What to Know
- Stephanie Parze vanished Halloween Eve after dropping her parents off at their home, and had been missing for nearly three months
- The lights were on in her home and her car was in the driveway, but there was no sign of the young NJ woman
- Law enforcement sources believe her body may have been found in a wooded area in Middlesex County, NJ
The body recovered Sunday afternoon in a wooded area of Middlesex County was that of missing New Jersey woman Stephanie Parze, the Monmouth County prosecutor's office announced Monday, adding in a press conference that they have concluded that Parze's now-deceased ex-boyfriend was responsible for her death.
Parze's body was found off Route 9, south of Old Mill Road in Old Bridge, the county prosecutor's office said. It was one of the areas where volunteers searched for the 25-year-old. The county's medical examiner performed an autopsy Monday morning and confirmed the identity, prosecutors said.
Law enforcement sources told NBC New York the body was fairly decomposed, and that tattoos and dental records would be used to make the identification.
The manner and cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner's office.
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In a press conference Monday, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni, who was joined by Parze's parents, said that at the time of Parze's disappearance the department launched what essentially were two different investigations: "one a missing person's investigation and the other, while not announced publicly at the time, a homicide investigation." He went on to say that Parze's parents knew about the investigations.
Gramiccioni said that during the investigation "over 50 search warrants" were executed "in 10 different locations across the region" and "canvassed hundreds of acres of land in Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean counties as well as in Staten Island all in the search for Stephanie Parze, based on evidence we have gathered during our investigation."
Parze vanished the night before Halloween last year, after dropping her parents off at their house following a family night out.
Her car was still in the driveway, along with her phone, at her home in Freehold Township, roughly 25 minutes from where the body was found in Old Bridge.
In late November, John Ozbilgen, Parze's ex-boyfriend, was found dead by suicide in his home days after he was released from jail in an unrelated child pornography case. Monmouth County prosecutors also had just classified him as a person of interest in her disappearance.
Ozbilgen's residence was searched five times during the investigation, Grammiccioni revealed during the press conference.
"Today we announce that the now-deceased John Ozbilgen was responsible for the homicide of Stephanie Parze," Gramicioni said. "This is a finding we had suspected since early November but was only recently confirmed with further analysis of evidence that we have ceased during our investigation. The finding was confirmed, as well, soon after John Ozbilgen committed suicide."
Prosecutors said that after his suicide a number of items recovered from his home, including a note he left for his parents that apparently stated he had enough and couldn't do life in prison. The note also told his parents that what they would hear in the news was true, except for the accusation of child pornography. Ozbilgen also wrote that he had "dug himself a deep hole" and that "this was the only choice," the prosecutor added.
The note, according to prosecutors, did not disclose the location of Parze's remains. Gramiccioni said Monday the note confirmed the findings of investigators who had "accumulated a great deal of evidence that indicated he was responsible for her killing" and were working toward charging him.
"His suicide obviously cut that short," Gramiccioni said.
The search for Parze took investigators from the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office to Long Pond Park in Staten Island, only a few miles from where Ozbilgen used to live.
During their relationship, Parze accused Ozbilgen of abuse, filing a complaint for assault back in September.
Middlesex County Acting Prosecutor Christopher L.C. Kuberiet, who was also at the press conference, revealed that around 2:46 p.m., authorities received a phone call from two teens in Old Bridge walking along Route 9 to report the body.
Parze's father, who had been incredibly vocal on social media in the search for his missing daughter, thanked all who helped the family search for Parze.
“This is an extremely somber day for us. Our lives are never going to be the same," Ed Parze said, choking back tears. "Stephanie is home — she’s coming home, at last, where she belongs.”
"The community came together so much — from the donations, the food, running events, and so forth — it was just out of control," he went on to say. "We thank you all for that because without that we could have never gone through this."
He also thanked the two individuals who found Parze's body and everyone involved in the investigation.
"We are not going to stop our efforts, even though we know she is home," he said, adding that in the near future the family plans to start a foundation to bring awareness to victims of domestic violence and missing people.
"It's an epidemic. It's totally an epidemic," he said.