(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008.)
UPPER DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP
Lisa Gabriel was barely out of her teens when she met Teddy Marcantonis.
She was Miss Vineland and had gotten a job as a hostess at The Grand Old House restaurant in Bridgeton.
Marcantonis ran the place. He was 15 years older. And married. With children.
It was a match made in Bridgeton, and it lasted until 2007.
Their 30-year relationship ended permanently early Tuesday morning when Marcantonis broke into her Upper Deerfield farmhouse, fatally shot her new boyfriend, Joe Martorana, and then died a fiery death in his burning SUV parked outside.
Black burn marks still marred the ground outside Lisa Marcantonis’ house, and a smell like kerosene lingered before Thursday’s rain. The roosters called out in the cloudy afternoon haze as though nothing had happened.
Friends and acquaintances recall Marcantonis as having a powerful personality. He was a tough businessman who employees said only closed on Christmas, was hard on slacking employees but rewarded good ones. After The Grand Old House closed, Marcantonis still had the Neptune, a popular seafood restaurant and bar. He remained married to his Greek wife, Dina, but he had very public affairs with other women.
The most important of those women appears to have been Lisa Gabriel. She grew up on a farm in south Vineland, surrounded by animals. Acquaintances and friends recalled her being very popular and gorgeous in high school, and she became a local beauty queen when she won the Miss Vineland title in the late 1970s. At 19, she went to Stockton State College to study history. Somewhere along the line, she got sidetracked, but she eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1993.
By that time, she was a mother and had a new name, Marcantonis, which she took when she was pregnant — despite never marrying Teddy Marcantonis. They named their daughter after her father; her name is Theodora.
The naming fit the relationship, according to those who knew them. Marcantonis effectively controlled the relationship and helped support Lisa Marcantonis. A former Neptune waitress recalled Marcantonis treating his girlfriend almost as a trophy: She would sit at the end of the bar, and Teddy Marcantonis would almost frown on others talking to her.
“He put her up in that house and supported her,” said Tom Christian, who said he had been friends with Lisa Marcantonis since the late 1970s, in an e-mail to The Press. “He ran other women all the time.”
In April 2001, Lisa Marcantonis found a new home, a farmhouse on Rosenhayn Avenue in Upper Deerfield. The property cost $110,000, and although her name is on the property records, it is unclear whether it was her money or Teddy Marcantonis’ money that closed the sale. Lisa Marcantonis spent six months fixing up the property, which was overgrown with tall grass and weeds and had a house in disrepair, she told The Press in 2004.
By that point, she had likely met Joe Martorana, a local contractor who owned a vegetable farm across the street from her. He lived just a mile away and loved to hunt deer on the property around his farm. At the time, he was divorced but entwined with another woman, according to an obituary listing the woman.
That relationship eventually fell apart, however.
So too did Lisa Marcantonis’ relationship with Teddy Marcantonis. Sometime last year — August, according to authorities — they split.
In April, Martorana cleared out his house and rented it to Maria Marts, a single mother who works at South Woods State Prison. He then moved in with Lisa Marcantonis — only to die several months later.
By this time, Theodora Marcantonis was a student at Drexel University, where she was writing poetry and prose that in retrospect is haunting.
“My father kept a very untidy closet,” Theodora Marcantonis wrote in “My Father’s Closet,” a piece of fictional prose that appeared in the spring 2007 issue of Maya, Drexel’s literary magazine.
“Although it was decorated with his most beautiful and prized possessions — he let them lay in odd corners and uncomfortable positions. The newer ones he’d fuss with and admire on his usual visits to the closet until they broke and wore away into frail skeletons.”
She wrote of not hating the closet but believing the world beyond it had so much more. The other skeletons would tell the fictional narrator of other rooms in the house, of wonderful things that lay elsewhere, but that she should be happy that she “never saw paradise.” At this, the narrator would grow angry, until her father would come after her furious outbursts.
“He’d hush me,” she wrote, “and put me back on my hanger before hanging me back up next to the rest of his beautiful possessions.”