“Stephanie is home. She’s coming home at last, right where she belongs.And we have God to thank.”
Ed Parze, Stephanie's father
It was the 30th of October 2019. The night before Halloween. Twenty five year old Stephanie Parze spent the night at a show with her three sisters, Brianna, Karissa and Hailey and parents, Sharleen and Ed. After the show, she dropped her parents home at their house in Freehold Township, New Jersey, United States. She only stayed there for a short while and it was around 10pm when she left.
Stephanie lived alone just a few miles away in a house that her late grandmother owned. After she dropped her parents home, Stephanie drove home and posted a Snapchat on the way.
The next day, Stephanie did not show up for work. She worked as a nanny and adored children and it was not like her to not let people know if she couldn't make a shift or meeting. Her parents, Sharleen and Ed, were concerned and reported her missing to the police.
Police went to Stephanie's house. Her car was in the driveway so they thought she must have made it home after dropping her parents off the night before. There was no forced entry in the home and her dog Jasmine was inside the house alone. But there was no sign of Stephanie and no indication as to what happened to her or where she was.
Stephanie's family were extremely worried. They knew she didn't just leave. She was happy working as a nanny and she also had a special talent as a special effects makeup artist. Her spare time was spent with family , friends and her dog and she was always busy. Her favourite things to do involved softball, hockey and the NY Yankees and she loved shopping for shoes. Everything in her life seemed good. But there was one aspect of her life that had not been great of late and that caused concern. It related to her relationship.
Stephanie was not happy in her relationship with her ex boyfriend John Ozbilgen. They had only dated for a few months and things began well. John was a twenty nine year old stockbroker in Staten Island. But his temper caused Stephanie to end the relationship in September 2019.
Stephanie and John
Police spoke to John. John claimed that he was with Stephanie the night of the 30th of October and the last time he saw her was when she was getting ready for work on the 31st of October. He had no idea what happened to her. Police and Stephanie's family and volunteers continued to search for Stephanie. It was an extensive search that crossed state lines. Investigators from multiple agencies canvassed hundreds of acres. They searched in areas ranging from Freehold to Staten Island, where John once lived.
Over the course of the investigation, Police discovered that the day Stephanie went missing, John was fired from his job as a stockbroker in Staten Island. He sent at least ten text messages and Facebook messages to Stephanie the next before she went missing. The tone and content of the messages were aggressive. He blamed her for making their relationship "suck" and called her a "f**king c**t." Stephanie did not reply to them.
Detectives saw marks around John's necks which added to the suspicion that he may have been involved in her disappearance. To make matters worse, it was established that he had been charged three times in domestic violence incidents, including one against Stephanie.
John and Stephanie
According to the criminal complaint, Stephanie told the police that John had attacked her when she tried to break up with him. The report noted that John hit Stephanie on her hand and on the side of her head using his backhand. Stephanie told police that she was afraid she would be assaulted again.
Detectives searched John’s home in New Jersey five times.They were looking for evidence in relation to Stephanie's disappearance but found evidence of a crime that was unrelated to that case. They found images of child pornography on his phone and as a result of that he was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography.
Police continued looking for Stephanie. They believed that John was involved and was deemed a person of interest but they still did not know what happened or where she was. John was released from prison on the 19th of November. Just three days after his release, he was found dead at his home in a suicide. The county medical examiner ruled it a suicide by hanging.
John left a number of suicide notes that had been written on the back of shopping lists. One note was for his parents. He did not refer to Stephanie by name but mentioned the "girl in the news":
“The girl in the news with me was such a piece of s**t, she hurt me over and over when I already was @ my lowest, she was a horrible person.”
In his notes, he apologized to his family and made a partial admission of guilt:
"Sorry about all this crazyness (sic), I’ve been miserable for so long now, I had enough. Thanks for everything, I can’t do life in prison. Most of the stuff you will hear is true, except the child porn.”
While he stated that most of the stuff they would hear is true, he did not mention where Stephanie was or what exactly happened to her. He expressed no remorse either.
On the 26th of January 2020, a Sunday morning, two teenagers who were walking along Route 9 near Old Mill Road in Old Bridge, New Jersey thought they saw a mannequin in the wooded area about six feet from the guardrail. Closer inspection revealed that it was a body. Authorities were notified.
The body was fully clothed and face down and close to the road but was not visible if driving along the road. It was only spotted because the two teenagers walked to work that day, they normally did not walk along that route.
It was confirmed that the body was that of Stephanie Parze. A ruling on the cause and manner of her death are still pending. The area where Stephanie's body was found was near one where the police and others had previously searched and was just fifteen miles from her home.
While John was never charged in connection with Stephanie’s death before his suicide, Prosecutors believe that he killed her and dumped her body along the highway. They believe she was killed either late at night on the 30th of October or in the early hours in the morning on the 31st of October and that her body was dumped shortly after that. They do not believe that anyone else was involved in Stephanie's murder. The Prosecutor said:
"That guilt belongs to John Ozbilgen and John Ozbilgen alone."
The day after Stephanie's body was found, John's parents released a statement:
"We are very sorry for her family and we hope they can find peace through this nightmare. We don't truly know what happened to Stephanie, but what we do know is John never said that he hurt Stephanie to us or in the note he left us. We believe he is innocent, but all the pressure from the false child pornography charges and the constant searches and relentlessness caused him to take his own life."
Stephanie's family now have to live with many questions that will most probably remain unanswered and worst of all, they have to live without their beautiful daughter and sister. Stephanie, a young woman, full of love and life, did not want a toxic and abusive man in her life. As soon as he revealed his true self to her, she reported him to the police and ended the relationship. She was afraid that she would be assaulted again and sadly her fear materialised and the next assault was fatal.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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