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Monday, April 4, 2011

Human Remains Found in Suspected NY Serial Killer Case

Searchers scouring dense undergrowth for more victims of a suspected serial killer along a remote New York beach area have now found a total of eight sets of human remains, authorities said Monday.

Searchers perched in fire truck bucket ladders and others on foot had scanned the tick-infested vegetation, resulting in the discovery of three more people's remains. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said the search was expected to resume Tuesday.

One person's remains were found last week along the highway that leads to popular Jones Beach, about 45 miles east of New York City. That victim has not been identified, and police have not positively connected it to the bodies of four prostitutes found nearby in December.

Police also employed helicopters and cadaver dogs, as well as police academy cadets, detectives and volunteer firefighters, in their search through thick underbrush and evergreens on a barrier island south of Long Island.

Dominick Varrone, Suffolk's chief of detectives, said the dogs were having a difficult time maneuvering through the brush. "They don't like getting smacked in the face with the bramble," he said.

Police said as many as 20 officers had been infected with poison ivy during recent searches.

The four dead prostitutes were found in December in the area, a 4-foot-tall tangle of sea grass punctuated by scrubby pine trees. Police suspect a serial killer, but so far have no suspects.

It took more than a month to identify the four women found in December. The New York City medical examiner's office is helping Suffolk County officials investigate the latest discovery.

Investigators have searched the area, roughly 7.5 miles, several times since December. Dormer said the discovery of the latest remains gives investigators new possible leads into the killings of all the victims.

Forensic testing determined that the body found last week was not that of Shannan Gilbert, a missing Jersey City, N.J., woman. Because authorities have DNA samples from her family, a comparison with the latest remains "should come pretty quickly," Dormer said.

Gilbert, 24, was last seen in Oak Beach on May 1, 2010, after apparently meeting a client she had booked through Craigslist. The bodies of the four other women, who worked as Craigslist escorts and were in their 20s, were found along the same highway by police searching for Gilbert. The latest discovery was about a mile east of where the other four were found. The four dead women's remains were strewn about 500 yards apart from each other.

Gilbert had arranged to meet a client in Oak Beach. A resident of the gated seaside enclave has told authorities a woman believed to be Gilbert came to his door around 4:45 a.m. May 1, pleading for help.

The man said that when he tried to call police, the woman fled.

A few moments later, an unidentified man in a sport utility vehicle drove past the house and said he was looking for the woman, but then took off. Neither the woman nor the man was seen by the neighbor again.

The client Gilbert had arranged to meet was investigated but is not believed to be a suspect in her disappearance.

"We still believe that Shannan Gilbert is in this area," Varrone told reporters, although he did not elaborate.

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