Two Jewish Women Murdered in Ventnor, Allegedly by Relative

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Vassar Square Condominium | sGoogle Maps Street View screenshot

Ventnor shares some of Atlantic City’s Boardwalk while offering a quiet atmosphere, uncrowded beaches and a respite from the nightlife of its neighbor, but on July 7, the beach town was left reeling after the deaths of two Jewish women in a high-rise condominium building.

Authorities have labeled the deaths of Elaine Rosen, 87, and Michelle Gordon, 67, homicide. They allege that Heather Barbera, 41, used a nightstick to kill her mother, Gordon, and her grandmother, Rosen.

An affidavit of probable cause said that autopsies of the two women reveal that Gordon died of sharp and blunt force trauma and Rosen died of blunt force trauma.


Barbera is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and first-degree robbery.

Rosen’s son and Gordon’s brother, Richard Rosen of Brooklyn, N.Y., told the Press of Atlantic City that he discovered the two women in the apartment on July 8. After calling that morning and not getting an answer, he went to their apartment at Vassar Square Condominiums along the boardwalk. When they didn’t answer, he got a security guard to let him in.

“It’s unimaginable,” Richard Rosen told philly.com. “It was horrible. They were both on the floor. There was blood all over. I was hoping they were alive, even though they were dead.”

Richard Rosen said that he warned Elaine Rosen and Gordon not to take Barbera in. Elaine Rosen didn’t want to, but Gordon pushed it. He said that Barbera was separated from her husband, and that her two children, ages 10 and 14, live with their father. He said that Barbera has had emotional problems her whole life, and he believes she is addicted to prescription pills.

Several family members, including Richard Rosen, did not respond to the Jewish Exponent’s requests for comment.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, video surveillance from the apartment complex showed Barbera leaving the morning of July 7. She traveled to Atlantic City and then to New York City, where she began using credit cards that belonged to Gordon. Video surveillance from several locations in New York City also showed her using Gordon’s credit cards.

A press release from the Office of the Atlantic County Prosecutor said New York Police Department officers identified Barbera on July 11 at the Midtown Manhattan Port Authority at 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue. Police took her to the NYPD Midtown South Precinct to await extradition to New Jersey.

In an interview at the precinct, the affidavit said, Barbera admitted to killing Elaine Rosen and Gordon by striking them multiple times with a nightstick. She also admitted to stealing cash from Rosen and credit cards from Gordon.

Locals in the Ventnor community said Rosen and Gordon were quiet and mostly kept to themselves.

Cheryl Venezia, the owner of Annette’s Restaurant in Ventnor, said Rosen and Gordon were regulars in the restaurant and confirmed the two were Jewish. They were the last customers of the day on July 7 before the restaurant closed at 2 p.m.

“This place was probably their last meal,” said Venezia, who lived in Lafayette Hill and attended Congregation Or Ami before moving to Ventnor full time nearly 20 years ago.

Elaine Rosen and Gordon were nice people, she said, and from her understanding, they mostly kept to themselves. Not a lot of people appear to have known them. The Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties and Shirat Hayam, a synagogue in Ventnor, said they were unfamiliar with them.

But Ventnor is a small town, so residents feel the murders have hit close to home.

Venezia said she could never have imagined that something like this would happen.

She heard that there had been a murder the morning of July 8. But Venezia didn’t find out that the identity of the victims until July 11, when a staff member at the restaurant informed her.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Venezia said. “It all clicked in. We were shocked because they had just been [here]. They were our last customers on Saturday.”

Elaine Rosen and Gordon came to eat at Annette’s a few times a week around 12:30 or 1 p.m., Venezia said. Gordon often ordered the kippered salmon or nova lox, while Rosen preferred oatmeal or the grilled cheese, bacon and tomato sandwich. Barbera, who Venezia said “was a nice girl,” came in with them, too, in the weeks leading up to their deaths.

Rosen and Barbera sometimes came into the restaurant without Gordon. Gordon and Barbera had a somewhat contentious relationship, Venezia said, but not anything out of the ordinary.

One time, she did notice Barbera steal toilet paper from the restaurant. That prompted Venezia to put up a sign in the bathroom asking customers not to take the toilet paper.

Venezia said she, Rosen and Gordon would make small talk when they came in. They had a mutual friend in common who had recently passed away, which was something they talked about. Judaism also came up a few times in conversations, such as in the context of holidays.

“People are in shock,” Venezia said. “They can’t believe it.”

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