SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – The checks for Elizabeth Bernoskie come in waves.
Two dollars, $20, a thousand dollars and as much as $1,500 have been sent to help 76-year-old Bernoskie repay a civil judgment to convicted murderer Robert Zarinsky – a New Jersey state prison inmate who she is convinced gunned down her young husband 48 years ago.
Bernoskie’s attorney, Kenneth Javerbaum, has announced the establishment of a fund for the Rahway, N.J., police officer’s widow. More than 100 checks have been sent to help her settle the $150,000 debt she owes to Zarinsky.
Without help, Bernoskie might have to take out a loan or sell her house to come up with the $90,000 balance.
She is under orders from a state appellate court to repay the felon whatever money he paid her after a civil jury award for $9.5 million four years ago. The civil verdict that held Zarinsky responsible for killing police officer Charles Bernoskie in November 1958 was overturned on appeal last year.
Two weeks ago, the appellate court decided that his widow had to repay the money after finding that too much time had passed for the widow to collect compensation.
Zarinsky was found not guilty of the officer’s murder in 2001. He and a cousin, Theodore Schiffer, were charged only after a 1999 confession from Zarinsky’s sister, Judith Sapsa. The woman, facing criminal charges for stealing from her brother’s investment funds, admitted to police that Zarinsky shot officer Bernoskie when Zarinsky and Schiffer were caught burglarizing a Rahway car dealership in November 1958.
Sapsa told police her mother, Veronica Zarinsky, used tweezers to dig out bullets from Zarinsky’s hip and Schiffer’s chest.
Zarinsky swore that his sister’s story was a web of lies, and with his alibi witnesses all dead, he was unable to prove in civil court that he was not responsible for officer Bernoskie’s death.
“The appellate court bought into that argument,” Javerbaum said.
Meanwhile, stacks of envelopes, two dozen at a time, come to Javerbaum’s office stuffed with money and words of support.
“Charlie was one of the best,” an anonymous donor wrote in his note with a check for $100.
Javerbaum said Zarinsky was able to use the passage of time as a shield to avoid paying for the officer’s death.
Bernoskie said she is “devastated” by the court’s decision.
“The night Charles died, I was hit in the stomach,” Bernoskie said. “I was hit in the stomach again. There are no words.”
Bernoskie said she is convinced that Zarinsky killed her husband and now, thanks to the courts, “there is no punishment.”
Zarinsky is suspected in the deaths of at least four young girls, killed in the 1960s.
The 66-year-old is serving a life sentence for killing Rosemary Calandriello, a 17-year-old from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., in 1969. Her body has never been recovered.
Bernoskie, who raised six children by herself, said she is heartened by the outpouring of support for her case against Zarinsky. “People walk up to me and say, “We are with you,”‘ said Bernoskie. “It makes me feel like the load is a little bit lighter.”
One woman asked Javerbaum to do everything he could to “reverse this absolute travesty of justice.”
The letters come from small towns all over New Jersey, New York, California and Kansas. They come from couples, from widows on fixed incomes who declare that they don’t have much but they had to do what they could to help Bernoskie. Others come from firefighters, police officers, retirees.
One woman offered to pray for Bernoskie and even “that monster.”
Many lamented over the justice system that would let Zarinsky win.
Bernoskie said she will continue to hold out hope that Zarinsky will not prevail.