Terry Oleson: The Fifth Victim


The day the bodies were found, Terry Oleson was 60 miles from the Golden Key Motel, a sleazy place where he was forced to flop a few nights each week. Even now, though, he can't escape the cloud of suspicion.

By Brian Hickey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 18 | Posted Oct. 27, 2009

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It’s not easy rebuilding your life after being the No. 1 suspect in a murder case, but Terry Oleson (pictured with his fiancée Carol-Ann and dog Bandit) is trying.

Photo by Jeffrey Stockbridge

Though Atlantic County Prosecutor Theodore Housel’s office never offered more than just the minimal facts and off-the-record winks and nudges, the story the media unwittingly told was that Oleson was a perverted, violent dirtbag who wrapped his strong hands around four hookers’ necks and squeezed them beyond their final breaths.


Investigators have since refused any public admission about Oleson’s guilt or innocence. Why bother? The public-opinion verdict was in. And, the press was forced to follow what few crumbs investigators offered.


They “would never say anything about the investigation. There are plenty of reasons not to compromise the case, we’re just looking for what’s already on the public record,” says Miguel Sancho, who produced 48 Hours ’ “Beyond the Boardwalk” episode that aired in May 2007 and, to Oleson’s dismay, on cable loop since. “There was nothing for months, and then all of a sudden, this guy was arrested. And they tiptoe around the fact that they’re looking at him? They never said ‘suspect,’ but clearly he was their person of interest.”



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That’s just semantics. The odd and tragic twists here are legion. Geraldo Rivera jumped from a van for some on-street reporting action, for crissake.


Oleson was held on $100,000 cash bail. In Superior Court, a judge said the $100,000 bail was warranted. “Does it increase the flight risk for someone to be a suspect or person of interest in four homicides? Yes,” Judge William Forrester said. Yet prosecutors made certain to publicly state Oleson was nothing beyond a “person of interest.” The arrest and “ransom” were for illicitly photographing his girlfriend’s underage daughter in various states of undress. The running theory: investigators wanted to hold Oleson while they built a murder case—one that never came. 


On Saturday April 7, a bail bondsman phoned Jimmy Leonard, a criminal defense attorney from Atlantic City. By the time Leonard (who owns an upstart magazine for which I’ve written) got to Salem County jail, the guards were acting like “I was going to see Hannibal Lecter.” They placed an alarm device that resembled a hand grenade on the table before him. Grab in case of emergency, they instructed, as if Oleson might remove his face to wear while escaping.


“He came in; we shook hands. Not firm. Just a normal handshake,” recalls Leonard. “After a couple minutes, I’m thinking, ‘No way. Not capable of doing it.’ Typically, I don’t get feelings like that initially, but not for a millisecond have I thought he was guilty. It takes a special kind of individual to kill with their bare hands. Then, he tells me he’d volunteered to take a lie detector and DNA test. In my mind, he was either completely not guilty or the dumbest serial killer on the planet.”


Looking back, Oleson says he returned to the Golden Key a couple days after the bodies were found (and months before he was arrested) and mentioned to one of the on-scene investigators—he says to be helpful—that he’d seen shoes on the roof. That information didn’t seem to be of interest to officers, but Oleson was. 


Maybe it was the sex toys and kinky videos in his truck. “Something wrong with having a healthy sexual appetite?” he asked when I brought it up. Maybe he just looked rough-and-tumble and, inconveniently, lived part-time near a murder factory. Or maybe it didn’t help much when another prostitute told authorities Oleson copped to the crimes. 


The Prosecutor’s Office became fixated on Oleson, which would have made sense had the DNA evidence from the crime scene matched. Leonard doesn’t think the test produced any evidence against his client, because if it meant they could clear four nationally-noticed homicides, prosecutors would have used it—and the media extravaganza would have only just begun.


The prosecutor didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment. (Working the A.C. crime beat from 1997 to 2000, I found this was their rote approach to public relations.) The closest I came was calling Jill Horenberger, the retired chief assistant prosecutor who worked the DNA hearing. “I would not be able to comment on that at all,” she said.


Those who still think Oleson is responsible for the murders are likely driven to close four homicides and bring “closure” to survivors. But secrecy and an unwillingness to adapt to evidence, even from unreliable witnesses, cost Oleson dearly. 


Setting aside the medical condition that precludes Oleson from lifting anything over 50 pounds at risk of paralysis, and how he’s since had to sell the home his family built, his reputation was destroyed. 


There are four victims, and groups of survivors, in this case. On Nov. 20, 2006, two women ambling behind the motel-strip discovered the body of Kim Raffo, 35, PTA-mom-turned-prostitute. She’d been strangled to death hours earlier. When CSI: Atlantic County arrived, they found—within 110 yards—the bodies of Molly Jean Dilts, 20; Barbara V. Breidor, 42; and Tracy Ann Roberts, 23. Dilts’ body had been there for a month. Like with Breidor, decomposition made finding a cause of death impossible. Roberts, who’d been there for roughly a week, was choked like Raffo.


“We can only hope and pray that the monster responsible for their deaths will be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent,” says Breidor’s sister, Francine Lentes.


It’s time to add a fifth name to the victim list. Because of how the investigation was handled all along­—from botched evidence at the scene to star witnesses retracting stories—Oleson’s future, as modest as it seemed to be, was choked to death too. 


“As this progressed, Oleson was not treated fairly by the system,” says Martin Siegel, an attorney who represented Oleson until prosecutors cited the conflict of interest from representing Oleson and his ex-girlfriend before. “It was very unfair that he was publicly targeted the way he was. What the public remembers is that he was suspected. Whether called a suspect or not, the public doesn’t differentiate.”


