It just takes one piece of evidence.
Sunday marks a decade with no resolution in the killings of four women found dead in a drainage ditch behind a swath of cheap motels along the Black Horse Pike.
But at least one of the original investigators involves believes it will be solved.
“It only takes that one piece of evidence to put the puzzle together,” said Dennis McKelvey, a retired Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office captain who led the Major Crimes Unit when the dump site was found Nov. 20, 2006.
Kim Raffo, 35; Tracy Ann Roberts, 23; Barbara Breidor, 42, and Molly Dilts, 20, all worked in the sex industry in Atlantic City. They were killed at different times, and all dumped in a line within the marshes of Egg Harbor Township’s West Atlantic City.
Raffo was strangled and Roberts asphyxiated, but the other two women’s remains were too badly decomposed to determine a cause of death.
Then-Prosecutor Jeff Blitz had just one press conference to talk about the case. It was so early on that the medical examiner had made a homicide ruling in only one of the deaths at that time.
And then, silence.
It’s not unusual for this Prosecutor’s Office. It is Blitz’s lasting legacy, continuing through the two men who followed.
“I have never had to take back something I didn’t say,” Jim McClain once explained.
He left the position earlier this year and is now a sitting judge in the county’s civil court.
“The murders in 2006 … remain an open and continuously active investigation,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Diane Ruberton wrote in a statement released for the anniversary. “Work that will continue until the person responsible for these crimes is charged and convicted.”
Getting a conviction is why so little is made public, McKelvey explained.
“Prosecutor Blitz always taught us, it wasn’t the beginning of the case, it was the ending,” he said. “And we were always preparing for the criminal trial. Therefore, we didn’t want to put out more information that would prejudice any potential jury.”
Trickles of information have come out.
Three of the women had large amounts of drugs in their systems, but not anything that they weren’t known to take normally. The youngest, Dilts, had alcohol, which was her known vice.
There were three prostitutes who spoke to reporters about who they believe committed the crimes.
Pam Covelli said she was with three of the women shortly before they disappeared.
Melissa Bishop and Denise Hill each claimed a man told them he killed some people.
Bishop says that man was Terry Oleson, who was a handyman at the now-razed Golden Key Motel.
In a prison interview June 1, 2007, she tearfully told this reporter Oleson threatened her. In an interview aired during A&E’s “The Killing Season” this weekend, her eyes showed the same fear.
“I’m scared to death of that man,” she said after filmmakers Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills tracked her down on Coney Island and showed her Oleson’s photo. “That’s why I’m not in Jersey.”
Oleson has maintained his innocence and even volunteered his DNA in the investigation. The results were never released. Since he was never named a suspect, he didn’t need to be publicly cleared, the Prosecutor’s Office has said.
“What we called him and what he is, I don’t know,” McKelvey said of Oleson. “But he would certainly be a person of interest.”
“We have always known that Terry was viewed as a person of interest to local law enforcement,” said Atlantic City attorney James Leonard
Jr., who represented Oleson. “For them to suggest otherwise was as believable as the tooth fairy. I’m happy to hear someone acknowledge what we’ve known and have said all along.”
Oleson was staying in the motel at the time of the killings. He also was convicted of surreptitiously filming his then-girlfriend’s teenage daughter naked.
“That’s a perverted sexual act,” McKelvey points out.
“I’m absolutely certain that Terry Oleson had nothing to do with these murders,” Leonard said. “My belief in that position has not wavered once in the almost 10 years he and I have known each other.”
Oleson wasn’t the only person of interest, McKelvey said. Just none of the others names wound up going public.
There is a stranger Hill said confessed to her. He even sent her a Christmas card calling himself “River Man.”
Attorney Leonard, to whom Hill gave the mailing, said he believes that was in reference to serial killer Gary Ridgway.
“Of everyone I’m familiar with, the River Man story is the most intriguing,” he said.
“I still think it will be solved,” McKelvey said.
He pointed to other cases that seemed cold, until a piece of evidence broke it open.
It happened in 2007, 20 months after Gerardina Garcia was shot to death inside her car in front of her Egg Harbor Township home, her 9-year-old son by her side.
The killer was a professional and left nothing behind. But he didn’t know that an accomplice had left behind a cigarette butt inside the van used to flee the area.
It led to multiple players, and multiple guilty pleas.
McKelvey also recalled the solving of two killings and several assaults after someone taking a bathroom break on the side of a road found a bag with a traffic ticket that gave a name to the suspect.
“You don’t know who’s going to talk,” McKelvey said. “What piece of evidence is going to turn up.”
All the parts might be there in this case, he said, and it will just take that one piece to put it all together.
“That’s why we don’t close (unsolved) homicides,” he said. “Technology gets better and people talk. Just like police officers never forget open cases, I truly believe the bad guys never get over it too.”
Retired investigator believes West A.C. killings will be solved
It just takes one piece of evidence.