Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Fifteen years ago today, Christine Burns was murdered.

A divorced Maplewood mom and teacher, her grisly killing and mysterious death was not solved for nearly three years and had many in town on edge for months after investigators declined to reveal much about her death, leading many to speculate it was possibly someone she knew, or some dangerous stranger.

It ended that Burns, a teacher at Kent Place School in Summit and devoted mother, had been sexually assaulted and killed in her Richmond Ave. home.

Maplewood Police did great work, but the Essex County Prosecutor's Office took over the case and nearly blew it. Just five months later, a similar crime occurred just a few blocks away when the same assailant broke into a home, tried to sexually assault a woman with a knife, but was chased out of the house by her boyfriend.

That assailant, Douglas Manning, was later arrested and convicted of burglary and attempted sexual assault. But the prosecutor's office never sought to tie him to Burns' murder, even though the incident occurred near her home and just a few months later.  

This killing was especially important to me as it happened just three months after I moved to Maplewood and was the basis for a story I wrote in New Jersey Monthly in 2003.

By 2003, nearly three years later, county prosecutors had still not solved the case. Part of the reason was that they had not sought to obtain DNA from Manning and see if it matched the DNA found in Burns' home. 

Prosecutors told me later that they did not think it was relevant, despite the fact that two similar crimes in our quiet, safe town would seem unusual in a five-month span. They told me they never even asked for a court order to seek the DNA saying they did not believe they would get it.

But by 2003, a state law change was made that required DNA samples from anyone convicted of a string of felonies, including burglary, to be taken and put in a statewide database. When that law was approved, Manning's DNA was taken and put in the database where it matched DNA from the Burns crime scene.

Manning was then arrested and pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. He was sentenced in 2007 to 20 years in prison.

Please remember Christine Burns in your thoughts today. By all accounts she was a caring, devoted mother, teacher and neighbor who gave friends a smile and took pride in her home and her work.

And be reminded justice can only be found in such cases when all avenues of evidence are pursued.

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