Prostitutes fear serial killer in Atlantic City
By Matthew Verrinder 2 hours, 44 minutes ago
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - In Atlantic City, the prostitutes toil not far from this gambling city's famed Boardwalk hoping to turn a trick even though many know a serial killer on the loose has murdered their sister streetwalkers.
The grisly murders of four prostitutes, their shoeless bodies found last week lined up in a drainage ditch behind a strip of sleazy motels, has left many in the trade terrified.
"There is some deranged psycho out there killing people," said Samantha, an Asian transvestite prostitute who said she knew all four victims.
"But some of these girls have pimps they have to make quotas with," she said, adding that the four dead women were, like most streetwalkers, caught in the endless cycle of trading their bodies for drug money.
The transient women had been dumped in the reedy ditch at different times. Two of them -- Kim Raffo, 35, and Tracy Roberts, 23, both strangled -- have been identified. The bodies of the others were too decomposed to identify after at least two weeks and perhaps a month in the water.
On Saturday, Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz made a public plea for help and released photos of tattoos from one of the unidentified victims -- a bulldog and a Playboy bunny inside a heart.
"Identifying all the victims is crucial to the investigation of these homicides," Blitz said. Authorities declined to say if the murders were being treated as the work of a serial killer.
Samantha and other prostitutes said they knew the unidentified pair, calling them "Lena" and "Puerto Rican Jen."
Many of Atlantic City's streetwalkers claim to know more about the victims than do the detectives, who bounce between the flophouse where two of the victims were staying and the greasy spoon "Papa Joe's." There, owner Joe Boccino is known for feeding the needy and is one of the last to have seen Raffo.
Around Papa Joe's, prostitutes are back at work.
"I haven't been out here in a week," said Jen, a prostitute with scabs on her face who says her drug addiction and four felony convictions, including aggravated assault, prevent her from getting a casino job.
"I can't believe Kim is dead. I had just seen her the night before that. I'm scared to death. This is crazy," she said before disappearing down an alley with a young client.
Naya, a prostitute in knee-high black boots, stood in front of a cash-for-gold shop and says the rules for turning tricks have changed. She no longer gets in cars with "methodical, quiet" men or those who can overpower her, she said.
"It's stupid, but I guess I think I can tell the good guys from the bad guys," she said.
That can be hard in Atlantic City, the location for the famous Monopoly board game, where a stone's throw from the glamour and lights of the Boardwalk casinos is a down-and-out neighborhood of boarded-up row houses, pawn shops, strip clubs and open-air crack deals.
Raffo's estranged husband, Hugh Auslander, roams the neighborhood, trying to dig up clues about his wife's murder. He said their two children are in foster care near Philadelphia and that they had been trying to regain custody of them.
Sitting in a pub on Tennessee Avenue, Auslander showed his and Raffo's Florida marriage certificate. Then he unsuccessfully fought back tears.
"I know whoever this guy is, she must've known him," Auslander said. "I got a feeling this guy is still around."
Bill Southrey, president of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, said Raffo had stayed there a few days last year and that she had been smoking cocaine, but that she needed a few days "to get her feet under her."
"A year ago she walked through the door and ... you wonder if there was any kind of prevention you could have offered before her life was snuffed out," Southrey said. "Whether she was a prostitute or not, her life was valuable."