The Voodoo Times: This Episode:

The Disappearance of Jackie Carletto

by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


Jackie Carletto has been missing for quite a long time.  As executive Police Capt. John C. Martin, I took a personal interest in the case from the start. I sent a picture of Jackie to the Philadelphia television stations and had the picture published in the FBI Enforcement Bulletin.  I received a tip that sent me to a Philadelphia morgue.

When I arrived, the attendant of the morgue took me downstairs.

“The body is here,” the attendant said.

He brought the body out from storage.  I looked down at the body.

“It’s not him.”

The morgue keeper looked at me.

“Captain Martin, are you sure?”

I showed the morgue keeper a photo.

“Yes, I see. It is not the boy.”

All the authorities were led into a number of “blind alleys” during a nine-month investigation.  During that period, every known police method was used in an effort to solve the 13-year-old boy’s mysterious disappearance.  I followed up on every tip I received. It was possible that the boy had simply run away. After all, I had found children who had left home to join the circus or to live in the woods like Jungle Jim or Tarzan.

In the case of the Carletto boy, I considered that foul play was considered as a strong possibility from the beginning of my investigation.

Jackie was first reported as a “missing person” by his family when he failed to come home for two days, and on Saturday, October 13, 1956, I got to talk to his mother and I learned a little about the boy’s habits.

“Is this a usual case Mrs. Carletto? Did he always go off for long periods of time?”

Tears fell from her eyes onto her cheeks.

“My boy had remained away from home, overnight on other occasions. I don’t know why he won’t call us to let us know that he is safe.”

I took my handkerchief from my coat pocket and let her use it to wipe her face.

“Mrs. Carletto, if Jackie is alive we will find him. No one can disappear from sight forever.”

Teams of men and dogs looked everywhere.  As the days and nights passed, and no sign of Jackie was found, everyone involved in the case began to fear that the boy was in some danger.  On November 23, 1956, the boy’s father, the police, and fifty-five men searched in the woods near the boy’s home.  I stood in the woods with these groups of men and remembered looking up in the sky, as two airplanes circled overhead in search of some sign of the boy’s presence.


          On December 4th and 5th, I joined a party of men who paddled around the Maurice River in a canoe from Eppinger Ave. Norma, to Chestnut Ave. with grappling irons. 

          One of the men looked at me and shouted out, “This is a needle in a haystack!”

          I looked up at him as I hoped that my stomach would settle down from the movement of the boat.  I shouted out to all the men who conducted the search.

           “It is a difficult assignment, but I hope that the boy will come back alive soon.”

Police efforts were intensified when Jackie did not show up during the Christmas holiday Season.  I went back over the trail several times, talking to neighbors and friends of the missing youngster, hoping that they could shed a little light upon the mystery.

Days after my communication with those neighbors, myself and other police rode around the vicinity of the Carletto home as if drawn by intuition to the area. We traveled to Apollo, Pennsylvania, to talk with Jackie’s aunt and uncle.

“Ma'am, Sir, have you heard any word?”

Jackie’s uncle said, “No sight of him at all. I hope the boy is safe wherever he might be.”

Whenever buzzards appeared on the horizon in the vicinity of Millard, Pennsylvania, a new search of the area would be made.  Then a clue to Jackie’s disappearance came to us when something belonging to the boy was found in the woods. We found a bicycle.

Mrs. Carletto said to me, “there were no tracks from the bicycle although the ground is quite sandy. Jackie rode his bicycle on the bare rims. I found it in the woods, but I put it back there so that my son might find it when he returns.”

“Where did you find it?” I inquired.

“Near the Rosenblum farm,” She answered.

Joseph Rosenblum, a 35-year-old, was a one-time inmate of Nazi Germany’s infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. The Rosenblums escaped to this country from Austria in 1948 with the help of the Hebrew Aid Society. Though both were confined in Auschwitz, they did not meet until 1947 when they were in Austria. When they came to America they began their lives in the United States in Cleveland, Ohio, saving money, then buying a poultry farm here in Pennsylvania. Their farm now had over 5,000 chickens.

Investigating officers questioned Joseph Rosenblum and Juan Rivera, Joseph’s farmhand, several times before because Jackie was known to have visited the farm which is located just three houses from his home.

          On March 9, 1956, police okayed the digging of some fresh dirt that the parent had seen near the beach at West Side Park. A relative of the boy furnished digging equipment after permission was received by the proprietors of the park to make the excavation. However, nothing was discovered from the dig.  

A week later, we got a break, when Joseph Rosenblum summoned police to his home where he maintained he was attacked by his hired man, Juan Rivera age 47.  The police came and took the Puerto Rican to jail.   I came later and got the story from Joseph Rosenblum and his wife Celina.

