Suffolk County, N.Y., authorities continue to suggest the discovery of the remains of four women within 500 feet of each other along a lonely stretch of Gilgo Beach in Long Island, N.Y., is not evidence that "a Jack the Ripper is running around the county with blood dripping from a knife." Meanwhile authorities have enlarged the search area to 10 miles along the beach front, noting they believe that the assumed murderer(s) of the four women simply dumped the bodies from a vehicle traveling along the beach road.
Investigators originally suspected that one of the set of human remains would be quickly matched to that of missing 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, an alleged prostitute who was reported missing from the local area last May under mysterious circumstances. This believe, however, was quashed when the New York City Medical Examiner's Office advised the remains did not match physical data on the missing woman. A second missing woman from Maine; 22-year-old Megan Waterman, disappeared in June when she was scheduled to meet with a male "client" in Suffolk County. Waterman's mother has provided a DNA sample to be compared with that from the remains of the four deceased women, however authorities suggest that such testing could take up to one month.
Key to resolving the death of the four women will be to determine their identifies, this as no information concerning their names was evidently found with the decomposed bodies. In fact, it took investigators a few days to determine that all four were women. The four sets of remains are currently being examined by a forensic anthropologist who will attempt to determine evidence of trauma, such as gunshot or knife wounds, as well as the race, age and sex of the victims. As some of the bodies may, unbelievably, have gone undiscovered for upwards of two years, these determinations may be difficult, especially when investigators attempt to determine the cause of death for each victim.
Missing Persons in America
Approximately 2,300 men, women and children are reported missing every day in America. And while the vast majority of these individuals are quickly accounted for, there are over 100,000 active missing person cases and over 40,000 sets of human remains that silently await identification. Right now they are simply known as "John or Jane Doe." The challenge is that while most of us have someone to whom we are accountable, a significant other, a family, a job, a home, etc., there are those who when they go missing, no one is around to sound the alarm, hence many more individuals could be counted among the missing for whom no one knew to made the call to police.
Even severely decomposed human remains can be identified by dental records and DNA analysis (the "magic bullet" of investigations). The problem begins, however, when investigators do not have a name to compare to the recovered remains, i.e., no dental record to compare to the deceased or no family DNA standard to compare to the victim's DNA. As stated by the Suffolk medical examiner, "the bodies (of the four) may never be identified if family or dental records don't match the DNA evidence taken from the bones."
Another technique available to investigators is facial identification. In this a forensic artist, sculptor or computer expert considers the victim's likely facial structure as evidenced by the recovered human skull and other remains. They will then construct a three-dimensional illustration of what the victim is believed to have looked like when alive, this in hopes that someone will recognize the life-like facial features of the now deceased.
And while some have been quick to suggest that the four current victims, like the still unsolved murder of four women in Atlantic City four years ago, more likely than not involved prostitution, there is simply no solid evidence to support such a conclusion until one or victims are identified. Meanwhile investigators in a multi-state area and the FBI are reviewing missing person reports of women in an attempt to identify the current victims. In such an investigation, it is important to identify the victims to determine what, and in this case 'who" they may in common. But in the meantime, New York and New Jersey authorities know full well there is suspected a serial killer among the local population that could be fully capable of killing again.
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