Renegade Reporters Become Heroes to a Struggling—and Scared—Kensington

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Jan. 5, 2011

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For all the buzz in media circles about the importance of hyper-local news, some of the best coverage of the biggest story in the city, the Kensington Strangler, is being churned out by an underemployed cake-maker single mom and a crane operator out on disability.

Two months ago, 38-year-old mother of three Heather Barton and 38-year-old Richie Antipuna could not have predicted that they would not only generate some of the most eye-opening reporting on the Strangler to date, but also become ensnared in national headlines courtesy of the now- infamous Facebook fiasco—a debacle that earned them death threats.

“We can’t even go to Kensington right now because there are people out to kill us,” she says. “I didn’t ask for all this.”

How did Barton and Antipuna go from regular civilians to hyperlocal reporters to death-threat targets in less than two months?

Well, there’s the situation and then there’s the story. The situation, as Barton sees it, traces back to Kensington’s lack of one cohesive newspaper.

“I’ll keep saying that over and over. [Kensington residents] don’t have a local newspaper to … find out where services are, where to go, how to volunteer,” she says. “Without a newspaper it’s hard for people to network.”

To be sure, there are solid community newspapers working beats defined by ZIP codes that extend into Kensington, but both the coverage and circulation of the weeklies are patchwork. For example, the Fishtown Star and the clumsily named Star of Bridesburg, Juniata and Harrowgate cover parts of Kensington while the North Star and Port Richmond Star are available in some spots. Kensington is hard to cover—it’s huge and bilingual.

Worse, it seems its already-spotty online presence via Philly.com will now be even spottier since the recent sale of the whole Star lot to Broad Street Media LLC.

“My grandmother has lived [in Kensington] for 78 years, she gets no newspaper,” says Barton. “Sometimes when my aunt goes shopping she’ll bring the Star from Port Richmond.”

So that’s the situation. Then there’s the story.

Two months ago, the longtime friends decided to launch a local TV show through PhillyCAM (Philadelphia Community Access Media) called the Richie Antipuna Show. Their goal was to focus on positive stories in Kensington because as self-identified “Kenzos,” they have fond memories of growing up there.

“The rule of a Kenzo was to stick together and protect one another. We didn’t hurt one another. We just had this bad reputation because of the poverty level I guess,” says Barton. “But there are plenty of people there working hard to be part of their community.”

They intended to showcase all kinds of arts and culture. The first interview was with an opera singer; Barton already interviewed Danny Bonaduce. But the vacuum created by combining the threat of a serial killer and a lack of a one-stop community news source sucked Barton and Antipuna into reporting on how the community is struggling with the Strangler.

The afternoon before the first episode even aired, organizers of the Dec. 10 vigil for victims of the Strangler called and asked them to “cover” the event.

“We were like, ‘We’re not the media [and] how did she even find out about our show?’” asks Barton. Hesitant, they agreed.

After Barton met the mother of the first confirmed Strangler victim at the vigil, finding and airing the Kensington perspective, nonexistent in network and national coverage, went from a civic duty to something personal.

“When I met Darrah Goldberg … that’s when it hit me. She said, ‘I’ll never see her get married.’ I’m a mother too.”

Then the duo was asked to cover the Dec. 18 community meeting at Cardinal Bevilacqua Center on Kensington Avenue and they did that, too. They also conducted renegade person-on-the-street interviews for Special Report: Broken Silence. The interviews had an insider edge, revealing the neighborhood dynamics that enable a perp like the Kensington Strangler to roam free for three months.

In the video, Barton interviewed a woman who claimed that she and the third victim, Casey Mahoney, had encountered the Strangler the week before he choked Mahoney to death. “A guy identical to the guy in the picture ... approached me and asked if I could do a date with him for like $20,” she said. The woman says she walked with the guy and told her friend to call the police. “[Mahoney] ran across to the pharmacy down the street and they ... wouldn’t let her use the phone,” she says. “[Mahoney] goes across to the beer distributor and they said no.” Desperate, Mahoney asked to borrow the phone of a family standing outside but they also refused. “The attitude ... is that what happens to us, addicts or prostitutes, is on us,” she shrugs. “Kind of, we deserve it.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. Anonymous said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 05:59PM

“So, why do they get death threats? Is there a page missing?”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 10:48PM

“Because of the whole facebook fiasco. Someone posted a picture of an innocent man on their page in conjuction with the sketch as flyers were passed around the neighborhood.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jan 7, 2011 at 12:43AM

“men are better”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jan 7, 2011 at 08:29AM

“Think these two are looking for fame. Funny where were you before this monster started killing? Stop using the strangler and these victims to get tv time! Your no better then he is in my eyes and a lot of other peoples also.”

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5. Joe Goldberg said... on Jan 12, 2011 at 08:29AM

“I am grateful to these two people (and the writer of this article) for their coverage of this ongoing tragedy. My daughter, Elaine, was the 1st murder victim. I agonized over the stories done by the "major media" because they called my daughter everything they could think of to ruin her reputation and worse. The monster that is still out there is the scum, not any of the victims. The interviews I've seen on the Antipuna show and the articles written by Ms. Murtha have been fair, accurate and focused where they should be. Most importantly, sensitive to the concerns of the victims' families. Elaine, Nicole and Casey were human beings. Babies that grew into young women. They had lived only a part of their lives when this no good bastard strangled them to death. Only God should have determined when my baby left this life, not that creep. Thankfully, God was there to take her from this monster's grip.”

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6. Heather Barton said... on Jan 26, 2011 at 01:31AM

“@ Mr. Goldberg,
Thank you so much for your kind and reinforcing words. We have tried to pay special attention to the families feelings and honor the lives of Elaine, Nicole and Casey. I know nothing will ever take away your pain but I hope you find peace in your heart in knowing that your daughter is safe from any harm ever again. Please know that so many share your pain and support you and your family. Your daughter was a beautiful girl and I know better than to believe everything in the media, that is the main reason we spent so much time on this. We wanted to show the whole story and the truth. Obviously not everyone will get that message but Im thankful you do..God Bless”

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