He is Rabbi Fred J. Neulander, accused murderer and former leader of Cherry Hill's Congregation M'kor Shalom. Jailed for the last two years, he goes on trial again next week for the 1994 murder of his wife, Carol.
She is Victoria Lombardi, formerly Victoria Budinger, also known as "Miss Vicki," who gained national attention back in 1969 when, at 17, she married kitschy pop star Tiny Tim on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. An estimated 45 million viewers were watching that night when the shy Haddonfield teenager tied the knot with the ukulele-strumming falsetto, 20 years her senior.
Eight years later, she was divorced and back in South Jersey, where she flitted in and out of the celebrity spotlight as a dancer, a model, and the owner of a "new age" gift shop.
Now she's around the edges of the media glare again.
Folks have been talking about the Miss Vicki-and-The Rabbi connection in Cherry Hill for more than a year. There are several different versions of how and when the two met. Some say it was at a cocktail party. Others say it was one of her family members who made the introduction.
They flirted. He sent her flowers. They dated. They developed a relationship, said the friend. It began sometime in 1998 and continued even after his bail was revoked and he was jailed in May 2000.
Friends said she is currently driving a car owned by the rabbi, and that his mail is forwarded to her Haddonfield apartment.
The car, a dark green Toyota Camry sedan, is the same car his wife, Carol, used to drive, they say. It was parked one day last week behind her apartment on Ellis Street, about a block from downtown Haddonfield. A University of Michigan decal is still attached to the rear passenger-side window. The youngest of the Neulander's three children, Benjamin, graduated from Michigan.
Mail for Rabbi Neulander is also sent to the Ellis Street address, some directly and some forwarded by the post office from his former home on Highgate Lane in Cherry Hill.
The rabbi's defense attorney, Michael Riley, declined to discuss the relationship last week, but said a story about it on the eve of his retrial "has the capacity to be a distraction and part of a sideshow."
The rabbi's original trial in Camden last year attracted widespread media attention, including gavel-to-gavel coverage by Court TV.
Riley said the relationship between the rabbi, 61, and Lombardi, 50, has no bearing on his client's guilt or innocence. Rabbi Neulander, in a statement released through Riley, accused The Inquirer of "pandering."
"The reporting of nonnews is salacious at best," the rabbi said in part. "It may well cause embarrassment and even shame among journalists of more refined merit, decency and wit." The paper's pursuit of the story, he added, was "a misadventure of gratuitous pandering."
He ended his comments by challenging The Inquirer, which he called a "fading journal," to print his criticism.
Rabbi Neulander, who was portrayed by prosecutors at his trial in Camden last year as a philanderer who had affairs with at least two of his congregants, admitted from the witness stand to his marital infidelities. He also testified that he and his wife had an open marriage, agreeing that "if there were needs that could not be supplied between the two of us, we could go outside the marriage." But he denied that he had anything to do with his wife's murder.
During a blistering cross-examination, the prosecution hammered away at his seeming lack of remorse over his wife's death and his cavalier attitude toward his relationship with women.
Carol Neulander was found bludgeoned to death in their Cherry Hill home at 204 Highgate Lane on the night of Nov. 1, 1994.
Prosecutors contend that the rabbi hired former private investigator Len Jenoff to kill his wife. Jenoff, who confessed to the murder two years ago and is now a cooperating government witness, said he was promised $30,000 to carry out the hit.
Prosecutors allege that the rabbi wanted his wife dead because he feared a divorce would ruin his standing in M'kor Shalom and because he wanted to continue to be with a woman with whom he had been carrying on a secret love affair.
That woman, former Philadelphia radio personality Elaine Soncini, is also a prosecution witness.
Soncini, according to sources, was one of several women in the rabbi's life before he met Lombardi in 1998. It is not clear whether they met before or after he was formally charged in the case.
Since his bail was revoked two years ago, they have communicated on a regular basis by letter and phone. According to some sources, she has also visited him in jail. That, however, could not be confirmed through prison officials.
Lombardi, who grew up in Haddonfield, returned to South Jersey in 1972 after she separated from Tiny Tim - whose real name was Herbert Khaury.
They divorced in 1977. They had one child, a daughter, Tulip, who was named after his hit remake of the 1920s classic "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."
Lombardi's career has included at least one other marriage and divorce, a stint as a dancer at a go-go bar on the Admiral Wilson Boulevard, and work as a model. For a time she also operated Aqua Luna, a boutique in Maple Shade that sold incense, crystals, candles and jewelry. She is currently working in sales at a furniture store in Cherry Hill.
Riley said last week that Lombardi did not want to discuss her relationship with Rabbi Neulander.
"She's not going to talk about it," the defense attorney said.
Contacted by phone at the furniture store, she said, "I'm with a customer right now. I don't have time to talk. I'm trying to make a living."
She did not return several messages left on her apartment answering machine.
The rabbi was first arrested in September 1998 on a murder conspiracy charge and released on $400,000 bail. The charge was upgraded to a capital murder offense in May 2000 after Jenoff came forward. At that point, Rabbi Neulander's bail was revoked.
He has been in custody ever since, first at the Camden County Jail and most recently in the Monmouth County Jail in Freehold where his retrial is set to begin on Oct. 21.
The rabbi's first trial ended in a hung jury following three weeks of testimony and nearly 39 hours of jury deliberation. The jury, which announced it was hopelessly deadlocked, had reportedly voted 9-3 in favor of conviction on all three counts in the case.
In addition to capital murder - which carries a potential death sentence - the rabbi has been charged with felony murder and conspiracy.
Contact George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or email@example.com.