Friday, December 9, 2016

17 - The Setagaya Murders



New Year's Eve is typically a joyous occasion. It's a sign of change; that the old is fading away for new. It's a time to celebrate a promising fresh start, generally with your family and closest friends.

In Japan, this day is known as Omisoka, and it is widely regarded as one of the most important days of the year. There are customs and traditions involved, which most people follow. While in America, New Year's Eve is often seen as a time to party and kiss someone at midnight, in Japan, New Year's is treated as the  most prestigious of holidays.

But at the turn of this past century, an event occurred that forever marred the holiday season. It occured in the district of Tokyo known as Setagaya, and for close to two decades, what happened on this night has continued to completely stump investigators.


Hello, and welcome to the Unresolved Podcast. I am your host, Micheal Whelan, and as I stated in the opening, this episode takes place overseas in Japan.

This is one of those stories that is as tragic as it is terrifying. It has definitely kept me up for a night or two since I started researching, so fair warning: you might not want to listen to this one in the dark.

Now, without any further ado, let's take a trip back in time to Tokyo, Japan. It's the last week of 2000, and we meet our characters whose grisly fate was approaching: the Miyazawa family.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In Japan, the culture celebrates the end of a century differently than most. While in America, we welcomed the dawn of a new millennium with the infamous Y2K scare, Japan was celebrating the new century an entire year later, with the opening of 2001.

The Miyazawa family were, by most standards, your typical Japanese family.


Mikio Miyazawa, the forty-four year old patriarch of the family, worked for Interbrand, a London-based marketing firm. It's unclear what kind of work Mikio did for the business, but this was a large company with offices in over twenty countries, who had worked on large marketing campaigns for companies like Microsoft, Nissan, Xerox, and many others. Heck, the year before, in 1999, Interbrand was the company responsible for branding the term "Wi-fi."

Fellow employees at Interbrand described Mikio as "congenial." They claimed that he was "the kind of guy that got on well with everyone - definitely not the sort of person to make enemies."

Yasuko Miyazawa, the family's forty-one year-old mother and wife, was very much the same. Seen as kind and compassionate by everyone, she was a teacher that spent a lot of her time with the couple's two children, eight-year-old Niina and six-year-old Rei.

Niina, the daughter, was in the second-grade, and was by all accounts a typical little girl: she was playful, she was fun, she enjoyed soccer and ballet, both of which she was very active in.

Rei, the youngest of the family, had been going through an issue lately: he had had a speech impairment, which had been causing the family a fair amount of stress. Apparently, they had started to seek out professional help for the matter, but it was still a real worry to them.

Mikio and Yasuki Miyazawa had moved into their Setagaya-based home in 1990. At the time, it had been a burgeoning development with over two-hundred families, and it seemed like a nice enough area to raise a family.

Setagaya one of Tokyo's twenty-three districts, the second largest of them all, located just southwest of the main city. Just a short distance away from the Tokyo Bay, Setagaya is a very residential-looking area that stands out from its busy, cramped surroundings.


The Miyazawa family home was an interesting thing, in-and-of-itself.

The home was a shared building that was split into two. So on the outside, it looked like one house, but was much closer to a duplex than anything. It allowed the Miyazawas to live right-next-door to Yasuko's family: her mother, mostly, but also her sister and her brother-in-law, who lived with her during this time period.


This allowed a total of seven family members to live in this shared domicile, although there was no internal connection between the two houses. To get from one side to the other, you need to go outside and enter through another door.

The most noteworthy fact of the house, though, was the park right behind it. The park had been there for years now, but the city had been planning on expanding it. This meant that most of the Miyazawa's neighbors had been moving out in recent months, in order to make way for this expansion.

The community that had once contained over two-hundred families had now been narrowed just down to four: the Miyazawas and their relatives living next door, and two other families that lived on their street. Besides that, it was a ghost town of a neighborhood.

Most of the activity from the area was happening in the skate park right behind the Miyazawa family home. This was the busiest part of the ever-expanding park, but led to some issues for the Miyazawa clan. See, the skate park was located directly behind the house, separated only by a fence.



In the week leading up to New Year's Eve, Mikio had confronted a group of loud and obnoxious teenagers at the skate park for making too much of a racket. At around the same time, a witness reported seeing him confront a group of young rebels that belonged to the Bosozoku, a Japanese motorcycle gang of sorts.

Due to the increased foot traffic of the park behind them, which the city was planning on expanding further, the Miyazawas were one of the last families to make plans on moving. It was December of 2000, and in just a few months, they would be moving to another house in the area. So all they needed to do was rough out the skate park hooligans for a few months, and then they wouldn't have to worry about it ever again.

Unfortunately, they would never get that chance.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The week before New Year's Eve would be known for some other unusual experiences for the Miyazawa family, besides the encounters with hooligans that Mikio had to deal with.

Apparently in the summer months, the community had started to notice some of the area's animals being physically tormented. There are rumors that rodents had been found, having been killed, and even the local cats - mostly strays - had been tortured. One eyewitness recalls seeing a stray that they were friendly with suddenly appear without a tail one day. Unfortunately, the language barrier prevents me from investigating these rumors more closely, but I felt that they were noteworthy to add.

On December 25th, Christmas day, Yasuko mentioned to her father-in-law that a strange car had been parking in front of their house. This has happened on not just one occasion, but several, despite the fact that there was other parking nearby, which wouldn't require the person parking to jump over a fence to get into the park.

Two days later, on the 27th, a man estimated to be in his forties was seen walking around the Miyazawa family home by an eyewitness. A seemingly-innocent thing, as the park nearby ensures that people would be in the area for a variety of reasons, but in retrospect looks suspicious.

On December 29th, just days before the dawn of the new century, a man was spotted in the nearby Seijogakuenmae Station, which is just a few miles away from where the Miyazawa family was living. This man was wearing a "skater"-type of outfit, which an eyewitness recalled as being odd, due to the weather; they thought that this man, who was wearing a backpack, looked very under-dressed.

It was on this day, the 29th, that police believe a man matching this rough description purchased a sashimi knife from that same shopping area. It was the only one purchased at this supermarket on this day, so it was relatively easy to trace.

On December 30th, a man matching the same description was spotted near Sengawa Station, roughly a mile away from where the Miyazawas lived. This unknown subject was stated to be in the age range of thirty-five to forty-years-old, and appeared to be getting closer and closer to the Miyazawa family home in Setagaya.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Unknown to them, Saturday, December 30th would be the last day for the entire Miyazawa family.

They went about their daily business, preparing for the pending holiday. There was a festive cheer in the air, due to the upcoming New Year which brought with it the fresh start of a new century.

Sometime in the early evening, at around 6:00 PM, the family apparently went shopping. We can't be sure whether all four of the family members went, but an eyewitness recalled seeing them at a nearby shopping center at around that time. A neighbor, who drove by their house that evening, recalled seeing the family car missing at around 6:30 PM, leading to this story's credence.

At around 7:00 that night, Yasuko called next door to her mother. The families often used the phone to speak to one another, viewing themselves as neighbors. The conversation itself was likely something mundane, and most possibly was Yasuko asking her mother if she wanted to visit with her granddaughter.

This is corroborated by Niina going next door to watch a recorded TV program until 9:30 PM or so. Up until this point in the night, everything was just relatively normal for the Miyazawa family.

The last recorded activity we have of the Miyazawa family is an accessed email, which was read at around 10:38 that evening. It was Mikio reading a work email, which was password-protected, meaning he was likely personally responsible for opening it.

This was the last moment we know that at least one member of the Miyazawa family was alive. And their home, normally quiet and tranquil, was about to become a house of horrors.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At around ten o'clock that evening, a witness walking along the park path behind the Miyazawa house heard what sounded like an argument taking place inside of the house. They didn't recall any loud physical noises, or any particularly earth-shattering screams, but they said it just sounded like a couple getting heated at one another.

The view of the Miyazawa home from the park

About an hour-and-a-half later, a member of Yasuko's family next door would hear a loud banging sound come from the Miyazawa side of the building. They weren't sure of the exact time, but were able to estimate it later on based on the schedule of television programming at the time.

This was around the same time that someone - an eyewitness, or perhaps a neighbor - recalled seeing a man hurrying along the walking path that traveled next to the family's house.

These were the only three signs that something was amiss that night in Setagaya. The terror that had been unleashed in the Miyazawa home wouldn't be discovered for hours.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Within the close proximity of the Miyazawa house, a taxi driver was picking up three passengers. These three passengers - nameless, a mistake on the cabbie, in retrospect - were all middle-aged men, all of whom remained quiet throughout their journey.

The taxi driver recalled this as being very odd for the time; it was well past midnight at this point, and these three men were being dropped off at a nearby station not too far away.

One of the men apparently had a wound on him, and left a blood stain on the backseat of the cab. The driver recalls this as being very odd, and I would have found it to be disgusting, so I can't blame him for remembering the details of that drive very succinctly.

However, the driver would have no reason to panic until the details of what had happened that night became known throughout Tokyo.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, on New Year's Eve, Yasuko's mother tried calling her daughter's family to make plans for later that afternoon. Surprisingly, her call wouldn't even go through, let alone ring.

Unbeknown to her, the phone lines in the Miyazawa family home had been cut, purposefully disconnected by someone hours beforehand.

She traveled outside and walked over to the home containing her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandkids. She rang the doorbell, to no answer, and according to the police report she would file later, used her set of keys to let herself in.

The house itself was silent, with no noise to make out. As Yasuko's mother entered the house, she would have undoubtedly known something was wrong. And she begin to discover the truth in mere seconds, as she made her way into the family's house, only to be confronted by the body of Mikio Miyazawa at the bottom of the staircase.

The forty-four year old father of the family had been stabbed multiple times, and was lying lifeless at the bottom of the staircase leading up to the second story.

Yasuko's mother recalls going upstairs to the second story, to try and see what had happened to the rest of her family. Immediately at the top of the stairs, she would find the bodies of her daughter, Yasuko, and her granddaughter, Niina, both of whom had been brutally stabbed dozens of times - far surpassing the level of anguish that Mikio's body had received.

Yasuko's mother recalls putting her hands on the bodies of her daughter and granddaughter, perhaps out of sorrow or maybe even hope, trying to see if there was a chance that either were still alive.

Yasuko, her daughter, whom she had raised and been close with for over forty years; and Niina, her granddaughter, whom she had been watching a television program with just twelve hours ago or so. Both of whom were now cold and lifeless, loved ones transformed into corpses by an unknown killer.

