EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. - When Elizabeth Crudello moved in to her neighborhood of well-kept, two-story houses, with its tall trees, nice lawns, and picket fences right out of Desperate Housewives, it was the "homey, family feel" that attracted her.
But a string of five killings whose victims lived nearby in the Shires development has her thinking about leaving the enclave of about 125 homes off English Creek Road in this Atlantic County community.
"I probably would never be able to get the money out of the house right now, so much notoriety has been brought to the neighborhood," said Crudello, 41, who works at the Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center in the township. "But it's scary here now. It's almost like this neighborhood is cursed."
If Crudello and her neighbors on Scarborough Drive look up the street, they see two houses in which three women were killed. One was murdered in 2006; the others were slain in a single case last month.
Up the way on Scarborough is the home of a woman killed in March by her estranged husband. He shot her in the Mays Landing veterinary clinic where she worked, then committed suicide.
In May, a well-liked shift manager at Trump's Taj Mahal in Atlantic City who lived around the corner on Rook Court was shot and killed on the job. He had been hunted down by a deranged casino patron.
Crudello takes little comfort that none of the victims appears to have been a random target or that there have been convictions or arrests in all of the cases.
She and others say they worry about recent break-ins reported in the neighborhood and an alleged sexual assault in May near a former stable on the property where the Shires was built in the late 1980s.
"It gives me a weird feeling when I take the dog out for a walk, or just coming home and riding up the street," Crudello said.
Dorothy Collins, 74, who moved in five years ago, said she was unnerved by "yellow police tape everywhere all the time."
"I lived in Stone Harbor almost my entire life and never saw a crime scene," she said. "Here I feel like I'm constantly living in the middle of one."
Some neighbors now avoid leaving the house after dark or have installed alarm systems. Others have curtailed their outdoor activities.
"I've made curfew well before dark now for my 12- and 14-year-olds," said Beverly Breaden, who is considering canceling the neighborhood Halloween party she traditionally hosted in her backyard. "After what happened here a few weeks ago, it's just chilling. Not many people seem to be in the mood to party."
The latest killings, of Maryjane Buri-Mulder, 48, and her daughter Paula Mulder, 21, happened Sept. 30.
A relative found both women shot in the head, in separate bedrooms of their home. Mulder's boyfriend, Nicholas Nigro III, 25, of Egg Harbor Township, has been charged.
On the same day Nigro was arraigned before an Atlantic County Superior Court judge, the man found guilty in the April 2006 killing was sentenced in a courtroom not far away.
Anthony DiGisosaffatte, 54, of Ozone Park, N.Y., told the judge Gerardina Garcia, 43, "got what she deserved" when he shot her eight times in front of her young son in her driveway.
The murder was part of a botched home-invasion robbery cooked up by Garcia's stepdaughter, who is expected to receive up to eight years in prison for her role in the plot.
After the death of Patrice Clemente, 50, the Scarborough Drive resident shot in March at the All Paws Veterinary Clinic, police found a large cache of weapons maintained by her husband, Ron Clemente, 51, in a trailer near the couple's property.
Bob Somers, 51, who lives in the neighborhood, said there was a feeling of "true grief" in the Shires.
Somers was a friend of Raymond Kot, 56. Mark E. Magee, 57, of Norristown, was indicted last month for slaying Kot in a card-and-dice room at the Taj Mahal casino.
"The one tragedy happening right after another like this, I think it has made people here stop and think about their neighbors," he said. "It makes you start to look out for people more."
Egg Harbor Township Police Sgt. Robert Gray said that although it's always good when neighbors look out for one another, the tragedies were unrelated.
Police have not conducted any community outreach since the killings, he said.
The Police Department would not comment formally on the unusually high number of homicides.
Law enforcement should be proactive in helping residents deal with mounting anxiety, Temple University psychologist Frank Farley advised.
"The police can really be the agents for allaying their fears," said Farley, a former president of the American Psychological Association who specializes in the psychological impact of crime on victims and communities.
They should be "crystal clear about the fact that none of these cases is related," he said.
Shires residents may understand intellectually that each crime is separate, but the incidents can lead to "emotional contamination" that changes how they live.
That this is "a picket-fence kind of place" makes the homicides even more shocking to them, Farley said.
"My advice would be for the community and the police to confront their concerns about this so that people aren't living their lives in fear."