Highland Beach: Suspicious death leaves building’s residents on edge

By Rich Pollack

Residents at the normally peaceful Penthouse Highlands community in Highland Beach have been on edge for more than a month after town police found the body of Elizabeth Cabral, 85, in her fifth-floor apartment.

While the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has stopped short of classifying Cabral’s death as a homicide, detectives are calling it a suspicious death, leaving many in the 82-unit building wondering what happened.

“People are very concerned,” said Alan Croce, president of the Penthouse Highlands Association and a retired high-ranking law enforcement official. “We’ve never had any problems in our building.”

Should Cabral’s death be classified as a homicide, it would be only the second recorded murder in Highland Beach’s almost 70-year history.

The town, which is consistently rated as one of the safest in the state — including a ranking of seventh safest in 2016 by Alarm Systems Review — had only 40 crimes reported to the state in 2017, with larcenies making up the bulk of the incidents.

Croce said the low crime rate is an important factor in residents’ choosing the town. “Safety and security is of the utmost importance,” he said.

A retired undersheriff in Suffolk County, N.Y., and former chair of the corrections commission for the state of New York, Croce said he is looking into enhanced security for the condominium, built in 1969. He is also hoping to get more information from the Sheriff’s Office.

Croce is using what little information he does know to help calm his neighbors’ fears.

“I don’t think it was random,” he said.

Cabral’s body was found April 30, just before 8 p.m., after Highland Beach police were asked to check on her. Police notified the Sheriff’s Office, which responded to the 3100 S. Ocean Blvd. address with investigators from the Violent Crimes Division and Crime Scene Unit.

Cabral, according to Croce, had been living in the building for more than 20 years with her husband, William, who died about two years ago. Croce  said the Cabrals didn’t have any children and he wasn’t sure whether there were other surviving relatives.

“She was a wonderful woman,” Croce said. “She was sweet, wonderful and precious, no one disliked her. For something like this to happen to her is more than just a crime because she was such a wonderful woman.”

Highland Beach’s only confirmed homicide occurred in 1994 when Richard P. Ramaglia, 49, was stabbed to death in his home in the 4000 block of South Ocean Boulevard. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies later arrested Mary Juhnke, 23.

Juhnke told detectives an argument over whether she should have an abortion led to the stabbing.

Juhnke later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 17 years in prison in December 1994. A woman with the same name was killed in a 2015 auto accident in Washington state, where Juhnke was originally from.  

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