Long Island se­rial killer case gets new look

The Citizens' Voice - - NATION - BY FRANK ELTMAN

MINEOLA, N.Y. — For years, the thicket along a beach high­way on Long Island held a hor­ri­ble se­cret. Hid­den from pass­ing driv­ers were the skele­tal re­mains of 10 peo­ple, mostly young women who had worked as pros­ti­tutes. Who killed them, and why, is a mys­tery that has vexed a slew of sea­soned homi­cide de­tec­tives.

The case took an in­trigu­ing turn when a vet­eran county pros­e­cu­tor be­came the first author­ity to pub­licly name a sus­pect in at least one of the deaths: John Bit­trolff, a Long Island car­pen­ter who was sen­tenced to con­sec­u­tive 25 years-to-life terms in prison this week for beat­ing two pros­ti­tutes to death in 1993 and 1994.

Robert Bian­cav­illa, an as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney in Suf­folk County, said af­ter the sen­tenc­ing that some of the re­mains found near Gilgo Beach “may be at­trib­uted to the hand­i­work of Mr. Bit­trolff.”

If au­thor­i­ties have ev­i­dence to back up their sus­pi­cions, though, they aren’t say­ing.

Bian­cav­illa de­clined to elab­o­rate. Suf­folk County po­lice of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment. They last spoke pub­licly about the case nearly two years ago when they an­nounced de­tec­tives were work­ing with FBI pro­fil­ers on de­vel­op­ing leads.

Any sug­ges­tion that Bit­trolff had any­thing to do with the dead women is “laugh­able,” said his lawyer, Jonathan Manley.

Even a lawyer for the fam­ily of one of those linked to the case ex­pressed skep­ti­cism.

“To stir this pot when there’s no ev­i­dence is look­ing to eas­ily blame a con­victed killer and not have to per­form the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that is re­quired,” said John Ray, an at­tor­ney for the fam­ily of Shan­nan Gil­bert, whose dis­ap­pear­ance in 2010 sev­eral miles from Gilgo Beach trig­gered the hunt that ex­posed the larger mys­tery.

Gil­bert, a 24-year-old sex worker, van­ished in spring 2010 af­ter leav­ing a client’s house on foot and dis­ap­pear­ing into the marsh.

Months later, a po­lice of­fi­cer and his ca­daver dog were look­ing for her body in the thicket along Ocean Park­way when they hap­pened upon the re­mains of a dif­fer­ent woman. Within days, three other bod­ies were found, all within a short walk of one an­other.

By spring 2011, that num­ber had climbed to 10 sets of hu­man re­mains — those of eight women, one man and one tod­dler — all found along sev­eral miles of park­way. Some re­mains were later linked to dis­mem­bered body parts found else­where on Long Island, mak­ing for a puz­zling crime scene that stretched from a park near the New York City lim­its to a re­sort com­mu­nity on Fire Island and out to far east­ern Long Island.

Po­lice found the skull of a pros­ti­tute named Jes­sica Tay­lor, who was 20 when most of the rest of her body was found in a wooded area of Manorville shortly af­ter she dis­ap­peared in 2003. Body parts found on Gilgo Beach were also linked to an­other corpse found in Manorville in 2000. That fe­male victim has never been iden­ti­fied.

Gil­bert’s body was found in the marsh in the com­mu­nity of Oak Beach in De­cem­ber 2011, about 3 miles east of where the other 10 sets were dis­cov­ered.

Po­lice have long main­tained that Gil­bert’s death was ac­ci­den­tal. They say she drowned in a drug-in­duced haze af­ter wan­der­ing into the wet­land, but her rel­a­tives have long dis­puted that de­ter­mi­na­tion. In one of the more un­usual twists in the saga, Gil­bert’s mother, Mari, was mur­dered last year by an­other daugh­ter in her up­state New York home.

Bit­trolff was ar­rested in 2014 in an un­re­lated in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing the deaths of two pros­ti­tutes left in wooded ar­eas of east­ern Long Island two decades ago. The nude bod­ies of Rita Tan­gredi, 31, and Colleen McNamee, 20, were found nine miles apart in late 1993 and early 1994. Both women had been stran­gled and suf­fered se­vere head in­juries.

Bit­trolff, 51, was con­victed af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors linked his DNA to sub­stances found on the women’s bod­ies. He de­nies killing the women and in­tends to ap­peal.

Be­fore he was jailed, Bit­trolff lived in Manorville, part of the vast Long Island pine bar­rens re­gion and the same ham­let where Tay­lor’s corpse and the body of one other woman were found.

John Ray, the Gil­bert fam­ily lawyer, dis­counted any sig­nif­i­cance to the fact that Bit­trolff lived there.

“Manorville is a huge, forested area; I don’t think that makes it much of a con­nec­tion. Manorville just hap­pens to be a great place to leave bod­ies,” he said, agree­ing that the same could be said for Ocean Park­way.

In talk­ing about the bod­ies near Gilgo Beach, in­ves­ti­ga­tors have said sev­eral times over the years it is un­likely one per­son killed all the vic­tims.

Joseph Pollini, a re­tired New York City po­lice de­tec­tive who in­ves­ti­gated cold case homi­cides and now teaches at the John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, said he found it hard to be­lieve a pros­e­cu­tor would pub­licly con­nect Bit­trolff to the Gilgo Beach in­ves­ti­ga­tion on mere spec­u­la­tion.

“It’s highly un­likely a district at­tor­ney would put his neck out on a limb like that if he didn’t have some­thing to back it up,” he said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

Suf­folk County dive team po­lice of­fi­cers search for pos­si­ble vic­tims of a sus­pected se­rial killer in Hem­lock Cove along Ocean Park­way near Cedar Beach, N.Y., on April 14, 2011.

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