When Maria Ciallella, 17, set out on the evening of Oct. 31, 1981, it was likely she was going to run into all manner of ghosts, goblins and ghouls, all in the spirit of Halloween.
But Ciallella never dreamed that she was also about to encounter a real-life monster.
At around 6 p.m., the bright, athletic high school student told her father she was going out and would return around midnight. Soon after the clock struck 12, she was seen walking along Route 88, toward her home in Brick, N.J.
A patrolman on a radio call spotted Ciallella, and made a mental note to offer her a lift on his return. He was back within 10 minutes, but by that time, the girl had vanished like a ghost in the night.
It would be about a year and a half before anyone would find out what became of her on that Halloween night.
"Dig Up 2 Bodies; Link to 3 Others," was the Daily News front page on April 20, 1983.
Police found Ciallella's corpse, cut into three pieces and buried in the yard of a rundown blue house in the Charleston section of Staten Island. She was not alone. The shallow grave held the remains of another girl, Deborah Osborne, 17. She had disappeared from a Point Pleasant, N.J., bar the previous April.
The house belonged to a bewildered, elderly woman, Sally Biegenwald, 68, mother of the key suspect in the killings of the two girls, as well as three other murders in New Jersey.
Her son, Richard Biegenwald, 42, had been in trouble since he was 5, but she still stood behind him.
As backhoes dug up her yard and investigators swarmed all over, Mrs. Biegenwald poured her heart out to reporters from The News. "Only God in heaven knows what he's done or the reasons for it," she said. "But he is still my son and I will care for him and visit him. I guess that's what they mean by a mother's love."
Over the years, that love had been tested many times. Her husband, Alfred, was a bitter, abusive alcoholic, and her boy, Richard, was a demon from day one. At the tender age of 5, he tried to set fire to the family's Rockland County home and landed in a psychiatric hospital for troubled kids. His childhood was one reform school after another, but none did much good. Biegenwald became wilder and more dangerous with each passing year.
In 1955, at 15, Biegenwald was set loose and sent back to the bosom of his family, which now included only his mom, who had divorced her ornery mate and moved to Staten Island.
Biegenwald enrolled in high school, but nothing in the standard curriculum piqued his curiosity. He was more interested pursuing higher learning in the art of crime, robbery and car theft to start. Within three years, he graduated to murder.
On Dec. 18, 1958, the terrible teen stole a car in Staten Island, and, with another young thug, James Sparnroft, 18, stopped at a Bayonne, N.J., deli. Behind the counter was Stephen Sladowski, 47. Sladowski's day job was as Bayonne's assistant municipal attorney, but he was moonlighting as a clerk in the store he bought for his wife four months earlier.
Biegenwald entered the store, leaving his accomplice in the car. Moments later there was a gunshot, and Biegenwald bolted from the store and into the car, yelling, "Let's get out of here!"
Police caught the fugitives in Maryland, after a gun battle. Biegenwald was found guilty of murdering Sladowski with a bullet to the chest, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Just 17 years later, he was out on parole. He made some half-hearted attempts at a normal life, including wooing and marrying a pretty young woman, Dianne Merseles, over the violent objections of her father, and trying his hand at honest work.
But old habits die hard. By 1981, Biegenwald had reconnected with a jailhouse buddy, Dherran Fitzgerald, 52, and began raising hell again.
Just how much hell would not be known until Jan. 14, 1983, when two boys spotted a body in the underbrush behind a Burger King in Ocean Township. It was Anna Olesiewicz, an 18-year-old who, on Aug. 28, 1982, had gone looking for fun on the Asbury Park boardwalk, and disappeared. She had been shot four times in the head.
Working on a tip, police ended up at the Asbury Park house occupied by Biegenwald and his wife, and Fitzgerald. Police snagged Fitzgerald first, and he readily told all, pointing to the locations of two more bodies in Jersey - Betsy Bacon, 17, who had disappeared on Nov. 20, 1982, and William J. Ward, 34, a drug dealer who vanished in September 1982. Finally, Fitzgerald brought investigators to Sally Biegenwald's backyard, and the bodies of Ciallella and Osborne.
Police said that Fitzgerald had finked on his old jailhouse pal because Biegenwald had killed his pet cat. Fitzgerald became the key witness for the prosecution when, on Nov. 28, 1983, Biegenwald's trial opened for the murder of Olesiewicz, one of the five people he was accused of killing. The prosecutor maintained that the motive was simply that Biegenwald "wanted to see someone die." He became known as the Jersey Shore "Thrill Killer."
After five hours of deliberation, the jury voted guilty, and, after 6-1/2 more hours, chose a sentence of death by lethal injection. In February 1984, a second jury found him guilty of Ward's murder but deadlocked on the question of death or a life sentence. The judge gave him life.
In September, he pleaded guilty to the murders of Ciallella and Osborne, and got two more 30-year prison terms.
The cooperative Fitzgerald got off with five years.
Then the appeals began. Biegenwald's first death sentence was overturned, but in January 1989, a new jury again sentenced him to death. The case became a flash point for controversy over the death penalty, and his case made it to the State Supreme Court.