For years, the thicket along a beach highway on Long Island held a horrible secret. Hidden from passing drivers were the skeletal remains of 10 people, mostly young women who had worked as prostitutes. Who killed them, and why, is a mystery that has vexed a slew of seasoned homicide detectives.
The case took an intriguing turn when a veteran county prosecutor became the first authority to publicly name a suspect in at least one of the deaths: John Bittrolff, a Long Island carpenter who was sentenced to consecutive 25 years-to-life terms in prison this week for beating two prostitutes to death in 1993 and 1994.
Robert Biancavilla, an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, said after the sentencing that some of the remains found near Gilgo Beach “may be attributed to the handiwork of Mr. Bittrolff.”
If authorities have evidence to back up their suspicions, though, they aren’t saying.
Biancavilla declined to elaborate. Suffolk County police officials declined to comment. They last spoke publicly about the case nearly two years ago when they announced detectives were working with FBI profilers on developing leads.
Any suggestion that Bittrolff had anything to do with the dead women is “laughable,” said his lawyer, Jonathan Manley.
Even a lawyer for the family of one of those linked to the case expressed skepticism.
“To stir this pot when there’s no evidence is looking to easily blame a convicted killer and not have to perform the investigation that is required,” said John Ray, an attorney for the family of Shannan Gilbert, whose disappearance in 2010 several miles from Gilgo Beach triggered the hunt that exposed the larger mystery.
Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker, vanished in spring 2010 after leaving a client’s house on foot and disappearing into the marsh.
Months later, a police officer and his cadaver dog were looking for her body in the thicket along Ocean Parkway when they happened upon the remains of a different woman. Within days, three other bodies were found, all within a short walk of one another.
By spring 2011, that number had climbed to 10 sets of human remains — those of eight women, one man and one toddler — all found along several miles of parkway. Some remains were later linked to dismembered body parts found elsewhere on Long Island, making for a puzzling crime scene that stretched from a park near the New York City limits to a resort community on Fire Island and out to far eastern Long Island.
Police found the…