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Two suspects identified in connection with USS Ling vandalism 1 year 9 months ago #607

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Two suspects identified in connection with USS Ling vandalism
Rodrigo Torrejon, North Jersey Record Published 10:37 a.m. ET Sept. 20, 2018 | Updated 5:44 p.m. ET Sept. 20, 2018

Laura Palmese, of Connecticut, is accused of breaking into the USS Ling and stealing artifacts
(Photo: Courtesy of Hackensack Police Department)

In mid-August, a Connecticut duo parked at the Heritage Diner, swam the murky waters of the Hackensack River and climbed aboard the USS Ling to break into the hulking World War II vessel, police said.

More than a month after the submarine was flooded by vandals, Hackensack Police signed complaints against Jon Stevens and Laura Palmese, of Connecticut, for burglary and theft in connection with the submarine break-in.

The two are urban explorers, people who explore abandoned buildings and other places and sometimes catalog what they find, Police Capt. Peter Busciglio said. After breaking into the submarine, the duo allegedly stole a lantern and a Medical Corps lieutenant shoulder lapel, Busciglio said.

“They are part of some group that goes around looking at abandoned places,” Busciglio said.

Jon Stevens, of Connecticut, is accused of breaking into the USS Ling and stealing artifacts.
(Photo: Courtesy of Hackensack Police Department)

The summonses are the first break in an investigation into plaques that were stolen from the submarine’s museum home and flooding that left feet of water inside the boat. Stevens and Palmese were not charged with the submarine’s flooding or the theft of four memorial plaques from the riverbank, Busciglio said. But more charges for more people are forthcoming, he said.

In the span of a few days in mid-August, vandals apparently cut locks and opened hatches on the Ling, flooding it with 10 feet of Hackensack River water. Four bronze plaques, dedicated to the 52 United States submarines lost during World War II and the sailors who helmed them, were also pried from the ground and stolen.

The Ling was the featured exhibit of the New Jersey Naval Museum, which occupied a trailer on land that was once the headquarters of North Jersey Media Group, which published The Record before the newspaper and NorthJersey.com were sold to Gannett's USA Today Network.

The museum has been housed on that parcel since 1974, when the Borg family, which owned the newspaper, negotiated a deal to lease land to the museum for $1 a year.

More charges coming
Stevens and Palmese were caught through anonymous tips and good “detective work,” Busciglio said. By scanning social media, they were both pinpointed as suspects. When Hackensack Police spoke to Stevens, he confessed to the break-in, Busciglio said.

By the time Stevens and Palmese broke in and stole military artifacts, the submarine was already flooded, Busciglio said. Leslie Altschuler, vice president of the Submarine Memorial Association, which maintains the Ling, is not convinced.

"I’m kind of surprised that anybody that swam out there is still alive," Altschuler said. "For anybody to have stolen anything after it was flooded they would have had to be swimming underwater inside the boat.

Stevens and Palmese likely stole the lapels from uniforms that were left inside the Ling, Altschuler said. The submarine officers' staterooms, where the uniforms were stored, would have been nearly inaccessible due to the flooding, Altschuler said.

"It just doesn't make sense to me," Altschuler said.

Although it was all part of one investigation, Hackensack Police are treating the stolen plaques, flooding and Stevens and Palmese's break-in and theft as separate components.

To make matters more complicated, the police suspect that the person or people responsible for the flooding have nothing to do with the stolen memorial plaques, valued at more than $10,000.

Stevens and Palmese, who has hired a lawyer, are not yet in custody, Busciglio said. They are scheduled for a first court appearance on Oct. 1.

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