Human remains found in Babylon trigger memories of unsolved murder from 1992


News last week of human remains found in Babylon’s Southards Pond Park triggered painful memories for locals who had lost a friend in the same area nearly 32 years ago.

The murder remains unsolved today.

Ivonne Rivera was a promising business school student who was just shy of graduation.

She was 23 on July 18, 1992, when she was last seen leaving a Babylon bar called TJ’s, which later became Twisted Shamrock, around 2:30 a.m.

Later that morning, around 5:30 a.m., a man walking his dog found her battered, naked and lifeless body in a playing field outside Babylon Elementary School.

The field where she was found is located along the wooded border of Southards’ western perimeter — and just a stone’s throw from where investigators discovered a woman’s head, leg and arm on Thursday night.

Still asking, Why?

“They found a body, but we didn’t think it was her,” recalled Kathleen Clifford, a close friend of Rivera’s. Soon, Clifford and another friend, along with Rivera’s family, would meet with the police. It was confirmed; it was Rivera. The cause of death was blunt force trauma.

“It was a whirlwind,” Clifford recalled. “It didn’t look like her … You can tell she fought.”

Questions that have haunted Clifford and others remain the same to this day: Who would have done something like that to her, and why?

Greater Long Island has reached out to Suffolk County Police Department homicide detectives for any additional details or updates on the Rivera case, but they are currently busy investigating and identifying the body parts of two victims, a man and woman, found along the perimeter of the park last week, a spokesperson said. Check back for updates with additional details.

The night it happened

Southards Pond Park is to the immediate east of the school. (Google Maps)

“We were all supposed to be out together that night, the 17th,” said Clifford, of Islip, and had befriended Rivera in the 9th grade at Babylon Junior-Senior High School. “Her, myself and another friend had planned to go into the village like we always did to celebrate my birthday.”

But Clifford’s young daughter ended up getting sick. Then a second friend bailed on their plans because she was about to travel the next morning.

Rivera decided she’d just go out to TJ’s by herself, Clifford said.

“It wasn’t odd to go out alone,” she said. After all, it’s a small town and Rivera’s sister later told Newsday she ended up chatting with other friends.

“The only thing was she would walk with her head down and we’d tell her she needs to be more aware of her surroundings,” Clifford said.

But on the morning of July 18, Clifford couldn’t get ahold of the 23-year-old.

Rivera’s mom said she didn’t come home. Meanwhile, Suffolk Police had started investigating the apparent homicide of a young woman killed just a few hundred yards from the Rivera household.

She was later ID’d as Ivonne Rivera.

About Ivonne

Her friends recalled her as beautiful, yet quiet and timid. While shy toward most, she was a joy to be around once she opened up.

“Unless you knew her, you’d think she was standoffish,” Clifford said. “But she was very well-liked.”

She was a Babylon cheerleader, ran track and was very close to her family.

“She was the sweetest, sweetest girl,” Clifford said.

And smart. Rivera had transferred from Hunter College and enrolled at Baruch in Manhattan, from which she commuted by train every day.

She was only a few credits away from graduating with a degree in business administration.

Not long after her body was discovered and her funeral was held, Rivera’s family moved away. Except for a sister, Aida Rivera, who later moved to North Babylon and could not be reached for this report.

“I do have hope,” Aida Rivera told Newsday in 2006, but, she added, “the chances are very slim that they will find the person who did this.”

In 2006, homicide squad commander Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick told Newsday “there was a lot of effort put into the case and it didn’t yield any suspects. We’re hoping someone with that one piece of information can give us a call.”

The late Bob Matherson, owner of Oak Beach Inn, even put up a $10,000 reward to help find her killer, but to no avail.

After her death, Baruch College in Manhattan granted Rivera a bachelor’s degree posthumously, her sister had told Newsday. Rivera would be 55 today.

“We still get together for reunions and things, and Ivonne’s name always comes up,” Clifford
said. “We remember her smile and her laugh. To know her was to love her.”

Since then, Clifford has tried to keep her friend’s memory alive by planting a tree in Rivera’s name and installing a memorial plaque at their former school in Babylon.

“I think we’d still be friends,” Clifford said.

— additional reporting by Mike White

Top: The field outside Babylon Elementary School where Ivonne Rivera (inset) was found dead on July 18, 1992. Her murder remains unsolved. (courtesy/Google Maps)

Newsday, Suffolk Edition, July 19, 1992.

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