The case may be cold, but the man in charge of the investigation says it isn’t being ignored.
Three years after the bodies of four women were found in a ditch near a string of seedy West Atlantic City motels, the Atlantic County prosecutor says his office still is dedicated to finding the killer. Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said he has put new investigators on the case.
That’s a common practice, according to a retired FBI profiler, who said new eyes often can help heat up a cold case.
“New investigators on the case can look at things with a fresh set of eyes. With no preconceptions,” said Gregg McCrary, who worked serial killer cases during more than 25 years in the FBI. “They can maybe look at the same evidence and process it differently.”
While the previous investigators may have done a good job, they could be stymied by theories that over time have been assumed as facts, he said.
“A possibility has crystallized into a probability that has hardened into a fact,” McCrary said. “When someone new goes back they realize, ‘That’s not fact at all, that’s a possibility. What other possibilities are out there?’”
The main question, he said, is: “How do we know what we think we know?”
It is difficult to say what the investigators think they know.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office has released little information about the case. Even after taking DNA samples from a man June 8, 2007, then-Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz refused to call him a suspect or even a person of interest. Whether Terry Oleson’s DNA matched any evidence found on the women was never publicly released. But when a Salem County judge lowered Oleson’s bail in an unrelated invasion-of-privacy case, he indicated that the circumstances that kept the bail high had changed.
The case drew national attention in late 2006.
Two women were walking behind the Golden Key Motel in Egg Harbor Township on Nov. 20, 2006, when they discovered the body of Kim Raffo, 35. When police arrived, they found three more bodies: all in a line, all shoeless, each woman facedown and her head pointed toward Atlantic City, where all four had worked as prostitutes.
Raffo had been strangled about a week or so earlier; Tracy Ann Roberts, 23, asphyxiated a week before that; Barbara V. Breidor, 42, and Molly Jean Dilts, 20, had been in the watery ditch too long for the cause of death to be determined.
Dilts was the first to die, about a month before the discovery, the medical examiner determined. Since she left her home in Black Lick Township, Pa., on Oct. 4, it is assumed she didn’t last very long working the streets of Atlantic City.
Blitz, the county prosecutor at the time, released little information about the killings. The last announcement came in January 2007, when Blitz said toxicology reports showed Raffo, Breidor and Roberts had potentially lethal amounts of drugs in their systems. But each woman had a known addiction to what she had ingested. Dilts, who had a drinking problem, had only alcohol in her system, according to her report.
A prostitute addicted to drugs who regularly gets into cars with people she doesn’t know adds up to a lot of suspects and few reliable sources, McCrary said.
One admitted crack-addicted hooker insisted Oleson had confessed to her. Later, while Oleson was still in jail, she said she saw the man she thought was him.
“From the beginning, these cases are just fraught with peril,” McCrary said.
But, Housel insisted, the killer still is being sought.
“This agency has continued to aggressively pursue this homicide investigation,” he said in the statement his office released this week. This is proven, “by my recent assignment of additional personnel from my office” to the investigation. He would not comment beyond that.
But new people mixed with elapsed time could be what solves the case, McCrary said. He saw that happen on a case he worked in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Bike Path Killer had been raping and killing women for about 25 years. After a new task force reopened the case, they went back to a 1983 report from a victim who had escaped after being raped two years earlier. She spotted her attacker at the mall and gave police his car description. At the time, the car’s owner had an alibi and didn’t look like the suspect.
But when the task force came to the man again in late 2006, he admitted his nephew, Altemio Sanchez, had taken the car that day. In 2007, Sanchez pleaded guilty to three of the murders.
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