In a nearby bedroom, Yasuko's mother would be confronted by the final tragedy: six-year-old Rei, who had been battling through a speech impediment in an effort to please his parents, who was still in bed. He had been strangled to death, leading investigators to think that he had been the first member of the family killed.

Needless to say, Yasuko's mother - this now-traumatized grandmother - would contact the police. But the things she had seen could never be unseen, and nothing would bring back the family she had just lost.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tokyo Police responded to the incident in shock, just as horrified by the crime scene as Yasuko's mother had been. This was a case that would send shockwaves throughout the local area, and they knew it: an entire family being butchered, in the dead of night by an unknown assailant, is perhaps the scariest situation one can imagine finding themselves in.


At the scene, police began to look at the crime and piece together what had happened. Yasuko's mother, sister, and brother-in-law, who had all been next door when the crime occurred, recalled anything odd or suspicious that might have happened that night.

Yasuko's sister, An Irie

The only thing that struck a bell for them was the loud thud that had occurred at around 11:30 that evening, the timing of which was corroborated by a TV schedule that placed the thud during a certain program airing. Police immediately suspected that the thud might have occurred when Mikio, the father, confronted the supposed killer. Due to the wounds on his body, they believed that he had scuffled with his family's attacker, and the loud thud that Yasuko's family had heard might have been him being thrown to the bottom of the stairs.

The wounds that Mikio had sustained, multiple stabs, were mostly focused on his neck. They would quickly place together that the stab wounds had been made by a sashimi knife, which was left behind in the family's kitchen. This was the knife that had been purchased just a day beforehand at a local supermarket, and had been brought to the scene by the killer. However, in the process of attacking Mikio, the knife had broken in some way.

Unfortunately, the details of how, exactly, the knife had broken is something I do not have. But based on the evidence found at the scene, police immediately theorized that the broken knife had been just one of two murder weapons. The other was a knife the killer had found in Mikio and Yasuko's very own kitchen, which was used to kill the two women upstairs.

Most unusual about Mikio's body being discovered is that he was still wearing day clothes: business-friendly attire that he would wear out-and-about. And one report I read online stated that he was still wearing one shoe, but since I can't find that factoid posted anywhere else, I'd take that with just a grain of salt.

As for the bodies of Yasuko and Niina, I need to discuss the layout of the family's home pretty quickly. The layout of the house is hard to describe, so I will be posting pictures made with a 3D model on the podcast website. But, anyhow, the house was built in a way that at the top of the stairs leading up to the second story, was a ladder leading up to a third-story loft. The third-story loft had a bed and a television, so many have assumed that both Yasuko and Niina were up there at the time of the murders, watching TV and perhaps lying down in bed.

The bodies of both Yasuko and Niina were found at the bottom of the ladder leading up to the third-floor loft, having been stabbed multiple times. Investigators noted the stab wounds as being excessive, and figured that both victims had been stabbed well beyond their point of death. This lead to many theories that the killer was a woman-hater of sorts, or at least held some aggression towards women and girls. Sadly, this is not a sentiment altogether uncommon in these types of murders, but would come to be relevant to the later investigation.

The family's son, Rei, as I stated earlier, was found in bed, having been strangled. Police were originally stumped as to why Rei had been saved of a brutal stabbing death like the rest of his family, but as they began to piece together the clues, figured that he was the first of the family to be killed. His final moments, while saved from the terror of his family being attacked before him, were still likely marred by a confusion that his six-year-old mind wouldn't have been able to comprehend.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That afternoon, roughly six hours after the bodies had been discovered, a young man was admitted to a medical center in Tobu Nikko Station. Tobu Nikko Station is a few hours north of Setagaya, the Tokyo district that the Miyazawa family lived in, and the two have many connecting trains that travel between.


This man, told to be in his thirties, was admitted without giving up his name or the reason for his injury. The injury itself was a hand wound, which was apparently severe enough to have exposed bone. Staff at the scene were surprised at how nonchalantly the man was treating the injury, and viewed him as rather suspicious, hence their decent recollection of the details.

This man, as I stated, looked to be well into his thirties, and was wearing a black down jacket with jeans. Despite not giving up any details about himself, the man was treated and then released by the medical staff, who had no idea what had happened just hours beforehand.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Much to the police investigator's surprise, the crime scene was absolutely covered in evidence of what had happened in the early morning hours of December 31st.

First and foremost, the police had uncovered the holy grail of any investigation by discovering the murder weapons early on. Both knives - the one purchased on the 29th and the other, one of the Miyazawa's kitchen knives - were found easily in the kitchen, with blood still on them.

The type of knife purchased by the killer

Many police investigations stumble without a murder weapon, but in this case, the police had uncovered two within the early minutes of the investigation.

Besides the knives, though, police would uncover that the Miyazawa family home was a treasure trove of evidence leading them to piece together what had happened that night.

They would find the family's first aid kit had been opened, likely by Yasuko and Niina, sometime during the assault itself. Some of the pieces of bandaging from the first aid kit were found with eight-year-old Niina's blood on them.

In the upstairs bathroom, disgustingly, police would find un-flushed feces. This had apparently been left by the killer, either too ignorant of DNA testing, or too proud of his ability to get away with it. Upon investigation, analysts would discover remnants of a sesame spinach dish, containing string beans, which had likely been eaten elsewhere.

In the years since, internet web-sleuths have called this somewhat of a "boring" dish, the kind a mother would feed her son. This has evolved into a leading theory of a man that still lived at home with his mother, which I'll address in a little bit.

All over the house, left behind haphazardly in blood stains and in dirt, were the footprints of the assumed assailant. These shoe prints would become widely known as belonging to a specific type of Slazenger shoe. Slazenger shoes, at this point in time, were available all over Japan, but the shoeprint left behind was a very specific size not found in Japan. This shoe size was a Korean shoe size, and the shoe would have likely only been found for-sale in South Korea, which jump-started many theories about the killer's ethnicity.


Other than the bandages from the first aid kit used by eight-year-old Niina, there were also towels and women's sanitation towels which were found, with unknown blood on them. To detectives, this was a startling find: it gave credence to the notion that Mikio had fought the attacker on the stairs, likely resulting in an injury to the assailant that required quick medical attention of his own.

Police would have to send the blood samples away for testing, a process that is by no means an overnight solution. Until then, they would have to keep searching for evidence, which the killer had left behind, as if intentionally.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The most startling evidence uncovered in the investigation was a variety of clothing and items brought by the killer - or killers - and then simply abandoned. It was as if the killer had left the clothing on-purpose, or at least paid no mind to leaving the items behind.

The killer had likely worn an outfit to the crime scene, which was detailed as clothing a skater would wear. I'll just go ahead and list off the items, to save some time. The items were: one gray "Crusher" hat, one black AirTech jacket, a white-and-purple long-sleeved shirt (which has been called a sweatshirt at times and a long-sleeved shirt at others), black Edwin gloves, a multi-colored scarf without any tags, making it nearly-unidentifiable, and a black handkerchief.

A flyer with a look at the suspect's clothing

The long-sleeved shirt was the most noteworthy of the items, due to the blood stains found on it. It wasn't the same style of clothing anyone in the family would have worn, and wasn't the right size, regardless. The shirt was white with purple sleeves, and was only available in Marufuru shops, a retail chain that also sold the type of gloves and hat found at the crime scene.



The handkerchief was also noteworthy in its own way, as police discovered that the item had been ironed prior to use. This was odd, simply because very few people would go through the effort of ironing a handkerchief. Plus, the idea of a young skater using a handkerchief is, in itself, someone of an odd notion, so internet theorists have attributed the handkerchief being ironed to another clue of the alleged killer living at home with a mother figure.

Forensic analysts would discover trace elements of the male cologne Drakkar Noir on the handkerchief, which is not a case-breaking piece of evidence but still worth noting.

All of the clothing items were found to have been washed in hard water, meaning that the water used to clean the clothing was full of minerals and vitamins not usually found in regularly-occurring water. Japan has long used a soft water system, meaning that the water itself is just water with some sodium. This would be a point in favor of labeling the killer someone of Korean heritage, since Korea uses a hard water system which would lead police to believe that the clothes were washed the way that they were found.

Other than the clothing, however, the killer left behind yet MORE evidence, in the form of personal items. The first and foremost of these items was a "hip-bag," like a mix between a messenger bag, a small backpack, and a fanny pack. It's hard to describe without me sounding incredibly fashionably-deficient, so I recommend just Googling it for your own mental image, if you're like me before this episode who had no idea what it was.


The hip-bag itself was rather innocent-looking, but did contain some pieces of evidence that would continue to guide the way investigators approached the case. The first piece of evidence was a piece of grip-tape used for the surface of skateboards. The second was the trace elements of Drakkar Noir, the cologne found on the handkerchief. The last piece of evidence taken from the hip-bag, most shockingly, was sand.

Prior to the making of this podcast, I had no idea how intricate and advanced the scientific testing of sand was. That may sound silly, but it's absolutely true. Apparently, forensic analysts can take a piece of sand and pinpoint the exact area that the sand came from, within a bubble of fifty-to-a-hundred miles or so.

The sand found in that hip-bag could be identified by the area it came from, which pointed to the Southwestern United States. More specifically, the approximate area around Edwards Air Force Base, the military installation about one-hundred-miles north of Los Angeles.

This startling piece of evidence, potentially linking the killer to a military installation thousands of miles away, has been perhaps the biggest wrench in the entire investigation. Many have viewed this as a sign that the killer was perhaps an airman stationed in Tokyo, or a type of contractor that did business in multiple countries. Some have even tried to link this clue to the ironed handkerchief as being a sign of military bearing, as military service does preach ironing as part of its uniform conduct.

Despite all of this evidence being present at the scene, police weren't anywhere near finished piecing the case together. There would still be more revelations to break in the case, and there wasn't even the sign of a solid suspect on the horizon.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Days began to turn into weeks, and then the weeks morphed into months. Police took the evidence they had to the public, appealing for anyone with knowledge of the clothing to come forward. They were able to track down several items of clothing to the people that owned them, but almost every article left by the killer at the Miyazawa house was common. Thousands of each had been sold in Japan in the year or so prior to the murders, so tracking down every owner of the clothing was a fruitless endeavor.

In early April, about one-hundred-days after the murders, police found something interesting. Originally brought in as evidence, they had discovered a small Buddhist statue less than a mile away from the Miyazawa home.

