BY WILL VAN SANT Sunday April 17,
BY WILL VAN SANT Sunday April 17, 20100
BEFORE SERIAL MURDER PROBE, LI ALREADY HAD. . . UNSOLVED MYSTERIES OF DUMPED BODIES
Tanya Rush of East New York worked as a prostitute in Brooklyn, police say, until she went missing in June 2008. Her body was found days later, stuffed in a suitcase along the Southern State Parkway in North Bellmore.
The nude body of Jessica Taylor, a sex worker newly arrived from Washington, D.C., was discovered in July 2003, her head and hands missing, off the Long Island Expressway in Manorville. She had been dumped in an area where three other bodies - never identified - had turned up over three years.
And a still-unnamed man clad in a red Members Only jacket and bell-bottom pants was found in a heavily wooded median on the Northern State Parkway in Plainview in 2004. Police suspect he may have been there decades, as motorists zipped past just feet away.
Despite the best efforts of county, state and federal investigators, the recent discoveries near Gilgo Beach, now under scrutiny, may ultimately be added to a tragic roster of homicide victims whose bodies were dumped on Long Island and whose killings remain unsolved.
Between 2000 and December 2010, when the first four bodies turned up in the Gilgo Beach area, as many as 17 other bodies or body parts had been found dumped on the Island. Many were obvious victims of violence and their killings remain unsolved. They washed up on beaches or were found along roadways. Some are identified; many are not.
Suffolk police have declined to say whether any links have been established between the Gilgo Beach cases and any past unsolved homicides. However, they are going through missing persons reports and case files of unsolved murders in search of possible links. That review also includes a look at closed homicides and other attacks for which someone was prosecuted.
Dumped bodies can be especially difficult cases to solve. With the murder scene a mystery, there are no neighbors to question, video surveillance to watch or potential witnesses to seek. Sometimes even Job One - identifying the victim - proves impossible.
"It's always more difficult to investigate a body that's dumped," said retired NYPD Det. Vernon Geberth, now a police consultant. "There's an unwritten caveat that homicide cops have: 'I hope it's not another dump job.'"
Rush's body had been dismembered, placed in a suitcase and tossed along the Southern State. State road workers checking for debris detected a foul smell and found the suitcase near the tree line. Rush, 39, was a mother of three. State Police are still on the case and know Rush was last seen on a Brooklyn block near where she was known to work, said State Police investigator Thomas Hughes.
"We still haven't been able to determine who brought her out here," said Hughes of the major crimes unit. "It's just a matter of, whose car did she get in?"
Years earlier, between November 2000 and November 2003, four bodies were found within a few miles of each other in the Manorville woods. Authorities believe each died elsewhere. Their deaths were never linked. Among them was the dismembered body of a woman in a trash bag and two men. Those three are unidentified.
On July 26, 2003, the one Manorville victim to be identified was found. A woman walking her dog came across a butchered body left on a pile of branches. It was Taylor, 20. She had been living and working in Washington D.C., where she'd been reported missing days earlier. She was last seen in Manhattan, working, police said, as a prostitute.
Taylor might have remained anonymous had it not been for a Washington police officer. Poring over police bulletins of unidentified remains, he realized that a tattoo of wings and the words "Remy's Angel" on her back fit the description of Taylor. He contacted Suffolk police.
The identification allowed investigators to connect a picture of Taylor with the headless body dumped in the woods. It was a huge break in the case.
"We have photos available of her," Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, then commander of the Suffolk police homicide squad, said at the time. "So we're hoping somebody will be able to give an account of her final whereabouts."
More than seven years later, Taylor's killing is an open case. Police have declined to offer more specifics about the case.
Authorities still don't know the name of the man whose body was found in March 2004 off the Northern State in Plainview. In addition to the jacket, he was wearing canvas bell-bottoms, a light, button-down shirt and a 1960 gold Bulova watch.
A woman in a minor car accident in the wooded median found him. In 2009, State Police released a digital rendering of the man's face; at the time they said he may have been in the median for as long as 22 years. The jacket he wore had been imported into the United States in 1982.
Since the digital image was made public, several people have come forward to inquire whether the man could be a missing relative, said Hughes.
There have been no DNA matches so far, but Hughes said Thursday that some samples are still getting tested.
Long Island investigators have put thousands of hours into trying to track those and countless cases like them, doggedly chasing leads until they all dried up.
In the latest South Shore cases, there may be as many as 10 dead. Four are identified and linked to a serial killer. The rest of the victims, including possibly a child, remain anonymous. Last week, after five months of digging, police made a public appeal for tips.
Whether a killer is ever caught, Geberth said, there are those who will be haunted by the crimes long after the press and the public move on. "The only person who really cares about whether a homicide gets solved is the victim's family and the assigned detective," he said. "I've never met a homicide detective who doesn't carry that body with them for the rest of their lives."