Paula Chin did not die quickly.
That's what her 22-year-old son, Jared Eng, told his girlfriend, Caitlyn O’Rourke, over speakerphone on Thursday, January 31, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office last week. But it wasn't until after Eng's brother, Brandon, reported her missing the following Monday that the 65-year-old's body turned up a day later in Jersey, where she owned a weekend home. According to the New York Times, her throat was slashed.
Eng, O'Rourke, and another woman named Jennifer Lopez—whom he has described as a second girlfriend—were initially charged with concealment of a human corpse and tampering with physical evidence in connection with Chin's death. But Eng was also indicted for second-degree murder late Monday after police had autopsy results to bolster their case. Though the indictment was sealed, the emerging narrative in the saga seemed to be that of a well-to-do family with a home in tony Manhattan neighborhood TriBeCa and three romantically involved college kids who tried and failed to clean up a crime scene. Recalling the 2015 case of Thomas Gilbert Jr., who was accused of shooting his hedge-fund manager dad over money, it appeared as if the case may have involved a fatal argument about finances, centering on a peculiar kind of millennial dysfunction.
“He stated that he and his mother argued about him moving out,” a prosecutor said at Eng’s initial arraignment last week, according to the Daily Beast. However, the defendant himself seemed to tell a different story in a jailhouse interview with the New York Post: that he argued with his mom about her declining health shortly before her death, rather than financial matters. Eng, who has not yet issued a plea in the case, told the paper he was not responsible for his mother's death, and his attorney did not comment after his charges were upgraded Tuesday, according to the Daily News.
When Eng was first questioned, prosecutors said, he insisted he'd last seen his mother at her Manhattan residence early on the morning of January 31. According to the complaint, surveillance footage taken that night showed a woman resembling Lopez backing a gray SUV into the Tribeca apartment's driveway. Later, at around 2:30 AM, police said, a person appeared to place a "duffel bag-like container" in the trunk. Eng later told O'Rourke they headed to New Jersey, according to the complaint.
For her part, O'Rourke told police that after receiving the call from Eng informing her about the grisly scene in Tribeca, she agreed to go to Jersey with him and Lopez, where the three of them transferred the corpse into a garbage bin, cops said. But neither woman has been implicated in the killing itself: "Our client did not play any role in the death of Ms. Chin," Lopez's attorney, David Sachs, said Monday. O'Rourke's attorney Sarah Kaufmann previously asserted much the same: “There is no suggestion that my client had anything to do with a more serious crime. This woman is a young person in a terrible situation," she said.
Still, even before Eng had been formally accused of causing his mother's death, the early drip of evidence against him—and, to a lesser extent, his friends—was damning.
"It’s all clean," Lopez told O'Rourke at one point over text, according to the complaint, apparently referring to the corpse. "The hardest part was backing up the car." Meanwhile, cops said they found duct tape in the Morristown home matching tape recovered from the trunk of an SUV owned by Chin, along with bloody rubber gloves. They also sprayed a substance in the Manhattan home that would reveal blood stains not visible to the naked eye and got a positive result, according to the complaint.
While it might seem strange that no one was quickly charged with Chin's murder, according to Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD detective sergeant and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, unlawful disposal of a body is a not uncommon way to hold someone as part of a larger death investigation pending a complete review of the evidence. An autopsy was said to be outstanding as of late last week, and the Post previously reported the charges were expected to be upgraded once it was complete.
Eng, who said he identifies as gender fluid and polyamorous, also spoke to the Daily News about his relationship with O’Rourke and Lopez. He met the former two years ago at SUNY New Paltz, where they were both students, and the latter last summer when he was working as a lifeguard, he said. "Jennifer would come to New Paltz and chill with us all weekend,” Eng told the tabloid. "It would be Nextflix [sic] and chill."
Eng cried, however, when recalling a trip he took with his family to celebrate his mother's retirement in January; a photo posted to Instagram last May showed him and his mother smiling at a restaurant in Manhattan. He also referred in interviews to his mother's wealth and the storm of emotions he experienced after his arrest. "There was a lot of money in there, like $10 million... maybe $11 million,” he told the Post, adding of the time after his arrest, "I was feeling suicidal. I was having these thoughts. ‘What if I did do it? Maybe I did do it. Then I don’t deserve to live.'"
Eng was being remanded, which is to say held without bail. Lopez and O'Rourke were initially held on $100,000 and $50,000 bail, respectively.
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