Hey, y’all. Over the weekend, I received an Instagram request to delve into the perplexing case of Tiffany Valiante. If you like true crime (and, hi, if so), this case may ring a bell as it was featured in the first episode of Volume 3 of the Netflix show Unsolved Mysteries, which is a modern reboot of the classic show. The show is a contemporary revival of the classic series and I bet the theme song is stuck in your head now. I had to refresh my memory on the case, so I rewatched the episode, which features the death of 18-year-old Tiffany Valianted who was hit by a speeding train. The question remains, did Tiffany Valiante take her own life or was she the victim of murder?
Who was Tiffany Valiante?
Tiffany Valiante was born on March 3, 1997, to her parents Dianne Valiante and Stephen Valiante. She had recently graduated from Oakcrest High School in her hometown of Mays Landing, New Jersey.
Tiffany was well-known for being super smart, friendly, and hardworking. Not only did she crush it in school, but she was also a total boss on the volleyball court. Standing tall at 6’3″, she was a powerful force you just couldn’t ignore. People couldn’t help but be amazed and respect her awesome skills on the court.
Tiffany had ambitious goals for her future. She received a volleyball scholarship to Mercy College, where she intended to excel on the volleyball court and outperform her competitors. She planned to major in criminal justice and aspired to play volleyball in the U.S. Olympics. In addition to her athletic pursuits, Tiffany was considering her career options, such as joining the Air Force or working in law enforcement.
What happened on July 12, 2015?
On the evening of July 12, 2015, the Valiante family was enjoying a graduation party for one of Tiffany’s cousins near their home in Mays Landing. However, things took a bad turn when a friend of Tiffany’s informed her parents, Dianne and Steve, that Tiffany had used her debit card to purchase clothes and food without permission. Tiffany’s parents went home and confronted her, which led to a big argument between Tiffany and her mom. Upset, Tiffany stormed off.
It wasn’t mentioned in the Unsolved Mysteries episode, but before Tiffany left, her mother saw her put the disputed debit card in her back pocket. Additionally, it was not mentioned that Tiffany had been caught taking money from her parents’ bank account a few months earlier.
Dianne tried to find Tiffany’s dad to talk about the debit card problem, but when her parents came back to the driveway, Tiffany had disappeared.
Around 9:30pm, after the argument with her mother, a deer camera in the Valiante property captured Tiffany striding down her driveway and into darkness. This was odd because everyone knew Tiffany was afraid of the dark.
It didn’t take long for her parents to realize that their daughter was nowhere to be found. They frantically called and sent text messages to her cell phone, hoping for a response, but they never received a response. To their horror, Tiffany’s trusty phone was discovered lying on the grass in front of her home, a sure sign that something was amiss. After all, what teenage girl goes anywhere without her cell phone?
Tiffany was dressed for a summer day in a casual ensemble of a t-shirt, white shorts, flat shoes, and a white headband. She was even caught on camera holding her cell phone.
I’m sure Tiffany’s parents were hoping for the best, but unfortunately, the truth was the worst.
Sadly, Tiffany’s life was cut short by a tragedy, as she was struck by a New Jersey Transit train four miles away from her last known location. Her body was found on the train tracks not far from the Valiante home near mile marker 45.
The autopsy report detailed the gruesome aftermath of Tiffany being hit by a train, listing the cause of death as “multiple traumatic injuries.” Tiffany’s limbs were ripped from her torso, her face and head were crushed beyond recognition, and her brain had “extruded from the cranial cavity.” To make matters worse, Tiffany’s torso was found clad only in underwear and her shoes were missing from the scene.
By the next morning, the New Jersey Transit Police had already declared Tiffany’s death a suicide. That didn’t take long.
Marvin Olivares, a student engineer, was at the control of the NJ Transit train that fateful night. As he pushed the accelerator and the train picked up speed, his supervising engineer, Wayne Daniels, hopped out of the cab to have a quick chat with the conductor up ahead.
However, in a split second, Olivares had to blow the horn, put the train into emergency, and tragically announced that a girl had jumped in front of the train.
Tiffany was hit by the train at 11:07 pm and was unfortunately dragged and cut up for a good quarter-mile before the train finally stopped.
The inconsistencies in Olivares and Daniels’ statements have long been a source of frustration for the Valiante family’s attorney Paul d’Amato, who filed a civil suit against NJ Transit. In the lawsuit, he pointed out that Olivares provided different versions of events each time he was questioned by investigators, while Daniels also gave conflicting accounts of what happened that night.
To make matters worse, the evidence in Tiffany’s case was not handled properly, leading to evidence being lost or contaminated and making it useless for further DNA testing.
According to the medical examiner’s office, Tiffany’s toxicology report was clean. However, the perplexing part is the lack of a rape kit examination. It’s not quite clear why this was skipped, but it appears that NJ Transit jumped to the conclusion of suicide and only considered evidence that aligned with that theory.