          Sophia Rosenblum was 28 years old.  She was no bathing beauty, but in the absence of other women, wasn’t too bad for the eyes to look at.  She was Italian and I had always wanted to be with an Italian girl.  Still, I had to focus less on the woman and more on solving the case.

          Mrs. Rosenblum confessed to me that one night she woke up and found Juan standing in the bathroom holding a flashlight shaded by a piece of clear plastic covering.

She said to him, “What are you doing?”

          Juan Rivera ignored her as he stood with a blank stare. Sophia called out to her husband, who ran into the room; which was the family chicken house.

          “What are you doing in here? Questioned Joseph Rosenblum.

Rivera staggered and his eyes were bloodshot red.

“You are drunk!” shouted Sophia Rosenblum.

          Juan Rivera picked up a club and knocked Rosenblum on his head with two blows. He then took his club and attempted to attack Rosenblum’s wife.  Sophia Rosenblum picked up a chair and used it to knock him down by hitting him over his head.  Once Juan Rivera was out cold, the Rosenblums called the police.

Police arrested the intoxicated Rivera for disorderly conduct outside the chicken house.   Rivera said to the officers “Let me go you wise guys!”

I stayed in the chicken house with other police officers in an effort to piece together the criminal incident. I heard the flutter of bird wings and the clucking of hens and looked around the chicken house and turned to another officer.

Pending an investigation, Sophia Rosenblum was released on a $2,500 bond and Juan Rivera on a $10,000 bond.  Joseph Rosenblum now became the prime suspect.

 One day, while a group of policemen and I were looking around the chicken house on Rosenblum’s property, we found something. 

“Do you smell what I smell?” I questioned the other police officers.

The look on their faces delivered the answer to my question.

As we searched the chicken house, at the police headquarters Rosenblum was interrogated for an entire nine hours. Then the murder charge was read to Rosenblum. He appeared bewildered at the charge which he stoutly denied.

Rivera was also brought into detective headquarters.  I left the Rosenblum farm and arrived at the police headquarters to question Juan Rivera about the case.

“So Juan, you seem like a cool cat with your blue jeans and your silk shirt.  We looked in your closet and saw that you even had a zoot suit.”

A zoot suit was a suit of dress pants and a coat.  It was what many young Negroes and Puerto Ricans wore.  The zoot suit was a dress suit but it was gaudy and looked more like a clown outfit than a professional outfit for a man.

Juan looked down and said, “I like clothes.”

I stood up near him, smiled, and put my hands on his shoulder.

“Tell me Juan, you have nice things, but you sleep in a chicken house.  I feel that you need a better place.”

He looked up at me and said, “It’s kinda dirty.”

I poked my face in Juan’s face and said,

“Juan, when we looked around your living quarters and discovered an unclean odor. Do you know where that odor is coming from?”

Juan whole body trembled.  When I sat down next to him, he turned and gave a confession in a soft voice.

“I will show you what happened,” replied Juan.

“I hope so, in due time,” I said.

I took Juan to jail for the night.

The next day, a crew of police and I returned with Juan to the farm and looked around the chicken house.

“It is there.”

Juan Rivera pointed to a spot in the dirt floor along the west wall which separated the chicken house and the Puerto Rican’s living quarters. Road department workers began to dig in the very spot that Juan told us to dig.  As common workmen shoveled into dark brown soil, in the midst of uniformed police officers, I asked Juan a number of questions.

“Tell us what is down there?”

Then came the Puerto Rican’s full confession.

“On October 13th, last year I came to my quarters and saw Rosenblum digging a hole in the floor of the chicken house. I looked at it and saw how a body was covered with a burlap sack.”

Then suddenly, one of the diggers discovered a ghastly reality.

“Sir, we found a decomposed body.”


I said to the men, “Gather it all and take it to the city morgue.

I signaled for two police officers to handcuff Juan Rivera.

          “Rivera, we are taking you to the morgue for the purpose of identification.”

          One of my police officers cuffed him.

When we arrived at the morgue, Juan and I spent hours with the county physician. The physician studied the remains of the body that was found inside the chicken house on the Rosenblum farm.

“Juan, we thank you for leading us to the body. We did more digging and found more missing parts. We found a left foot and left hand. We also found the top of a skull.”

The Puerto Rican grew silent as he looked down at the rotting corpse.

“Juan you know that this is the body of a 13-year-old male.”

For thirty seconds, I decided to wait for our suspect to confess. I heard a horrible scream come from Juan Rivera’s lips. Looking under the sacks he recognized the Carletto boy. Then he gave his first full confession.

“Rosenblum made me help bury the boy and threatened that if I revealed any information to police, he would kill me.”

I said to Juan, “you should have come to us. We could have offered you protection.”

The man said, “I don’t have no money. I wanted to go back to Puerto Rico.  I was trying to be quiet and earn money working on Rosenblum’s farm. Then I could escape everything.”

