A Manorville man arrested Monday for allegedly killing two women two decades ago is suspected of slaying a third woman around the same time, Suffolk County authorities said.
John Bittrolff, 48, was ordered held without bail when he was arraigned Tuesday on two counts of second-degree murder at First District Court in Central Islip.
“We love you, John,” his family members yelled after the court appearance. His family declined to comment afterward, only saying that he is a “good family man.”
Bittrolff is accused of fatally strangling Rita Tangredi-Beinlich, who was 31 when she was last seen hitchhiking before her nude body was found in a wooded area off of Esplanada Drive in East Patchogue on Nov. 3, 1993. He is also accused of fatally strangling Colleen McNamee, who 20 when her nude body was found in a wooded area south of the Long Island Expressway in North Shirley two months later, on Jan. 30, 1994. Both women had frequented the area and had prior arrests for prostitution, police had said at the time.
And they may not be his only alleged victims.
Homicide Squad detectives are also investigating whether Bittrolff killed a third woman, Sandra Costilla, 28, of Queens, whose cause of death resembles Tangredi’s and McNamee’s, authorities said. Costilla was found dead in North Sea on the South Fork on Nov. 20, 1993.
“The manner of death, the positioning of her body, and the trace evidence of Ms. Costilla is similar to that of Tangredi and McNamee,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told reporters Tuesday during at a news conference at his Hauppauge office.
He did not say of Costilla also worked as a prostitute, but noted: “She had a lifestyle that may have been substantially similar.”
Suffolk police Commissioner Ed Webber said he hopes the families can get some closure knowing an arrest has been made. He added: “It’s not important what their occupation was.”
Tangredi’s family was in tears as they left the courtroom, their heads peering down, navigating around a scrum of reporters. They were too distraught to speak, but one man, who identified himself as Tangredi’s son, said he feels “really relieved.”
A woman who said she was Tangredi’s sister and noted that it was her birthday, said outside court: “this is the best birthday present I could ever have.” The family consoled one another as they walked away.
Police said Tangredi’s address was unknown at the time of her death.
It was unclear if there were family of McNamee, who lived in Holbrook, attended the hearing. McNamee was an outpatient of South Shore Treatment Center in Islandia at the time and was last seen leaving Blue Dawn Diner nearby.
Authorities said Tangredi’s and McNamee’s cases were similar in that both bodies were “uniquely positioned” and the same “significant” piece of clothing was missing, but declined to elaborate. Similar biological and trace evidence were found at both crime scenes.
“Cause and manner of death of both these women are exactly the same,” Spota said.
The cases went cold for 20 years until Suffolk County police got an unexpected break, authorities said. In September 2013, Bittrolff’s brother, Timothy, was convicted of violating an order of protection. A DNA sample submitted to the state databank upon his conviction matched samples collected in the murders, but the DNA was not his.
“The male family member who provided this DNA sample was not the killer,” Spota said, citing a crime lab report. “But a blood relative of his was indeed the killer.”
“The killer had to be a brother of the very same parents of the person who provided the sample,” Spota added.
That’s when investigators focused their attention on Bittrolff. Prosecutors said they matched DNA from a glass of water Bittrolff drank while in police custody with samples preserved from the crime scenes.
Spota credited the break in the case to the evolution of DNA evidence and perseverance of Suffolk detectives that make cold cases a priority. Bittrolff was 27 and lived in the Mastic-Shirley area at the time of the crimes, he said. The district attorney also credited the 2012 state law that expanded DNA testing to include all misdemeanor convictions.
“Had this DNA been required in 1990, certainly this crime would’ve been solved a lot sooner,” Spota said, referring to Bittrolff’s prior conviction for assault.
Bittrolff’s attorney asked the judge to set bail at $50,000, arguing that there was enough to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s case. He described Bittrolff, a carpenter, as a “family man” with two children, one of whom just graduated high school and is headed to college. The attorney declined to comment after the arraignment.
Instead, the judge ordered Bittrolff held at Suffolk County jail without bail. The case is expected to be presented to a grand jury on Thursday.
Spota also shot down any idea of a connection between these three cases and the investigation into the unsolved Gilgo Beach murders. He said the respective murders and crime scenes are unique and there is no “evidentiary” link.
Detectives are continuing the investigation and ask anyone with information about Bittrolff or the women to call Homicide Squad detectives at 631-852-6392. All calls will be kept confidential.
—With Timothy Bolger