Theresa types” from throughout the world and homing in on their stories. For the United States, she selected D’Alessandro.

She is hoping O’Connor attends the Sept. 7 dinner, which also will feature John Douglas, the founder of the FBI’s profiling unit and author of an upcoming book that will include a chapter on Joan’s case.

All proceeds from both Sept. 7 events will go toward the sculpture and its garden, D’Alessandro said.

Afternoon event:

WHAT: Family Fun
WHEN: 1 – 5 p.m., Sat., Sept 7
WHERE: Elks Lodge, 523 Kinderkamack Road, Westwood
HOW MUCH: $10 per person $25 family (Pay at arrival)


  • Fun and educational booths
  • Hot dogs, drinks, snow cones, cotton candy
  • Live Music
  • CHIPS Child Identification Program
  • Tails of Hope Foundation, K9: YAP, The Service of Working Dogs
  • Audubon Society – Flowers and Butterflies
  • Learn Self-Defense Techniques
  • Effective parenting: A one-step program
  • Face painting
  • Inflatables
  • Crafts
  • Hair and Makeup

Evening event:

WHAT: Dinner/Dance Party
WHEN: 6-10 p.m., Sat. Sept. 7
WHERE: Elks Lodge, 523 Kinderkamack Road, Westwood
HOW MUCH: $65 adults, $30 children


  • Appetizers
  • Full-course meal buffet
  • Celebrating Joan’s life birthday cake
  • Live music and DJ
  • Super Raffle
  • Tricky Tray
  • Door prizes
  • Silent Auctions
  • 50/50
  • Joan’s Joy wristbands

(Prizes include an I-PAD and 4 Disney One-Day Park Hopper Passes)

Sponsorships are available and donations are requested.

To reserve a seat or get more information, go to:

Or contact D’Alessandro directly: (201) 664-9140 /

Donations can be sent to: the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Foundation, 45 Florence St. Hillsdale, NJ 07642

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