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Susan Epstein

Susan Epstein

Friday, July 25th, 1952 - Saturday, August 1st, 2020
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Obituary

By Alex Napoliello | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

She could write compelling, detailed stories about the most notorious killers in New Jersey with the grit and nuance of an old-school court reporter.

She had the institutional knowledge about many events in the Garden State, earned over the course of more than 40 years with the state’s largest daily newspaper.

Sue Epstein, a veteran award-winning reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com, died Saturday at the age of 68 from complications related to a brain tumor. Epstein, a long-time Old Bridge resident, passed away surrounded by family in hospice care at her brother’s home in Northfield.

She joined the staff of The Star-Ledger in 1974, riding a wave of college grads driven to do investigative reporting following the Washington Post’s famed coverage of the Watergate scandal. She joined the paper just weeks after graduating from Rutgers University’s Douglass College with a degree in English.

Epstein retired in 2016.

During her 42-year career, she covered an array of topics, from education and transportation to healthcare and community news. The majority of her career, however, was spent covering crime and courts in Monmouth and Middlesex counties. She also served as the assistant chief of the Ledger’s Middlesex County News Bureau.

She was “a trailblazer,” said Kevin Whitmer, the former editor-in-chief of The Star-Ledger who is now the senior vice president for content, expansion and development of NJ Advance Media.

“She broke in and fought for every story at a time when it wasn’t easy for women in this business,” Whitmer said. “The result was an extraordinary 42-year career — one built on developing sources and her ability to talk to those sources about anything. It could be music, baseball or some disgraced politician from the 1970s. Sue knew it all and could tell stories with anyone.”

Her brother, Warren Epstein, referred to his sister as the “epitome of an investigative journalist.”

“It didn’t matter, TV ratings or any other ratings,” he said. “A story was a story. She was proud of that.”

Warren Epstein noted that his sister was part of a team of journalists that won a Pulitzer Prize, the highest honor in journalism, in 2005 for coverage of the resignation of former Gov. James McGreevey. She also won numerous awards from the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, the New Jersey Press Association and the national Education Writers Association.

But Epstein wasn’t in the business to win awards, noted her former bureau chief and fellow Ledger reporter, Tony Gallotto.

“Sue was an old-school newswoman. She wanted to get the story first,” Gallotto said. “More importantly, she wanted to get facts right and give readers a fair, balanced article. She was just as diligent about writing someone’s obituary or a crime brief as she was about writing a front-page story.”

Though the Star-Ledger newsroom was based in Newark, Epstein spent most of her time in the courthouse, digging through criminal records and spending long days covering trials, arraignments and sentencings. She had an office in the courthouses of Superior Court in Monmouth County in Freehold and then later in Middlesex County in New Brunswick.

In Monmouth, she covered some of the county’s most notorious murder cases, including serial killers Robert Zarinsky and Richard Biegenwald.

Epstein was as a “consummate reporter,” remembered Alton D. Kenney, the former first assistant Monmouth County prosecutor.

“She was fair. She diligently explored every side of the story,” he said, adding that she was a constant presence in the courtroom in “every celebrated murder case” in Monmouth County history.

Tom Haydon, a long-time Ledger reporter who worked alongside Epstein in the Middlesex bureau, said Epstein was often tapped by the news editors to assist on major crime stories because of her institutional knowledge of certain cases.

“She was incredible,” Haydon said. “Sue was very nurturing to other reporters and she tried to help younger reporters, too.”

Anne-Marie Cottone, a long-time friend and former Ledger colleague, said Epstein was as tough as she was kind. “She was very generous and kind always. A great reporter, tenacious. You couldn’t pull anything off on her. No B.S. She could see through people.”

In the courthouse in Middlesex, Epstein knew everyone on a first-name basis, from judges and prosecutors to defense attorneys and records clerks.

She worked diligently to cover murder cases from the arrest through trial. One of the last cases she covered before she retired, was the trial of Michelle Lodzinski, chronicling the proceedings from gavel to gavel in 2016. Lodzinski was convicted of killing her 5-year-old son, Timothy Wiltsey, almost a quarter-century after he mysteriously disappeared following a carnival in Sayreville in 1991.

Colleagues also recalled her dedication to the profession.

One late Saturday night news broke of a possible fatal fire in Old Bridge, recalled Suzanne Pavkovic, managing producer at NJ Advance Media. She called on Epstein, who lived in town, to cover the story. Without hesitation, Epstein went out, remaining at the scene for hours until information became available. It wasn’t until days later, Pavkovic said, that she learned Epstein had been ill that evening, suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.

“She always answered the call and was always ready to cover the news, even if it was late at night, even if she was not feeling well,” Pavkovic said. “It just never would have occurred to her to say no.”

Yolanda Ciccone, the new Middlesex County prosecutor who knew Epstein as an assistant prosecutor and later a judge, called her “exceedingly polite and very, very intelligent.”

“Those were different days for people in the newspaper business,” Ciccone recalled. “She always had a great question, a deep question. Questions about things that happened in the courtroom and even on a wider policy basis.”

Epstein is survived by her brother, Warren, and his wife, Jaime; her beloved nieces and nephew Carly, Abigail and Samuel. The family requests that contributions in Sue Epstein’s memory may be made to a cancer charity of your choice.

Funeral services and burial will be 11:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, at Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge, under the direction of the Roth-Goldstein Memorial Chapel, 116 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City.

Alex Napoliello may be reached at anapoliello@njadvancemedia.com.
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Service Details

  • Service

    Monday, August 3rd, 2020 | 11:30am
    When
    Monday, August 3rd, 2020 11:30am
    Location
    Beth Israel Cemetery - Woodbridge, New Jersey
    Address
    US Highway 1 North
    WOODBRIDGE, NJ 07095
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    Officiant
    Rabbi Aaron Gaber

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