The type of statue left nearby the Miyazawa home

That statue was in the image of Jizo, a Buddhist deity that protects children in the afterlife. In Eastern Asian incarnations of Buddhism, Jizo is said to protect children in the afterlife who die before their parents, keeping them safe from demons as they ascend to the spirit world.

Police originally brought this in as a piece of evidence, thinking that perhaps the killer had left it behind as a sign of guilt or remorse.

Regardless of who placed it there, along a creek bed in the Setagaya province close to the family home, it remains a tragic reminder of the crimes committed to the Miyazawas.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As police continued to work out the evidence and test the forensics against their burgeoning database, which back in 2000 was still relatively new to the crime-fighting world, they had detailed a series of events that led to the family being murdered.

A model reconstruction of the family home

The family's home, from the rear point-of-view

Police had discovered that the second-story bathroom window, accessible to the back of the house and located just above a fence separating the house from the park, was most likely how the killer had entered the house. This would be a pretty physical feat, and require at least some semblance of upper body strength for the killer to climb up into.


After breaking into the house, they suspected that poor six-year-old Rei had been the first to be targeted by the killer, who entered his bedroom and strangled him while he was still sleeping.

From there, the series of events splinters somewhat, with detectives being less than positive about the killer's next steps. They presume that Mikio, downstairs working in the study on his computer, was distracted by some noise upstairs, and when he was walking up the stairs, he encountered the killer. There, a scuffle ensued, ending with Mikio hitting the bottom of the stairs, where he would be found hours later.

An overall view of the family's home, where you can see Mikio's body was found at the top right of the image, at the bottom of the stairs

If this series of events is to be believed, then Yasuko and Niina were the next to be approached by the killer, who attacked them, either upstairs in the third-floor loft, or at the foot of the ladder leading up to it. We do know that the first aid kit was utilized by Niina at some point, trying to bandage up some wounds of hers, so it is possible that the killer attacked them with his broken sashimi knife, discovered it was unusable, and he retreated to the kitchen to get another. It was during this pause that the pair of Yasuko and Niina tried to get some medical attention for her, believing the killer had run away for good, because why else wouldn't they have alerted the authorities immediately?

Then, if this theory is what happened, the killer returned with his new weapon to finish off the family, killing the pair at the bottom of the ladder leading up to the loft.

A view of the second story. The markings show us where Yasuko and Niina were discovered.

Personally, I find it much more likely that the killer attacked eight-year-old Niina after killing her brother, and the girl was possibly with her mother at the time. This was perhaps when Mikio heard the struggle going on upstairs, and rushed up there in an attempt to draw the killer away from his family, unaware that Rei had already been murdered. Their scuffle led them to the stairs, where the killer managed to inflict the fatal founds on Mikio, but also broke his murder weapon and suffered an injury of his own.

Now close to the family's kitchen, the killer then went into the kitchen to fetch his new murder weapon, then went back upstairs to finish off Yasuko and Niina, who had been trying to heal Niina's injury with bandages from the first aid kit. They were maybe heading up to the loft to try and hide from the killer, hoping that the ladder could be drawn up behind them.

However, police would discover in their re-enactment of the crime that the killer hadn't left after murdering the family of four. He would end up staying in the family's home for hours.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Evidence led police to the notion that the killer, instead of fleeing immediately after killing the Miyazawa family, had decided to stay in the house as an unwanted houseguest. He hadn't even gone through the trouble of covering up the four family member's bodies, but decided to make himself comfortable for the evening.

The unsub had apparently napped on the family's living room sofa, which was one of the oddest developments in the story itself. Usually, suspects flee from the scene as soon as they can, as each minute increases the odds of being discovered, but this killer had seemingly savored the intimacy of living in his victim's home for a night.

The killer of the Miyazawa family had helped himself to food from the family's fridge, namely ice cream. Police would eventually discover four ice cream wrappers, also referred to as popsicle wrappers in some of the sources,  with the supposed killer's fingerprints on them. These fingerprints matched up with other fingerprints left all over the house, which didn't belong to any of the family members present.

This unsub had also used the family's computer, which was located in the downstairs study. They discovered that the computer had been accessed in the early morning of December 31st, specifically at 1:18 AM, an hour or two after the family was likely murdered. The unsub had visited a website previously bookmarked by Mikio, belonging to the Shiki Theater Company. You see, Mikio had a history of working with theater as it had been a passion of his, so one has to wonder if this was some kind of sick joke on behalf of the killer, or perhaps even the family was murdered hours after many believed them to be.

However, at 1:18 in the morning, someone had visited that website and attempted to buy tickets for a show online, and the odds remain heavily stacked in favor of the killer doing so.

The killer had apparently also logged on hours later, at approximately 10:05 in the morning, to browse the websites of Mikio's company, Interbrand, and the school that Yasuko taught at. Strangely, the killer only browsed websites the family had bookmarked, perhaps to try and relish being in the intimacy of their home.

After using the computer for a grand total of ten minutes, the killer had then unplugged the computer from the wall.

Throughout the night, the killer had gathered an assortment of the family's ID and credit cards, which were all found sorted in the family's living room, nearby the sofa that the unsub had slept in. This was very odd, and many have theorized that this was an attempt by the killer - or killers - to try and guess the PIN codes needed to use the cards. Once he left the scene, he was unlikely to try and keep guessing and risk exposure, so he left them behind.

Before leaving, the unsub had also gathered an odd variety of the family's belongings and garbage, and put them in the bathtub - for whatever reason. These items were mainly garbage, such as ice cream wrappers or advertising leaflets that had been cut up, but also contained some of Mikio's work receipts and Yasuko's school documents, along with some feminine sanitary items that contained the killer's blood. Many have wondered exactly why the killer would leave such an odd grouping of junk in the bathtub, but have figured that he maybe meant to do something with them and just forgot. Perhaps he had meant to let the items soak before being discovered, in an attempt to hide evidence, unaware that he had left boatloads of it throughout the house.

After sleeping in the Miyazawa home for a few hours, police suspected that the killer had stolen some money from the family, approximately one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand yen. That's roughly the equivalent to over a grand, in American currency. However, the investigators were able to easily find more money in the family's study, where the killer had been eating ice cream and using the computer, leading them to think that this wasn't a simple robbery.

Also, if this had been a robbery, the killer might have stolen some valuables, but it looked like the family's belongings were all left behind. The only item believed to be missing was an old jacket, which had belonged to Mikio, but that was it.

When Yasuko's mother had entered the crime scene, she had recalled the front door being locked. This led police to think that the killer had left in another way, perhaps back through the second-story bathroom window he entered. But over the years, Yasuko's mother has become less-than-certain that the door was locked when she arrived, and it has never become absolutely clear how the killer left the scene of this heinous crimes.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Over the years that have passed since this crime was committed, nearly sixteen as of the recording of this episode, pieces of supposed evidence have been bandied about by internet web-sleuths in an effort to find answers. But, unfortunately, some of these clues have been proven to be entirely false, simply items that were falsely reported by investigators or misinterpreted altogether.

The first of which would be postcards, which were reported as being missing from the family's home in the days after the murders. Early on, reports came out that the family's holiday greeting cards, sent by family and friends in the weeks before the crime, had been stolen by the killer.

I've seen this brought up a lot on internet message boards, but I hate to say that it is patently false. The "missing" postcards had simply been taken by an investigator, who was following up with the family members and friends that had sent the cards to the Miyazawas. After all, where do you start any criminal investigation? With the people closest to the victims. The postcards never went missing, per se, because they were always in the possession of law enforcement.

The second piece of evidence that has since been discredited is the trace amounts of red dye found at the scene. For years, people have used this factoid to point to the killer being involved in the meth trade, or perhaps even trying to link the Miyazawa family themselves to producing methamphetamine in their basement. Web-sleuths have often linked the red dye to red phosphorus or red iodine, used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Sadly, the trace amounts of red dye turned out to be an ingredient commonly found in red highlighters, which could mean anything.

I just wanted to get those two pieces of information out there, because almost every internet message board has thrown them out as being vital pieces of information, when in fact, they're both outdated information. Unfortunately, there are not many English-language articles that have come out to correct them, so most of the information regarding this case is close to two decades old.


Police paying their respects and praying for the Miyazawa family

Over the years, no new answers have come to light. The unknown killer had become an urban legend, the type told by those who remembered an entire family murdered by a midnight demon. We have our fair share of those in the Western Hemisphere, as well, offenders whose antics become larger-than-life in the retelling of their stories.

But in 2006, forensic testing had progressed to the point where investigators could bring this demon back to life. Or, at least, take him from the mid-2000s zeitgeist of the Setagaya district and transform him back into a mortal man, made of flesh and bone.

Using the blood left on towels and feminine products at the scene, DNA genome testing had been utilized to find out exactly what kind of person this killer was, and the results were unexpected.

Police discovered that the likely killer of the Miyazawa family was mixed race, and probably not a Japanese citizen. The unsub's parents had belonged to two varying cultures, one of which was Eastern Asian and the other was of Southern European descent.

“The killer was a male of Asian extraction,” a police source told the magazine 'Japan Today'. “His DNA carried a marker from his father that occurs in one out of every 13 Japanese; one out of about 10 Chinese, and one in every 5 or so Koreans. Based on mitochondrial DNA, his mother had an ancestor originating from the southern Mediterranean area, probably around the Adriatic.”

Just to clarify that statement a little bit: there is a chance that the perpetrator of this violent act is a Japanese citizen, but with the fingerprints not matching up with anything over the past sixteen years, the odds are slim. In the years after September 11th, countries around the world have made it a priority to obtain fingerprints for anybody entering their borders, to catch criminals such as this. The odds of someone committing this act and then not showing up on anyone's radar, or at least committing a similar crime, are very small.

But the DNA doesn't lie: this unknown killer has a mother whose heritage lies in Southern Europe, perhaps Hispanic, and whose father is Eastern Asian. The only true inconsistency comes from trying to guess the overall heritage of the father, seeing how the genome found  is prevalent in Koreans, but is also found in those of Chinese and Japanese descent.

However, besides the potential DNA, we also know a few other facts about the killer. We know that he stands about 175 centimeters tall, roughly five-foot-seven, which was discovered by matching up the clothing he left at the crime scene. He wore a Korean-specific size of shoe, totalling in at about 27.5 cm long - just under eleven inches. And based on the blood recovered at the scene not matching with the family, he was of the blood type-A.

