Skip to main content
Reporting on Violent Crime: Lessons from “A Long Walk Home”
Joe Strupp, a reporter for the Asbury Park Press and SC&I part time lecturer, who has published a new book exploring the unsolved murder of Carol Ann Farino in 1966, describes the challenges involved in reporting on true crime.
Joe Strupp, a reporter for the Asbury Park Press and SC&I part time lecturer, who has published a new book exploring the unsolved murder of Carol Ann Farino in 1966, describes the challenges involved in reporting on true crime.

Her body was still warm, said the police officers who discovered her lying dead, discarded in a random private driveway in Maplewood, N.J. on November 3, 1966. Carol Ann Farino’s body was half naked and her stockings were wrapped around her neck. Her autopsy later revealed she had been strangled to death.   

Farino was a well-liked and hardworking 17-year-old high school student who had a part time job working as a waitress. She was walking home from her job in the early evening when she was murdered. Her body was found only a half mile away from the coffee shop where she worked, less than an hour after she began to walk home, and close to her parent’s home.

“When writing about crime, especially brutal, violent crime involving young people and women, who are more often the victims than men, you really have to stick to the facts."

Today, more than 50 years later, her killer has never been found. The questions remain: who killed her and why?

In a new book, “A Long Walk Home,” released on September 14, 2021 by Amarna Books of New Jersey, Journalism and Media Studies Part-Time Lecturer Joe Strupp, who is a reporter for the Asbury Park Press, tells the story of her murder and the ensuing investigation.

“I became interested in the case because I’ve lived in Maplewood and heard about the unsolved case for more than 21 years. I was very curious to learn more about this young girl who was killed, and why, after more than 50 years, the police still have no suspects.”

Strupp said to gather the facts and find credible sources he applied the skills he’s developed during his 30-year career as a reporter, and he said these are the same skills he teaches his Journalism and Media Studies students. However, he also cautioned that reporting about violent crime involves special considerations reporters must remember.   

"It is also vitally important for reporters to consider the implications of their reporting, Strupp said, because it can influence the outcome of the case."

His first challenge was finding sources. Strupp said he contacted the police to review the case file, and that’s when he hit his first obstacle. While he was given the initial police reports, the Essex County Prosecutor, who oversees unsolved crimes in Maplewood, refused to give him the entire case file.

How does a reporter find information when they are denied access to the documents they need the most? “I’ve been a reporter for 30 years, Strupp said, “and I believe there is always somewhere you can look for information. You can interview people, you can find documents, you can find news reports. I talked to a lot of experts – criminologists, experts in homicide detection, experts in victim relief. When I started in news at The Daily Journal in Elizabeth, N.J., which is no longer with us, in 1988, I learned early there from one of my editors that there is always another phone call you can make, always another place to look. Often once you find one source you can ask them if there is anyone else you should talk to. One source leads to another source, which leads to other things. The internet can also be a great source because much more information is public now. Once you start searching names it’s surprising what you find. I’m not a fan of a lot of things on the internet – most of what’s there is probably not credible – but there is some good information, you just must verify the sources.”

He also said he did learn a great deal from the initial police reports. He discovered that Carol had a sister, Cynthia, and he found her - she still lives in New Jersey. Ultimately, Strupp said, she became his best source.

His other sources included newspaper reports at the time which he accessed at newspapers.com. He found other old news records and articles about rewards that were offered at the library. He also used Facebook to find people who remembered Carol, and he interviewed many of her classmates and friends, including one of her boyfriends.

But the skills needed for writing about true crime extend beyond far beyond the search for credible sources, Strupp said.

"It is also critically important to have compassion for your reader and the victim’s surviving family members."

“When writing about crime, especially brutal, violent crime involving young people and women, who are more often the victims than men, you really have to stick to the facts. I lean toward just saying it like it is in a very clear way, which isn’t always easy, and some people won’t take it as well as others. Also avoid police and investigative jargon. They use terms in police work that we don’t use in normal conversation and not every reader is going to understand it. It is also critically important to have compassion for your reader and the victim’s surviving family members.

“I teach Writing for Media at Rutgers and one of the things we talk about are visual images used with crime stories. Images that present the story are necessary, but reporters must take the reader into account, and be careful not to offend them or overly brutalize what happened.”

It is also vitally important for reporters to consider the implications of their reporting, Strupp said, because it can influence the outcome of the case. “Reporters have to be very careful about what they write or say about the potential suspect and the victim. You want to present them fairly. For example, if a suspect you’ve written about goes to trial it would be unfortunate if one of the first things their lawyer says is ‘there has been prejudicial publicity about this case and my client can’t get a fair trial.’ This can result in the guilty going free and the innocent being convicted – it happens. We don’t want the news person to be the reason for that!”

Reporting about crime is an essential and critically important contribution to our democratic society, Strupp said, because, “it keeps law enforcement and the criminal justice system accountable, and the public informed, which is particularly necessary if there is something dangerous happening in their community and they need the information to stay safe.”

By the end of his research, Strupp said he was still not able to definitively determine who killed Carol, but he does name a person he suspects at the end of the book.

“I even spoke to a spiritual medium, who often works with police and lawyers on murder investigations, about the person I thought most likely was the murderer,” Strupp said, “and she came up with some theories that align with the suspect I think is guilty. He was a man who was accused of another murder but was acquitted. He had an office in Maplewood Village at the time of Carol’s murder and could have met her at the coffee shop where she worked. It was a cold night, perhaps he pulled up to her in his car and offered her a ride home, and recognizing him, she accepted. But this is my theory based on the evidence I found. Unfortunately, it seems perhaps we will never know what happened that night.”

"A Long Walk Home" is available to purchase here.

Listen to the podcast here, where Strupp interviews the policemen who found Carol's body, her sister Cynthia, and a spiritual medium who is a psychic criminal investigator. 

Discover more about the Journalism and Media Studies Department on the Rutgers School of Communication and Information website.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to top