Woman in Ventnor Case Had Assault History

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Heather Barbera, 42, who police allege beat her mother and grandmother to death with a nightstick in a Ventnor, N.J. condominium building last month, had a history of assault, according to court records and her uncle, Richard Rosen.

Heather Barbera | Office of the Atlantic County Prosecutor

In 2016, Barbera was charged with defiant trespass and assault. A complaint said Barbera punched the victim in the face, threw her on the floor and kicked her in the head and body, yelling and cursing.

“She was very troubled,” Rosen said. “She was a drug addict.”


On July 8, the quiet Jersey shore town was left reeling after Rosen discovered his sister, Michelle Gordon, 67, and his mother, Elaine Rosen, 87, dead in their residence.

“I didn’t walk in. I just looked in for a split second and turned my head away,” Rosen said. “I knew it was my niece [who did it] immediately.”

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

Holly Bitters, an attorney with the state’s Office of Public Defender, represents Barbera. Kevin Walker, first assistant public defender, said the office could not comment on pending litigation.

Prosecutors say surveillance footage showed Barbera leaving the condominium building on July 7. She went to Atlantic City and then to New York City.

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 and then to a women’s facility on Rikers Island. She was extradited to New Jersey on Aug. 2.

An affidavit of probable cause said that Barbera admitted to hitting the two women with a nightstick and killing them, then taking cash from her grandmother and credit cards from her mother.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Barbera agreed to remain in jail while her case moves forward so as to not prolong it. At Barbera’s court appearance, Bitters said that her client’s children were her main concern.

“It’s very sad,” Bitters said.

Rosen said he called his sister and mother several times early on July 8, and when they didn’t answer the phone, he went over to the Vassar Square Condominiums where they lived. When no one answered his knock on their door, he got a security guard to let him in.

That was where he found his sister and mother.

Rosen said Barbera has been troubled her whole life, but has gone more downhill the last several years, since her first marriage fell apart and her ex-husband won full custody of their children.

Rosen said Barbera had been living with Gordon and Rosen for a few months before their deaths, since the marriage to her second husband failed. As soon as she moved in, he said, she stole cash and a credit card.

“They were nice, quiet people. They didn’t bother anyone,” Rosen said. “It was nice of them to even take her in because she had nowhere else to go.”

A few weeks before the murder, he said she pushed Gordon to the ground. Barbera left for a few days, but the two women ended up taking her back in again.

Rosen said Barbera assaulted her ex-husband’s nanny in 2016, when she was convicted.

Rosen said he didn’t realize the severity of the assault at the time, but recently learned more because the nanny’s mother has been in contact. He said that Barbera beat her unconscious.

MaryAnn Spoto, communications manager for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said Barbera was sentenced to two years probation for the assault charge. The probation was later extended by a year for a drug use violation.

Rosen said he had warned his sister and mother several times not to take her in. He didn’t know something this severe would happen though.

“[Barbera] really should have been in prison,” he said. “Had she been in prison, she would never have been able to hurt my mother and sister.” 

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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