Of course, we know these details about the killer, but he has somehow found a way to escape justice for sixteen years now.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One of the major inconsistencies facing the investigation is the total number of killers. I have been approaching this episode with the presumption that it is just one, but rumors have long persisted that as many as three men were present at the Miyazawa house the night in question.

These rumors began circulating when the news broke about the taxi driver, who picked up three suspicious gentlemen the night of the mass murder. I told you about one of those passengers leaving behind a blood stain, which the early news reports point out as being an interesting piece of evidence by investigators. Those reports hint at the police trying to test that blood stain with the evidence left behind at the scene, but in the years since, there has been no word on whether or not it matched up with anything. One has to assume that it turned out to be a false lead, or led to a dead end for the investigation.

However, it is possible that the theory of three killers marred the early investigation, and focused the detectives in on the wrong angle. These rumors perhaps mingled with Mikio Miyazawa's alleged spat with skateboarders and bikers, and the police may have spent a good amount of time following that angle. After all, the killer was wearing clothes familiar to skateboarders, but theories over the years have considered this perhaps a careful ruse: if the killer was someone who had planned on killing the Miyazawas in advance, wouldn't it be a good cover to wear the uniform of the people that the patriarch had been publicly spatting with?

In the early reports regarding the investigation, journalistic sources claimed that police were also investigating whether or not the killer had left sometime during the night and returned. I haven't seen this backed up by any of the evidence, but it would also fit in with the multiple killer theory; what if, instead of leaving, there were three people at the crime scene, with one entering through the second-story window and letting the other two in later?

That being said, this is just a theory. There has been no evidence to presume that three killers were involved with the crime, or conspired to kill the Miyazawa family.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Besides the rumors regarding there being three killers, there have been a few other strong theories to crop up over the years.

I addressed the first earlier in the episode, but it regards the killer being a member of the military, in some fashion. Evidence found in the hip-bag left behind by the killer point to an area in the United States Southwest, just north of Los Angeles, which leads us to Edwards Air Force Base. There has been a decent US military presence in Japan for decades now, and it's quite easy to make the assumption that someone who had gone through training at Edwards Air Force Base would then be stationed at Yokoto Air Base, located just forty minutes west of the Setagaya district.

However, it is also worth articulating a counterpoint: that the evidence found in the hip-bag, some sand, could also be an accidental misdirection. It is very possible that the bag itself had been obtained secondhand by the killer, as many skateboarding items are: purchased in a thrift shop, or at a used skateboarding shop, or even on a site like Ebay, which was very active at this time in late-2000.

I haven't been able to discover whether or not the Tokyo detectives handling the case have been able to double-check the fingerprints with military systems throughout the decades, but it stands to reason that there wasn't a lot of crossover in the years before 9/11.

Another major theory regarding the killer is that he was a travelling vagrant, who utilized the train system to make his escape. This is due to the Miyazawa home being located in Setagaya, a large district of Tokyo with easy access to several train systems, a couple of which were less than a few kilometers away. That, paired with the unnamed man who was treated at a train station's medical center just a few hours away, has led many to believe that he might be a wandering criminal, who simply took advantage of the situation.

And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't throw out the most probable backstory of the killer: that he was someone the Miyazawas were personal with, or was one of the skaters that Mikio had picked a beef with in the weeks before his untimely demise. This is very much a real possibility, and one I avoid because of how (quote/unquote) "easy" it is to throw out there.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In December of 2015, noted true crime author Fumiya Ichihashi published a Japanese-language book titled, in English, "The Setagaya Family Murder Case." In this book, he details his alleged suspect, a man he calls 'R,' who was a former member of the South Korean military.


Ichihashi utilizes evidence found at the scene, including dirt left behind that he traced back to a Korean province which 'R' lived in. Ichihashi also claims to have obtained the fingerprints of this suspect, which he alleges match up perfectly with those left behind at the crime scene.

Only time will tell whether this book leads to any answers, but the truth is that over 250,000 Japanese police officers and investigators have been involved with the investigation over the past sixteen years. The hard work of those quarter-million investigators, paired with a countless number of internet theories, has resulted in this suspect escaping justice for the better part of two decades.

The investigation to find the killer of the Miyazawa family is still unresolved.


Well, thank you for listening to yet another episode of the Unresolved Podcast. I can't thank you enough for doing so, and encourage everyone who enjoyed listening to leave us a good review on iTunes. I'd really appreciate it, as it would help the podcast get a little bit of exposure.

If you'd like to keep in touch with the podcast, you can check us out on Facebook, @UnresolvedPod on Twitter, or send us an email at theunresolvedpodcast@gmail.com. You could also check out the podcast blog, which is at theunresolvedpodcast.com. There, I post transcripts for each episode, along with photos, maps, graphs, sources, and anything else applicable to the story that I mention.

Anyhow, thanks again for listening. I'm feeling really good about the second season, and hope to keep the momentum going. By the time you're hearing this, Tyson and I should already be neck-deep in the next episode, which is branching out into unfamiliar UFO territory just a little. Should be fun. But, anyhow, until next time: stay safe, and remember to lock your doors and windows at night. Talk to you later.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sources

Wikipedia - Setagaya family murder

Wikipedia - Setagaya family murder case (Japanese version translation)

Information Flyer

The Guardian - "Brutal murder of family heightens Japanese fears"

Morbid Streak (Blogspot) - "The Setagaya Family Murders: the bizarre unsolved murder of a family f four"

The Japan Times - "Shirt may be linked to family's killer"

TMCnet - "Setagaya killer may be Asian or Japanese of mixed descent"

Kyodo News - "Suspect stayed at Setagaya home half day after murders"

Japan Today - "Setagaya family murders remain unsolved 15 years later"

Japan Daily Press - "Murder of family of 4 in Tokyo still unsolved after 12 years"

Japan Daily Press - "Tokyo police remember 13th year of family's slaying, vow to resolve case"

The Mainichi - "Police vow to solve 2000 murder of Tokyo family"

Jalopnik - "The Bosozoku Are Japan's Disappearing Rebels Without A Cause"

Asahi - "Setagaya family murder criminal fled before 3:30 am" (Japanese-language article)

[Google-doc of translated Asahi article]

NHK - "Setagaya family killed, a man with blood on hand near the site" (Japanese-language article)

[Google-doc of translated NHK article]

Japan Today - "New book claims to shed light on Setagaya family murders in 2000"

The Japan Times - "Relative of murdered family says TV Asahi program misrepresented her"

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Update - Bardstown

 
Hey there, this is Micheal from the Unresolved Podcast.

Over the past few days I've received a lot of emails and messages very similar to the voicemail this caller left, so I thought that it would only be fair to give you all an update
.
In January and February of this year, 2016, I put out a couple of episodes set in the area of Bardstown, Kentucky. The story began with the mysterious murder of Officer Jason Ellis just off of the Bluegrass Parkway, but also included the seemingly-unrelated murder of Kathy Netherland and her teenage daughter Samantha as well as the disappearance of Crystal Rogers.

Part One

Part Two

Crystal Rogers was a 35-year old mother of five, who disappeared after a night spent with her long-time boyfriend, Brooks Houck, in July of 2015. Brooks would plead ignorance, saying that Crystal had gone out without him while they were sleeping, but has long since been implicated in her disappearance.

Crystal Rogers, with her infant son and longtime boyfriend, Brooks Houck

Brooks Houck's brother, Nick, was a member of the Bardstown Police Department, who would later go on to become involved with the story when it became public knowledge that he had interfered with the investigation. What's even more concerning, is that Nick put up the same kind of defense his brother had, not remembering a single second of the time he had matter-of-factly spent with his brother in the preceding days.

Nick Houck

In the months since I put out these Bardstown episodes, quite a bit has happened with the story, and the town of Bardstown itself. The area around the town has become plastered with signs forcing remembrance of Crystal's disappearance, or urging police to "solve these murders."

In April of this year, newly-elected city mayor John Royalty, who defeated incumbent Bill Sheckles in a 2014 election, caused quite a stir when he decided to entirely restructure Police Chief Rick McCubbin's staff. Royalty chose to demote two of McCubbin's officers and gave his own appointees the positions, without regard for McCubbin's opinion. Police Chief McCubbin, who was very vocal in the aftermath of Jason Ellis' murder, would announce his retirement just days later.

John Royalty

Royalty, much like his predecessor Bill Sheckles, has been mired in controversy. His decision to replace much of the Bardstown Police command structure with people perceived to be "friends" of his was just the start, as he would soon lock into a war-of-words with one of the local newspapers when they called him a "danger."

In August of this year, Nelson County Sheriffs began serving warrants on Nick Houck, the former-Bardstown police officer believed to be involved in the disappearance of his brother's girlfriend, Crystal Rogers. These warrants included a brief interview with Houck himself; interviews with Houck family relatives; and most noteworthy, a search of the Houck family farm, where Crystal was last seen alive.

Now, months after these warrants were served, Crystal's boyfriend Brooks Houck still hasn't been arrested. He has officially been named a suspect in her disappearance, and Nelson County sheriffs believe his brother Nick was involved in some capacity, but no official answers have been given.
That leads us to: this past Saturday, November 19th.

Tommy Ballard

Tommy Ballard, the father of Crystal Rogers, had been one of the biggest proponents of her investigation. He had led many search parties, and in fact, was planning on leading one of the biggest yet in the coming weeks. Every time he would get a tip or hear a rumor regarding his daughter Crystal's fate, he would follow up on it, no matter where it took him.

On this morning, Tommy was out hunting with his son and his twelve-year-old grandson, on a Nelson County farm not far away from the Bluegrass Parkway, where Crystal's crimson Chevy Impala had been abandoned over a year beforehand.

At around eight o'clock that morning, Tommy Ballard was shot once in the chest, and the bullet would exit through his back. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and investigators have not revealed much information, but they have said they don't believe it was a simple hunting accident; nor do they believe that his son or grandson had anything to do with it.

As of this moment, they haven't revealed any real information or if they have any potential suspects, but have urged the public to come forward with any information they may have: if you may have driven down the Bluegrass Parkway at some point Saturday morning, and may have seen something suspicious, please contact the Kentucky State Police.

I'll be sure to keep you all informed, should anything come to light regarding this story, or others I have touched on in the past.

