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 Joan Mary Burghardt

Joan Mary Burghardt

Birth
Death 9 Aug 1992 (aged 29–30)
Burial Palmerton, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, USA
Memorial ID 101364571 · View Source
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Joan Mary Burghardt, in the throes of depression, had threatened suicide a number of times in the past seven years.
As far as her parents knew, she had never tried it. But last Sunday, Stanley and Gladys Burghardt, unable to reach their younger daughter by telephone for two days, feared the worst.
When the couple learned she had not shown up for her job as a nurse's aide the previous day, they rushed from Palmerton to their daughter's two-room apartment in East Allentown.
"If we see her car," Mrs. Burghardt told her husband as they drove, "then we know she's dead."
But what the Burghardts saw first were police cars and curious onlookers gathered near their daughter's first-floor apartment.
"I knew then," Gladys Burghardt said, "something horrible had happened."
Horrible it was.
Joan Mary Burghardt, 29, an aspiring nurse, a music lover and a former Palmerton High School honor student, lay dead in her living room.
But she had not died by her own hand.
She had been bludgeoned -- hit on the head more than 30 times with an unknown object, police said. Her body was found partially clad.
Police say Burghardt was killed between Friday, when a neighbor last heard from her, and Sunday before noon, when police found her body.
Authorities had been called by the neighbor, who worried because she hadn't heard from Burghardt over the weekend.
Only five days before her body was found, Burghardt reported a burglary at her home. Her parents said about $50 was missing.
Police said last week they did not know whether the break-in was connected to the slaying. Because Burghardt's body was partially clothed, they were checking the possibility of sexual assault.
Capt. Scott Mitchell said two detectives continued to interview people in connection with the case.
As to whether police have a suspect, he said, "We're looking at several possible directions and at several different people. It'd be premature to say we've focused in on one particular suspect."
But, he added, "It's not like we're totally at a loss."
Yesterday, as police continued their investigation, family and friends attended a memorial Mass for Burghardt at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Palmerton.
Earlier in the week, her parents and co-workers talked openly of a woman they said had no enemies, who was special and who hoped to marry someday.
"What a wonderful person she was," said Gladys Burghardt, who occasionally fought back tears as she spoke of her daughter. "She was very caring, generous, loving, and she was a fighter."
"She's a great loss to us."
Burghardt had struggled in the past seven years, and suffered an earlier, violent trauma, her mother said. But she also accomplished much in her life.
"She had talents," Stanley Burghardt said. "She had a lot going for her. She had a great deal of potential which, unfortunately, was never realized, and ended in this tragic fashion."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Joan Burghardt, the youngest of three children, was 1-1/2 years old when her family moved from New Jersey to Palmerton when her father got a job as a research chemist at New Jersey Zinc Co. (later the Zinc Corp. of America).
Although shy as a youth, Burghardt excelled in school.
As a seventh-grader in Palmerton Area School District, she won a statewide spelling bee. As a senior, she won an essay contest sponsored by a union, and an academic achievement award presented by a local club.
She graduated with honors from Palmerton High in 1980.
"She was very bright," said Melissa Moser, a former classmate. "She was a real sweet girl."
While studious, Burghardt participated in sports and belonged to a variety of clubs. She ran track, skied locally and in New Hampshire, and according to her high school yearbook was a member of the audio-visual club, camera club and the school's newspaper staff.
"She was a normal kid," her mother said.
As a child, Burghardt had been a Girl Scout and had learned to play the piano, sometimes being called upon to entertain her schoolmates.
Her brother captured her innocence in a photo that hangs on the wall of her parents' stairway. In it, a very young Joan, in a hat and striped shirt, glances down and sniffs a flower.
Aside for her love of the outdoors, Burghardt displayed an artistic talent as a youth, making a watercolor drawing of a clipper ship that her parents now keep framed in an upstairs room.
And, her parents said, she was a popular neighborhood babysitter, taking games from home to help entertain the children she tended.
But Burghardt's many accomplishments and involvements hid an earlier trauma.
At age 10, while walking from her house to the Palmerton pool in July 1973, Burghardt was sexually assaulted at knife-point by a stranger, her parents said.
She was hysterical immediately after the incident and fearful that she had committed a sin, and her family called a priest to have her talk with him. But Burghardt seemed all right, continuing to do well in school when classes resumed and continuing to be active, her parents said.
She didn't talk of the incident. Her parents said the trauma could have contributed to her shyness.
"So anybody who thought she was withdrawn or shy now knows why," her mother said.
But her parents said they do not know whether the childhood assault contributed to the depression that doctors said Burghardt suffered in recent years.
