SEA ISLE CITY — The night Tracy Hottenstein died, there were tens of thousands of people in town visiting for Presidents Day weekend. The Polar Bear Plunge event she attended earlier that day saw a record attendance, and after the bars on Landis Avenue let out, the streets were packed.
But still, more than three months later, no one has come forward and said they saw the 35-year-old, 5 foot, 4 inch blonde, who wore a pink hat, pink scarf and tan Ugg boots, after she left the Ocean Drive Bar and Restaurant at 2:15 a.m. Feb. 15.
On Saturday night, swarms of people once again walked the streets of Landis Avenue. At the corner of John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Hottenstein’s friends and family were praying they would find someone in the crowd who could shed some light on the woman’s mysterious death.
“The reason we’re all here is we’re looking for answers,” said Hottenstein’s father, Charles. “It’s hard to believe that no one saw her.”
The group — who all wore matching gray T-shirts with Hottenstein’s face on the front — handed out fliers to passers-by that included a picture of her taken the day before she died and phone numbers for the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office. They also blanketed businesses and homes in the area, putting the fliers in every conceivable place to get attention.
“Please help us!” the fliers read. “What happened to Tracy Hottenstein?”
By La Costa Cocktail Lounge, the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office set up a Mobile Command Unit — a long, white, RV-like vehicle — on which it hung a banner reading, “Did you see Tracy the night of the 2009 Polar Plunge?”
“We’re trying to get people that may have been down that weekend that saw anything and may give us information,” Capt. Eugene Taylor said.
There are still several questions surrounding Hottenstein’s death: How did the pharmaceutical sales rep and lacrosse coach get from a bar near the ocean side of the city to the banks of the bay near the Sea Isle City Marina a half-mile away?
And, while an autopsy report said she died from hypothermia in the below-freezing air, why were her ribs broken and her body cut and bruised when she was found at 7:50 a.m. the morning of Feb. 15?
Charles Hottenstein said family and authorities are looking for someone who could place the woman 10 feet outside the Ocean Drive after she left, especially if she was with someone, particularly a man.
“If and when that happens, we will be able to make progress,” he said.
To those who knew her, the details of her death are confounding. Alyson Cosden, who lived down the street from Hottenstein, said she was a very responsible person, a stickler for detail, who ate dinner with her parents each week and bought a home on her own when she was 28.
“She’s a very smart girl, very organized,” she said. “The type who cleans her window sill with a toothbrush. So for her to walk by herself down there alone is completely out of character.”
Not only that, Hottenstein’s parents said she had friends on the other side of the city, and they could not think of any reason she would have walked in the direction she did if she was not with someone else.
By Saturday, they had not received any information they did not already have, however. The prosecutor’s Mobile Command Unit was set up at the same spot from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Friday night, as it was Saturday night and will be tonight.
Hottenstein’s friends and family will be there, too. The shirts they wore on Saturday read “Tracy’s Memory Runs Deep” on the back.
Cosden explained that Hottenstein was an avid runner, and after her death, many of her friends ran in the Broad Street Marathon in Philadelphia in her honor. She said they probably would do so again.
Anyone who may have seen Hottenstein in the early hours of Feb. 15 can call the county Prosecutor’s Office at 609-465-1135, the Sea Isle City police at 609-263-4311, or they can visit the Mobile Command Unit at John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue during the weekend.
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