Until next time, everyone, stay safe. I'll talk to you later.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sources

WDRB - "Investigators question whether Tommy Ballard's shooting death was an accident or murder"

LEX18 - "Bardstown Community Grieves Shooting Death Of Tommy Ballard"

WHAS 11 - "KSP continues investigation into Ballard's death; looking for info. from public"

WLKY - "Former Bardstown officer served warrant in connection with Crystal Rogers case"

WHAS 11 - "Police search Houck farm in Rogers case"

WLKY - "After Bardstown mayor restructures PD, sheriff pulls support of flex team"

WHAS 11 - "Bardstown mayor says he made a 'mistake' after police chief retires"

WDRB - "War of words in Bardstown between the mayor and the local paper"

WLKY - "Bardstown residents rally against mayor, call for his replacement"

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

16 - The Long Island Serial Killer (Part Three: Suffolk County)



Jessica Taylor was once a living, breathing person, with dreams and goals that she desired to bring to life.

Much like the four victims of the Long Island Serial Killer - Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Costello - Jessica Taylor was brought into the world of prostitution. It was an easy way to make quick money, but it brought with it a life full of pitfalls.

Jessica soon discovered those hazards. She had grown up in New York, where she spent the better part of her early adulthood. It was there that she began to work as a prostitute, and where she had served a small stint at Rykers Island.

Shortly after her prison stint, she relocated to Washington DC. There, she got arrested again and was charged with prostitution. To avoid her charge, she moved back to New York, where she would face two more charges of prostitution: one there, and then another in Atlantic City.

She also began to dabble in drugs, which sent her desperately scrambling to her profession to help support her habit.

Her life was like so many we've seen or heard of before: a tragedy. Unfortunately, few tragedies have a happy ending, and the life of Jessica Taylor was no exception.

Jessica had tried to avoid her prostitution charges in Washington DC by travelling to New York City for work. In February of 2003, Jessica was arrested by an undercover police officer, whom she had solicited for a sum of $50. She had just gotten in trouble for driving a stolen car - a 1995 Chevy Cavalier - and was sent to Rykers Island for a couple of months.

During her arrest, she was noted as assaulting a police aid. Despite that assault charge being added to her grand theft auto and prostitution charges, she was released in April of 2003, less than two months after entering prison. She immediately went back to work, and tried to avoid Washington DC, where she had more charges pending.

Jessica was trying to solicit clients off of New York's 10th Avenue, nearby the Port Authority Bus Terminal, in July of 2003 when she was last seen alive.

When people disappear, it is often months or years before their fate is truly known. Sadly, though, Jessica's fate was known just weeks later.

On July 26th, 2003, a woman was walking her dog in Manorville, New York, just off of the Long Island Expressway. The road itself, Halsey Manor Road, was a small two-lane road that led from the Expressway to more rural areas of Manorville. It was during this walk that she discovered the headless, limbless torso of a young woman - a woman that would later be confirmed to be Jessica Taylor.

A Washington DC police officer, who was personally familiar with Jessica, stumbled upon crime scene photos of her torso, where the killer - or killers - had tried to scrape or otherwise mutilate her most recognizeable mark: a tattoo of wings on her torso, which contained the words "Remy's Angel."

Whomever had killed and dumped Jessica Taylor's body had tried to keep her identity anonymous, but had failed. Unfortunately, the rest of their work - hiding her head and her limbs - would not be uncovered for almost a decade, when the Suffolk County Police would unearth the rest of her body along with other bodies in 2011.

There, the link would be established, and increase the likelihood that the Long Island Serial Killer had been active long before anyone knew he even existed. And it raised the idea that this dumping ground was just one of many, perhaps making him one of the most nefarious serial killers in United States history.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Welcome to the Unresolved Podcast. I am your host, Micheal Whelan, and this episode is part three of my look at the Long Island Serial Killer, which began two episodes ago with the story of Shannan Gilbert's disappearance and the discovery of the bodies.

Last episode, I told you about the four women originally found, and the lives that led to them becoming victims of the Long Island Serial Killer. All four were found in burlap sacks, being left in the muck of Gilgo Beach as if they were just a bother to the killer - or killers.

I highly recommend that you go back and listen to the first two episodes, if you haven't already. This episode will pick up immediately after the discovery of those bodies, and include a lot of details that take us to the grisly, unsatisfying conclusion of the story so far.

So now, without any further ado, we travel back to Gilgo Beach one final time, where detectives have just discovered the identity of the four bodies.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Richard Dormer was a man with one foot out of the door. His job, acting as police commissioner for Suffolk County, was likely coming to an end.

Steve Levy, the county executive who appointed Dormer to his office, was on his way out. He had attempted to run for New York governor, but flip-flopped parties at a very inopportune time, and found himself stuck between both without any real support. Instead of risking being voted out of office, while being investigated for misusing campaign funds, Levy was going to avoid running for re-election altogether.

Dormer with Steve Levy, the county executive

So Dormer, an Irish immigrant as a child who had worked his way up the Suffolk County police force, was the odd man out. Any county executive that took over was likely to replace most of the appointed positions, police commissioner included.

This last year, his final year as Police Commissioner, was supposed to be a quiet one. Instead, the remains of four women had been uncovered while searching for another, all five being women that had advertised their services on Craigslist.

The bodies were discovered in December of 2010, roughly seven months after the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert. The bodies were sent off for DNA testing to confirm their identities, but the early word was that they were all females - and all prostitutes.

Megan Waterman, the missing twenty-two-year-old mother from Portland, Maine who had last been seen just twenty or so minutes north in Hauppauge, New York, was immediately rumored to be one of the skeletons discovered in burlap.

When DNA testing confirmed their identities, in January of 2011, Richard Dormer held a press conference to release the details to the public. There, he also told of his theory of who had murdered the four women: a serial killer, who had been using Gilgo Beach as his own personal dumping ground.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Unsurprisingly, the news that a serial killer had been targetting young women sent shockwaves throughout the worldwide media. The major networks were there to report the news that Dormer had told them, and every news agency had stories about the bodies that were discovered.

But, surprisingly, not everyone in Suffolk County wanted Commissioner Dormer to be as candid about his theories to the media.

Steve Levy, the county executive who appointed Dormer to his position, came down on Dormer for revealing too much information with the public. Levy, you see, was facing scrutiny for campaign funding in his unsuccessful bid for the governor's office, and didn't want the cloud of a serial killer hanging over his final months in office.

Thomas Spota

And Levy wasn't alone. District Attorney Thomas Spota hesitated to look after this as the crime of a serial killer. Spota, the prosecutor who had led the pursuit of Steve Levy's fundraising investigation, refused to name the killings the work of a serial killer until the DNA testing came back.

The results? Too conclusive to pass up. All young women, in their twenties, who had disappeared over the prior three-to-four years after advertising their services on Craigslist.

For now, as police continued to comb through the area of Gilgo Beach for more bodies, investigators had to begin looking for clues.


The bodies of the four women were too decomposed to find much forensic evidence. Any DNA that might have been recovered from their bodies had long since deteriorated, and would undoubtedly come back as being inconclusive, the harsh environment of salt water and wind eating away at any chance of that.

Instead, police began to examine the details of their disappearances.

All four women - Maureen, Melissa, Megan, and Amber - went missing between the months of June and September. This led to the first possibility: that the killer was a vacationer, who was familiar with the area itself.

Police began to run off of this, going down their list of locals who should be suspected. They made a pass at Joseph Brewer again - the client Shannan Gilbert had met on the night of her disappearance - and this is when he took his alleged successful polygraph test. Police again cleared him of any wrongdoing, along with Shannan's driver Michael Pak and the less-than-forthcoming neighbor, Dr. Peter Hackett.

Another clue, or calling card of the killer, was how he managed to get the victims to drop their guard with him.

One assumes that, since the four victims advertised their services on Craigslist, they were rather particular about their clientele. Many of the victim's families and friends recall that they rarely did out-calls, only doing so for a special payday or a client that they were familiar with.

Unfortunately, all four women anonymously left to meet up with their final client. Amber Costello, the most recent victim who had disappeared just months before her discovery, left the house she was living in without even bringing a cell phone or her purse. Megan Waterman, the victim who went missing just three months before Costello, left to meet with a client down a dark, abandoned service road.

They were either desperate enough to do whatever this client asked of them, or comfortable enough with him to avoid their regular precautions. Or, perhaps sadly, a little bit of both.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Another lead the investigators wanted to travel down was to figure out the killer's identity by working backwards through the victim's cell phones and emails.

They had already become aware of the cell phones of both Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Melissa Barthelemy being used after their disappearances. Maureen's had been turned on somewhere close to Fire Island, where it pinged off of a tower there, about a month after her disappearance. Melissa's phone, meanwhile, had been used to call and taunt her younger sister, Amanda.

Because the taunting phone calls contained personal information about Amanda - such as physical details of her and her sister - police figured that whomever took Melissa had likely been in her life for a while. Amanda would constantly make trips to visit her older sister, and police figured that the killer must have been associated with Melissa in some way before her death: perhaps as a regular client, or a stalker of some kind.

But besides the cell phone avenue, police wanted to use the victim's emails against the killer. Unfortunately, what they found were a list of throwaway email addresses that led nowhere; the Craigslist email system notoriously uses an anonymous email system, which clouds most emails. Other than that, anyone with access to a simple VPN - a virtual private network - can cloud their IP from almost anyone else.

If the police wanted to find a suspect, they needed to find more evidence. They continued to search the area until the weather ground them to a halt. In January and Februrary, they were forced to postpone any future searches of the area, at least until the weather picked up again.

When the searches picked up again in March, they were shocked to immediately find something.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This body, the fifth to be discovered, was found just about thirty feet in from the road, and about a mile east of where the remains of the original four victims had been discovered. These remains were discovered by a police officer who had seen something suspicious and investigated further, but had no idea that he was unearthing a mystery a decade in the making.

These remains were later proven to be that of Jessica Taylor, the prostitute from the episode introduction who had disappeared in July of 2003. Her headless, arm-less torso had been discovered north of Gilgo Beach, off an abandoned road in Manorville, just a few weeks after her disappearance, but DNA would later prove these body parts to be a match.

 "It is very clear that whoever killed and dismembered Ms. Taylor... was very intent on preventing her identity from being discovered - even going to great lengths to remove a tattoo from her body," said District Attorney Thomas Spota.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The search immediately continued the following week to try and find more bodies or evidence of their supposed serial killer. Already investigators were becoming overwhelmed; this story had gone from a missing prostitute to a full-blown serial killer seemingly overnight, and now police weren't sure just how many bodies there were or how far back they dated.

