Thu, Nov 23, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Discovery of four bodies puzzles police

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY

This aerial photograph from the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office shows where the bodies of four women were found in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, on Monday. Police placed white locater dots on the photo, shown at center behind buildings, to point out where the bodies were found.

PHOTO: AP

None of them were wearing shoes or socks. Each was discovered face down in several centimeters of water, head tilted slightly to the east. At least one had been strangled.

Aside from those chilling details, New Jersey authorities said Tuesday that they did not know how the bodies of four unidentified women ended up in a drainage ditch behind a row of squalid motels in the shadow of Atlantic City's glittering lights.

A day after the bodies were found on terrain about the length of a football field behind a seedy stretch of Route 40 known as the Black Horse Pike, investigators said they were working on their two most pressing tasks: identifying the women -- all four white and two believed to be in their 20s -- and finding a killer.

Here in Egg Harbor Township -- a working-class section of Atlantic County just half a kilometer distant but a world removed from the opulence of Atlantic City -- a measure of fear and uncertainty took hold as the authorities worked a quadruple homicide with several odd facts.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz said on Tuesday night that three autopsies had been performed so far, and that two of the deaths had been classified as homicides.

Blitz said that one woman, identified by fingerprints and photographs as Kim Raffo, 35, was wearing Capri-style pants and a Hard Rock Cafe tank top and was known to have been living in an Atlantic City rooming house.

Blitz said she died of ligature strangulation and had been dead for "a matter of days."

A news release from the prosecutor's office, quoting the Atlantic County medical examiner, Hydow Park, said that results of the second autopsy gave the cause of death as "asphyxia by unspecified means."

That victim, thought to be in her 20s, had a butterfly tattoo on the small of her back, and was wearing blue jeans, a red hooded sweatshirt and a black bra. Blitz said she had been in the water for up to a week.

The third woman, wearing Capri-style blue jeans and a long-sleeved brown zippered jacket, is thought to have been in her 30s and to have been in the water for at least two weeks.

The fourth woman was clad in a denim miniskirt, a bra and a mesh blouse. Her autopsy was scheduled for yesterday.

Blitz declined to say whether investigators thought the women had been killed elsewhere and dumped in the marshy area between the pike and the Atlantic City Expressway. Nor would he say if the authorities thought the deaths were the work of a serial killer.

Blitz acknowledged that the bodies were in different stages of decomposition, which could indicate that the women were not placed in the ditch at the same time.

Blitz did note one unusual detail about the way the women were found.

"They were laying in the drainage ditch with head facing east, down," he said. "Whether that's a coincidence or not, it is what it is."

The first body was discovered by two women walking on the dirt access road behind the Golden Key Motel on Monday about 3pm. Egg Harbor officers who came to the scene discovered the other bodies.

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