FARMINGDALE, Long Island (PIX11) -- Passersby came across a neatly posed, decapitated body in a residential street Tuesday night, as well as its disembodied head, and they thought it was a Halloween prank.
Then, once it was realized that it was an actual murder followed by a nearby suicide, rumors began circulating that police didn't quell until Wednesday afternoon. That's when the worst was confirmed, that a well-known and respected local college professor had been brutally killed by her psychotic son.
"I was like, 'Oh my God,'" said Dale Silverman. She lives near the scene on Secatogue Avenue, near the Farmingdale train station, and passed by it Tuesday evening shortly after the remains were placed in the street. "I [thought] 'I just saw a head in the street, and a body,' and not only dismissed it, but laughed."
Silverman told PIX11 News that she's still processing what she'd come across at around 7:50 P.M. Tuesday.
"Long, straight black hair, and I said, 'What the heck is that?'" she said, recounting the grisly incident. "I could see what I thought was a head under it, but not features. and I'm looking and going, 'No, that can't be what it is."
What Silverman and a few other passersby saw were the remains of Patricia Ward, 66, a language arts professor at Farmingdale State College. She's taught there for 28 years.
Her body was left, with her arms placed tightly on the sides of her torso, and her legs together, in front of her building, on the west side of Secatogue Avenue. On the east side of the street is where her disembodied head was placed. A thick and wide blood stain remains there, and in Ward's building, at 130 Secatogue, a man in a hazmat suit was washing blood off the lobby floor on Wednesday afternoon.
About 25 minutes after Ward's body was found, and police responded, they had to rush to another scene, a block away. A man had thrown himself in front of an oncoming LIRR train, killing himself immediately. It was suspected right away that the two deaths were connected.
Meanwhile, rumors about what had happened circulated around the neighborhood all night and well into Wednesday afternoon.
"Nobody knows," said Sean Lufkin, one of Ward's neighbors. "The cops are not telling us."
That changed at around 2:15 Wednesday, when Detective Lt. John Azzata of the Nassau County Police Department held a news conference at police headquarters in Mineola. Early on, he mentioned just one person in addition to Prof. Ward, the murder victim.
"Her son, Derek Ward," said Det. Lt. Azzata. "He's approximately 35 years old."
Investigators said that it appeared Patricia Ward's son had severely beaten her up and stabbed her multiple times in the home into which they'd recently moved. It's not yet exactly clear when she was killed.
Ascertaining that information is part of an ongoing investigation, which should also confirm other aspects of the case that detectives suspect: that Derek Ward decapitated his mother after killing her, then dragged her remains down from their second floor apartment to the street. Apparently, afterward, he took his own life by running in front of the train.
Police said that Derek Ward had a criminal record, with a 2003 conviction for criminal mischief, for which he was sentenced to probation. He was also convicted in 2006 of criminal possession of a weapon, a handgun, as well as possession of a controlled substance, 100 Valium pills.
However, far longer than his criminal record was his history of psychological problems, which extends back at least a decade.
"It has exacerbated in itself within the last year, according to people we spoke with," said Det. Lt. Azzata, "due to the death of his paternal grandfather."AlertMe