This was now in April of 2011, close to five months after the four bodies had been discovered in burlap.

Just five days after they found the rest of Jessica Taylor's body, they would uncover the bodies of three more victims, all of whom pointed a very grisly portrait of this killer - or killers.

The first was a woman, known by investigators as "Jane Doe #6," whose head, arms, and right foot were discovered along the Ocean Parkway. DNA testing would confirm that this woman matched remains found in Manorville on November 19th, 2000 - nearby where Jessica Taylor's torso had also been dropped. Police now had more than one case linking these bodies to discarded victims in Manorville.

Police have released a composite of this victim, whom they assume stood about five feet and two inches tall, and was somewhere in the age range between eighteen and thirty-five. She was most likely a prostitute, like the other victims.


The second body discovered on April 4th belonged, most peculiarly, to a man of Asian descent. Apparently, the body had been discovered wearing women's clothing, leading investigators to believe that this was a trans-woman who had been working as a prostitute, unbeknownst to the killer.

Police believed that this young man, who I stated was of Asian descent, had likely died from blunt force trauma, which they derived from teeth missing from the skull. He was smaller in stature, standing only around five-foot-six-inches tall, and was most likely between the age range of seventeen and twenty-three. This victim had been dead somewhere between five and ten years, according to investigators, who were puzzled at the lack of missing persons reports to link this victim to.
John Doe

Sadly, there was one other victim discovered on April 4th, and this one was the most heartbreaking of all. This victim was just an infant, a little girl somewhere between eighteen and thirty-two months old. Police immediately began to assume that this was the child of a prostitute they had yet to discover, a child that had just happened to be with her mother on the night the killer decided to act.

This young victim, known as "Baby Doe" to the investigators, was found wrapped up in a blanket, wearing two unique items of jewelry: hoop earrings and a rope necklace. This child, the youngest of the victims by far, showed no signs of trauma, implying that her death had not been a violent one.

Unfortunately, police were not done discovering bodies.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A week after this grisly discovery, police made another startling find: the remains of two other bodies. These body parts would further link the Ocean Parkway dumping grounds to the Manorville dumping grounds from years prior, but also begin to splinter the investigation.

The first body was that of a woman, whose skeletal remains were wearing the same type of jewelry as Baby Doe was. They were two bracelets, one with "X-and-O" charms and the other with stones made to look like diamonds.

DNA testing would confirm that this woman had been related to the unidentified Baby Doe, and had likely been her mother. Surprisingly, though, her skeleton was found inside a plastic bag placed over seven miles away, as she was discovered just near Jones Beach State Park.

The other body discovered on this day was the most shocking of all: found near Tobay Beach, a few miles to the west of Gilgo Beach, was the skull of yet another woman. They also found a few of her teeth in the surrounding area, but DNA testing would show that this woman was the same victim from 1996, whose legs had washed up to shore in a plastic bag on Fire Island, miles away.

This would raise the biggest question of all: was there one serial killer that had been preying on prostitutes for nearly twenty years?

Richard Dormer

Richard Dormer, the lame duck Suffolk County Police Commissioner, obviously clung to the idea that this was a single killer. However, Thomas Spota, the reigning District Attorney, thought otherwise.

Thomas Spota

Spota began circulating the idea that, due to the differences in time periods and disposal methods of the multiple bodies discovered, there were multiple killers that had been using this stretch of Ocean Parkway as a dumping ground.

This wasn't odd, because there were obviously differences in the bodies discovered. The older bodies that had been discovered were unidentified, but dated back to 1996. There was a possibility that the four identified victims who had been found in burlap were connected, but they were connected solely by the location and their probable employments.

This also doesn't mention, of course, how the remains connected to Manorville would open up the investigation to other unidentified victims, whose bodies had been found in the years and months prior to the investigation began.

But this simple argument would begin to fracture the investigation as a whole: certain detectives would cling to the single killer theory, while others would follow Spota and begin to pursue the multiple killer theory.

Despite this growing fraction between different sides of the investigation, everyone involved would agree that this wouldn't have a simple solution.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

During this April search for more bodies, police had started to use new and innovative ways to search the terrain.

They had begun using helicopters overhead to find places of interest to have officers look later. They would mark these on an interactive map as "places of interest," going on to pinpoint over ninety spots in the surrounding area to send searchers to.

Speaking of searchers, hundreds of officers from Suffolk County and the surrounding areas were sent to participate in the search. Unfortunately, the rough bramble kept the search from progressing quickly, meaning that police needed to find new ways to look.

They would begin sending out large pieces of equipment to trim and cut the bramble as they progressed, as it was too rough for searchers to walk without hurting or injuring themselves. They would take vehicles like fire trucks, and extend the ladders sideways with officers on top looking down at the ground below, to try and locate any signs of more bodies or clues.

As it happened months earlier, the weather was beginning to get rough for investigators once again. The weather was turning once again, and would require police to put their search on-hold until the weather cleared up. Those "ninety places of interest" would have to wait months to be looked at.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The investigation continued to split apart, with most belonging in Spota's camp of multiple killers but others clinging to Dormer's single killer theory, but police now had a few things to work with.

They had discovered that the earlier victims had been dismembered, their bodies cut up into pieces with identifying marks removed. Whomever the killer had been, he had tried to hide the features of the women involved: with the victims whose torso had been found in Manorville, he had removed the head and the hands, in a way of keeping dental records and fingerprints from being utilized. He had also tried to scrape off identifying tattoos and definitive features.

Also, when the victims had been dismembered, the killer had gone out of the way to split up the remains. Jessica Taylor and the other Manorville victim had had their body parts split up by a matter of forty miles. In the case of the woman who had been killed along with her child, the killer had split up both bodies nearly ten miles apart, even though the infant had been found within a short distance of other victims.


However, to some, this was simply a sign of the killer becoming comfortable. It's possible that the killer, if he had been a local and familiar to the area, would know that the area off of Ocean Parkway would be a safe place to dump a body: nobody would be traversing that area if they could help it, as the tough bramble would tear apart clothing and would be an issue for even the ardent explorers. Maybe after a time, when none of the bodies had been discovered for almost a decade, the killer began to get comfortable. He wouldn't have to split up the bodies anymore, and wouldn't have to make hourlong drives to dispose of the victims. He could simply drop by one area, right off of the Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, which would not only make an easy dumping ground for him, but provide anonymity while also allowing him to re-experience the thrill of the crimes over and over again.

Noted author and former NYPD lieutenant commander Vernon Geberth came out in defense of Richard Dormer's single killer theory.

"I wouldn’t be so quick to be talking about multiple killers,” said Geberth. “The probability of having two serial killers using the same dumping ground is very, very remote—to the point where I don’t buy into it. I am looking at a serial killer who has basically progressed. He has become more effective at disposing of the bodies. He doesn’t have to go through all the work of decapitating his victims.”

Forensic psychologist N.G. Berrill, who had experience working for the NYPD, also agreed.

“That coincidence, in and of itself, would be remarkable,” said Berrill, addressing the multiple killer theory. To him, two killers sharing such a similar propensity of victims while also dumping the victims in the same area, would have such a minute possibility of actually happening.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mari Gilbert

The one-year anniversary of Shannan Gilbert's disappearance was approaching, and with it, her mother Mari Gilbert continued to pester the police for any information. As I stated beforehand, they had halted their search of the area due to the conditions being unsearchable, but Gilbert wanted her daughter to not go forgotten.

Mari Gilbert along with Shannan's sister, Sarra

Gilbert began to turn the intensity up, trying to use the media as a weapon. As journalists and documentarians began to focus on the burgeoning boogeyman of the Long Island Serial Killer, Gilbert tried to turn the focus back on her missing daughter, whose disappearance had jump-started the entire investigation.

Dr. Peter Hackett

She began to make her qualms about Dr. Peter Hackett public knowledge, bombarding him at his home with a documentary crew in-tow. She confronted him about the phone calls he had made to her on May 3rd of 2010, the day that Shannan had later been reported missing. He denied having any knowledge of Shannan or her disappearance, but that didn't stop Mari Gilbert.

She started to make claims of Dr. Hackett providing prescription drugs for people in the neighborhood, aided by two neighbors who had had multiple Homeowners Association disputes with Hackett and testified to that account.

Gilbert also took question with Hackett's claims that he knew nothing of Shannan's disappearance. Gus Coletti, the retired insurance agent who opened up his door to Shannan on the night she disappeared, was often regarded as a close friend of Hackett's, who lived right next to him. What are the odds that in the days after Shannan disappeared, the two didn't talk at all about the most exciting story to hit the neighborhood in some time?

Shannan Gilbert

At this point, it hadn't become common knowledge that Shannan had been on the phone with 911 when she went running from door-to-door. The press began to run wild when that was brought to light, with rumors that Shannan was screaming "they're trying to kill me," and the Gilbert family began to push for the 911 call to be released to the public. However, to this day, over half-a-decade after Shannan disappeared, that call has not been released. Rumors persist to this day over why the call hasn't been released, but the most persistent of those is that she was bounced around from jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction throughout the entire twenty-three minute call.

A few months after turning up the heat in the media, Mari Gilbert began pushing for the marsh behind Dr. Hackett's house to be dredged, thus allowing investigators time to fully search it. See, Dr. Hackett lived next door to Barbara Brennan, who owned the last house to receive a knock from Shannan on the night she disappeared. Dr. Hackett originally went against these wishes, not wanting the marsh to be drained, but consented after a month or so.

When the search for bodies finally picked up again, and the police began hitting their noted "ninety places of interest," that marsh would finally be drained. And Shannan Gilbert would finally be found.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The search began again in earnest the first week of December of 2011, nearly a year after the first four bodies had been discovered. Police still had as much of an idea as to who the killer was as they did then, but were hoping to either find some more evidence that could clue them along or to find more bodies and bring closure to missing persons stories.

On December 6th, they began searching one of their many places of interest, in the dredged marsh  located behind Dr. Peter Hackett's house.

On December 6th, police would finally discover some trace of Shannan. Up until that point, she had presumably just vanished into thin air, but on that morning, they discovered her purse and some belongings of hers, which included her cell phone and her pair of jeans.

Officer John Mallia, who had been the person to discover the bodies of the four victims in burlap a year beforehand, was part of the search party that was searching throughout the area.

A week later, on December 13th, the searchers would stumble upon a body, which was identifiable due to the metal plate in the jaw of the skull.

