Fred Neulander, rabbi serving life sentence for hiring hit men to kill his wife, dies in prison at 82


(JTA) — Fred Neulander, a New Jersey rabbi serving a life sentence for hiring hit men to murder his wife Carol in 1994, has died in prison. He was 82.

The New Jersey Department of Corrections website lists Neulander as deceased and says his “date out of custody” was Thursday. Local news outlets are reporting that Neulander was found unresponsive in a prison infirmary and pronounced dead on Wednesday.

In a case that riveted the Philadelphia area and American Jewry for years, Neulander, the founding rabbi of the 1,000-family M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was convicted in 2002 of paying confessed killers Len Jenoff and Paul Michael Daniels to murder his wife so that he could freely carry on a love affair with former Philadelphia radio personality Elaine Soncini.

Carol Neulander, 52, was found lying dead in a pool of blood on the living room floor of the family home in Cherry Hill in November 1994. She had been brutally bludgeoned to death. Neulander resigned from the synagogue several months later, after investigators found evidence of his affair, but he was not arrested for nearly four years.

Neulander’s first trial on the murder charges ended in a hung jury.

But on Nov. 20, 2002, eight years and 19 days after the murder of his wife, the Reform rabbi, 61 years old at the time, was found guilty on all counts for capital murder, felony murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Camden County Assistant Prosecutor James Lynch later described the slaying as a classic case of murder for hire.

He was spared the death penalty only after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the sentence, as required under New Jersey law.

Jenoff, who had been posing as the rabbi’s private investigator, confessed to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that he was the rabbi’s hit man. He later came forward and confessed his role in the crime to investigators from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office.

Jenoff and Daniels were both released from prison in 2014 after spending about 14 years in custody.

In 2016, a state appeals court rejected a request to overturn Neulander’s murder conviction.

From behind bars, Neulander continued to deny his role in the murder. “My behavior was appalling in my marriage and I’m going to have to live with that for the rest of my life. It was arrogant and it was selfish, and that burden, I will just carry for the rest of my life,” Neulander told NBC10 in 2012. “I knew better. I should have behaved better. It’s just that simple.”

A musical about the murder, titled “A Wicked Soul in Cherry Hill,” was produced in Los Angeles in 2022, over the objections of the Neulanders’  three children, who survive him.

Neulander was also the author of a memoir about his rabbinate, “Keep Your Mouth Shut and Your Arms Open: Observations From the Rabbinic Trenches,” which he published under a pseudonym, Adam Plony, during his first trial in 2001.

A nonfiction book about the case, “The Rabbi and the Hit Man,” by Arthur Magida, was the basis for several television documentaries. In the book, Magaida captures the huge distance between Neulander’s standing in his suburban congregation and the sordid details of the murder for hire.

“On the Tuesday night of Carol’s murder, Fred had stayed at the synagogue later than usual,” wrote Magida. “M’kor Shalom was always busy on Tuesdays, with choir practice in the evening and lots of meetings for adults while their kids attended religious classes.”

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