Police in Long Island who earlier this spring rang the alarm about a possible serial killer preying on prostitutes and dumping their remains along lonely stretches of a beachside road now believe they are looking at the gruesome work of at least two murderers or possibly more.
While four bodies found last December at Gilgo Beach on a barrier island on the southern edge of Long Island, east of New York City, were all quickly identified as missing escorts who traded on Craigslist, another four uncovered in March on the same stretch of road do not fit the same pattern.
As more about the identities of the second batch of four bodies has emerged, so investigators have recast earlier assumptions about a lone serial killer. They revealed this week that some of the newly discovered remains belonged to Jessica Taylor, who was 20. She had also worked as a prostitute. Parts of her remains, however, were first found towards the eastern end of Long Island shortly after she vanished in 2003.
Ms Taylor was thus dismembered, police said, while noting also that her killer had gone to additional lengths to conceal her identity, for example by scraping a tattoo from her lower back.
A sixth body, which police have so far only called Jane Doe No 6, showed some of the same characteristics. It had also been dismembered and other parts of her body were also found in 2000 in the same location to the east.
The "manner of disposal" with the sixth victim seemed to echo that of Ms Taylor, Suffolk County prosecutor Thomas Spota told reporters. However, what happened to those two women appeared to be "distinctly dissimilar to the four originally identified Gilgo victims".
"The killer or killers of Jane Doe 6 and Ms Taylor went to extra lengths in an attempt to prevent the victims from being identified," Mr Spota said, referring to how both women had been dismembered and scattered in different spots. "That is clearly not so with any of the other remains that we have found."
An additional two sets of remains found this spring have further clouded the investigation. One, Mr Spota said, turned out to be the body parts of a toddler while the other seemingly belonged to a young man of Asian origin. Two other sets of remains uncovered this March have yet to be identified, officials indicated.
Investigators never ruled out the possibility of there being more than one killer involved in the murders. They have also surmised that the killer of the first four women whose bodies were found at the end of last year is almost certainly still on the loose and appears to have quite sophisticated skills in avoiding detection, something that has prompted speculation that he may be connected to law enforcement.