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Victim of slaying a mystery to many

BARNEGAT LIGHT, N.J. - The other evening in Barnegat Light, a few locals sat at the bar at Kubel's, the only bar open this time of year there.

The murder was Barnegat Light's first killing in more than 50 years. No one knew the victim.
The murder was Barnegat Light's first killing in more than 50 years. No one knew the victim.Read moreTOM BRIGLIA / For The Inquirer

BARNEGAT LIGHT, N.J. - The other evening in Barnegat Light, a few locals sat at the bar at Kubel's, the only bar open this time of year there.

There had been a murder a week before in a home just a few blocks away, but nobody in this town at the northern tip of Long Beach Island had ever seen the victim, retired New York Fire Lt. Richard "Richie" Doody, or the suspect, Conrad Sipa, an occupational therapist from Colts Neck, N.J.

Doody, 60, of Staten Island, had purchased the small LBI home on pilings on the beach side of Central Avenue in January for about $700,000, town officials said. On Nov. 21, his head was bashed in at the home and his throat slit with a kitchen knife, according to a complaint charging Sipa with murder.

A week later, golf clubs were propped up against the pastel-striped couch in the living room up a flight of outdoor steps. Three long-stem tulips were in a vase on the kitchen table.

Text messages may have led police to the suspect, who had apparently invited himself to Barnegat Light that weekend, a friend said. Doody and Sipa were scuba friends. The welcome mat said, "Send More Tourists, the Last Ones Were Eaten."

At Kubel's, on a misty December night, it seemed odd, in such a small beach town, a place without its own police department, without even mail delivery, that something so dramatic and violent could happen under their noses, and nobody had any connection. A murder on Long Beach Island. The first in Barnegat Light in more than 50 years. Not even the regular bartender Joe Ferringo knew Doody.

"The biggest thing is how little we know," said Nick Martyniak, a waiter at Kubel's. "No one at the deli knew him. No one at the diner knew him. No one at the gas station. No one at Kubel's. No one had seen him, heard of him."

Joey Gallagher, a cook in town, said: "It's a newcomer. Obviously he had secrets."

"We're fine," Mayor Kirk Larson said of his town of about 575 year-round residents. "People come into our town - if they're not with the fire company or First Aid Squad or the Garden Club, you don't even get to see anybody."

It drove home the separate orbits of a beach town. "Do you really think anyone's shaken by it?" said Barry Mescolotto, 63, a former Philadelphia tax official who retired to LBI.

Eighty-six miles north, in the Tottenville section of Staten Island, it's not hard to find streets named for firefighters killed on 9/11, like outside Ladder 84, where Doody worked before retiring in 2011.

"He was a wonderful person," said Donna Bevilacqua, who lived next door to Doody and his wife, Virginia Murray, a deputy chief of water quality with the New York City. Department of Environmental Protection.

"9/11, he was every day there, just a wonderful man," Bevilacqua said.

Like other neighbors, she had last seen Doody on Halloween, giving out candy. "He loved fishing, everything was fishing, fishing, fishing, and he was great with his hands."

The attack was so gruesome they could not have an open casket, she noted. "It's so hard to comprehend," Bevilacqua said.

At the funeral, firefighters lined the narrow streets, and the FDNY ceremonial unit brought a truck with Doody's name on it. Ginny Murray spoke of a loving 30-year marriage, a funny spouse. They met when he was a coach of her softball team; she rounded third base and saw her future.

The priest, Father Andy Costello, a relative, came from Annapolis, Md., to conduct the service at the Our Lady Help of Christians Church a few blocks from the couple's home. The pastor at the church said he did not know Doody.

"They were very happily married," Costello said. "He was working on the house in New Jersey. It's a total shock."

Paul Bardo, who owns a scuba company in Brooklyn, had accompanied both Doody and Sipa on diving trips. He discounted a report in the New York Post that suggested a woman was the motive. He'd been on trips with Doody, with and without his wife. "Richie Doody was very faithful," he said. Doody took underwater photos, posted on Facebook.

Bardo declined to comment on Sipa, whom he knew but did not, as Doody did, consider a friend.

Sipa, 52, had no criminal record and is being held on $1 million bail. A judge in Toms River refused to reduce the bail.

On the couple's block on Staten Island, neighbors said Doody and Murray mostly kept out of sight. The duplex house on a street of close-together homes is in a bit of disrepair, with three types of siding, as if Doody started on repair projects but never got too far.

Neighbor Lisa Spezio said the couple had been talking about fixing up the house, finally, and selling it. But Doody's attention may have shifted to the Shore house, where construction projects also were underway. "He was always away," Spezio said.

An obituary in the Staten Island Advance said Doody founded the "9-11 Sticker Fund," which produced "FDNY 9-11-01" stickers to benefit widows.

In 2008, he helped rescue a 260-pound Kean University football player pinned in a car after a crash on Arthur Kill Road.

"Eleven thousand guys would have done exactly what I did," Doody was quoted by the Advance at the time. Capt. Gary Cline at the Tottenville station said Doody's was one of five FDNY funerals in the last week.

At Ladder 84, a firefighter who did not want to be named said, "As firefighters, we would love to know what happened to him, but we don't."

Police from Long Beach Township found Doody's body in his home Nov. 23 after a relative became concerned. Sipa was arrested at his home two days later. Detectives stayed on at the house into the night for days after the discovery, neighbors said.

At Andy's bait shop, Carlis Bjornberg was cleaning up, preparing for winter closure. Even though Doody was a fisherman, she didn't recognize him. "We're not used to this kind of thing," she said.

Bjornberg was in third grade when the last Barnegat Light murder happened, in 1962, when a girl's body was found in the woods; she had been abducted by a fisherman in town for the stripers.

Last week in Barnegat Light, the day after the funeral, Ginny Murray finally was able to visit the couple's house to let the crime-scene cleanup people in.

Escorted by a detective, with nieces and nephews in tow, Murray also went to the post office, where Mayor Larson saw her, but, after hesitating, decided not to say anything.

The detective hushed some people on the steps of the post office who were talking about the murder, the mayor said.

A few days later, Larson was still thinking about that moment, about how people show up in a place like Barnegat Light all the time from other places, escaping from their other lives, and then go home, without much notice or connection with the locals, many of whom have lived there all their lives. About how a town that plays host to the hordes of tourists can end up, essentially, being host to a murder.

"I saw her at the post office the other afternoon, with the detective," Larson said. "I should have gone over to talk to her. I probably should have gone over."