Clues emerge in grisly slayings

November 23, 2006

By Jacqueline L. Urgo and Joel Bewley
Inquirer at

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Clues emerge in grisly slayings

Bags of evidence were taken from a motel room near A.C. Talk that a serial killer may be on the loose
By Jacqueline L. Urgo and Joel Bewley Inquirer Staff Writers

MAYS LANDING, N.J. - Working in the cold, rainy winds of a coastal storm, police looked for clues yesterday in the killings of four women whose bodies were found behind a string of seedy West Atlantic City motels.

Officers were seen removing paper bags of evidence from Room 101 of the Golden Key, a dilapidated pink-and-green, wood-frame motel.

Yasmin Olan, who has lived in the motel for several months, said a former tenant of that room was an admitted crack addict. He moved out more than a week ago, she said. Olan said investigators had told her to "be extra careful because they might be looking at a serial killer."

Publicly, Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey S. Blitz has not confirmed whether investigators suspect a serial killer, although he did say the FBI was helping to investigate.

Vernon J. Geberth, a retired lieutenant commander in the New York Police Department and author of several homicide forensics textbooks, said the deaths looked like the work of a serial killer, most likely a local or someone very familiar with the area.

"The killer has picked this area for his dumping ground, and it means that he is very comfortable being in the area," Geberth said in a telephone interview from Florida. "The information so far tells me the person is from the area and is very familiar with it, and this was a convenient spot for him to dispose of the bodies but far enough away from where he actually lives to not make him an immediate suspect."

The definition of serial killer in the FBI Crime Classification Manual, published in 1992, stresses three elements: There have to be at least three murders, they may have occurred at different locations, and there has been a "cooling off period," which could last several hours or even several years, between the murders.

The bodies in this case were found Monday afternoon, facedown in a ditch filled with several inches of water, their heads positioned toward the east.

The clothed victims, three with blond hair and one with hair dyed blond, were discovered in a line that extended 320 feet behind the Golden Key Motel, Fortune Inn, and the Star Inn.

Two women out walking noticed one of them in the tall grass that proliferates in the marshy area. Police soon found the other three bodies, which investigators say had been in the ditch for various lengths of time.

Police know the area, part of Egg Harbor Township, for drug trafficking and prostitution.

By Tuesday night, autopsies concluded that one of the victims, Kim Raffo, 35, of Atlantic City, had been strangled, and that her body had been in the water for a few days, according to Atlantic County Medical Examiner Hydow Park.

Published reports quoting Raffo's former husband, Hugh Evan Auslander, of Dania, Fla., said the mother of two had been a "PTA mom" until she got involved with smoking crack cocaine with acquaintances in Florida while attending a culinary school.

Auslander and Raffo married Sept. 25, 1989, in Hollywood, Fla., according to public records.

They apparently divorced six years ago, and their children were placed in foster care. Raffo's last known address was an Atlantic City boarding house.

Raffo came to New Jersey about four years ago after getting into problems with drugs in Florida, said her sister, Maria Santos.

Only since she was found dead did Santos learn that Raffo was selling her body - but she knew her formerly close sister was in big trouble. "I knew she wouldn't contact me because she was so ashamed," Santos said.

The medical examiner concluded that the second woman autopsied Tuesday had died from "asphyxia by unspecified means," and had been in the ditch for as long as a month.

The third body autopsied by Park on Tuesday was so badly decomposed that he could not conclude how the woman had died. Her body may have been in the water for more than two weeks.

An autopsy was conducted on the fourth victim yesterday, but the cause of death could not be determined because of decomposition; the death is being investigated as a homicide, Blitz said yesterday.

Police said the fourth body has a red-and-black tattoo of a bulldog on the small of the back, a tattoo of a Playboy bunny and a heart on the right shoulder, and a tattoo that reads "Yolly" on the stomach.

Geberth called the ditch where the bodies were found the killer's "totem place," where he could glean a "feeling of superiority" each time he went there and had the opportunity to "validate or relive his crimes."

Geberth said particularly vulnerable groups, such as prostitutes, were often targeted by such crimes.

"Prostitutes would be a particularly easy to manipulate," he said. "Someone who's addicted to drugs will go anywhere and do anything to fill that crack pipe."

Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-823-9629 or Inquirer staff writer Troy Graham contributed to this article. It also contains information from the Associated Press.

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