Camden County Prosecutor Memorializes Fallen Investigator Jack McLaughlin with Street Naming


McLaughlin, who worked child abuse and neglect cases until the day he was killed, is remembered as a thoughtful, compassionate, high-achieving colleague on the 29th anniversary of his death.

By Matt Skoufalos | April 21, 2024

Police at the memorial for CCPO Investigator Jack McLaughlin. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

On Thursday, law enforcement personnel from throughout South Jersey gathered at the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO) in Camden City to honor a fallen colleague whose death left a lasting impact on the career in which he served.

Investigator John “Jack” McLaughlin was killed April 20, 1995 in an act of violence that left an indelible mark on the borough of Haddon Heights, and which reverberated throughout the broader policing community in the years that followed.

McLaughlin was shot to death while serving a warrant to search the bedroom of Glenn Nelson, thereafter known as Leslie Nelson, a trans woman who had been accused of molesting their niece, and threatening the child with a shotgun.

The case fundamentally changed the way those investigations would be carried out in the future, the way officers would learn to manage the impact of traumatic encounters on the job, and the way the equipment and training they needed to do so is provided.

CCPO Chief of Staff Michael Mangold described the events of April 20, 1995 as “a surreal, terrible day that I will never forget.

“McLaughlin made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” Mangold said. “The tragedy has made a lasting mark on law enforcement in the region.”

“Dealing with death is a journey from grief to gratitude,” said Monsignor Michael Mannion of the Camden Diocese of the Catholic Church, who offered a benediction for the gathering.

“Though invisible to us, the dead are not absent,” Mannion said. “They abide with us.”

Kimberly McLaughlin. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

The solemnity of the memorial was further punctuated by a performance of “Amazing Grace” by the Camden County Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, and a display of colors by the Camden County Sheriffs Honor Guard.

McLaughlin, a U.S. Air Force veteran whose widow Kimberly said “loved his country and loved his flag,” likely would have found it a fitting tribute.

She spoke about how the memorialization of her late husband will ensure that the legacy of his sacrifice endures.

“It really does mean a lot to me when people remember,” Kimberly McLaughlin said.

Creating “Investigator Jack McLaughlin Way” at the current headquarters of the agency to which her husband gave his life helps ensure that his story “will get told over and over again,” she said.

“Jack is well-known throughout Camden County as a courageous hero and an example,” Camden County Prosecutor Grace MacAulay said.

Among his colleagues, he was described as “empathetic,” “understanding,” “compassionate,” and “a partner you trusted, knowing he always had your back,” MacAulay said.

McLaughlin had earned multiple commendations early in his career for working complex and difficult cases, and specialized in investigating domestic assault and child abuse cases, MacAulay said. He lost his life in the course of such an investigation.

MacAulay recalled the clash of feelings on the day of McLaughlin’s funeral, simultaneously choking up at “the innocence of the grade-school children standing on the sidewalk, saluting Jack as his motorcade went by,” yet bursting with “overwhelming gratitude and appreciation” to be in the field of law and justice.

Camden County Prosecutor Grace MacAulay. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“We thank Jack McLaughlin, and remember him forever as a friend and colleague,” she said.

Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Testa spoke about the CCPO Special Victims Unit, which is lodged in the Camden County Child Advocacy Center, continuing the work that McLaughlin pursued in life.

The Center delivers services for children who have suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of their caregivers or the community at large.

One in six kids is victimized in some way, Testa said; the county fielded 400 such cases in 2023 alone, and the number of reported cases increases each year.

If any family was as deeply and personally affected by the events of April 20, 1995 as the McLaughlins, it was the Norcross family, who lost Haddon Heights Patrolman John Norcross to sniper fire that day. The 24-year-old was evacuating neighbor families away from the scene at the perimeter of the incident when Nelson shot him with a scoped AK-47.

Meanwhile, his brother, Richard Norcross, who retired from the CCPO in 2008 as Commander of its Intelligence Services team, was shot seven times by the same weapon, and required 23 surgeries for his injuries.

As he addressed the gathering on Thursday, Richard Norcross helped contextualize the significance of McLaughlin’s sacrifice, and by extension, his brother’s, in terms of how it changed police work in its wake.

A memorial to fallen officer John Norcross is maintained in the Haddon Heights Municipal Building. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“It was important to me that lessons were learned, and change was effected as a result of their sacrifice,” Richard Norcross said.

“We took the sacrifices of Jack and John, and learned from it, making more professional, better-trained police officers in our part of the world.”

Prior to 1995, investigators often executed search warrants “in what today would be considered an unsafe manner,” he said.

The violence of the shooting became a rallying point for improvements in training, equipment, and the funding that covered their implementation.

“Those improvements saved lives serving high-risk warrants, and resulted in de-escalation,” Richard Norcross said.

He’s dedicated his time to supporting police recruits in managing grief and trauma after violent incidents, and worked to change conversations around how to best support law enforcement who must return to the job after surviving such encounters.

“Institutionally, everybody realizes it’s important that you don’t rely on people to step forward on their own to address their trauma,” Richard Norcross said. “[We have to] make sure people are capable to do the job before they go out on the street.”

To the crowd assembled at the Prosecutor’s Office, he spoke about his own memories of the day in question.

Initial interviews didn’t yield enough to obtain an arrest warrant for Nelson, but they did provide the basis for a search warrant of the home.

Richard Norcross and McLaughlin visited the address on Sylvan Drive twice that day, the second time with a court authorization to search their bedroom for weapons.

Retired CCPO Intelligence Services Commander Richard Norcross. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Leslie Nelson ambushed them in the second-floor hallway of the home. McLaughlin was killed immediately, and Richard Norcross dragged himself out of the home after absorbing gunshots to the chest, hand, arm, and leg.

An all-hands call went out across every police department in the region, and Nelson wasn’t able to be coaxed out of the home until 4 a.m. the following day.

For as close as their final moments together were, Richard Norcross pointed out that he and McLaughlin really did not know much about one another.

“He volunteered to go into child abuse because he was very dedicated to that work,” Richard Norcross said.

“Jack valiantly gave his life, heroically saving the life of a little girl because that’s the type of man Jack was,” he said. “God only knows what would have happened [if he hadn’t]. He inspired me, and keeps me going.

“We have to learn from this; we have to do something.”

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