Seventeen years ago Tuesday a mushroom hunter reported finding in Manorville the remains of a murder victim who Suffolk County police say they’ve since identified, but whose name has not been released, the Press has learned.
The victim’s family asked authorities not to release the man’s name when he was identified in 2015, but the case remains an active homicide investigation, a Suffolk police spokeswoman recently told the Press. Experts say withholding a murder victim’s name is rare and will likely make it more difficult for detectives to find the killer.
“Often the public holds the keys to these cases,” Joseph Giacalone, a retired New York Police Department homicide detective who commanded a cold case squad in the Bronx. “Sometimes a photograph, sometimes a name can jog someone’s memory. You get that information out in the front of the right person, whether it’s in the newspaper or social media … those are the kind of things that break cases.”
The man’s body was discovered about three miles east of where Valerie Mack and Jessica Taylor were found dead less than a mile apart in 2000 and 2003, respectively, also in Manorville. While police put a name to Taylor’s mutilated remains relatively quickly, it wasn’t until this May — 20 years later — when Suffolk police announced they identified Mack. Dismembered parts of the two women were also found a decade ago in the brush along Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach amid the unsolved Long Island Serial Killer probe. Their killer or killers also remain at large.
At least a half a dozen bodies have been found in the Manorville area over the past 20 years.
The man whose name police are withholding was found five months after Taylor. His remains were uncovered in a wooded area about 300 yards south of the Long Island Expressway near Toppings Path and more than a mile west of exit 71. The mushroom picker who made the grim find waited 10 days before reporting it to police on Nov. 10, 2003 because he was scared, but ultimately made the call after having nightmares, the New York Post reported at the time.
“The body looked decomposed, like it had been there three or four months,” the hunter told the Post, which didn’t print his name because he feared for his safety. “I was terrified and I didn’t tell anyone except my wife.”
When the remains were first discovered, they were so decomposed that the gender was not immediately clear. A forensic anthropologist initially confirmed that the remains as that of a 35- to 50-year-old man “with no trauma done to the skeleton,” police said at the time, the North Shore Sun reported. He was described as a white man, five-feet, six-inches tall with brown hair.
Suffolk police declined to release any further updates on the case. But county investigators have acknowledged how important a name can be in getting justice for unidentified murder victims.
“Some identification of who these people are will certainly give us an opportunity to backtrack and figure out what happened and why,” then-Suffolk Police Homicide Squad Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick told The New Island Ear when police were trying to identify Mack and a still-unidentified man found strangled to death two miles away in North Shirley four days after Mack’s discovery. “Without identification there’s not a lot to go on.”
Giacalone, the ex-NYPD detective who’s also a professor of criminal justice at John Jay College, said if the family reluctantly allows police to take the next step and release the victim’s name, it could spark new leads.
“By not putting a name to the victim it won’t help the police try to solve this case,” he said. “You need that information so that you can put it out there to the public … Somebody who saw him last somewhere at a store or a bar or what have you. Maybe they can give you that one piece of the puzzle that’s missing to try to solve this case.”
Anyone with information about these cases can call anonymously to Suffolk County police Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS, anonymously text “SCPD” to “CRIMES” (274637) or email info via tipsubmit.com
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