New York State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) called Monday for State Attorney General Letitia James to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether disgraced former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke actively thwarted the unsolved Gilgo Beach serial murder case.
Boyle also sent a letter to the police department, from which he demanded answers on how many people have been interviewed and how many forensic tests were performed during Burke’s time in charge, and whether Burke—who’s checkered past has raised questions about his motives for kicking the FBI off the case—has been cleared as a possible suspect. And the senator sent a third letter to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who had appointed Burke to police chief.
“Never had a case cried out more for an investigation of the investigation,” Boyle told reporters during a news conference in Oak Beach. “There are far too many conflicts and questions that are still in place 10 years later and people…need to know that everything that could have been done, was done to try and get justice for these victims and their families.”
Between 2010 and 2011, police found 10 sets of human remains along Ocean Parkway between December of 2010 and April of 2011 while searching for Shannan Gilbert, a New Jersey woman who was reported missing from Oak Beach, where she was later found dead. The victims were mostly sex workers, although four remain unidentified. They are thought to have been killed over a period of nearly 20 years.
Burke’s successor, Chief Stuart Cameron, who’s also the acting police commissioner, responded to Boyle’s letter in a statement, saying the investigation is a department priority, but members of the department could not comment on suspects in ongoing criminal investigations.
“The department has detectives who are solely dedicated to this investigation and our department is working closely with both the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and with the FBI,” the statement said.
A spokesperson for Bellone noted that the county executive’s office had not yet actually received any correspondence from Boyle.
“This remains an ongoing criminal investigation of the highest priority,” the spokesperson said. “We’re not going to respond to what is nothing more than a political charade.”
Boyle said what sparked his letters was Bellone saying he believed Burke was a sociopath but didn’t fire him when he came to that conclusion. Bellone made those comments to Unraveled, a podcast co-hosted by Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist who helped relaunch the Long Island Press in 2003.
Before being appointed chief, Burke’s misconduct included alleged drug use, drunken driving, and having sex with a sex worker in his police car while uniformed. Burke resigned after being indicted for and later pleading guilty to beating a handcuffed suspect who stole the chief’s bag of porn, sex toys, and other items from his SUV. Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, Burke’s mentor, was convicted of helping cover up the beating.
Boyle also noted the fact that a sex worker named LeAnne told reporters that she had relations with Burke during a drug-fueled party at a house in Oak Beach shortly before he became chief. The senator said that Burke’s past and kicking the FBI off the case warrants probing whether the ex-chief might be directly or indirectly involved in the case.
During the news conference, a reporter asked Boyle to respond to Burke’s attorney calling the news conference a political stunt. Boyle laughed in response and said he didn’t need to respond to Burke.
A representative for the attorney general said that in order for her office to launch an investigation, she would need a referral from the offices of either Bellone or Spota’s successor, Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini. Neither Bellone nor Sini’s office answered questions on whether they would issue such a referral.
Ray Tierney, a Republican challenging Sini for district attorney, later joined Boyle in calling for the attorney general to investigate.
“We need a special prosecutor that is willing to take a proactive approach to these cases and find out who is responsible,” Tierney said. “It is clear there is very little confidence in the county executive, the police department’s and district attorney’s leadership in apprehending and prosecuting the perpetrator of these heinous crimes.”
Additional Reporting by Tim Bolger and Briana Bonfiglio.