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ERIN GRUGAN / For the Press  

The South Jersey Group I and IV track sectional meet wrapped up competition on Saturday at Washington Township High School.


Crime
Ted Bundy possible suspect in '69 parkway murders, author claims
Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 

Christian Barth says serial killer Ted Bundy was in the area at the time of a pair of murders near the Garden State Parkway in 1969 and had ample opportunity to use South Jersey as his hunting ground.

“They never found out who killed those girls.”

Christian Barth was a young boy, riding in the back seat of his family car, driving north on the Garden State Parkway near Egg Harbor Township, when he first heard his father and mother talk about the murdered “girls.”

“I haven’t been able to let it go since,” said Barth, now 53 and a lawyer and author. He believes the two 19-year-olds found stabbed to death one week after Memorial Day 1969 were slain by serial killer Ted Bundy.

Bundy, known as “The Lady Killer,” was executed in Florida in January 1989 after confessing to kidnapping, raping and murdering 30 women across the U.S., but he was never connected to what has been dubbed the “coed murders” — the double homicide of Elizabeth Perry and Susan Davis.

Those deaths remain unsolved, 50 years later. Barth, who wrote a novel about the murders and is now writing a true-crime book on the killings, has argued Bundy was in the area at the time of the murders and had ample opportunity to use South Jersey as his hunting ground.

“It’s so unimaginable what happened to these women,” Barth said, adding that as Memorial Day approaches each year, they come to mind. “Why haven’t these murders been solved? Who’s speaking for these girls at this point?”

Perry, of Excelsior, Minnesota, and Davis, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, both students at Monticello Junior College in Godfrey, Illinois, visited Ocean City for several days over the Memorial Day holiday in 1969. On Friday, May 30, after the holiday, they left to meet Davis’ family in Camp Hill for a road trip to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, for Davis’ brother’s graduation. They left the Syben House, a rooming house on Ninth Street, at 4:30 a.m., hoping to beat traffic.

They stopped at the Somers Point Diner for an early breakfast, and it was the last time they were seen alive.

About four hours after leaving the rooming house, Davis’ car, a 1966 Chevrolet convertible, was found abandoned along the parkway by a state trooper, who had it towed to a gas station in Northfield.

The next day, Davis and Perry’s fathers reported them missing when they didn’t make it to Camp Hill. The two men, described in Press accounts as wealthy executives, rented a helicopter to fly the route the women would have taken. A 13-state alert was issued.

The following Monday, June 2, the bodies of Perry and Davis were found 20 feet from each other in the “secluded underbrush” off the parkway just inside the border of Egg Harbor Township.

Davis was naked, while Perry was partially clothed. Both bodies were hidden under a blanket of leaves, one face down and the other face up. They’d been stabbed four times in the chest and abdomen.

A massive investigation was launched, but the killer or killers had a three-day head start, said Jon Katz, who at the time was a 22-year-old reporter for The Press of Atlantic City and wrote about the murders extensively.

State Police were diligent in their investigation, but Katz, now 72 and living in Cambridge, New York, said he could see they were frustrated with little to go on — no pictures or DNA evidence.

“There was no new evidence,” Katz said, adding police never found the pocketknife believed to be the murder weapon. “Eventually, there was just nothing to say.”

State Police did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the case. Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner declined to comment.

On June 2, 1969, the bodies of Elizabeth Perry, of Excelsior, Minnesota, and Susan Davis, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, were found 20 feet from each other in the “secluded underbrush” off the parkway just inside the boarder Egg Harbor Township, according to The Press of Atlantic City’s archives.

Press archives  

On June 2, 1969, the bodies of Elizabeth Perry, of Excelsior, Minnesota, and Susan Davis, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, were found 20 feet from each other in the “secluded underbrush” off the parkway just inside the border of Egg Harbor Township, according to The Press of Atlantic City’s archives.

The culture in South Jersey was very different during the late 1960s than today, said Katz. College-aged women would visit alone or in small groups to have a good time, sometimes picking up hitchhikers or getting rides from strangers.

After Davis and Perry’s bodies were found, Katz said he went to bars and interviewed women like them. He said they were “fearless” and easy targets for predators, calling them “carefree and careless.”