I said to him, “we will take you to your cell because you and Rosenblum are our prime suspects.”

He said to me as he shook my hand, “Thank you my friend.”

I learned from guards who looked in on Rivera in jail that he had refused food and drink. He told his jailers that he could not keep food in his stomach. On the advice of a police surgeon Juan Rivera was taken to a hospital

          Two days later, I received a phone call from Mrs. Carletto. She said to me,

“I remember something that I forgot. On the night of his disappearance, my son Jackie had returned home from fishing, and finding supper not ready left home saying he was going to see someone and ask this man for a dollar owed to him. He never returned.”

Then I went through all of Juan’s belongings that were taken to the police station.

I found among his clothing, four books all in the several Spanish language magazines.  I found a Spanish man who worked as a janitor in the police station.  I asked him to read a few pages from Juan’s books.  The Spanish gentlemen flipped through the books.  Then his hands started to shake. The book dropped from his hand. He looked at me and said, “Señor, these books are filled with evil black magic!”

I then went to the jail cell where Juan sat often with his head down, staring at the floor. I came and sat in the cell with him and looked him in the eyes. 

“Juan, your hands are shaking.  Juan, be honest with me, why are your hands are shaking?

He again glanced down at this cell floor.

“Juan, I know you did it.  You need to confess.”

Tears ran down his face and spittle flowed from his mouth onto his chin.

“Son, how did you do it?  Why did you do it?”

He stood and walked back and forth in the cell.

“Yes, I did it!  I killed him!  I killed Jackie!”

          Floods of water fell from his eyes.

          “Now Juan, I want you to walk me through what happened with Jackie and why you did what you did.”

He wiped tears from his eyes and gave his confession.

“You see, I was desperate.  There was a girl that I liked in New Jersey.”

I interrupted him.

“You killed for a girl? Do you realize what you have put the Rosenblums through?”

He continued his confession.

“You see, I needed someone to kill.”

I said to him, “I don’t see how killing a thirteen-year-old boy could get you a girl.”

Knew about the magic, but I wanted to see if he would tell me everything that he was about. He came back with a response.

“I killed Jackie Carletto because I needed a human skull for my black magic.  I would have killed the first person who came to me to obtain the skull.”

I said to him, “We found his ring on his finger.  Then his mother and father identified his clothing.

Then I asked him, “Where is the boy’s head?  Where did you hide it?”
          He said to me, “I hung it on a string inside an oil stove in his quarters where it had been drying for the past two months. I needed to pound the skull into a power to make a love potion to get the girl.”

Juan’s confession completely exonerated Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Rosenblum who had been accused of murder. 

“So Juan, give me a sense of how you did it and how you did what you did?”

Then he began to open up and tell me the story.

“Jackie came to my room at about 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 13 and asked me for a cigarette which he often did.  When Jackie was not looking, I struck him in his head with my fist.  The boy hit the floor hard. While he was out, I took out a cord and strangled him until he was dead.”

“So what did you do next?”

Then he confessed.

“Well, I waited until the Rosenblums appeared to have gone to bed for the night, and then I began my work.”

“What then?” I asked.

“Well, I got a shovel and started digging.  Then I put the fresh dirt back, and to hide the fresh dirt I covered it with chicken litter and used a hose to water it down.  Then I began to drink a lot of alcohol to drown out what I had done. I desired to have women so I ordered the evil books on black magic through a catalog.

 I did as the books I read told me.”

“Which is what?” I asked.

  “I waited seven months and opened the grave and with the aid of a small paring knife removed the upper part of the skull. I then concealed the grave as before.  After the months of sleeping over the body, its presence was getting me down.”

Then I said to him, “We did find the knife, but we did not know how it was used or if it was used in the murder. Now we know.”

Then I held a flashlight in my hand.

“I suppose this is yours.”

He nodded in an affirmation.

          “Juan, I see that your flashlight has a plastic covering with an inscription. It says, “Una Noche Entre Last Muertes. What does that mean?”

 “It means, a night between the dead.”

Juan further explained what that meant.

“To get the girl I wanted, I slept with a dead boy on one side and dead chickens on the other.”

Rosenblum, who hired him two years ago, was ordered released after Juan Rivera’s confession.

          When his trial came up in October 1958, Juan Rivera wore a black and gold crucifix, and calmly stated his crimes. Four psychiatrists also testified, two of them claimed that Juan was sane, while the other two declared that he had gone insane at the time of the crime.

          After hearing the evidence, the judge asked Juan Rivera if he had anything to say before the sentence was passed. Rivera replied:

“No, sir.” 

The judge then stated for the record: “I sentence you to life imprisonment.”

After hearing the sentence, Juan smiled and shook hands with his lawyers as he was taken from the court. He then turned toward the lawyer and asked him when he would be eligible for parole. His lawyer said it would be in 12 and a half years.



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