Before last Saturday, Jan. 23, Matthew Genovese was just one of the many twentysomething Hoboken residents who could be found heading to catch a bus or meet some friends for dinner.
But by the following Monday, the smiling face of the 24-year-old is etched into the minds of mile-square residents. After he went missing the night of Saturday’s blizzard, posters appeared all over the city, attached to bus stops, light poles, and storefronts.
Three days after he was last seen leaving McSwiggans Pub after a night with friends, Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante announced at a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 26 that the Hoboken resident’s body had been found in the Hudson River.
Police had discovered his keys and wallet in the snow on Pier A the day before, 150 feet from the river. Cash and credit cards were still inside.
The snow ultimately totaled 26 inches in Hoboken, but Washington Street was still busy with bar-goers that night.
Three friends said that at about 11:30 p.m. Genovese, a Bronx native who had been living in Hoboken for about a year, told them he was heading northwest to his Garden Street home ten minutes away. McSwiggans is located at 110 First St.
Instead, Genovese ended up traveling four blocks east, toward the river.
The circumstances of Genovese’s death are currently under investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
The medical examiner’s findings could take several weeks to months to process.
Some readers noted on the Hoboken Reporter’s breaking news website (hudsonreporter.com) that the case paralleled another two years ago (see below), and perhaps there was a predator near the waterfront.
Ferrante said there was no link between the two cases.
Ferrante declined to respond when asked whether Genovese was distraught on Saturday night or had a history of depression.
In response to further questions, Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Police Chief Ferrante issued a joint statement on Friday at 2 p.m. They said that while the case remains open, “It is important to understand that in this case and in all past cases of entry into the Hudson River from Hoboken over the years, there have been no indications of foul play in any instance. Every case has been determined to be accidental or voluntary entries into the river.”
His last night
After Genovese, a Fordham University graduate, didn’t show up to his job on Wall Street on Monday morning, immediate family members were contacted. They filed a missing persons report with the Hoboken Police Department between 1 and 2 p.m. on Monday.
After a couple of hours of investigating, Detectives Edwin Pantoja and Wilfredo Gomez found “a piece of black leather” sticking out of the snow pile near Pier A around midnight on Monday. The piece of leather was Genovese’s wallet and keys, complete with his identification, credit cards, and cash.
County officials from the prosecutor’s office later said that due to the pending investigation, they could not say whether his cell phone was also recovered.
After consulting with the New York Police Department harbor patrol and the New Jersey State Police marine unit, conditions were deemed too dangerous for a dive mission on Monday night due to the darkness and weather. Instead, officials decided to conduct the dive the next day.
The body was pulled from the Hudson River between Pier A park and the nearby Erie Lackawanna train plaza shortly after 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
Genovese was found in the clothes he left the pub wearing: a gray Fordham t-shirt with maroon text beneath a red/orange/grey flannel shirt, tan khaki pants, and tan Timberland boots.
When a reporter asked about Genovese’s unusually light clothes for the cold, Ferrante didn’t comment beyond confirming his attire.
The New Jersey Medical Examiner Unit was called to assist at the scene after Genovese was pulled from the river, and did a preliminary examination of the body at the scene. “There were no signs, visible signs to the body, of foul play that were suspected at the scene when they did their investigation of the body,” Ferrante said Tuesday. “It will be the New Jersey medical examiner’s office that will determine a cause of death…they have the body at this time.”
Rubino, the acting chief Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, which took over the investigation, told the Reporter the next day that the medical examiner’s findings, which include toxicology, could take between several weeks to months to process.
The Genovese family asked police to convey that they would like reporters to respect their privacy.
A gloomy goodbye
Photos on Genovese’s Facebook page show him posing with 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In another, he stands with his arms folded, dressed as a Ghostbuster alongside three friends.
Zimmer met with the Genovese’s family on Tuesday to offer her condolences.
Droves of friends took social media to recognize his passing.
The City of Hoboken’s own Facebook page had posted Genovese’ Missing Persons notice on Monday night. People responded over the next few days. “Just saw Eyewitness News, so so sad,” wrote Felicita Santos in the comments section. “God wrap this grieving family in your arms, let them feel your love and comfort right now, Lord. My family and I send our condolences and prayer to you and your family.”
“I was going to share until I read the outcome. Very sad…” echoed Cheryle Reis. “I send condolences to the family. May you find peace!”
Alessandra Randazzo wrote, “Right around the corner from me and a bar I always go to, I never thought something like this would happen to someone. Praying for his family and friends.”
