New York steps up serial killer hunt after more remains found

More body parts have been discovered among scrub and bushes along a windblown stretch of beachfront road on southern Long Island, injecting further urgency into efforts by police to break what appears to be one of the grizzliest serial killer cases seen in the New York City region for decades.

After expanding their search westward into Jones Beach State Park early on Monday, search teams aided by dogs found a skull as well as what officials said was a bag that appeared to contain the "upper and lower" extremities of another human being. The search, involving hundreds of police officers, now extends over two counties in Long Island. The body count in the case last night stood at 10.

Detectives were looking for links between these latest scattered remains and others found in the course of an investigation that started when the bodies of four women, all identified as prostitutes, were found several miles further to the east last December. Four more decomposed bodies were found last week along the same roadway, reinforcing fears that the area had been used as a dumping ground by the killer.

"We have eight sets out in Suffolk County already," said Detective Lt. Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the police in neighbouring Nassau County. "We have two more now. It's all been very startling." The search for remains is expected to resume today.

There is speculation that the suspect could be a police officer, after reports of taunting telephone calls he allegedly made to the sister of one the victims found in December. All lasted less than three minutes and were placed from crowded Manhattan locales including Times Square and Madison Square Park, suggesting the killer knows how to thwart efforts to trace the calls or even snatch him while on the phone..

"He is a guy who is aware of how we utilise technology," one investigator told the New York Times. "Frankly, people are thinking maybe he could be a cop. Without question, this guy is smart, this guy is not a dope. It's a guy who thinks about things."

Experts in criminal profiling concurred. "Either he knows what he's doing and understands what crime scene investigation is all about or he has just been lucky up until now," said Lawrence Kobilinsky, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

But detectives overseeing the case are not ready to embrace the rumours. "For anyone to come out and say that it's a specific person, a specific occupation, or a specific type is unfair and I think it's mere suspicion, it's mere speculation," Detective Smith said. "Right now, it could be anybody."

Police said they had so far not been able to identify the remains of the four victims found last week and so far cannot say with certainty that they are connected to the four bodies found before Christmas.

Initially police began searching the area between Oak and Gilgo beaches, two communities on a barrier island off the south shore of Long Island about 50 miles east of Manhattan, in response to the disappearance of another sex worker, Shannon Gilbert. There is still no sign of Ms Gilbert and none of the bodies found so far match her description.

Media outlets reported yesterday that at least one of the sets of remains may have belonged to a child or even an infant, further complicating efforts by police to compose a profile of the killer or killers.

The four female escorts whose bodies were found last December have been identified as Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello.

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