Valentine’s Day was always special for Kathy Lydon and her granddaughter.
“I called her my Valentine’s Day girl,” Lydon said of Joyce Vanderhoff.
Then, last Feb. 14, the day became one of unbearable mourning after Vanderhoff was found dead, dumped naked on the side of Weymouth Road in Hamilton Township.
After a year, there still has been no cause of death released in the homicide, no suspects named and no updates of any kind. When questioned recently about the killing, officials with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office said they would not release any additional information at this time.
“That they don’t have any more information than they did the day she passed is unreal,” friend Ashley Reid said.
Vanderhoff, 25, had been living at the Budget Motel in Egg Harbor Township’s West Atlantic City section at the time of her death.
When she wasn’t heard from Feb. 13, no one really worried, said her former boyfriend, Matt Flamensfeld. She was open about her struggles with drugs, and a day or two gone partying wasn’t unusual.
But despite her difficulty fighting her own demons, Vanderhoff was always there for her friends, with support and a smile, Reid said.
Flamensfeld and Vanderhoff met as juniors at Egg Harbor Township High School and dated for about 10 years.
They remained best friends, he said: “She was my other half. The east to my west.”
He last saw her about 3 a.m. Feb. 13, 2014, when he dropped her off at a friend’s house at the Hamilton Greene apartments in Mays Landing, near the Hamilton Mall. Flamensfeld didn’t know the friend and isn’t even sure of a name.
About 6 a.m., Vanderhoff sent a text, asking him to pick her up at the Wal-Mart, across the Black Horse Pike. But Flamensfeld wouldn’t get that text until he woke up hours later.
Meanwhile, about 3:45 p.m. that same day, Lydon had a missed call from her granddaughter. When she tried to call back, the phone would ring six times and drop, she said.
By the next day, both Flamensfeld and Lydon were getting worried. There was just one ring now before the phone would drop the call, Lydon said.
She called Flamensfeld’s cellphone. He was in Vanderhoff’s room, he told her.
What he didn’t say was that he already had called police, after hearing a woman’s body was found dumped in Hamilton Township that morning.
She started describing her granddaughter’s tattoos.
“I hear him go, ‘Hmmm,’” Lydon said. “I said, ‘Oh s---, she’s dead.’”
But the investigator on the phone wouldn’t confirm that. Later, Vanderhoff’s mother would call Lydon and tell her it was true.
Two weeks before Vanderhoff died, Lydon insists her granddaughter appeared to her while she slept. Her hair in a ponytail and face perfectly illuminated and clear, Vanderhoff reached out and said, “I love you, Granny.” When Lydon reached for the girl, she disappeared.
She worried about what the vision meant.
“I told Joyce, ‘If you feel your life slipping away, you can use your last breath to ask for Jesus, and he’ll take you right home,’” Lydon said.
A utility pole at milepost 24 on Weymouth Road acts as a memorial. It’s highlighted by a cross made by Reid. There are also shells, Joyce’s baseball cap and a cash box that reads “Paid in Full by Jesus.”
“Because Christ paid in full for her already,” Lydon said.
There is a also a clear plastic bag with a shirt and pants.
“I put her clothes out there because they found her naked,” Lydon said. “It was just something I felt I had to do.
Now, she has just pictures to remember her granddaughter, who lived with her beginning at 3 years old.
“Oh, don’t take a picture of that, she hated that dress ,” Lydon said as a DVD played at Vanderhoff’s memorial gets to a photo of the then-5-year-old girl, pouting at the camera.
Lydon had custody of both Joyce and her younger brother, Joe.
“I think I had more fun than they did,” Lydon said of raising the pair.
She used to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to the young girl. Not knowing that, Reid gave Lydon a photo album with the song’s words on the cover.
“She was always there, no matter what, to have my back,” Reid said. “You didn’t mess with her, and you didn’t mess with her friends. She was a fighter, for sure. I know she didn’t go down without a fight. That wasn’t her.”
Less than six weeks before Vanderhoff was killed, a woman’s remains were found in a suitcase partially buried on private land in Egg Harbor Township. Tara Rogers-Alicea, 30, of Monroeville, was reported missing in October. The Gloucester County woman was believed to be staying in Atlantic City.
Steven Stallworth was arrested in August, charged in the killing. Authorities will not comment on whether the two cases are believed to be linked. Stallworth graduated from Egg Harbor Township High School with Vanderhoff in 2006, according to a graduates list provided to The Press of Atlantic City at the time.
But Vanderhoff didn’t know Stallworth, her friends said.
“I heard he went to high school with us, but we didn’t know him,” Reid said.
Now, Vanderhoff’s loved ones just want an answer.
“Someone had to see something,” Reid said.
Maybe someone saw the young woman in a puffy white coat with a fur hood and gray sweatpants crossing from Hamilton Greene to Wal-Mart early that morning. Or they were in the Wal-Mart lot where Flamensfeld said police told him she was seen on video.
Like Vanderhoff, they won’t give up.
“If something like that happened to me, I know she wouldn’t stop fighting for me,” Reid said. “So I won’t stop fighting for her either.”