Bravo reality star Caroline Manzo’s Twitter page said Genovese was a relative of her son-in-law, Vito Scalia, who is married to her daughter Lauren.
Although she was not available for comment, Manzo wrote on her Instagram page, “Thank you so much for sharing and prayers. Unfortunately this story didn’t end as we had hoped. Mathew’s body was found earlier today. May God rest his soul and give his family the strength they need to get through this tragedy.”
“It’s time for a real conversation on the abundance of alcoholism we have in our community and how we don’t even notice it anymore because it has been normalized,” wrote Jennifer Celadilla on Facebook. “Second man to end up in the river after a night of drinks.”
Young men, bars, and bodies of water
The pub where Genovese was last seen is in the downtown south end of the city where many bars are concentrated. It’s a block from City Hall and from the famous Carlo’s Bakery of TV fame, and four blocks from the river.
Just a month ago, the body of Anthony Urena, a Lehman College student who was last seen in New York City, was recovered from the Hudson River near Hoboken. The last time Urena was seen alive was Nov. 14 around 5 a.m. leaving the Cliff Lounge at 440 W. 202nd St. near Tenth Avenue in upper Manhattan.
Two years ago, in March of 2014, 27-year-old Hoboken resident Andrew Jarzyk disappeared after drinking with friends at a Hoboken bar/restaurant on a stormy Saturday night. He went for a jog near the waterfront in the wee hours and was not heard from again. A month later, his body was discovered floating in an abandoned ferry slip south of the Hoboken train terminal. Cameras had recorded him jogging onto Pier A, but not jogging back off.
No foul play was suspected in the Jarzyk case, and the autopsy revealed a high level of alcohol in his blood.
One can find many stories on the internet of men in their twenties who have gone missing after a night at a bar with friends, and were afterward found in bodies of water. Various theories have abounded (including a debunked theory about “Smiley Face Killers” who supposedly prey on young men leaving bars), but some say the real serial killer is alcohol that causes impaired judgment.
Earlier this month, Ferrante told the Reporter that during his first year as the chief (starting Dec. 2014), he formed the Waterfront Parks Unit as a result of Jarzyk’s tragic end, and the deaths of other people in the undertow of the Hudson River.
This month, the unit expanded from 16 hours to patrolling for 24 hours along the city’s 1.3 miles of waterfront.
Genovese was seen heading east upon leaving the establishment via surveillance from the bar and neighboring businesses. But he was not seen after that on city cameras.
Ferrante told the Reporter in mid-January that the city recently installed eight cameras along the waterfront (near Pier A, Pier C and uptown), which he said would be up and running “in the next week or so,” and there were plans to install another 15 to 20 in 2016 in various locations based on crime stats and recommendations from city officials.
The eight cameras were on at the time of Genovese incident.
“The cameras were up and running as of the 14th but they did not catch Genovese,” Ferrante said on Wednesday. “You have eight cameras and 1.3 miles of waterfront so they can’t see everything. We definitely want to expand…I see a couple of extra spots they’d be good for on the waterfront and throughout the city as well.”
Ferrante noted that not all incidents are preventable.
In Friday’s statement from the mayor and police chief they said “while the cameras can help with an investigation, the cameras unfortunately cannot save lives.”
Still, recently-elected 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco reached out to the Reporter in an email on Thursday saying, “I will be calling upon my council colleagues and the administration to act swiftly in approving a modern, state of the art system to more effectively monitor the downtown waterfront.”
The mayor and police chief said on Friday that they will be reviewing the camera system to determine where additional cameras may be appropriate.
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.
Have you seen 21-year-old Michael Ortega?
A neighboring city has also found itself confounded by the disappearance of a young resident.
The Jersey City Police Department Missing Persons Unit is asking for the public’s help in finding a 21-year-old resident missing since Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Michael B. Ortega, who is 5-foot-9 and weighs 213 pounds, was last seen by his family wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt at the corner of Hague Street and Summit Avenue in the Jersey City Heights, city spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said.
Ortega, who is described as a light-skinned Hispanic male, left his wallet with his identification, credit cards and cash, as well as his car keys, at home on the day of his disappearance.
Ortega’s picture can be seen in a news story about his disappearance on the Hudson Reporter website at www.hudsonreporter.com.
If you see Michael Ortega call (201) 547-5477 and a patrol unit will be sent to the location. Anyone with information regarding Ortega is instructed to call (201) 547-5472 or (201) 547-5424.