The same day that police discovered the body of Shannan Gilbert, the families of the other victims were holding a candlelight vigil. Mari Gilbert had been there on that day, and was guided by the police investigators to the back porch of Dr. Peter Hackett, which offered her the best view of the area where Shannan's body was discovered.

She, however, was less than encouraged by how long it had taken police to find her daughter.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Police had to wait for the forensic examiners to fully look over Shannan Gilbert's remains and perform an autopsy to reveal a cause of death, but the early word was that she had died of the elements.

When she had gone missing, word had gotten out that Shannan suffered from bipolar disorder. That, in conjecture with her drug use and alleged use of cocaine, led many to believe that she simply got zonked out of her mind and stumbled out into an area that overwhelmed her.

However, her body was discovered just a few hundred feet away from the Ocean Parkway. At the time of morning that she disappeared, she would have seen cars driving by and would have kept travelling towards the road if she was in a serious emergency.

Also, it is worth noting, that on the day that she disappeared, the water level was low; low to the point of being a non-threat. Experts agreed that on the day Shannan disappeared, the area that she had wandered into had a water level less than a foot deep. If she had drowned, it was highly probable that she had drowned in six-to-eight inches of water.

When her body had been discovered, she had also been found without her jeans, and lying face-up.

What's most confusing about her discovery, however, is the absence of two hyoid bones in her throat. To many, this would imply that she had been strangled, but the Suffolk County medical examiners didn't think so.

In May of 2012, two years after she had run throughout the neighborhood of Oak Beach, Shannan Gilbert's death was finally ruled as accidental. She was said to have died of "misadventure," or otherwise via mishap. This is, however, after the medical examiners tested the exterior of her remains for any trace of cocaine, and found nothing.

What's confusing about this ruling from the medical examiner's office is that it ignores some of the evidence, such as the missing hyoid bones in Shannan's throat, and only tested for cocaine on the surface of the skeleton. They could have tested Shannan's bone marrow for evidence of cocaine use - or other drugs, for that matter - but for some reason, decided not to.

However, despite all of the speculation regarding her cause of death, Shannan Gilbert still hasn't been officially tied to the investigation of the Long Island Serial Killer. Despite years of tribulations faced by her mother in trying to get her case looked at further, Shannan Gilbert's death is still ruled as accidental.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the latter part of 2012, investigators were still trying to gain any semblance of a lead in the case for the killer. Richard Dormer, the police commissioner, had been replaced by the newly-elected county executive Steve Bellone's favored candidate, Edward Webber.

By all indications, Webber followed through with District Attorney Thomas Spota's recommendation, that there were multiple killers. The notion was, at the time, that there were at least three serial killers operating in the area and dumping the bodies of prostitutes within a ten-mile stretch of land.

Thomas Spota with police commissioner Edward Webber

This is how police continued their investigation in the coming months, and unsurprisingly, no new evidence would come to light.

In the Fall of 2012, the investigation would face a new hurdle: mother nature herself. That October, Hurricane Sandy would strike the east coast of the United States, causing irrecoverable harm to the investigation and causing over seventy-five billion dollars worth of total damage.

It's impossible to know just how much of the investigation was forever changed by Hurricane Sandy. While I know it's not wise to argue what-ifs, one has to wonder just how much evidence was washed away by the insane winds and flooding, most of which impacted the New York and New Jersey area.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

After the setback of Hurricane Sandy, the future was not bright for Suffolk County investigators. They wouldn't find any more bodies the following year, in 2013, and all investigators could do was try and piece together what they knew.

Rumors would begin to crop up that some of these rash of killings had been related to those in Atlantic City, where the bodies of four women - prostitutes, also - had been discovered outside a motel. This unknown killer, known as the Eastbound Strangler, had killed four women between October and November of 2006, and all four victims had been found fully-clothed and facing east.

The four victims found in Atlantic City

One has to wonder if this would help fill in the gaps? Was this area of Long Island just one of his many dumping grounds? The links to remains discovered in Manorville point to "yes."

What's more, is that one of the victims discovered in Atlantic City was Facebook friends with Amber Costello. That might be a bit of a stretch, but one has to wonder if there's a connection there, in some small way? I'm sure the circles that prostitutes run in aren't huge, but at that time, in 2006, Facebook wasn't nearly as well-known as it is now. It served as more of a networking tool.

Dave Schaller, the best friend and roommate of Amber Costello, definitely thinks that her killer was someone she knew.

"It's unclear why, but something made her trust him," recalled Schaller, who said his cellphone was used for one of their conversations and that he overheard parts of it. "It was like she knew him."

Police haven't officially connected any of the Long Island victims to the Atlantic City victims, but a possibility remains that there is a link between the two.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A possible link between the Atlantic City and Long Island victims is a man known as John Bittrolff.


John Bittrolff lived in the Manorville area of Long Island, where he was married, had two children, and worked as a carpenter. By all accounts, he was a regular guy, who had lived in the community without issue for decades.

In 2014, John's brother, Timothy, was arrested on charges of criminal contempt for violating an order of protection. Police, like always, take evidence from everyone arrested and check it in their DNA database.

Surprisingly, the DNA pinged something. Not Timothy's DNA, but someone related to him.

In the early 90s, two women in the Manorville area had been brutally strangled, beaten, and left for dead in the woods. Their bodies had been posed in such a way that the bodies were quickly linked together, and their killer evaded justice for over two decades.

Colleen McNamee and Rita Tangredi, the victims Bittrolff is accused of killing in 1994 and 1993, respectively

That is, until Suffolk County police managed to get ahold of John Bittrolff's DNA, and it provided a clear match to those two cold cases.

Ever since then, 2014, Bittrolff has been facing trial for those two murders. He has also been tied to a third similar crime, which occurred in the same time period in November of 1993, but beyond that, no official link has been made to connect him to the victims found near Gilgo Beach.

Many view him as a prime suspect in the case, due to his close proximity to the Manorville victims, which include Jessica Taylor. He lived just miles away from where those torsos were discovered, and many find it odd that he's linked to those three cold cases but none others. Many skeptics don't believe that a serial offender would strike three times over the period of two months, and then avoid killing altogether from then on.

If we go back to the words of forensic psychologist N.G. Berrill, this is perhaps an instance of a killer who adapted. In the killings he's been charged with, Bittrolff did nothing to hide the bodies, and left crucial evidence behind. It's very possible that he continued to strike, adapting as he went along.

It is also worth nothing that one of Bittrolff's alleged victims, Rita Tangredi, had a daughter. That daughter had grown up to become best friends with Melissa Barthelemy, the first body discovered in burlap.

Police have theorized that the Long Island Serial Killer had stalked Melissa, due to the knowledge he had of her life and her sister. Even though police have supposedly cleared Bittrolff's name of any Long Island crimes, I find it hard to believe that this is all just coincidence.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Other than Bittrolff, there have been no serious leads into other suspects.

Many have suspected Akeem Cruz, also known as "Vybe," the pimp and boyfriend of Megan Waterman. In the year after her disappearance, Cruz served a 20-month sentence for drug trafficking and other prostitution-related offenses, for working as a pimp. While he was in prison, Waterman's family pled with police to keep him there until she was located, and he was then sentenced to a three-year sentence for violating the Mann Act, transporting Megan over state lines for prostitution. During his sentence, Cruz completely refused to cooperate with police, not telling them any details of the night Megan disappeared, and whether he was with her at any point during her last, fatal client meetup.

Akeem Cruz

Others have tried to link convicted serial killer Joel Rifkin, who lived and operated in the Long Island area, to the crimes, but I just don't see it. The earliest victim linked to the Gilgo Beach dumping grounds was killed in 1996, two years after Rifkin began serving his life sentence. While it is possible that the killer is someone inspired by Rifkin, who also preyed upon prostitutes in the New York area, the idea of him being the killer is preposterous to me.

Joel Rifkin

Many have continued to suspect the men involved in Shannan Gilbert's final night, including her driver, Michael Pak; her client, Joseph Brewer; and Brewer's neighbor, Dr. Peter Hackett. Police have come out and definitively stated that none of those three have been persons of interest in Shannan's disappearance, let alone any of the murders. Both Brewer and Hackett have moved from the area, both claiming that their lives were ruined by the suspicious allegations that embroiled them and their families.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Other than the suspects, we only have leads that police have undoubtedly followed up on.

Investigators have looked at the possibility of a police officer being the killer, but come up with nothing. This was due to the fact that whomever contacted Amanda, Melissa Barthelemy's sister, seemed to have some knowledge of police tracking techniques. He knew to get off of the phone after a couple of minutes, called from heavily populated area full of tourists, and knew how to cover his tracks. Once the story broke, no other calls were made.

Besides that connection, investigators uncovered that one of the final people to be in-contact with Maureen Brainard-Barnes was a Staten Island police officer, who was acting as a client and not a part of any police investigation.

Other than that lead, there is a strong likelihood that the killer - or killers - are decently skilled in certain technical skills. While it wouldn't require a technical genius for the killer to stay anonymous online, the fact that he managed to mask his IP address implies some knowledge of VPN's, online tools that allow users to mask their IP address with another. Again, these don't require a genius to use, but in the mid-2000s were more difficult to obtain and less widely-used.

The possibility also exists that whoever killed the victims was a frequent drug user, someone who particularly used cocaine. Kim Overstreet, the sister of Amber Costello, has urged the police and media to continue investigating this lead, as almost all of the victims were drug users that could have provided the killer with his drug-of-choice.

A much-lesser-sought-after clue was that of the burlap bags that Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Costello's remains were found in. Many people have theorized that whomever abducted and killed the four of them had access to burlap bags aplenty, at least to the point where transporting them wouldn't seem out-of-the-ordinary. Online theorists have pointed to some of the nearby parks as being a potential place-of-employment for this person, perhaps as a park ranger; where walking through the bramble at any time of day or night and carrying burlap bags wouldn't seem too peculiar.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One thing I haven't really spoken about, throughout these episodes, is the relationship between Suffolk County and the FBI.

Early on in the investigation, the FBI had offered its assistance. The FBI often helps to assist in any search for a serial killer, since so many serial killers cross state-lines. Suffolk County, however, kept the FBI at arm's length. The FBI supplied a personality profile for the probable killer back in 2011, which detailed the likely psychological map of the killer's life.

