On a recent afternoon, 58-year-old Joe Goldberg sits at his kitchen table with his sister, Betty Ann Golden, 54. Goldberg, father of six, is talking about life since the moment last month when police knocked on the door of his Northeast home in Holme Circle and informed him that his 21-year-old daughter Elaine Golderg’s partially clothed body was found in a lot in Kensington. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. The attack is now suspected to be the first homicide in a connected series of assaults by the so-called Kensington strangler that as of press time include two murders and up to five nonfatal attacks.
“The macho in me says … I’m OK, but I’m not. I’m not … anything like OK,” Goldberg says, his eyes watering.
The grieving father stares down at the table, jaw tight. Smoke rises from the Marlboro cigarette in his hand—he smokes one right after the other—as he looks around, noting that the house, where Elaine’s three younger siblings still live, is usually decorated for Christmas by now. He explains that Elaine was the only one of his clan allowed to tinsel the tree, after inheriting the job from her grandmother, who she’s now buried with at West Laurel Hill cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. Goldberg also struggles with the idea of whether he should hang Elaine’s stocking. He wonders if he should decorate for the sake of the kids but concedes that it’s too hard.
The fact that his daughter’s death is still making headlines almost every day doesn’t make it easier.
Now that DNA has linked Elaine’s death to at least one other homicide and a string of frighteningly similar attacks, Goldberg’s family has to keep enduring not only the gruesome details of her slaying but also what the father sees as the murder of her memory.
“My daughter’s dead a month and I’m still getting fresh shit,” Goldberg says. He talks about that morning’s news.
“Channels 10 and 4 described Elaine as a nursing student, but channel 3 had to say ‘recovering addict.’” He shakes his head. “I guess two out of three ain’t bad.”
Since her killing, Goldberg says he and his family have made many phone calls and sent several emails to local print and television reporters, requesting more sensitivity in their depiction of Elaine.
“My main beef with the media is my daughter was 21 years old. For 19 and a half of those years, she was … a shoulder to cry on for all her girlfriends, giving everyone in the universe advice or homework help. She was a never-ending pool of energy ... and everybody loved her,” he says. “Elaine was gorgeous, smart … she got honors all the way through [Little Flower] high school. She was fun, had a good sense of humor and was creative.”
But Goldberg says the vivacious nursing student at Gwynedd-Mercy College is not the young woman described in the stories.
“The stories at first were about … [phrases] like ‘a drug neighborhood,’ ‘found in a lot,’ and apparently that Elaine’s down there doing drugs and perhaps a prostitute. ‘The medical examiner hadn’t yet determined whether the sex was consensual.’ I mean come on, like she was a piece of shit or something, just because she was found on a lot in Kensington.”
Goldberg stubs one cigarette out and taps a fresh one out of the pack. “First it was just ‘a drug addict.’ Then they started with ‘recovering.’ … Reporters I talked to, they saw my point and they removed the references with the story, but with TV news, they have so many reporters, there’s a new one, and you see it again. ‘Recovering addict,’ or ‘drug abuser.’ How about murder victim?”
The grieving dad says it’s not just the media. Anonymous Internet trolls hit the Facebook memorial page Elaine’s little sister created. Goldberg says they wrote awful things, something about peeing on his daughter’s face. Whoever it was, they wouldn’t stop, so the grieving family had to create a second page that required approval of each member.
“My daughter was portrayed as the perpetrator. ‘What was she doing there, she’s got to be a junkie, she’s probably a prostitute.’ Why are you trying the victim?” he asks. “Someone took my daughter and choked her to death.”
Betty Ann nods. “It’s cruel and painful,” she says quietly.
“It paints her as if her life has no value … I’m not saying the one and a half years that she was toying with drugs turned her into a creep because she was still nice, she was still helping people,” Goldberg says.
Goldberg was aware of his daughter’s drug problems. He says Elaine hooked up with the wrong boyfriend then started taking prescription pills—percocet and oxycontin.
He adds that in May, Elaine broke up with the boyfriend, moved back home and entered rehab in June. She stayed seven days, the duration of the detox part, but didn’t stay for rehab, figuring she could it on her own. Goldberg says he and his daughter talked openly about her getting clean every day: What’s the plan for tomorrow? For the most part, she was doing all right, he says. When she did “slip up,” she got really down about it. In September, she re-entered rehab, where she stayed for 15 days.
He says the message seemed to take. She began hanging out at the Life or Death, a clubhouse where sober people can hang out and where AA and NA meetings are held. She started re-connecting with old friends she lost track of during her drug-fueled relationship with the ex-boyfriend and enrolled in nursing school. Her last Facebook status was posted five days before she was killed: “Good morning so far. I feel like doing something, just don’t know what yet. Two meetings already and I suppose I’ll just creep on here til the [third]. Anyone doing anything drug/alcohol free for Halloween? Haha.”