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Jogger found strangled, possibly sexually assaulted, NYPD says

Philip Vetrano, father of Karina Vetrano, joins officers

Philip Vetrano, father of Karina Vetrano, joins officers as they investigate the homicide crime scene off the Belt Parkway, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. Credit: Theodore Parisienne

Detectives were piecing together a sequence of surveillance videos Wednesday to track the final movements of a young woman jogger who was found slain in a marshy area of Howard Beach, Queens, officials said.

Karina Vetrano, 30, was found by her father and police shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday following a search after he had called a police chief living in the area to say his daughter had not returned from a routine jog, officials said.

Vetrano’s body was found in an area known as Spring Creek Park, a wetlands which is immediately to the west of the residential neighborhood. The body was found near a jogging path not far from 161st Avenue and 78th Street after police zeroed in by pinging Vetrano’s iPhone. Her body was found about 40 feet from the phone, investigators said.

While police initially said there were no obvious signs of trauma, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said there appeared to be evidence of strangulation. Vetrano’s clothing also was in disarray, indicating she may have been sexually assaulted, another law enforcement official said.

An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday morning but a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner’s office didn’t return telephone calls for information about the post mortem.

According to Boyce, Vetrano, who worked at a nearby Italian restaurant, was a habitual jogger whose fitness routine was well known in the neighborhood. Boyce said one video image has Vetrano running past one of the area homes about 5:46 p.m.

Usually, Vetrano ran with her father, Phillip Vetrano, but because of a back injury he didn’t do so on Tuesday, Boyce said.

“There is a lot of evidence,” said Boyce. “The phone is going to help us out, there is a lot of evidence at the scene,” noted Boyce.

The marshy area has notoriety. In March 2013, the bodies of two men were found in the remnants of a brush fire near 159th Avenue and 78th Street. Police said the pair were killed in a drug dispute. In December 1978, the robbers who carried out the fabled Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport were said by an informant to have test fired guns in the tall reeds before committing the crime.

Neighbors said Vetrano would often be seen jogging with her father, a retired firefighter who went into the construction business.

“She had a routine with her dad, she would go jogging with her dad,” said Steve Monti, 30. “She was very friendly with the kids.”

Susan D’Angelo Guglietta, 59, said she went to school with the victim’s mother, Cathy Vetrano. She said the victim’s parents met as teenagers and were married young. They lived in the neighborhood for many years before moving to their current house four or five years ago.

She described the family as “lovely.”

“I’d like to think it’s a one time incident,” she said. “It’s just horrible. I had a feeling something was up when I heard the helicopters.”

Detectives remained in the area throughout the day Wednesday, collecting video images to analyze so they could establish a timeline of Vetrano’s movements.

An NYPD bloodhound sniffed a plastic bag full of clothes on the corner of Vetrano’s block and then took off around the corner, turning down 83rd Street and heading into a gated grassy area off 164th street.

D’Angelo Guglietta said it was not common for people to walk or jog in grassy area the dog went into. “We’ve never seen people walking there,” she said.

One of Vetrano’s last Instagram posts showed a photo of Woodlawn cemetery with her comment: “always loved this contrast between #life & #death when the #city meets the cemetery.”

Vetrano worked at Vetro Restaurant on Cross Bay Boulevard.

With Alison Fox

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