Egg Harbor City Man Sentenced for Murder of a Mother, Her 7-Year-Old Son

An Egg Harbor City man was sentenced today for the 2014 killings in Egg Harbor City of the mother and child with whom he cohabited, Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain announced today.

At 8:11 a.m. on Wednesday, November 12, 2014, Egg Harbor City Police and firefighters from the Egg Harbor City Volunteer Fire Department and the South Egg Harbor Volunteer Fire Company responded to a 9-1-1 report of a fire at 214 Washington Avenue, Egg Harbor City.

Joseph F. Palmer 3rd, of that address, was found outside the residence. He was treated for injuries and transported by AtlantiCare ambulance personnel and paramedics to the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center—City Division.

The fire was extinguished, and the bodies of two victims were found inside the home: Michelle (Heist) Pabst, 38, and her son Gavin Pabst, 7, both of whom lived there with Palmer. An autopsy performed on November 13, 2014 by Dr. Ian Hood of the New Jersey State Medical Examiner’s Office determined both deaths to be homicides, the cause of the mother’s death multiple sharp and blunt force injuries, and the cause of the child’s death multiple stab wounds.

On 12:30 p.m., on November 14, 2014, Detectives of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit arrested Palmer as he was being discharged from the hospital.

Palmer was charged at the time with the two murders and aggravated arson, for setting fire to the residence in which lay the bodies of Michelle (Heist) Pabst and Gavin Pabst, with the purpose to destroy the residence.

Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Mark H. Sandson set bail at $2,000,000 full cash.

Palmer was lodged in the Atlantic County Justice Facility in lieu of bail, where he has remained.

On July 1, 2015, an Atlantic County Grand Jury indicted Palmer for two counts of murder—crimes of the 1st degree, one count of aggravated arson—a 2nd degree crime, and two 3rd degree counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (a knife, and a hammer or other blunt force instrument). On January 27, 2016, Palmer pled guilty before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. to aggravated manslaughter, for the killing of Michelle (Heist) Pabst, and to murder, for the death of Gavin Pabst.

In accordance with a negotiated plea agreement, Judge DeLury sentenced Palmer to 30 years of incarceration in New Jersey State Prison without parole for the murder of Gavin Pabst, and a term of 25 years in prison—must serve 85% of the sentence per the No Early Release Act (NERA)—for the killing of Michelle (Heist) Pabst. Judge DeLury ordered that the terms be served consecutively, making Palmer ineligible to apply for parole until he has served 51¼ years in prison