“Most of them had a good time and left, but it seemed like every year, there was a girl who was picked up by the wrong person or just disappeared,” he said. “Everybody’s heart would kind of sink because the odds were always very long” for the case to be solved.

Former Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough was working as a bartender and bouncer at Tony Mart’s, a popular bar in Somers Point at the time.

State Police went to the bar to show him pictures of the women, he said, but there were thousands of people in the bar and music venue each night over the holiday weekend.

“They questioned me about seeing them. Did I see them? Did I recognize them? Did I see them leave with anybody?” he said. “It was packed all weekend. I didn’t remember seeing those girls.”

Several days after the murders, an 18-year-old Norristown, Pennsylvania, man was taken into custody by Philadelphia police, but was later released. Dozens of young men were questioned, but all were cleared by passing polygraph tests, according to Press archives.

After dead-end leads for a year, police set up a trailer outside the Somers Point traffic circle with signs that read, “Were you here on Memorial Day 1969?” and “Information wanted on the Coed Murders — Call or Stop here.”

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 

This is a story about a 50-year cold murder case, where two teenage girls were found dead on the side of Parkway in Somers Point after spending the weekend in Ocean City. Christian Barth, an author who has written about the murders, believes that Ted Bundy was the killer. The girls were last seen at the Somers Point Diner, and then they drove to the Parkway where their car was found abandoned and their bodies found several days later. May 17, 2019 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)

Other persons of interest over the years included Ronnie Walden, a drifter from Georgia, who later passed a lie detector test, and Gerald Eugene Stano, a mass murderer from Florida who confessed to killing the two women. However, State Police said Stano “wasn’t even close” to getting the details of the murder right when they interviewed him.

But Barth, of Milford, Connecticut, argues Bundy could be the women’s killer in his book, “The Garden State Parkway Murders: A Cold Case Odyssey.”

Bundy, a student at Temple University at the time, had “ample opportunity” to scope out the area, Barth said, adding he interviewed at least two people who claimed they saw a man that holiday weekend who matched Bundy’s description.

“I think the problem is because it was so long ago, police don’t have enough information,” Barth said. “We don’t know whether or not the police interviewed (Bundy) in 1969. We just don’t have enough answers.”

But some of those answers could have come from Bundy himself, one local writer reported.

After Bundy was executed, forensic psychologist Dr. Arthur Norman revealed to Bill Kelly, a writer for Ocean City’s SandPaper in 1989, that Bundy admitted to killing Perry and Davis during one of their sessions.

Bundy told the doctor “he was in Ocean City and looked at all the girls on the beach, and took two girls out and that’s the first time he did it,” said Kelly, who now lives in Browns Mills. “Jeffrey Blitz, the prosecutor at the time, said he looked into it, but said it was hearsay evidence he couldn’t use and didn’t investigate.”

Blitz could not be reached for comment.

After Norman’s claims spread, Polly J. Nelson, Bundy’s attorney, said he had denied killing anyone during his time in Philadelphia, The Associated Press reported.

Nelson did not respond to a request for comment.

“I don’t want to say that the police dismissed it,” Barth said of Bundy’s possible tie to the murders. “But they didn’t have any photographs, if you will, or just didn’t have enough to investigate.”

Bundy’s story has returned to the limelight this year, 30 years after his execution, after the release of a Netflix documentary and a movie, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.”

Neither film mentions a possible connection to South Jersey’s “coed murders.” The films’ producer did not return a request for comment.

Katz said the murder didn’t fit Bundy’s style, saying a source he had at the FBI at the time of the murders profiled the killer as a working-class man and it had been a rape or robbery gone south, not a serial killer.

“I think if it was Ted Bundy, they would have jumped all over it,” Katz said. “They were dying to solve that case. They would have liked to wrap it up that way.”

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 

This is a story about a 50-year cold murder case, where two teenage girls were found dead on the side of Parkway in Somers Point after spending the weekend in Ocean City. Christian Barth, an author who has written about the murders, believes that Ted Bundy was the killer. The girls were last seen at the Somers Point Diner, and then they drove to the Parkway where their car was found abandoned and their bodies found several days later. May 17, 2019 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)


The_season
spotlight
Cape May Zoo's dietitian looks after all 500 animals

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Visitors to the Cape May County Park & Zoo may catch a glimpse of Amy King walking around during afternoons on the grounds of the zoo, but every animal sees King five mornings a week.

