Overview of Tiffany Valiante
Tiffany Ida Mae Valiante was eagerly anticipating the next chapter of her life.
The 18 year old star athlete and recent graduate of Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing, New Jersey, had been awarded a volleyball scholarship and was looking forward to attending Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York in the fall. At 6’2” and a natural athlete, she had entered high school as a softball player but quickly found her passion as a volleyball player for both her high school team and the East Coast Crush Club, playing the middle hitter position. Tiffany was uniquely suited to this role due to her height, skill, and focus. She was overjoyed at the opportunity to play volleyball at a college level and planned to major in criminal justice. Kind, loving, funny, and energetic, Tiffany had a strong maternal instinct for her nieces and nephews and loved to be among her family. While she was routinely described by friends and family as happy-go-lucky and not depressed, like all teenagers she sometimes butted heads with her mother Dianne, and in fact, she had argued with her the very night she died. Tiffany also suffered from nyctophobia, which is the term for an extreme fear of the dark, and it is nearly incomprehensible that she would have run off in the dark as was suggested.
On July 12, 2015, the entire Valiante family was at a party celebrating the high school graduation of one of Tiffany’s cousins, who lived just across the street on Manheim Avenue in Mays Landing.
At around 9:00 pm a friend of Tiffany’s called her parents Dianne and Steve and accused their daughter of using her debit card without her permission to buy clothes and food. It is reported that Tiffany left the graduation party after a dispute with her mother over this accusation, walked out into the pitch dark, and allegedly died by suicide by hurling herself in front of a speeding train over 5 miles from her home. According to investigators, Tiffany discarded her cell phone at the end of her driveway before walking off into the July night, though there is later activity reported on the phone after she supposedly discarded it. In the last known image of Tiffany, she was spotted on a deer camera in the Valiante’s yard wearing a T-shirt, white shorts, brand-new shoes, and a headband, most of which were later missing when her body was recovered. Two weeks after her death, Tiffany’s shoes and headband were found by her mother about a mile from her home, while she was out walking to clear her head. They were found neatly stacked under a tree, along with a sweatshirt and keychain, neither of which Dianne recognized as having belonged to Tiffany. Police were notified of the discovery but misplaced the keychain before they had the opportunity to analyze it. Tiffany’s shirt was still on her body when it was discovered, but her shorts were never located.
After only 6 days of investigation Tiffany’s death was ruled a suicide, much to the surprise and dismay of her family.
It was hypothesized by investigators that after leaving her home and passing the deer camera, Tiffany removed her shoes and walked over 4 miles barefoot over rough terrain to the wooded site of the incident. Minus some basic articles of clothing, she then died by suicide by throwing herself in front of a southbound NJ Transit Atlantic City Line train at mile marker 45 in Galloway Township. This seems questionable, since an examination of her feet during her autopsy found them to be clean, pristine, and without cuts or abrasions. Moreover, Tiffany’s intense fear of the dark would make this scenario unlikely at best. Tiffany’s family believes a far more likely scenario is that someone lured or abducted Tiffany and possibly raped her that night, then either chased her or threw her in front of a speeding train to cover up the crime.
NJ Transit investigators were deemed to be less than helpful and were accused of bungling evidence in Tiffany’s death. In addition to conflicting statements given by the apprentice engineer and supervising engineer on the train that fatally struck Tiffany, physical evidence was mishandled, according to a report by the DDC (DNA Diagnostics Center) in Ohio, the analyzing agency contacted after family attorney Paul D’Amato had won a motion for discovery in 2020. It was determined that some evidence - such as the T-shirt Tiffany was wearing when she died - was not properly sealed or labeled and was placed in a plastic bag instead of a paper receptacle, where it was allowed to grow mold. It was difficult to obtain DNA due to the poor manner in which the evidence was stored. In addition, a bloodied ax found at the scene near a wooded encampment, along with the unidentified keychain later found among Tiffany’s personal items discovered by her mother, somehow went missing before they could be tested.
Where the case stands today:
In the years since her death, family attorney Paul D’Amato has filed several lawsuits to have Tiffany’s manner of death changed from suicide to undetermined, so the case can be reopened and investigated in civil court. In them he emphasized that no rape kit was done at her autopsy, nor was a psychological autopsy conducted. A psychological autopsy is defined as an analysis that is conducted following a person’s death to reconstruct his or her mental state prior to dying. If one had been conducted, he asserts it would have been clear that Tiffany was not at risk for suicide. Further, the apprentice engineer was not tested for intoxication that night, though toxicology results also confirmed there were no drugs or alcohol in Tiffany’s system. Finally, the nearby campsite and bloodied ax found close to the incident site were not treated as a crime scene. These concerns were reinforced in a review by a respected retired senior medical investigator of the Atlantic County Medical Examiner’s Office. There was the perception of a rush to judgment by the New Jersey Medical Examiner’s Office and NJ Transit investigators in ruling Tiffany’s death a suicide.
On October 18, 2022, the new season of Unsolved Mysteries will begin streaming on Netflix and will feature Tiffany’s suspicious death among their cases. It is hoped it will bring needed attention to her case and ultimately change the ruling of the manner of her death from suicide to undetermined so that it can be investigated as a potential crime. While Tiffany certainly had challenges and pressures like many high achievers her age, it seems highly unlikely she'd take her own life. Yes, she had indeed fought with her mother on several occasions - including shortly before she was tragically killed - but she was also excited for her future and was even planning to thoughtfully surprise her mom with a kitten so she wouldn't be lonely after she left for college. Tiffany had recently come out to her family as gay and had just endured a breakup, but it was amicable, and she was already casually dating another girl. Tiffany's family adamantly maintains that suicide is not in the realm of possibility, and they are hopeful that the increased attention to her case may finally help uncover the mystery of her death and bring them some measure of justice.