Police Still Search For ’89 Killer

More than 30 years after a harrowing murder rocked Westport, the case remains unsolved.

And still open.

A Westport Police Department press release this week recounts the details.

At 11 p.m. on May 24, 1989, officers and firefighters received word of a fire behind the Coffee An’ strip mall on Main Street.

First responders found a woman’s body that had been burned, near the woods.

Shortly after, her husband contacted the Police Department, to report her missing.

The woman — 38-year-old Joan Wertkin — had allegedly left home that evening to shop for groceries, but never returned.

Joan Wertkin

Her white 1988 BMW 325 was parked in front of the shopping plaza. Investigators do not believe she drove herself to that location.

“The murder of Joan Wertkin is an active investigation, and is being evaluated with advanced techniques,” police say.

Anyone with information should contact Lieutenant Jillian Cabana and Detective Philip Restieri: 203-520-3831; coldcasetips@westportct.gov.

13 responses to “Police Still Search For ’89 Killer

  1. I remember this horrific crime, but the WPD press release is bizarre. Why now? And why from a small town PD with de minimis homicide experience, rather than the state authorities who do have this capability?

  2. Even the misuse of the word “allegedly” is weird: i.e., the victim “had allegedly left her residence earlier that evening to go grocery
    shopping.” Sounds pretty unprofessional to me.

  3. I also wanted to call attention to another unsolved murder case from 1985 that took place in Westport. Much of the information as well as a place to donate funds for casework costs can be found at this link: https://dnasolves.com/articles/fairfield-county-jane-doe-1985/

    As a brief summary:
    In May of 1985, the body of an African-American woman was found in Westport on the side of I-95 among a pile of burning tires. She was about 30 to 40 years old, and both the woman’s hands and feet had been removed and were not recovered with the rest of her remains. The body was charred beyond recognition, but police were able to recover some belongings.

    She remains unidentified 38 years later, but in December 2022, the Connecticut Office of Chief Medical Examiner partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the woman or a close relative.

    The link above contains a place to donate (they have collected $1,164 with a goal of $7,500). The donations go to Othram’s lab supplies and research tools for this case.

    • Othram is a for-profit startup (dnasolves is their marketing entity) and to me it’s sleazy for a for-profit company to be soliciting donations from the public for the purpose of paying the company’s fees.

      Perhaps more disturbing is the idea of privatizing criminal investigations. It’s possible that a profit and publicity-driven organization like Othram could release evidence to the media, resulting in public pressure to charge a suspect, and a greater likelihood to convict as a result of that publicity.

      Certainly there are overzealous prosecutions without this kind of private entity involved, but the added motives of profit and generating investment buzz for a startup is a bad influence.

  4. Cristina Negrin

    I remember the case. I also think the use of the word “allegedly” was and is intentional as her husband who reported she “allegedly” went shopping was / is a suspect

    • Yes, Christina, that was the rumor at the time, but I don’t remember police ever confirming that. Regardless, when police use “allegedly” it is supposed to be in the context of something THEY allege, but not yet proven in court. The proper way to report a statement by someone else (whether a suspect or not) is to say: ____states that the victim went grocery shopping.

  5. Ann M. Humphrey

    My parents lived next door to the crime scene and were home that night. No one ever interviewed or even contacted them. The investigation was botched from Day One.

  6. Didn’t the husband pack up and leaving town soon after? I seem to recall such.

  7. I don’t recall this crime because I was living in Spain that year until May. With that said, as Janet mentioned, did her husband leave town right after the incident, and where is he now? Did he get remarried soon after, or start to live with someone soon after?

  8. I remember this horrific crime as a neighbor of the Wertkins, our oldest son was friends with their oldest son Scott. He would bike to our house with his mother, Joan, following him in her Mercedes to be sure he was safe. Shortly after the crime, my husband and I were surprised to see Craig at the local movie cozying up to a woman. My husband received a call from a local newspaper asking him if he was acquainted with the family and this is how we found out about the death of Joan. He called Craig to ask him if there was anything we could do and how sorry we were to hear what happened. Craig said “my wife passed away.” We went to the funeral for Joan and never heard from Craig thereafter. I did hear that he had moved to Boca Raton, Fl.

  9. michael brennecke

    I was told by the detective working the case that they knew damn well it was the husband but they couldn’t get sufficient evidence.

  10. I remember the Husband hired a Very High Profile Attorney , out of NYC .. I think the Attorneys name is Barry Slotnick ?? I understand the husband was the prime suspect .. Rumor has it the the police even found the same type of string or rope at his place of business , that was used to strangle her .. I think the husband owned some kind of garment business in NYC ..

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