As I mentioned before, the toxicology report indicated that there were no traces of alcohol or drugs in her system, which is unusual in cases of suicide. Plus, a psychological autopsy, which is a method used to assess a person’s mental state and determine whether they were at risk of suicide, was not conducted.
A few weeks after Tiffany’s death, her mom Dianne stumbled upon her shoes and headband over a mile away from the train crash site. What was Tiffany doing, going for a scenic stroll through the woods before deciding to take on a speeding locomotive? That’s just not adding up in my book.
Theories & evidence
So now we’ve got the official conclusion and the bare-bones facts, but it’s time to get speculative. We’re going to explore the three potential scenarios for how things went down. Are you ready to play detective with me?
Let’s start with the least likely explanation: an accident. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that Tiffany’s tragic demise was just a series of unfortunate events. I mean, what are the chances that she had a heated argument about debit card theft and then oops-a-daisy accidentally walks right into the path of a train?
As far as I know, she wasn’t wearing any earbuds, so she should have been able to hear that locomotive rumbling toward her. Plus, it was nighttime, so that train’s light would have been as clear as day. Sorry, but I’m chucking this theory into the garbage bin of implausibility.
Now, let’s turn to the official conclusion in Tiffany’s demise. NJ Transit Police ruled her death a suicide. But here’s the catch, they didn’t really have any solid evidence to back up this claim.
The only reason offered for suicide is that she had recently broken up with her girlfriend. But according to everyone who knew the couple, their split was amicable. Tiffany was actually already seeing another woman.
So, why did the police label it as a suicide then? My guess is that they simply took the easy way out and conveniently blamed it on suicide, so they wouldn’t have to take any responsibility for her passing. Classic move, right?
Obviously, the Valiante family doesn’t agree with suicide being Tiffany’s cause of death. And honestly, who can blame them? There are plenty of reasons to doubt the New Jersey Transit Police’s verdict, not to mention some pretty damning pieces of evidence that don’t quite add up.
Unfortunately, there’s not much forensic evidence to go on, thanks in part to the New Jersey Transit Police’s lack of experience in investigating suspicious deaths. To make matters worse, Tiffany’s family had her remains cremated before realizing that proper procedures weren’t followed during the initial investigation.
I mean, come on, why wouldn’t the investigators check for sexual assault with a rape kit when the victim is only in their underwear? Talk about a procedural oversight! And don’t get me started on the medical examiner’s report – it’s chock full of inconsistencies. It’s no wonder this case has left everyone scratching their heads.
Retired medical examiner H. Louise Houseman, who was brought in as an independent expert to assess the original investigation, discovered a bunch of weird inconsistencies in the case. Like, how can you use the word ‘cut’ in the medical report when no autopsy was performed? It’s almost like the investigators were trying to pull a fast one.
And get this, there was even an ax with red markings found near the scene that could have been linked to Tiffany Valiante, but it was lost before it could be tested. I mean, who loses an ax at a crime scene?
According to the crime scene photos, there was a massive puddle of blood where Tiffany was found, indicating that she might have been bleeding out before getting hit by the train. Though they never confirmed if it was her blood or if it was enough to knock her lights out, this bizarre piece of evidence, coupled with other facts, suggests that someone might have murdered her.
Tiffany’s shoes were found a mile away from where she was found, but her feet didn’t show any signs of traipsing through the wilderness or on rough terrain. That’s a bit bizarre, don’t you think?
The cell phone
When it comes to Tiffany’s disappearance, there’s a pretty solid piece of circumstantial evidence that she may have been snatched up into a motor vehicle against her will. How do we know this, you ask?
Well, her phone was discovered on the ground, and Tiffany was never without that thing. Her dad found the phone about five to eight feet off the side of the road in front of their house. Tiffany was so attached to it that she even had a waterproof case to keep it safe while she showered. So the fact that she would just drop it and not notice is pretty darn unlikely.
With the help of some private investigators, D’Amato (the Valiante’s attorney) uncovered a local store manager who had a juicy tip: teenage employees were gossiping about how Valiante was abducted and forced onto the train tracks.
They even suggested her friend, who used her debit card after her death, might have been involved. But when the cops got involved, the teens suddenly clammed up and claimed they never said any of that, insisting it was a suicide.
Questions still loom large in the case of Tiffany Valiante: why would Tiffany choose to walk that far to take her own life? And why would she take off her clothes and shoes beforehand? The missing shorts don’t help the case either. And perhaps most baffling of all, why would a girl who never expressed suicidal thoughts suddenly jump in front of a train?
As with many true crime cases, we may never know the full story. However, the Valiante family continues to seek justice for their daughter, and the memory of Tiffany Valiante will never be forgotten.
Understandably, Tiffany’s family is unwilling to accept that their loved one killed herself, and I can understand why they feel that way in light of all of the evidence to the contrary. There is a change.org petition asking the New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin to reopen the investigation.
Tiffany’s family and friends refuse to write her death off an unsolved mystery, let alone give up. They’ll persist until there’s #JusticeForTiffany.change.org
- Unsolved Mysteries: “Mystery at Mile Marker 45”