King, of Middle Township, is the sole dietitian for the zoo’s 500 animals and an animal keeper.

“I check on every single animal and feed each animal,” said King, 43.

She is one of at least 18 animal keepers at the zoo and is also the backup cat and primate keeper.

As an animal keeper, King has specific responsibilities for the zoo’s eagle, a barred owl and a great horned owl and two red pandas — a 9-year-old male named Biru and an 18-year-old female named Luna.

Luna is the oldest in the nation, King said.

On a recent Thursday, neither Biru nor Luna left their beds to eat breakfast. King returned to feed them a lunch snack of grapes, banana and apple slices.

Neither of them would eat while King was paying attention to them. She knows them well enough to figure out that if she walked away and did something else, they would start to eat in her absence, which they did. Later, once they started eating, they let her feed them out of her hand.

King spent 6½ years working at a bank before she enrolled at Stockton University to earn a bachelor’s degree with concentrations in forestry and wildlife to ease her transition toward working with animals. She started working at the zoo in December 2012 as a six-month seasonal worker and has now worked her way to being a year-round employee.

King spends the first three hours of her workday riding a John Deere tractor, delivering bowls and buckets of food to the animals.

“When I start at 7 a.m. and I am feeding and checking on the animals, I am making sure they have no health issues and that they are where they are supposed to be,” King said.

The animal keeper’s responsibilities include keeping the animals safe, securing their enclosures, providing food and water, cleaning up after and training them, she said.

“Routines are really, really important,” said King, who added the animal keepers have to build relationships with those in captivity. “They know their routines. They know their keepers. They recognize their keepers by the sound of their voice and by sight.”

Once King finishes feeding and checking on all the animals, she spends a couple of hours indoors preparing their food for the next day. She also has to make sure there are enough bags of grain in stock and ordered for the zoo.

The dietitian part of King’s job is always changing as diets improve. She has to keep up with the research.

As the seasons change, the amount of food the animals eat changes.

The shifts in seasons also impact King and her job. During the offseason, an animal keeper can spend a couple of days without seeing a visitor at the zoo, but there is a great deal more interaction with the public once Memorial Day weekend rolls around.

“We talk to people all the time. They ask good questions. There are good interactions,” King said.

She will be saying “Excuse me” a great deal more as she navigates through the crowds pushing a wheelbarrow. She also will spend more time answering visitors’ questions when she is out in public tending to her animals during the afternoons.

“It’s an adjustment for the animals,” said King about dealing with the increased crowds of the vacation season. “It’s a lot of additional stimulation.”

During the summer, working at a zoo can be fun, but the fun can also be exhausting because the animal keepers are on the go all day. King calls it the “summer groove,” when time management becomes especially important.

“It’s fun for us. We love our animals here,” said King, who added people always think her job is cool when they find out she works at a zoo. “We are proud of the relationships (with the animals), and we are proud to share it with people.”

GALLERY: Cape May zoo animal keeper

Housing
A.C. has fewer second homeowners than any S. Jersey shore town. That may be changing.

ATLANTIC CITY — Drive down Pacific Avenue, past old motels converted into condos, and you might guess how it looks inside: popcorn ceilings, a musky smell and sticky carpets.

But Stephanie and Rocco Jiannone weren’t skeptical at all.

The Pittsgrove Township, Salem County, natives bought a $50,000 unit at the Seashore Club Condominiums last year and invested a few thousand dollars to renovate it, adding hardwood floors, granite countertops and a new bathroom.

Now, the condos there have doubled in price, and the couple is looking to buy a second, second home either in Chelsea or Gardner’s Basin to accommodate their friends, who are eager to spend the summer next to towering casinos and miles of boardwalk.

“There’s always stuff to do here. That’s why we bought in Atlantic City,” Rocco Jiannone said. “We actually thought about buying in other towns, but in the offseason, there’s nothing to do. You have one restaurant open, and that’s all you get.”

