Plainfield man convicted of killing mother

A Union County jury has returned guilty verdicts against a Plainfield man for beating his mother to death in the home they shared a little less than three years ago, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Wednesday.

John Quackenbush, 47, was convicted of first-degree murder, two related second-degree weapons offenses, and third-degree theft following a three-week trial before state Superior Court Judge Regina Caulfield.

Plainfield Police Division officers responding to a request for a welfare check found the body of 69-year-old Gail Vandewalle under a blanket in her Watson Avenue home on February 24, 2013, several days after her last known contact with friends or family members, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutors Scott Peterson and Derek Nececkas, who prosecuted the case.

An autopsy by the Union County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed that Vandewalle died of blunt-force trauma to the head caused by a 12-pound dumbbell. A fast-moving investigation by the Union County Homicide Task Force and the Plainfield Police Division resulted in Quackenbush being identified as a suspect, and he was arrested on February 25, 2013 at a motel in nearby Green Brook. Quackenbush was held on $1 million bail leading up to his trial.

Sentencing in the case has been scheduled for March 18, 2016 before Judge Caulfield. Convictions on first-degree murder charges result in sentences of up to life in state prison.