They surmised that he was somewhere between his late-twenties and his mid-forties, that he is a white man who likely has a girlfriend or is married, that he is well-educated and works a stable job. It is possible that he had been to the hospital for poison ivy treatment, as he undoubtedly came in contact with the vine during his many travels in the Gilgo Beach brush. The FBI profilers also pointed out the easy access to burlap sacks, or figured that he may have just bought a decent supply of them at one point.

James Burke

However, despite the FBI's insistence for further help, Suffolk County refused. The rationale was unknown at the time, but was exposed in 2014, when the long-serving police chief, James Burke, was arrested amidst a corruption scheme.

It would turn out that Burke had long been taking advantage of his position as police chief to get away with being a criminal. He had frequented prostitutes in his youth, had allegedly dabbled in drug dealing and minor crimes, and even confessed to driving drunk multiple times on the job, but he finally fell in hot water when he got so bold as to physically and verbally torture a prisoner who had stolen his SUV and unearthed a bag of sex toys. While this sounds like something out of a ridiculous cop show, I guarantee you that it's a true story.

James Burke being arrested

Burke would plead guilty, just earlier this year in 2016, but the corruption scheme would go all the way up to District Attorney Thomas Spota. Allegations have been made that paint Spota in a very negative light, and do nothing to repair his reputation as someone that damaged the integrity of the investigation itself.

Apparently, James Burke wanted to avoid bringing in the FBI to completely avoid any of his own misdeeds from coming to light. So, even though the largest crime-fighting organization in America offered to help find this sick killer, with the best criminal profilers and forensic analysts that money can employ, Burke decided to say no because he wanted to continue being a corrupt cop.

Thankfully, Burke was eventually discovered and kicked out of office. He has since plead guilty to charges of corruption, among others, but Spota, the D.A. who pushed the idea of multiple killers, now finds himself on the ropes and facing opposition from all sides... including the FBI.

James Burke with Thomas Spota, whom he considered his mentor

In December of 2015, the FBI announced that they were joining the investigation into the Long Island Serial Killer. It had been over five years since the original four bodies had been discovered, and likely any chance of unearthing forensic evidence from the crime scenes themselves, but finally the investigation was being handed off to a higher power.

One has to wonder just how much James Burke and Thomas Spota damaged the integrity of the investigation for the simple sake of a man's greed.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2015 was a big year not only for the investigation of finding this unknown serial killer, but also for finding out the fate of Shannan Gilbert.

Police had long since established the story: after meeting up with Joseph Brewer, Shannan had run off into the night in a drug-fueled frenzy, where she eventually fell into a bog and, ultimately drowned. However, no drugs were found in her system, and her cause of death was ruled as being inconclusive. But, again, medical examiners didn't do a scan of her bone marrow for any illicit narcotics, for some unknown reason.

Mari Gilbert, Shannan's mother, had long since argued the cause of Shannan's death as being unnatural. For years now, she had pointed some amount of blame at Dr. Peter Hackett for being involved in her death, and hired an attorney to file a suit claiming such.

Mari Gilbert with her attorney, John Ray

As part of this pending lawsuit, Mari Gilbert and her attorney, John Ray, acquired the services of Michael Baden, who was at one point, the New York state medical examiner. He was a guy with an established professional record, whose opinion would be highly valued in any criminal investigation.

Baden was brought in to perform a second autopsy of Shannan's body, to try and find anything that might have been missed or ignored in her prior screening.

In February of 2016, Gilbert's attorney, John Ray, made those autopsy results public, along with a statement written by Michael Baden.

Baden wrote that Shannan Gilbert's death was most likely caused by strangulation, due to the absence of her larynx and the missing hyoid bones from her throat. Baden ruled that these were undoubtedly "signs of homicidal strangulation," words he wrote explicitly in his report.

Dr. Michael Baden

This went completely at-odds with what the Suffolk County police had originally found in their own autopsy, and they had never investigated Shannan's disappearance or death as a potential homicide. Even after this report went viral, and was submitted into the public record of Mari Gilbert's pending civil suit against Dr. Peter Hackett, police chose not to say whether or not they were opening up a homicide investigation for Shannan Gilbert.

This was a huge score for the Gilbert family, but another tragedy was incoming.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Just a handful of months later, in July of 2016, Mari Gilbert would be murdered by another of her daughters, Sarra.

Sarra Gilbert

Over the years, it had been revealed to the Gilbert family that Sarra suffered from schizophrenia, leading to ten hospitalizations as she tried to come to grips with the disease. Her mental disorder began to manifest itself in an extreme way weeks before this tragic occurrence, due in part to her going off of her medication and going as far as killing the family dog in front of her eight-year-old son before this tragic outbreak.

Needless to say, this was yet another terrible tragedy for the Gilbert family to have to face.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I wish that I could end the podcast on some kind of high note, but unfortunately, there's not much more story to tell.

While investigators have long debated whether this is the tale of a single serial killer or multiple, the facts are still true: nearly a dozen victims - mainly women but also one man - have been killed by an unknown, unidentified terror that has escaped justice for these crimes.


In December of 2015, the bodies of two women were discovered in the woods outside of Brockton, Massachussets. FBI profilers that looked at the case viewed the killer as someone who had killed before, and would likely kill again. Both victims - one aged fifty years old and the other just twenty - were prostitutes and both known to have issues with drugs. Sound familiar?

In July of 2015, a prostitute working in Charleston, West Virginia was shocked when a client - an unassuming middle-aged man named Neal - turned violent on her. She battled for her life, eventually able to grab the man's gun, and shot and killed him. That man, now known as Neal Falls, was a potential serial killer who had a trunk full of devices and tools intended to kill and dispose of that prostitute's body - had she not fought back.

Neal Falls, along with the woman that killed him

Police have been working on re-tracing the footsteps of Neal Falls, and think that he may be responsible for the deaths of multiple women across the country. His potential victims most likely all worked as prostitutes and advertised their services online.

Even if these final two stories have nothing to do with the story, they show a trend of these victims being targeted as nothing more than sport. Ever since Jack the Ripper rose to notoriety, the sadistic among us have viewed these victims as targets because of their place in society: they are poor, they are weak, and they are easily forgotten. We can only hope this changes, because these are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our friends, our neighbors. Given a different set of circumstances, they might be us.

To this day, the identity of the Long Island Serial Killer remains unresolved.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, everyone, there you have it: the story I've been obsessively researching and preparing for about a month now.

The hardest part about doing this podcast is the utter, unrelenting depressing nature of it all. These are all stories that NEED to be told, and deserve to be, but are so morbid that it's hard to see the good side of humanity when I'm done.

Anyhow, I'll step off of my soapbox for now. Thanks for listening to these episodes of the Unresolved Podcast, everyone, I really appreciate you taking the time to do so. I apologize for the long wait between the last episodes and this one, I took a bit of a break to relocate across the country. I'm now living on the East Coast, which has been a weird change, but I think I'm getting used to it - slowly and surely.

Hope to get a lot more episodes done in the near-future, and even though I may rant about the depressing nature of these stories, making the podcast is a ton of fun and something I enjoy doing. And now I have a decent amount of time to commit to it, just gotta get past the aversion towards hearing my own voice.

If you'd like to stay in touch with the podcast, you can find it on Twitter, Facebook, the works. I may not respond instantly, but I promise to respond to your comments and messages in due time.

You can also donate to the podcast via Paypal or Patreon, which is now set up. A warning to all of the Patreon listeners, I'm currently working on getting those perks set up and released, so please don't fret. I promise to get out everything that I've promised, just been working so hard on researching and recording that I haven't had much time to devote to the online portion of the podcast. My apologies.

But, anyhow, that's it for me. Hope you all are as ready as I am to kick off season two of the podcast, which I hope will be an incredibly productive one. Until next time, stay safe everyone.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sources

"Lost Girls" by Robert Kolker

Wikipedia - Long Island Serial Killer

VICE News - "Inside the Bizarre, Unsolved Case of the Long Island Serial Killer"

Newsday - "Chilling find links LI dumping grounds"

New York Times - "IN BRIEF: A Manorville Body Is Identified"

PIX11 - "The hunt for a serial killer: Revisiting the Gilgo Beach murders"

New York Times - "Bright, Careful, and Sadistic: Profiling Long Island's Mystery Serial Killer"

Psychology Today - "Long Island Serial Killer, Where Are You Now?"

New York Times - "Identifying Another Victim, Officials Raise Possibility of a 2nd L.I. Killer"

Staten Island Live - "Ex-Staten Island cop was one of last people to contact prostitute killed by Long Island serial killer, source says"

Newsday - "Dormer, Spota clash over Gilgo case"

Fox News - "Famed coroner Baden seeks to autopsy remains of Craigslist escort"

New York - "Shannan Gilbert's Mother Sues Doctor, Claiming He Could Have Prevented Her Death"

PIX11 - "New Shannan Gilbert autopsy reveals 'disturbing' findings in Gilgo Beach case, medical examiner says"

CNN - "Report: Shannan Gilbert could have been strangled"

Huffington Post - "Long Island Serial Killer is Seasonal Visitor, Expert Scott Bonn Contends"

New York Post - "Two more faces of death"

New York Daily News - "At least three killers dumped bodies at Long Island's Gilgo Beach: Suffolk County DA"

Daily Mail - "'Craigslist Ripper' police reveal up to FOUR killers may have dumped bodies on Long Island beach as new victim is identified" 

Newsday - "Before serial murder probe, LI already had... Unsolved mysteries of dumped bodies"

PIX11 - "From Gilgo Beach to Atlantic City: A serial killer by the sea"

PIX11 - "As Suffolk County DA is told to resign over allegations of criminal wrongdoing, exclusive details of alleged acts are revealed"

NBC News - "Long Island Murder Suspect May Be Linked To Three Deaths, Say Officials"

New York Times - "Two Decades After Pair of Killings on Long Island, Authorities Make an Arrest"

New York Times - "Suffolk County District Attorney on Defensive as U.S. Inquiry Expands"

New York Post - "Busted ex-police chief blocked FBI probe of Gilgo Beach murders"

New York Daily News - "Mother of Shannan Gilbert , believed to be Gilgo Beach murder victim, found stabbed to death: other daughter charged in slaying"

Newsday - "Sarra Gilbert pleads not guilty in mom Mari Gilbert's killing"

WCVD - "Brockton killer likely did it before, may do it again, experts say"

People - "Sex Worker Who Unwittingly Killed An Alleged Serial Killer 'Saved Lives,' Say Cops"

Village Voice - "Long Island Serial Killer Connection: Cocaine?"