Police pull back search for Haverstraw murder suspect

Local police agencies converge on a location just

Local police agencies converge on a location just off of Gate Hill Road in Harriman State Park, where they located the pickup truck of Eugene Palmer, right, wanted in connection with the shooting death of his daughter-in-law, Tammy Palmer, 39, on Sept. 24. (Sept. 25, 2012) (Credit: John Meore/News12)

Police have decided against scouring the woods of Harriman State Park for Haverstraw murder suspect Eugene Palmer Thursday, preferring to wait out the 73-year-old in the hopes that he'll give himself up.

Forecasts of bad weather and fears that the safety of officers is being jeopardized influenced Town of Haverstraw Police Chief Charles Miller's decision to pull his officers back.

"I don't have any inkling that he might surrender," Miller said Wednesday night. "I just feel like maybe he thinks the pressure is on and he'll come out on his own. I'm hoping if we back off it'll give him some time to think about things. We're going to hope that he decides to come out and get in touch with somebody."


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Miller said a few officers will be stationed in the park in case Palmer shows up. A State Police helicopter might be called in to aid with the search, but that decision won't be made until Thursday morning, Miller said.

Officers have been in the woods at least 10 hours a day since Monday looking for Palmer, who's suspected of gunning down his daughter-in-law Tammy Palmer outside her Haverstraw home Monday morning, Miller said. They've covered about eight square miles of park land, he added.

"Going through the woods, we hit every sector in that area, and to keep hitting it over and over, my guys are getting tired and beat up," Miller said. "That's part of the decision to not send them back in tomorrow. We know (he's) armed, we know he could be dangerous, but I don't think he's a mass murderer. I want to hope we're close to finding him, but I have nothing that tells me we're closing in on him."

On Wednesday, police searched an area of the park where a hiker reported seeing a man matching Eugene Palmer's description.

Miller said the hiker had not been able to pinpoint the location where she believes she may have glimpsed Eugene Palmer.

"We didn't locate anything," Miller said. "She didn't have enough information to guide us in a direction. She said he was sitting on a rock but doesn't know what rock."

Throughout the day, park officials continued to warn hikers to stay out of the park as the search for Palmer continued.

Earlier Wednesday, bloodhounds had led authorities to a spot -- near a rock dubbed the Irish Potato -- where a campfire was found, Miller said Wednesday morning. Miller believes that Eugene Palmer -- considered armed and dangerous -- spent the night there, although no hard evidence was found.

"The dogs were pretty active in that area, so we believe that's where he might have stayed for a night," Miller said. "After that, we lost (the scent), so we don't know what happened at that point."

Bloodhounds from the Westchester County police led searchers from Eugene Palmer's green Dodge Ram pickup truck, which was found Tuesday shortly after 1 p.m., to the campsite.

The truck was found with the keys still in the ignition off a dirt path about half a mile from where the killing occurred. Miller said no weapons -- Eugene Palmer is believed to be carrying a rifle and a shotgun -- were found in the truck.

"There was a blanket and a tarp," Miller said. "Miscellaneous items like that, but nothing of any value to us."

Rainy conditions overnight and Wednesday morning threatened to complicate the search by making the terrain slippery, authorities said.

The sheer size of Harriman State Park, which has 31 lakes and reservoirs and 200 miles of hiking trails, makes the search for the suspect challenging.

"I have four teams out in the woods this morning in different parts of the park," Miller said Wednesday. "We spoke to the one son this morning and he gave us some ideas where his dad, where he used to go hang out. So we're checking those areas. We're hoping we come up with him."

Family members told authorities they believe Eugene Palmer is still on the run somewhere within the 46,000-acre park.

"I'm hopeful he's still alive. The family thinks he's still alive. We don't have any indications that he's not," Miller said.

Made tax payment, left

Eugene Palmer was last reported seen by his sister, Elaine Palmer Babcock, who told police that he had come to her nearby house after the shooting Monday to give her money to pay taxes on his property. Police believe he then fled into Harriman State Park.

Police said John Palmer was cooperating in efforts to track down his father and that Eugene Palmer's family members were also in the woods Tuesday searching.

"He does have diabetes," Miller said. "He had a heart attack a couple of years ago, according to the one son. He does take diabetic medicine. I don't know if he took any with him when he left or if he hasn't taken any. I'm not sure how severe it is, either."

Town of Haverstraw police, the State Park police, the State Police, the Rockland County sheriff's department and K-9 units from Suffern and other municipalities are also participating in the manhunt.

Daughter recalls shock, pain

In an exclusive interview with Newsday on Tuesday, Tammy Palmer's daughter Rosemarie said her connection with her mother ran so deep that when school security pulled her out of her third-period psychology class, she knew something had happened to her best friend.

"The first thing I asked was, 'Where's my mom?' " Rosemarie Palmer said. "I just started crying and freaking out, saying, 'She's not dead! She's not dead!' "

It was moments later when her father, John Palmer, confirmed her worst fear.

"He said, 'Your grandfather shot your mother. He killed her,' " the 16-year-old said.

"He's psycho; he's no good," Rosemarie Palmer said of her grandfather. "I wish the worst on him. She didn't deserve that. She's still young. She had a whole life ahead of her."

Rosemarie Palmer's emotions teetered between the anger she felt for her grandfather and the pain of losing her mother.

"My mom was more than a mother to me. She was my best friend," Rosemarie Palmer said. "We did everything together. We would go shopping together. I loved to do hair so she would let me do her hair ... I love her so much.

"She meant the world to me," the teen added. "It's going to kill me to put her in the ground."

Domestic issues suspected

Tammy Palmer's parents believe that the killing was a result of domestic problems. Her parents, John and Violet Pannirello of Stony Point, said their daughter wanted a divorce because she believed that her husband of 17 years had repeatedly been unfaithful to her. Their arguments escalated to the point where John Palmer, 39, beat up his wife, the Pannirellos said. Tammy Palmer, also 39, ended up taking out an order of protection against him about a month ago, officials said.

Tammy Palmer then started getting into fights with Eugene Palmer, who wanted her to drop the criminal charges against his son, but she refused, her family said.

On Friday, Eugene Palmer paid the petite Tammy Palmer a visit with a gun and threatened her as she tried to defend herself with a stick, according to the Pannirellos.

Tammy Palmer eventually was able to escape that encounter to her parents' home unharmed.

Three days later, however, after Rosemarie and her brother, 12-year-old John, left for school, Eugene Palmer allegedly paid his daughter-in-law another visit at the 570 Willow Grove Rd. home he owned and where Tammy Palmer lived with her estranged husband and children.

Police responding to the house on a report of shots fired found Tammy Palmer shot to death and shortly thereafter launched their dragnet for her suspected killer.

"On Friday, my grandfather said to me, 'I'm going to take your mother down, Rose. Mark my words: I'm going to take her down,' and he did. I don't have my mother anymore," Rosemarie Palmer said.

"I hope the cops catch him and he's alive," said Violet Pannirello, 72. "I want to face him. I want to see him in handcuffs and his feet shackled. I need to face the man who killed my daughter."

Pannirello and her husband went to family court Tuesday in the hopes of gaining custody of their grandchildren, who had been in the care of their father since the killing. A judge granted the Pannirellos temporary custody, but the couple are due back in court on Thursday for another hearing. They said they will seek full custody of the kids.

A wake for Tammy Palmer is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Friday at T.J. McGowan Sons Funeral Home at 133 Broadway in Garnerville. The funeral will be held there Saturday, but the time hasn't been determined. She will be buried at Mount Repose Cemetery in Haverstraw.

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