The skeletal remains of at least eight murder victims found on a remote stretch of New York beach are the work of three and possibly four separate killers, prosecutors said today.
"It is clear that the area in and around Gilgo Beach has been used to discard human remains for some period of time," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said. "As distasteful and disturbing as that is, there is no evidence that all of these remains are the work of a single killer."
DNA tests on the bones found along a 3.5 miles stretch of Long Island beaches have determined that a skull and hands belonged to prostitute Jessica Taylor. The rest of her body was found 30 miles away in Manorville, N.Y., in 2003.
A woman's head, hands and right foot were found to be a match for an unidentified woman whose torso was also found in Manorville in 2000.
DNA tests of other bones found in the area will determine whether the death toll will continue to grow.
In addition, police are still looking for prostitute Shannan Gilbert. Her disappearance last May led to the search of the beaches that have turned up the grisly graveyard.
The first set of four human remains found wrapped or draped in burlap are believed to be the work of one killer who dumped the bodies by the sandy roadside after killing the victims elsewhere. Those victims were all prostitutes and the discovery of their bodies triggered the first alarms that a serial killer was loose.
Long Island Serial Killer May Be Four Killers
Four more bodies were later unearthed, including the remains of an infant. The child has been determined to have been a girl. And one of the bodies was found to have been an Asian man in his late teens or early 20s, Spota said.
Spota said that the four bodies covered in burlap are unrelated to the other four remains, and that at least three suspects killed the eight identified so far. Police have never discounted the theory that the remains were the work of more than one killer.
Investigators told ABC that multiple samples from each new set of remains, some found in plastic bags, were being tested to determine whether each bag contained the remains of one or more victims.
The growing number of bodies found triggered a massive search of the beaches earlier this spring. Police used planes with high tech photography, horses, dogs, scuba divers, and fire truck ladders to search the thick brush along the beaches. At one point, searchers were clear cutting the thickets so they could be searched before the shrubs bloomed and made it even harder to find any remaining corpses.
The increasingly gruesome news from the Long Island beaches has been difficult for the families of the victims who have been identified so far. With each new corpse uncovered they are struck by fresh grief and reach out to each other for solace.
"Every time they find more, it's like it starts the whole tragedy all over again. It's like we find out it's our own child that they found over again," said Lorraine Ela, the mother of murder victim Megan Waterman.
Ela's 22-year-old daughter disappeared last June and her body was discovered in December. As the investigation continues, Ela said that she sends Facebook messages to other victims' relatives daily and has developed a strong bond with them.
"They're like family. We're like one big family," she said.