Burned body identified as missing teacher; estranged husband, girlfriend charged

New York police investigators have positively identified a charred body found Thursday in a Staten Island storage unit as that of a missing elementary school teacher, and the woman's estranged husband and his girlfriend have been charged with her murder.

Michael Cammarata, 42, and Ayisha Egea, 41, are charged with second-degree murder in the death of Jeanine Cammarata, 37, of New Brighton, whose remains were found Thursday in a plastic container inside the storage unit. Chief Dermot Shea, chief of detectives with the New York Police Department, confirmed the arrests in a Twitter post Friday.

The Staten Island Advance reported that the pair also face charges of concealment of a human corpse and tampering with physical evidence. Michael Cammarata and Egea were arraigned Friday afternoon and ordered held in jail.

>> Related story: ‘Charred and unidentifiable’ body found in storage unit believed to be that of missing teacher

Michael Cammarata has been in police custody since Tuesday, the day Jeanine Cammarata was reported missing. He was facing assault, stalking and harassment charges stemming from previous incidents with his estranged wife.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner announced Friday that the remains found Thursday had been positively identified through dental records as those of Jeanine Cammarata, a teacher at P.S. 29 in Staten Island, the Advance said. She was reported missing by her boyfriend after she failed to show up for work Tuesday.

She also missed a court hearing Monday concerning custody of her two children with Michael Cammarata, her family said. Her divorce attorney, Eric Gansberg, told PIX11 in New York that Jeanine Cammarata hired him late last year to begin divorce proceedings against her husband, who she said was physically abusive toward her.

"She was terrified of him," Gansberg told PIX11 of Michael Cammarata.

She moved out of the family’s Staten Island home in mid-2017 because of the domestic violence but allowed the children to remain with her husband because it was the home they knew, her attorney said.

Jeanine Cammarata was last seen alive around 9 p.m. Saturday when she dropped her boyfriend off at his apartment, CBS New York reported ThursdayThe Advance reported she was supposed to pick the couple's children up from their father that night.

The children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, lived with their father and his girlfriend in an apartment in Queens. Jeanine Cammarata also has an older son from a previous relationship.

The Advance reported earlier this week that Egea told one of its reporters that the Cammaratas were planning to exchange the children at the 120th Precinct the night Jeanine Cammarata disappeared. Egea said the exchange did not take place, but Jeanine Cammarata showed up at the Queens apartment instead.

Egea told the newspaper the missing woman left without the children after a brief conversation, the Advance reported.

Gansberg told The New York Times his client had grown frustrated with the custody situation after Michael Cammarata moved from the Staten Island home to an apartment on the Rockaway Peninsula. That's when she decided to move forward with the divorce.

"She came to me and said she had to take action," Gansberg told the Times. "Her husband was being dictatorial about when she could see the children."

Jeanine Cammarata vanished less than 48 hours after Michael Cammarata was served with divorce papers, Gansberg told the Advance. Her boyfriend, identified by the Times as Aaron Suchecki, said she was looking forward to Monday's court date.

"She's spent thousands of dollars getting a lawyer and getting (Michael Cammarata) served," Suchecki told the Advance. "This weekend, he finally agreed to let her see the kids, and she goes missing that night."

The New York Daily News reported Thursday that it was Egea who tipped police off about the storage locker. Surveillance video footage showed Michael Cammarata and an unnamed person -- presumably the girlfriend, based on the criminal charges -- leaving his apartment with a plastic storage bin and later showing up with the bin at the storage facility. 

A police K-9 officer found Jeanine Cammarata’s body in a plastic bag inside the container, which the Daily News reported was surrounded by air fresheners to mask the smell of decay.

Jessica Pobega, a friend of Jeanine Cammarata, told PIX11 News that she received strange messages from her friend's phone after her disappearance, the messages indicating her friend was with "Mike and the kids." The author of the messages refused, however, to call her or answer the phone so Pobega could ensure her friend was OK.

On Facebook, Pobega and Jeanine Cammarata's friends and family urgently shared images of her between Tuesday and Thursday in an effort to bring her home safe.

"She is a mother of three children, she's a schoolteacher," Pobega wrote Tuesday in a post. "She's never once NOT called in to school. She'd never risk her job at the board of Ed in NYC. She'd never NOT check in with me or her sister Christine."

“She didn’t call her mother for her (birthday), which was yesterday. There are a lot of people very worried.”

After the positive identification of Jeanine Cammarata’s body, Pobega mourned her friend online.

“You are a part of my soul; you’ll never be forgotten,” she wrote. “I and the rest of your family will fight for your justice. You deserved and still deserve better.”

About the Author