Prostitutes Easy Targets In Atlantic City
Strangled, smothered, slashed or set ablaze, there are plenty of ways for hookers to die here.
So far this year, six prostitutes are believed to have been murdered in or near Atlantic City, a seventh had her throat slit but survived, and countless others are believed to have been assaulted but chose not to report the crimes to police.
The fear among street walkers that a serial killer was to blame for the deaths of four women whose bodies were found face-down in a ditch last month behind a string of seedy motels just outside the city is only the latest worry for those who make their living in the sex trade. It underscores just how perilous it can be to sell sex on the streets of this gambling mecca.
"It's dangerous, but all you're focused on is that next dollar," said a prostitute known on the streets as Spazz, who is now looking for a gun or a knife to protect herself. "It kind of clouds your judgment. You're not focused on the situation you're getting into. That's the scariest part about it."
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Authorities do not believe the four bodies found Nov. 20 just off the Black Horse Pike in neighboring Egg Harbor Township are related to the attacks on three prostitutes earlier this year on the same street in Atlantic City. In each of the earlier attacks, prostitutes had their throats slashed; one survived.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz noted that the Atlantic City cases were sufficiently different from the Egg Harbor cases to make authorities believe they were carried out by different attackers. He also has resisted speculation that the four motel bodies were the work of a serial killer, noting that autopsies could not determine a cause of death for two of the women.
But both sets of attacks point out how dangerous it is for prostitutes, who are statistically 18 times more likely to be murdered than other women, and 40 times more likely to die from other than natural causes, according to national studies.
A 2004 article in the American Journal of Epidemiology detailed a study of the murder rate among prostitutes nationwide from 1981 to 1990. It found that an average of 124 hookers were murdered each year in the United States.
The most notorious prostitute killings, in the Pacific Northwest, were carried out by a single attacker who became known as the Green River Killer. In pleading guilty in 2003 to the murders of 48 prostitutes, Gary Leon Ridgway told the judge he targeted street walkers "because I thought I could kill as many as I wanted to without getting caught."
"They were easy to pick up, without being noticed," he said in court. "I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing."
No arrests have been made in any of the Atlantic County attacks this year. The bodies behind the motel were identified as Kim Raffo, 35, a Brooklyn native who lived in Florida before coming to Atlantic City; Tracy Ann Roberts, 23, of Philadelphia; Barbara V. Breidor, 42, of Ventnor; and Molly Jean Dilts, a chubby-cheeked 20-year-old from Blairsville, Pa., who had only been working the streets for a short time before she disappeared.
Shivering as she stood on a corner of Pacific Avenue in the heart of Atlantic City's red-light district on a 65-degree November day, Spazz said violent customers are part of the sex trade. Two years ago, she said, a "trick" started beating her in the car they were in.
"I froze," she said. "I was afraid he was going to shoot me. So I just took it."
Like many other prostitutes in similar situations, Spazz did not call the police, for obvious reasons. Like all four hookers found dead behind the motels in Egg Harbor Township, and like 85 percent of prostitutes nationwide, Spazz has a drug problem.
Spazz, who said she is 23 but looks twice as old, said she has been turning tricks on the streets of Atlantic City for five years since arriving from New York.
"I really don't want to be doing this," she said. "I want to get my GED and become a child's counselor. But I get sick and I gotta get well," she said, referring to finding more drugs to satisfy her addiction.
On May 3, firefighters responding to a blaze on Georgia Avenue, not far from Boardwalk Hall, where the Miss America pageant used to be held, found the body of 45-year-old Veronica Fields, a local prostitute. She had been burned so badly that it wasn't until an autopsy that authorities discovered her throat had been slashed.
Two months later, another prostitute who police won't identify was attacked in a parking lot next to the building where Fields' body was found. She, too, had her throat slashed, but survived the attack.
And on Oct. 1, a third hooker, Karen Luongo, was found dead in her bathtub across the street, her throat also slashed.
The violence has prompted Atlantic City hookers to arm themselves. Christine, 37, who works out of a cheap motel on Pacific Avenue near the entrance to several casinos, bought a canister of pepper spray immediately after the bodies were found behind the motel.
She said she and other working girls she knows have stopped accompanying men on trips to motels on "The Pike," preferring to stick closer to home and meet clients in cars or motel rooms.
"It scares the hell out of me," she said. "We're all talking about it, and I'm still ready to jump in the first car that comes along."
Khadijah, another hooker who works a few blocks down from Christine, said she will only "date" regular customers, at least until things cool down. She used to carry a knife in her back pocket but stopped doing so because she feared a weapons charge would buy her more jail time than a solicitation charge. Now, she's looking for another knife -- and a better place to hide it.
Bunny, a prostitute in her early 20s who also works on Pacific Avenue, said she has temporarily stopped hooking and switched to peddling drugs instead.
"This is no kind of life," she said. "None of us graduates from high school thinking we're going to end up doing this."
Author: Copyright 2006 by NBC10.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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