Burghardt struggled with low self-esteem, her mother said. She had appeared happiest in high school when competing in track, reveling in the cheers of her teammates during competitions.
"That was good for her ego," Gladys Burghardt said. She said her daughter still displayed her track medals on a wall of her apartment.
After finishing high school, Burghardt studied secretarial science at Lehigh County Community College and received an associate's degree in May 1982.
Her first job was with the adult probation office at Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown. Burghardt joined the art museum, a hiking club and worked out at a local health club.
But she seemed to be under stress, sometimes coming home from her job in tears when she felt people had been unfriendly, her mother said. She eventually signed up for a stress-management course sponsored by her employer.
Within two years, Burghardt took a job with Air Products and Chemicals Inc. By then, she had a pet cat and was living on her own.
"And that's when she got sick," her mother said.
The phone call came in June 1985 from St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill. Burghardt, who had threatened suicide and was severely depressed, was in the hospital's psychiatric unit, her parents were told.
"It was a shock," said Gladys Burghardt, who said she later learned her daughter had been seeing a psychiatrist for about a year.
"It was as shocking as what has just happened, and nobody would tell us anything," she said. "They would not violate her confidentiality."
The word "confidentiality," Stanley Burghardt said, was a word "we began to hate."
Even now, he said, he and his wife are unsure of the doctors' final diagnosis of their daughter's illness. But she was not schizophrenic or manic-depressive, he said.
"But it's got to do with depression as far as we know," Stanley Burghardt said.
His daughter was in the hospital for most of June 1985, and although she returned to work, she wound up in the hospital again that summer.
Over the next seven years, she would be in and out of hospitals, her parents said. Her weight ballooned, possibly from the medicine she was prescribed.
Her parents question whether the medication and psychiatric counseling Burghardt received early on did more harm than good.
"We were afraid to go away for any length of time because she depended on us for support," Gladys Burghardt said. "I mean, emotional support." * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Despite her problems, Burghardt continued to work, taking jobs through a temporary placement service and, later, in the offices of the organizations where she found help.
She sang in church choirs, most recently at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Allentown. With her parents, she would mark her birthday and theirs with feasts at local Chinese restaurants.
In the past year, Burghardt became certified as a nurse's aide, an accomplishment that made her most proud, her parents said. At the time of her death, she was employed at Mosser Nursing Home in Trexlertown.
Friends and family remembered how Burghardt would stop at the nursing home on her days off to play the piano for the residents.
"I thought she was a very special, sweet girl, full of life," friend and co-worker Sherrie Fegley said. "She was very supportive to me."
Occasionally, Fegley said, she and Burghardt would go to the movies and out for pizza. Once, she said, they went dancing.
When Burghardt was again hospitalized this spring, Fegley brought her an Easter basket, along with some items she had requested. Burghardt handed her a card.
"Thank you for being my friend," it read, "and thank you for making my day complete."
Fegley said she last spoke to Burghardt by telephone on the Friday before her body was found. In a 45-minute conversation, the two made tentative plans to go to a movie the following week, and chatted about work and other matters.
"I never looked at her as mentally ill," said Fegley, who along with other co-workers were upset at newspaper accounts that labelled her that way.
She said Burghardt dressed well, dated occasionally and, unlike many of her co-workers, had a college degree. And although Burghardt was quiet, Fegley said, she had a hearty laugh.
"Joanie was a very smart girl," said Rachel Master, another nursing home co-worker. But she added, "Life used to get tough for her sometimes to deal with."
Burghardt worried that she wasn't as good at her job as the other nurse's aides, she said.
"She just didn't think people cared for her, but they did," Master said. "She was very special, very liked there."
Last January, Burghardt moved into the Gordon Street apartments, developed by Valley Housing Development Corp. Previously, Burghardt lived in a group home of Step-by-Step Inc., her parents said.
Since she was one of the few tenants at the Gordon Street apartments who had a car -- a 1981 Chevette that she treasured -- she often would drive other tenants to the bank or the grocery store, friends have said.
Although hospitalized again in April, May and June, Burghardt seemed to be bouncing back to her old self, her parents said. She talked about pursuing a nursing career, and seemed to be in control about the burglary.
"She was a really sweet girl," Fegley said. She said she'll treasure a plaque that Burghardt recently made for her. "I really miss her."


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  • Created by: Gerri Aitkin
  • Added: 27 Nov 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 101364571
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Joan Mary Burghardt (1962–9 Aug 1992), Find A Grave Memorial no. 101364571, citing Sacred Heart New Cemetery, Palmerton, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Gerri Aitkin (contributor 47320824) .