(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008.)
UPPER DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP
A Vineland restaurant owner fatally shot his former lover’s new boyfriend at her farm and then died minutes later inside a vehicle engulfed in flames, authorities said.
Joe Martorana, of Upper Deerfield, died on the floor of his girlfriend’s farmhouse after he was shot shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday, according to State Police.
Troopers arrived at Capricorn Farm to find a Mitsubishi Montero on fire with a dead man at the wheel, the body burned beyond recognition. State Police investigators believe the man is Neptune Restaurant owner Ted Marcantonis, and the vehicle is registered in his name, Cumberland County Prosecutor Ron Casella said.
Minutes earlier, at about 12:51 a.m., Lisa Marcantonis, 47, the former girlfriend and mother of Marcantonis’ daughter, made a frantic 911 phone call, according to police. She reported hearing gunshots and entering the front room of her home to find her new live-in boyfriend, Martorana, 57, wounded on the floor and Ted Marcantonis in the room.
By the time State Police troopers made the three-mile drive from the Bridgeton barracks to Capricorn Farm, his vehicle was a burning hulk.
Electrical contractors Al Savage and Charlie Doerr described the vehicle as burned down to nothing but a metal frame after watching authorities haul it away.
“No tires, no seat,” Doerr said.
Casella said he heard investigators recovered three guns at the scene: a handgun, “a shotgun he dropped,” and possibly a third gun in the car. State Police spokesman Sgt. Steve Jones said he could not confirm that, adding that they would wait for the results of an autopsy before confirming whether Marcantonis was the dead man found in the burning sport utility vehicle and the cause of death.
Ted Marcantonis, 63, left the Neptune some time after midnight after socializing with friends there, a Neptune waitress told Vineland Mayor Bob Romano, a retired Vineland police lieutenant who knew Marcantonis for more than 30 years. The Neptune is about 11.5 miles from Capricorn Farm, a drive of about 20 minutes.
Friends and family struggled Tuesday to make sense of the tragic situation.
“I feel like I’ll wake up tomorrow and everything will be back to normal,” a friend of Martorana and Lisa Marcantonis said as she stood at the end of Capricorn Farm’s driveway. She declined to give her name.
It remains unclear what triggered the spree of violence. Those who knew Ted Marcantonis said he ran a strict business that closed only on Christmas and that they could not see him committing murder. The Neptune remained open as employees weathered an onslaught of phone calls from people seeking information. One employee there said she had heard so many stories that she did not know what to believe.
What is clear is that Martorana and Lisa Marcantonis — whose farms face each other across Rosenhayn Avenue — had established a close relationship.
Lisa Marcantonis bought her farm in April 2001 for $110,000 and turned it into a horse farm with a petting zoo. There, she raised Theodora, a daughter named after the child’s father, Ted Marcantonis, whose given name is Theodore.
Some time before 1993, Lisa Marcantonis took her former lover’s surname. But Ted Marcantonis was married to another woman, according to one of his employees. It’s unclear whether they ever divorced.
Martorana did not live on the Rosenhayn Avenue farm. He grew hay there, rented space for contractors to park their trucks and hunted on surrounding land he owned. Until several months ago, he lived about a mile away in a house on Marino Drive that he also used to run his business. Then he moved out and rented out the house, neighbors said, adding that he had broken up with another woman before moving in with Lisa Marcantonis, who bought the hay he grew to use on her horse farm.
“He was taking his time, wasn’t going to rush into a relationship, and I don’t know what happened,” said Chris Beecroft, who lives across the street from Martorana’s old home.
Beecroft recalled Martorana as a great neighbor who often let her son, Jonathan Borgese, use his swimming pool. When Borgese, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, died last year in a motorcycle accident at age 22, Martorana often checked in to see how she and her family were doing.
Bob Blake said he had never seen Martorana angry in the nearly two decades he had known him, ever since Martorana gave him a start in the contracting business. Blake, who now runs his own company, said he talked with someone at a local business who sold two sweatshirts to Martorana within the past week.
“He asked for two sweatshirts,” Blake said. “One for him, and one for his wife, Lisa. Now, he’s not married. I don’t know why he’d say that.”
A few days ago, Theodora Marcantonis had dinner at the Neptune with her father and Jonathan Pangburn, a friend who graduated from Cumberland Regional High School in 2006, Pangburn said. She was home from Drexel University, where she studies communication and hosts open mic events for the school’s literary magazine, Maya. The dinner went smoothly, Pangburn said, adding that everything seemed normal.
“Her mom’s the nicest woman,” Pangburn said. “The dad, he was a good guy, too.”
Throughout the day Tuesday, friends and family members sought information on the killings — often unsuccessfully. Many brought food and gathered at Ted Marcantonis’ home near his restaurant but declined to speak publicly.
Lisa Marcantonis left her home Tuesday morning and stayed away much of the day as television news crews swarmed the rural Upper Deerfield home.
George Olivio, Martorana’s brother-in-law, said the family was dealing with Martorana’s death “as well as can be expected.”
“I’ll be honest with you, buddy,” Olivio said, “this just isn’t a good time.”
Staff writer John Martins contributed to this report.