Editor's note: Correspondent Kaj Larsen pieces together CNN's own investigation into the Long Island killings, and follows along as a family searches for their missing loved one -- even as they hold out hope against what the experts say: that this person will kill again. Watch "CNN Presents" on Saturday, July 30, at 8 p.m. ET.
(CNN) -- It all began with a strange 9-1-1 phone call one November night in 2006.
"Me and my friend were taking a walk down the path by the, um, railroad tracks," said the woman, calling from a motel just outside Atlantic City, New Jersey.
"We were picking, like, the flowers and stuff," she said, adding, "there's a dead woman down there."
There wasn't just one woman lying barefoot in a watery ditch. Three others lay nearby, all shoeless. Their heads pointed east toward the glittering lights of Atlantic City's casinos.
Four years later, investigators would find the bodies of four more murdered women -- this time dumped along a picturesque Long Island beach, just a short drive up the coast.
Authorities aren't sure the Long Island cases are connected to those in Atlantic City, but there are uncanny similarities.
The women had common struggles and similar lifestyles. Most worked as escorts, as many headlines noted. But the victims were so much more than the headlines suggest.
In Atlantic City, one of the women found dead was a PTA mom, another was a beloved sister, the third was a fresh-faced woman with a Southern lilt, and the last, a cherubic-looking girl new to town.
Their names were Kim Raffo, Barbara Breidor, Tracy Ann Roberts and Molly Jean Dilts. They had been living in poverty, and all except Dilts had records of working as escorts, selling sex to feed themselves, or, in some cases, to feed addictions.
Three of the women would remain nameless for weeks, but Raffo was identified immediately. She had been seen alive a day or two before. Hers was the body spotted by the women who called police.
And it is Raffo's story -- her path from white picket fences to the street -- that puzzles so many.
Kim Raffo seemed to have had a picture-perfect early life. She originally grew up on Long Island but then moved to Brooklyn, New York, where at 14 she met the man she would later marry, Hugh Auslander.
By the 1990s, they had two children and a home with the proverbial white picket fence in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, suburb, near Kim's extended family.
"It was a beautiful life," Hugh remembers.
He recalled Kim as a doting mother.
"She was always a part of everything they did," he says. "Always a part of the school, going around and helping them out with classes and field days."
As years passed, their family struggled. Construction jobs dried up, and Hugh was forced to find work back in New York.
Kim, who stayed in Florida, wanted to support the family too, so she took a cooking class. She hoped to get a degree.
"That's when she met Ken Bilecki," Hugh says. "And started getting heavily addicted to crack cocaine."
Ken has another perspective on Kim's struggles with addiction.
"A lot of people blamed it on me," he says, "but she had problems all her life."
He says Kim had used crack cocaine well before they met, though Hugh disagrees. Ken says Kim told him she was molested as a teen when she lived in Brooklyn.
Ken believes drugs gave her a means to escape the pain. When Hugh realized Kim had met another man and was struggling with drugs, he left his job in New York and returned to Florida to confront her.
"She was already too deep into it. She didn't see the light," he says. "Once the drug gets hold of you, it changes you, and you're a different person completely."
Kim had married young. She had two children when she was only in her early 20s. Hugh says she had been the family's caretaker since childhood.
"Her 30th birthday was coming up," Hugh recalls. "And she felt she was cheated out of her youth."
Ken agreed, saying, "She loved her children," but there was a part of her that wanted more from her life as well.
The new man and the struggle with drugs were too much for the marriage between Kim and Hugh.
They had just decided to separate when one day, emotions between the two men boiled over.
Hugh broke Ken's jaw and then took the children to New Jersey. Kim, and then Ken, followed him north. Hugh pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and battery charges from the fight.
He had to spend over a month in jail and complete an anger management program. When his legal troubles were behind him, Hugh says he went to find Kim again to try to reconcile their problems, rebuild their family and reclaim the children that had been placed in foster care.
He found her in Atlantic City. She had turned to prostitution to make ends meet. But she said she wanted a better life.
They spent weeks together trying to get her sober and stable at a motel on Long Island. She was doing better, Hugh said, but the turning point came when the couple tried to contact their children.
"We were denied," Hugh says. "That just broke her heart. It was right around my son's birthday, and she just wanted to wish him a happy birthday. She was devastated by the fact that the foster mom said our children didn't wish to speak to us anymore. That really drove her over the edge. I saw it in her eyes. All hope was lost."
Kim took a bus back to Atlantic City and returned to the streets. Hugh went home to Florida to regroup.
Then came the call Hugh will never forget.
"I found out from my brother-in-law that something had happened," he says. "He just heard that she was found dead; he didn't know what happened."
Nobody else knew either.
Hugh says, "I at first thought she committed suicide because things were so crazy for her, and I didn't think she could be killed because she was such a nice person. How could anybody kill her?"
"She was such a giving person," Ken also recalls.
When they lived together in Atlantic City, Ken says, he would often return to the apartment in the evening to discover Kim had taken in a homeless stranger, cooked the person dinner, and allowed them to shower.
"She had a really, really big heart," he says. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about her."
He adds that since losing Kim, he has sought help for his own struggles, and he has been drug-free himself for almost three years.
But Kim's murder, and those of the other three women, are unsolved to this day. Until a few months ago, many said the trail had gone cold.
When Hugh heard that police found four more bodies of women who worked as escorts on Long Island in December, he wondered if there was a connection.
Hearing such news brings back all the raw emotions, he says. Despite their marital problems, Kim remains a loving memory for Hugh.
"We never, ever stopped loving each other," he says. "Even to the last day, I know she still wanted to go back to that."