MAYS LANDING — The trial of a Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, man accused of murdering 25-year-old Joyce Vanderhoff in 2014, began on Tuesday with opening arguments and testimony from witnesses.
Timothy Wright, 42, was arrested in 2019 in Pennsylvania and extradited to New Jersey to stand trial.
Vanderhoff’s naked body was found on the side of Weymouth Road in Hamilton Township on Feb. 14, 2014, by a blueberry farm worker. Her death was ruled a homicide by strangulation.
The case is being heard before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Dorothy M. Incarvito-Garrabrant.
Assistant Atlantic County Prosecutor Seth Levy told the jury that Vanderhoff, of Egg Harbor Township, and Wright had a drugs-for-sex relationship, and she was at his home he shared with his girlfriend in Mays Landing overnight on Feb. 12, about a day before her body was found in the snow.
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Levy said detectives learned that Wright searched for directions from the body’s resting spot to his home.
Wright, wearing a white dress shirt and a dark-colored tie and entering the courtroom cuffed, sat beside his attorneys, John Bjorklund and Alex Settle.
Settle said the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is trying to put a “square peg into a round hole” by not factoring in that Vanderhoff’s body temperature was not cold enough after being beside the road for almost 12 hours before her body was found.
Surveillance footage from the area also shows “hundreds” of cars passing her body without discovering it.
Levy said Vanderhoff was a drug addict, often offering sexual favors in exchange for substances such as heroin and cocaine, and she wasn’t a piece of “roadside litter” that Wright had made her.
“She was doing her best,” Levy said of Vanderhoff struggling with daily life while fueling her addiction.
Cocaine was found in Vanderhoff’s system around the time she died, according to toxicology reports read to the jury by Prosecutor’s Office staff member Elizabeth White.
Matthew Flamensfeld, a friend of Vanderhoff who testified on Monday, drove Wright to the Sassafras Run apartment complex off Delilah Road for drugs, after which he drove to Vanderhoff’s West Atlantic City motel, where the trio used the narcotics, he said.
Afterward, Flamensfeld drove Wright and Vanderhoff back to Wright’s Mays Landing home in Hamilton Greene, where she would later plead with him for a ride. He said Vanderhoff told him she was standing outside the Mays Landing Walmart cold.
He blocked her number after he wasn’t given the drugs he was promised for the ride to Mays Landing, but he unblocked it and, over the next day or so, couldn’t get a hold of Vanderhoff.
He had a key to her hotel room, entered and found she hadn’t returned. He said her cat was inside hungry.
“I was extremely worried ... I knew something was wrong,” Flamensfeld told the jury.
Flamensfeld said he and Vanderhoff were students at Egg Harbor Township High School and dated afterward before he left for New York.
They rekindled a friendship once he returned, using drugs together before Flamensfeld became sober in 2016.
Flamensfeld remembers lying to authorities to learn Vanderhoff’s fate, saying he told them he was her fiancé after hearing of a naked woman being found dead alongside the road in rural Atlantic County.
Hundreds gathered at Adams-Perfect funeral home after Vanderhoff’s death. A roadside marker where her body was found was placed in remembrance of her.
Levy said Wright fled from Mays Landing after she died. Detectives didn’t arrest him until 2019.
Wright was apprehended by Chambersburg police, extradited to New Jersey on May 8, 2019, and booked into the Atlantic County jail, where he has been held since a detention hearing.
Michael Heuser Jr., another friend of Vanderhoff, who Bjorklund said is to testify this week, also had a sex-for-drugs relationship with Vanderhoff.
His father, Michael Heuser Sr., testified Tuesday he learned about it only after text messages detailing their relationship were shown to him.
Heuser Jr. has not been charged in connection to Vanderhoff’s murder.
The defense, however, said it has secured police statements about Heuser Jr.’s route home from work the morning Vanderhoff was found.
Heuser Sr. says his son was not known to use Weymouth Road for travel between the Mays Landing Walmart, where he worked and met Vanderhoff, who at one point was his coworker there.
Contact Eric Conklin:
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