In Camden, overdose victims add to a string of recent deaths

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THE EVIDENCE of a troubled neighborhood was scattered all over an empty lot on Berkley Street, in Camden, yesterday morning, even after police removed the body of a female who overdosed there.

The unidentified white woman was found behind a mound of snow on the lot, amid condom wrappers, plastic drug baggies and empty bottles of liquor.

The lot, which had a "No Dumping" sign planted in the middle of it, was just two blocks from the Berkley Street rowhouse where the bodies of a young Burlington County couple were found buried in the back yard in an unrelated incident last week.

Residents who gathered around the trash-strewn Berkley Street lot yesterday said that their neighborhood, just blocks from Cooper University Hospital, has been relatively free of crime for decades. Doctors, students and lawyers all live within blocks of where the woman's body was found, the neighbors claimed, and construction projects were sprouting up everywhere.

"Someone just said to me yesterday how quiet it is around here," said Michael Sharper, 54. "There's no dealers on the corners."

Boarded-up homes could be seen from all corners of the lot, though, including one reeking Berkley Street rowhouse a few feet from where the body was found. Neighbors said that the home is used by drug addicts and prostitutes who cruise Broadway a few blocks away. The home's fence was peeled back just a few feet from where the woman's body was found, revealing a worn path through a thicket of vines toward an open window.

"She looked like one of the women up on Broadway," said neighborhood resident Sheila Roberts, 59, of the dead woman. "We've been asking for help with these houses."

Shortly after 10 a.m., a woman in jeans and a hoodie walked up Berkley Street and spoke briefly to a Camden police officer parked near the empty lot. Later, when found on Broadway, she claimed to know the woman who overdosed in the lot, and said that the woman had recently gone to rehab before being sucked back into Camden.

"She got out of here but she couldn't stay away," said the woman, a prostitute who said her name was Sara.

Sara, 33, said she believed that the woman, whom she declined to identify, had no children and had been living with her mother, possibly in Gloucester County. Sara said that the woman was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine.

The woman had recently been the victim of a violent customer at an old car wash near Broadway, Sara said, but she said that most prostitutes in Camden are victims at one time.

"It's not a matter of 'if' out here, it's 'when,' " Sara said.

Sara said that another "worker," Kathyleen Trimble, 35, of Mantua, Gloucester County, had allegedly killed herself near 4th Street and Whitman Avenue on Feb. 11, but neither she nor other women around Broadway believed it was true. Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said that investigators are following up on new information in Trimble's case.

Police also found a second overdose victim yesterday morning, in an alley near 5th Street in North Camden. The Camden County Prosecutor's Office said that the victim was a Mantua, Gloucester County, man in his 20s, but his identity was not being released at the family's request. The Prosecutor's Office was awaiting tests to determine what types of drugs the man and the woman had been using when they died.