What really pushed the Jiannones to buy in Atlantic City again, like others, was the affordability. The average price of a home in Atlantic City is $52,250, according to a Redfin study from 2017. Compare that to multimillion-dollar shore homes in neighboring towns like Margate and Longport. For those seeking an urban feel by the ocean, the resort has its appeal.

On Monday, the couple, who own four small businesses in South Jersey, toured another condo on South Providence Avenue before heading to a two-story home at the Harbour Pointe development near Gardner’s Basin going for $149,000.

“It is so affordable,” Stephanie Jiannone said. “You can’t get that anywhere else.”

Some say Atlantic City should be marketing itself as a destination for middle-income buyers looking for a spot to vacation from June to August. It’s a way to bring in more tax dollars, fill vacant land and help the economy.

About 47% of residential properties in Atlantic City were owned by out-of-towners last year, according to the most recent data available from the state Division of Taxation.

That’s up 4% from a decade ago but still significantly lower than most other Jersey Shore towns in the southern half of the state that are majority second homeowners.

Still, Weichert Realtors agent Jerry Barker says he has noticed an uptick in second home sales over the past 12 months that he expects to continue, and attributes it to the opening of Stockton University last September.

He points to Chelsea and Gardner’s Basin as hotspots in the market.

Those neighborhoods, he said, are perceived as safer. There are also units that are newer compared to the rest of the city’s old housing stock.

“A lot of people want that maintenance-free lifestyle,” Barker said. “I’ll pay the condo fees all day long if you take care of the outside, the landscaping, the parking and snow removal.”

Keith Groff, of Medford Township, Burlington County, bought a two-story house near Gardner’s Basin in a sheriff’s sale two months ago for $115,000. The 40-year-old travels to the shore around holidays with his family and on some weekends.

He made small renovations, but the property, built in the early 2000s, was ready to move into almost immediately. He has owned two other houses in the city, which he sold.

“I think it’s just the best value for any home in a shore town,” said Groff, who once ran for City Council.

But boosting second home ownership substantially might require a push from city officials and targeted marketing to people living in New York City and Philadelphia suburbs.

Atlantic City could take a page from Somers Point, a town about 15 miles south that launched a successful campaign four years ago promoting itself as a place for second home buyers who couldn’t afford mansions in Stone Harbor and Ocean City but still want to be near the sand.

In the face of foreclosures from the 2008 recession, a councilman suggested pushing Somers Point as a place to own a second home. The city hired a branding firm, Suasion Communications Group, to help put together the campaign.

“We felt the moment was right because the barrier islands continued to see higher prices. ... There was a certain market here. Not the megarich, but the well-to-do,” Councilman Sean McGuigan said.

First came a catchy slogan, “The Shore Starts Here,” followed by an official website for the campaign.

Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt, president of Suasion, said 40 homes were sold in the city in the following year.

“It was really a genius idea,” she said.

For Atlantic City, outside of Chelsea and Gardner’s Basin, some say the vast vacant lots in the South Inlet are ripe for development of second homes. Whether the opportunity is seized, though, will require developers with deep pockets.

Jesse Kurtz, 6th Ward councilman, said people who have been priced out of Ventnor are moving into existing units in Lower Chelsea that may be fixer-uppers.

But the Inlet, he said, is a candidate for new development.

“Atlantic City has, in a small space, many different markets and usage combines, and it always has,” Kurtz said. “We want to take advantage of homes that are currently vacant and pieces of land that are currently vacant.”

Barker agrees.

After the modern 600 NoBe at North Beach market-rate rentals opened in the Inlet last year, Barker said he fielded a number of calls from people interested in buying units there. He had to explain the new buildings, developed by Boraie Development LLC, are for renters.

Owner-occupied condos with a “gated community” feel could go up in the Marina District.

MGM Resorts International, which owns a piece of land near Golden Nugget Atlantic City, announced earlier this month plans to partner with Boraie Development to build luxury single-family homes there. The project would require a zoning variance and approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Today’s buyers want a nicer product,” Barker said. “There’s a real lack of newer product. ... When something new comes out, people snatch it up.”