Oleson volunteered DNA samples in June 2007. This, after he says jail personnel wrapped his pubic hair around their gloved fingers and yanked clumps out. The prosecutors likely enjoyed the subsequent New York Post ’s “Atlantic City Strangler Suspect Admitted Killing: Hooker” story, except the part where Leonard says the witness is “a lying crack-addicted prostitute with a wild imagination and absolutely no credibility.”


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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 18 of 18
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1. cseaholtz said... on Oct 27, 2009 at 11:31PM

“First off....Thank you Jeff the pictures look great!! Now...Brian! :-) Reading the whole complete story is basically what we were hoping for. You just put it out there plain and simple. I hope that readers are able to get just a small glimpse of what Terry goes through on a daily basis. I'm glad that you wanted to do this story. Not only did you do (in our opinion), a kick ass job, we also were able to meet you and your wife and we now are friends.”

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2. Media Matters said... on Oct 28, 2009 at 09:51AM

“Someone should tell Ms. Seaholtz that posting in this forum undermines the credibility of the story and the impartiality of the cover story.”

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3. Hickey said... on Oct 28, 2009 at 09:57AM

“While I see Media Matters' point, I can assure you that getting to know Terry and Carol-Ann did not effect how the story was reported and/or written. I get to know sources often, from pols and average Joes to suspected serial killers and their girlfriends.”

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4. Vicki said... on Oct 28, 2009 at 02:35PM

“"First off I would like to say that I have never met a couple more caring for one another than Carol-Ann and Terry. I have come to know them over the last two years. I was new to this area and had never heard of the incident that transpired in AC. It wasn't until a co-worker came up and told me what happened. Did this change my opinion of Terry? Absolutely not. What saddens me the most is that everytime I spoke with both of them, I would find out more and more of the story. I would always tell Carol-Ann, this isn't right. You need to do something about it. You need to go to court, etc. Unfortunately, what I have been told is that not one attorney would take the case because of fear going against Atlantic City County. It's BS and something should be done about it. How can others sit back and have the audacity to ruin one's life and just kick it to the side-line. In my opinion, it is F***** Up!! Carol-Ann and Terry, love ya both and you will be welcomed in my home anytime door opened or closed however you wish.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Oct 30, 2009 at 05:59PM

“Again, why did he have nude pictures of underage girls in his house?”

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6. Anonymous said... on Oct 30, 2009 at 07:34PM

“Accordingly....He hadn't lived in the house for almost 3 years. When his ex-gf left the house, she took everything he owned. When she walked out the door the only thing left in the house was the camera, camera bag and the cd that had the pictures on it. He's not the one who even took the pictures. The girls mother took them and then planted them in the house for the police to find. She knew the police were coming because she's the one who called AC police and stated that her 'husband confessed' that he had done it. All because he had her sorry a** evicted!!!”

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7. Anonymous said... on Oct 30, 2009 at 09:37PM

“Cause the child's mom took them and left them there when her azz got evicted!”

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8. Wrongfully accused also said... on Nov 1, 2009 at 12:12AM

“I just got done reading this story, and I can relate to how he must feel. But I do have a comment for one of the other comments that have been left. As someone that has been wrongfully accused and railroaded by the police, correct me if I am wrong but isn't this story about someone who has been wrongfully accused for murder? That's the jist of the story that I got. Nothing else about his case was believable, why would you even believe he had pictures of anybody?”

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9. Anonymous said... on Nov 1, 2009 at 12:18PM

“Wait....I just got done reading the story and correct me if I am wrong, but isn't this story about Mr.Oleson being wrongly accused??”

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10. Anonymous said... on Nov 1, 2009 at 08:49PM

“Wait....to begin with, this story isn't about pictures of an underaged girl, not girls. The story that I got is about how he was wrongly accused. The fact that his life is now ruined all because someone said that he killed those girls. Also the story seems to me about getting justice for the killed womans family's. Officals need to stop looking at him for this and start looking for the REAL killer, then maybe justice will be served for all that are involved.”

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11. Jenn said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 01:15PM

“Nice job making the victims sound like assholes for being murdered.”

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12. Stacy said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 11:17AM

“No one was trying to make anyone sound like assholes for being murdered. I think the whole point of the story was to stop looking at Mr.Oleson for the murders and start looking for the thr REAL killer. AC has wasted (in my mind) too much man power and time wasting on trying to pin Mr.Oleson and not looking or seeking out new tips. It seems that the media, AC and the public already (know) that Terry did this when in fact he did not. They wasted at least 6 months trying to pin Terry when they could of took that 6 months and searched leads that they were getting on the actual killer! (That's just my opinion)”

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13. Anonymous said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 10:25PM

“How is this story making the victims sound like assholes? Please do comment, because I don't see that in this story”

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14. tommy b said... on Nov 14, 2009 at 11:07AM

“hey hickey, your losing your fastball....stick to your blog”

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15. Hickey said... on Nov 16, 2009 at 10:23AM

“Thank you for the valuable advice, tommy.”

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16. pvnj1 said... on Nov 17, 2009 at 07:07PM

“hey carol and terry i've known carol for years and have great respect for her she's a great mother and friend. i have gotten to know terry over the last few months have gotten nothing but respect , kindness ,humor and friendship from him. it is past time to look for the real killer. love and respect both of you!”

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17. Natalie said... on Jan 17, 2012 at 11:52PM

“@jenn - what?? There is nothing in this article that shows any disrespect for the victims. Quite the opposite, imho.”

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18. anonymous said... on Oct 18, 2013 at 02:08PM

“he did renovations in our home right before all this happened , would like to kmow where he can be located.”

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