A Tale Of Two Beaches
Here at the Golden Key Motel in Atlantic City—a bright yellow U-shaped hotel with bright red doors, where a room goes for $15 a night—the parking lot is empty at noon on a recent Saturday, and the backs of the rooms run parallel to marshland, water, a gravel path and a half-mile-long, narrow drainage ditch that drops about 3 feet and holds a stagnant river of murky water. Peering through the 4-foot-tall stalks of wild grass, you’ll find dumped car tires, construction cones, chunks of concrete, splintered wood beams, plaster buckets, and old milk crates dumped in the water, while old electrical grids and billboards advertising casinos and expensive restaurants make up the landscape.
It was here in the brush and swampland just beyond the ocean, where the bodies of four women who worked the streets outside of Atlantic City’s casinos were found not thrown, but carefully posed 30 to 50 yards apart, in a drainage ditch in November 2006.
Molly Jean Dilts, 20, Kim Raffo, 35, Tracy Ann Roberts, 23, and Barbara Breidor, 42, were found on their stomachs in the water by two women walking behind the hotel. Only two of these women had been reported missing. All of them were mothers. Their homicides have never been solved, and due to similar details in both cases, Suffolk County investigators are looking into the possibility that the murdered women in Atlantic City and those on Long Island could be the victims of the same madman.
“The Suffolk County Police Department is in contact with New Jersey,” says Dormer. “That is certainly part of the investigation—it’s all part of the same package.”
Atlantic City police say all four were believed to be strangled, but two of the bodies were too decomposed to officially say so. All four had their heads turned toward the east. According to locals this stretch of empty land along Black Horse Pike is a place known for crack and prostitution, where each vice often feeds the other.
“The streets are dangerous, especially if you’re hooking,” says a woman standing on Pacific Avenue, in a hooded bubble jacket and jeans. Her long brown hair is messy, her hands shaky and her eyes can’t seem to focus on any one spot. “But the drugs get more important, and that’s the only thing you care about.”
It was in this area, known as “the track,” just off the Atlantic City boardwalk and surrounded by opulent casinos like the Taj Mahal, 25-cent peep shows and a church with a big electric sign on its roof that reads “Jesus died for our sins” where the four women were last seen working the streets.
The wealthy, but low-key seaside community of Oak and Gilgo beaches seems a world away from this fast city, but now these two worlds are colliding.
Neither Suffolk nor Nassau police will go on record with any specific details on the crime scene, but sources who say they are close to the investigation have come forward claiming the eight bodies found in Suffolk County were also facing in the same direction. Reports have surfaced that the first four dead women to be found at Gilgo were strangled too, that these clusters of four bodies found along the water don’t appear to be a coincidence. Both sets of bodies were placed at methodical intervals apart. But again, none of this information has been confirmed publicly by the police.
“We read all the stories in the media,” says Dormer, who adds that speculation at this point is inappropriate. “We don’t deal with that, we deal with facts.”
The women in Atlantic City were found clothed, their shoes and socks removed, leading Jersey authorities to believe the killer may have a foot fetish.
There has been no official information released by Long Island police about the condition of the bodies when they were found, but some investigators have suggested the women at the beach were found nude—wearing no shoes and no clothes.
“Anything to do with evidence or the investigation, anything that would impede the investigation, we will not go into,” says Dormer. “I can’t discuss any clues or evidence we may have found.”
Dormer has not named any possible suspects at this time, but says they are interviewing “a lot of people.”
Things have since calmed down in this seaside community in New Jersey. After all, it’s been six years. But there are still reminders—old matted, faded ribbons intertwined in the brush from an old memorial overlooking the ditch. And before the harsh winter knocked them down, four crosses stood on the side of the road, just outside the Golden Key Motel. A street view of the area on Google maps still shows these crosses, like ghosts from the past, each bearing the names of the women who were found just steps away.
On Wednesday, Dormer again addressed the possible Atlantic City-Long Island connection, saying there are similarities, but currently “the indications are they are not connected.”
On Long Island, things have not calmed down. And when they do, it’s often not for very long. Investigators carrying chainsaws are still making their way through portions of rough thickets near the Jones Beach tower. Fire truck bucket ladders are being used to straddle trees, not buildings. Officers on horseback patrol the roadway. And there is still no sign of Shannan Gilbert.
Next week, the beaches will start charging visitors as the summer season approaches. Banners are already hung up announcing the annual air show on Memorial Day weekend. Soon crowds will be lining up at the east and west bathhouses on 80-degree days. The brush that investigators have been fighting through will have bloomed into a thick, impenetrable blanket.
And those arrows painted on Ocean Parkway will still be there.