DENVILLE — A Morris Catholic High School teacher was found stabbed to death in her Denville home, according to authorities who were searching today for her ex-husband as a "person of interest" in the killing.
Judith Novellino, 62, whom colleagues described as a "good soul" and "wonderful mentor" was stabbed more than 80 times in the home on Cliffside Trail in what Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi said "can only be described as a very brutal and violent encounter."
Share Novellino’s daughter discovered the body about 7 p.m. Saturday and called 911, authorities said. The homicide was believed to have occurred Saturday afternoon, Bianchi said, and the weapon was a knife.
Autopsy results showed Novellino died of blunt force trauma, the prosecutor said.
"You could definitely tell there was a struggle," Bianchi said of the home’s interior. "People were fighting during the attack.
"We have no reason to believe, based on the evidence that we have, that this was a random incident," Bianchi said. "We believe this victim was targeted."
Police today were searching for Anthony Novellino, 63, who had recently divorced from the victim but was still living at the Cliffside Trail home in the bucolic Indian Lake section of Denville.
Bianchi said Anthony Novellino is a "person of interest," not a suspect.
He was last seen driving a black Mazda Miata with a tan convertible roof, authorities said. The prosecutor said said anyone who spots Anthony Novellino should call "911," and that he "should not be approached."
Neighbors said the couple had lived on Cliffside Trail for at least 25 years, where their pale yellow split-level house is on a steep, winding street overlooking Indian Lake. A "for sale" sign hung on the garage door of the home.
Today was a contrast in scenes in the neighborhood: While children rode bicycles or swam in the lake, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office canine unit searched the area around the Novellino home and a small wooded area down the street. The street around the house was blocked off with yellow crime scene tape.
Lynn Dexter, 44, and Vlasta Pospisil, 77, both of whom live on Cliffside Trail, said they have each known the Novellinos for years. Dexter called Anthony Novellino "the mayor of Cliffside Trail," because he was outgoing and friendly and was always working in the garden. The women said he is employed as a security guard. Judith Novellino, they said, was rarely seen outside.
Pospisil said she learned recently that Judith Novellino had gotten her own apartment, and was traveling between it and the Cliffside Trail house to get her belongings. She said that last Wednesday Anthony Novellino came to her house to say he was divorced.
Dexter said she was barbecuing at around 7 p.m. Saturday when she saw the Novellinos’ daughter in the street, "walking around in a daze, crying." She said she overheard the woman saying, "I told her to wait for me. Why didn’t she wait for me?"
Judith Novellino had recently completed the school year at Morris Catholic High School, a parochial school of about 400 students in Denville. Members of the school community said they were saddened by the tragedy.
Novellino, whom colleagues called "Judie," was remembered today as a "good soul" who taught English, French and English as a Second Language during her 25 years at the school. She most recently worked as a librarian and ESL teacher and became a "wonderful mentor" to the school’s international students, former Morris Catholic President Judith Berg said.
"She had a very loving nature with students," Berg said. "She was friendly with everybody in the building. She had a lovely presence in the library."
Richard Sokerka, a spokesman for the Diocese of Paterson called the killing "a terrible, ter[...]rible tragedy," and said a Mass will be held Monday at the school for faculty and students. Grief counseling will be made available, although the school closed for the summer last week, Sokerka said.
"She was a good person, a wonderful person. It’s a tragedy," said Morris Catholic Athletic Director Kevin Murray. "Prayers and thoughts are with her and her family."