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NJ Rabbi Fred Neulander, who paid hitmen $30K to kill wife so he could be with his mistress, dies in prison

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A New Jersey rabbi who paid $30,000 for two hitmen to kill his wife three decades ago so he could be with his Philadelphia radio personality mistress has died in prison.

Fred Neulander, 82, was found unresponsive in an infirmary unit in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton on Wednesday, the state Department of Corrections announced.

He was transported to Capital Health Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead sometime before 6:13 p.m., the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. 

As of Saturday morning, no cause of death had been released.

Carol Neulander, 52, was murdered on Nov. 1, 1994. AP

Neulander founded the Congregation M’kor Shalom Reform Jewish synagogue in Cherry Hill in 1974. 

The rabbi and his wife, Carol Neulander, 52, were well-known in the community through both the shul and Classic Cakes, the popular bakery Carol co-founded, CNN reported.

The mother of 3 had just returned from the bakery when she bludgeoned to death with a lead pipe in the couple’s Cherry Hill home on the evening of Nov. 1, 1994, the outlet said.

The scene was staged to look like a robbery gone wrong, but investigators were puzzled by the fact that nothing else in the house was moved or taken, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Len Jenoff confessed to killing Carol Neulander at her husband’s request. AP

Neulander was indicted for the murder in 1999, but the case did not come together until the following year, when private investigator Len Jenoff told police that the rabbi paid him and another man, Paul Daniels, $30,000 to kill his wife.

At trial in 2001, prosecutors argued that the rabbi wanted to get rid of Carol to continue his two-year affair with Philadelphia radio host Elaine Soncini.

Soncini, who was Catholic, had even supposedly converted to Judaism to be with the rabbi, whom she met when he performed funeral rites for her late husband.

Neulander was convinced his marriage to Carol was over, but believed divorce would bring him shame in the community, prosecutor James Lynch suggested.

Fred Neulander was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison in 2002. AP

On the night of the murder, Neulander made a point of being seen by others at the synagogue to have a solid alibi for when Carol was killed, Jenoff testified.

The case became a media sensation, and was aired in full on CourtTV.

When the first trial ended in a hung jury, the 2002 retrial was moved from Camden County to Monmouth County to downplay the local scrutiny.

Following the retrial, Neulander was convicted of Carol’s murder. He narrowly avoided the death penalty and was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

Soncini testified against Neulander at both trials, as did two of his three children.

Paul Daniels admitted on the stand that he and Jenoff took money from Fred Neulander for killing his wife. AP

The middle child, Matthew Neulander, then 29, referred to his father as “Fred” on the stand, and testified that he heard him tell Carol that their marriage was “over” shortly before the killing.

Two years after Neulander’s conviction, the case was immortalized in the true crime book “The Rabbi and the Hit Man: A True Tale of Murder, Passion, and Shattered Faith” by PBS contributor Arthur Magida.

The murder of Carol Neulander was also the basis for several documentaries and even a musical, “A Wicked Soul in Cherry Hill,” that ran briefly in Los Angeles in 2022, the Inquirer noted.

Jenoff and Daniels were released from prison in 2014, the Inquirer said. The state appeals court rejected Neulander’s bid to overturn his conviction in 2016.

Congregation M’kor Shalom merged with another synagogue in the early 2000s and is now known as Congregation Kol Ami.

“Fred Neulander’s … leadership of the congregation ended many years ago under well-publicized circumstances that ran counter to the values our congregation holds dear,” Kol Ami Rabbi Jannifer Frenkel said in a statement to the Inquirer on Friday.

“Rather than dwell on the past, we at Congregation Kol Ami … choose to focus on our future,” she added.


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