New York police divers scoured the gray waters near a popular beach as the search widened in a suspected serial killer case feared to have claimed up to 10 victims.
Suffolk County police on Long Island closed off a stretch of scrub-covered bank leading down to the inlet at Hemlock Cove in their latest check on the grisly body count piling up in the nature reserve about an hour from New York City.
Three divers in hooded black and orange dry suits waded into the fog-shrouded water carrying digging implements and metal detectors.
County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer told a news conference that aircraft would be brought in to help the search.
“They are looking for evidence, any evidence connecting to the found remains,” he said.
Investigators are officially still focusing on the search for Shannan Gilbert, a prostitute who vanished nearby in May. However, that probe has morphed into a far more chilling hunt after the discovery of at least four other slain prostitutes and possibly six more sets of human remains.
The latest finds — bones and a skull — came Monday and police confirmed they are human, although not necessarily from different people. There have also been unconfirmed reports of the skeleton of an infant or fetus being found.
All the remains have turned up in the same stretch of thick, almost impassable scrubland and dunes lining the lonely Ocean Parkway as it runs through Gilgo State Park.
The park is part of a huge, seemingly pristine beach area that is desolate in winter, but will soon be frequented by crowds of bathers and tourists in the summer.
Police appear to have little in the way of leads so far and are being hampered by the extreme density of the seaside brush. Clearly, they have been taken by surprise.
“Who’d think that we’d go looking for one missing person and find 10 others?” asked a police official who requested not to be named. “On the other hand, imagine they’d gone and found Shannan Gilbert right away.”
In Point Lookout, a fishing village near the now notorious dumping ground, residents say they were scared and appalled.
“It’s horrifying. The world’s crazy and obviously there’s a sicko out there,” said Patrick, 55, a house painter who would not give his last name. “People are worried.”
Shuffling down Point Lookout’s sleepy main street, mother of nine Margaret Eberhart was concerned the killer might be a local.
“It’s awful. He’s a maniac, whoever it is. But he must know that section,” said the 82-year-old. “Everybody’s worried. You never know, do you?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.
Police are keeping their cards close to their chest so far but are under increasing pressure from the public and media to solve the macabre mystery. Crime scenes along the desolate beach road are regularly crowded with journalists and live-TV trucks.
“I want everybody out. This place is dangerous,” an exasperated sergeant said in a futile attempt to disperse the media scrum. He wasn’t worried the killer might suddenly appear — rather that reporters might stray into oncoming traffic.
Despite the absence of hard facts, local newspapers are quoting unnamed police sources on lurid details that point to an ever-more complex case.
The New York Post reported that vegetation was sprouting from the latest sets of remains, indicating that they had lain there far longer than the four identified bodies of prostitutes.
These remains were possibly the work not of the current murderer but of convicted serial killer Joel Rifkin, who confessed to 17 slayings and is serving a life sentence, the report said.
Investigators have also speculated that not one, but two murderers may be using the bleak site as a graveyard.
Others have quoted police indicating that the latest killer to terrorize Long Island has covered his tracks so carefully that he must understand police methods — or even have served in uniform himself.
The swirling fog and drizzle accentuated the spookiness of the location and the physical challenges facing police as they race the onset of spring, when foliage will make the scrub even thicker.
As officers stretched out yellow crime scene tape, the only set of bones visible were the remains of some large, black bird crushed into the sand.
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