John and Joyce Sheridan were found stabbed to death in their bedroom and their suburban New Jersey home was set on fire just before sunrise on September 28th, 2014. The unsolved murder is now the subject of a new podcast from WNYC.
“Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery” digs into the killings of the influential couple, raising questions about the open case and investigation. It includes interviews with a former New Jersey governor, a former attorney general, a son of the couple, and an investigator who took down the mob in New Jersey.
From the start, the detectives believed the crime was a murder-suicide. That drew a sharp rebuke from the Sheridan family and their friends.
“I don't believe it. And I think it's a false accusation,” said Chris Stevens, a close friend of Joyce. The two had a three-hour lunch two days before the deaths.
John Sheridan was the CEO of Cooper University Hospital, and he had previously served as the state’s transportation commissioner and was an adviser to several governors. Some 1,800 people attended the Sheridans’ memorial service in Trenton on October 7th, 2014, including most of the state Legislature.
“It was almost all of the Assembly and the Senate. And they all paid their respects,” said former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. “And here it was to a guy who was never held elective office. And yet, you had all these political people there to stand up for them and for the family.”
In February 2015, some 200 citizens, including governors, judges and members of the legal establishment, signed a letter calling on the state to change John Sheridan’s death certificate, which listed his manner of death as suicide. It now reads “undetermined.”
The letter also asks that the investigation be reopened.
Here are key people close to the Sheridans and the investigation into their deaths:
John Sheridan: At the time of his death, Sheridan was the CEO of Cooper University Hospital. He had gone to work for George Norcross, who operates a political organization across south Jersey, in 2005. Some 1,800 people attended his memorial in Trenton, where he had worked for many years, most notably as the Transportation Commissioner for Gov. Tom Kean. Sheridan is credited with creating the two most important transportation systems in the state: The NJ Transit commuter rail system, the largest in the country, and the state trust fund that collects gas taxes to repair highways and bridges in New Jersey. He was 72 when he was found stabbed to death in his bedroom.
Joyce Sheridan: Joyce was a retired public school teacher who had taken time out to raise four boys. She was known for her fierce sense of humor, a devotion for holiday decorations and a collector of antiques. “She was very independent, such a good friend,” said Chris Stevens. The two women were close and had lunch together just a day and a half before the murder. Stevens says Joyce never once complained to her about her marriage.
Mark Sheridan: A successful lawyer, Mark represented Gov. Chris Christie's election campaign and the New Jersey Republican Party at the time of his parents’ deaths. When detectives insisted that his father killed his mother and then himself, Mark worked late into the night to pour over investigative files and details to uncover what happened.
Ed Stier: An investigative lawyer by trade, Stier is a former federal prosecutor who went to work for the New Jersey Attorney General in the 1960s. When the state was embarrassed by a Life Magazine article that exposed mafia infiltration of government and business in the state, Stier helped create the Division of Criminal Justice at the Office of the Attorney General. It was designed to go after the kind of crime that county prosecutors couldn’t handle, whether that involved organized crime, public corruption or major investigations. Stier says he is frustrated that the division he helped create has had its budget cut and subsequent Attorneys General have failed to go after political corruption.
Christine Todd Whitman: Whitman was the only woman ever elected as governor of New Jersey (1994-2001) and served in the George W. Bush cabinet from 2001-2003. She was a friend of John and Joyce Sheridan and never believed the murder-suicide theory. She continues to call for a new investigation into their murders.
John Farmer: A former attorney general and counsel to the 9/11 Commission, Farmer was a good friend of John Sheridan. The last time he saw him, Sheridan told Farmer he wasn’t “talking much” with his boss, George Norcross, and that Sheridan told him it was a strange situation. He also believes the New Jersey system of declaring the cause and manner of death should be changed so that evidence is submitted to a judge. “You basically are ruining this man's reputation without any kind of hearing and without any kind of evidentiary standard,” Farmer said.
George Norcross: Norcross is a wealthy insurance executive who runs a political organization in south Jersey with far-reaching influence over the area’s Democratic party. He picks people to run for office, raises money for them and requires them to vote in line with what the organization wants. “George Norcross is the CEO of the Democratic party and it operates like any other business, any other corporation,” said Shaneka Boucher, a city councilwoman in Camden. Norcross was John Sheridan’s boss and the two men were reportedly involved in a dispute over Camden development in the months before Sheridan’s death.
Phil Norcross: Phil is the brother of George Norcross. He is managing shareholder, chief executive officer and equity partner at a law firm that does a lot of business with government agencies and represented many clients who applied for and received large tax breaks in Camden. Phil was involved in the dispute over the Camden development with John Sheridan in the months before his death.
Barry Jansen: Jansen is among one of the first detectives to arrive at the Sheridan crime scene. He’s a detective and forensic technician who worked for the Somerset County Prosecutor’s office. County prosecutors in New Jersey are responsible for investigating major crimes. Jansen believed John Sheridan killed his wife and then himself. but he admitted in 2020 he made a mistake that the Sheridan family considers a major misstep in the investigation.
Chris and Bob Stevens: The couple were good friends with the Sheridans, and Chris Stevens and Joyce Sheridan were particularly close. Both couples had four kids about the same ages and they raised their families in two adjacent communities. Chris had a three-hour lunch with Joyce just a day and half before the Sheridans died. When Chris shared this detail with the 1,800 people at the Sheridans’ memorial, her husband Bob thought for sure there would be detectives waiting for them when they got home.
Colandus “Kelly” Francis: Francis is a union organizer and community activist in Camden. Francis was an admirer of George Norcross’ father, who was a union leader. But he believes the younger Norcross stands in opposition to unions and Democratic principles. Francis opposed the state tax breaks that were drawing business to Camden because there was no community involvement, no requirements to hire Camden residents and little benefit for the community. Francis died in March 2022.
Barbara Boyer: Boyer was a crime reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2014. She was one of the few journalists allowed into the Sheridan house after the couple’s death, and what she finds there is surprising.
Eddie Rocks: Rocks is a retired homicide detective from Philadelphia. He accompanies Boyer to inspect the crime scene and quickly discovers significant evidence that was overlooked.
Michael Baden: Baden is an independent medical examiner who has worked on a number of celebrated cases and was the subject of an HBO show. Baden is hired by the Sheridan family a few days after their parents’ deaths to conduct a second autopsy. He finds evidence that undermines the initial murder-suicide theory.
Jeff Pillets: Pillets is an investigative reporter who looks into the business dealings of George Norcross.
The first episode of Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery from WNYC Studios is available now, anywhere podcasts are available.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Mark Sheridan's career history. At the time of his parents' deaths, he represented the election campaign for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
A previous version of this story misspelled George Norcross' last name. It has been updated.