SHANE CASHMAN: The Long Island Monster — Part 1

Early this morning / when you knocked upon my door / and I say, ‘Hello, Satan’ / I believe it’s time to go Me and the devil / walking side by side

 – Gil Scott-Heron

Part 1: The Mayor of Manorville

In 2012, Matt Samuels and his dog, Molly, went for a walk looking for deer antlers. It was February — that time of year when the bucks shed their antlers. He’d been combing the woods for years in this area of Manorville, Long Island, collecting the bones. The ground was cold and covered in leaves and bramble. He and Molly made one last loop around the trail and were on their way home when he spotted a white bump sticking out of the ground. He thought it was a strange rock, maybe marble or quartz, so he moved in close to kick it. The rock had thin, dark, distinct lines that looked the way winding rivers do from the sky. He kicked it a little harder, and, finally, it popped out of the ground.

He saw an orbital socket where an eye would have been. It was human. The lines he noticed were suture lines, where the bone once fused as the skull grew.

Matt took his dog and walked back home a bit stunned. He called his brother, a police sergeant in Freeport, who gave him the proper numbers to contact and report what he found in the woods.

And then he called his cousin and his friend Mike. He told them he thought he found a dead body. In about half an hour, everybody met at Matt’s house. It was night at that point, so they grabbed flashlights. It took a while to find the skull again, but eventually they found it in the dark, just off the trail, not far from the road where an occasional car might drive by every hour or so. As they moved their flashlights from the skull to scan the ground, they found two more white objects — skeleton feet — about five feet from the skull.

They pushed some leaves away and revealed an entire skeleton. It had been wrapped in what looked like a bed sheet, black contractor bags, and duct tape.

When the first two officers parked along the side of North Street near the woods to meet Matt, they were skeptical. People were always calling in bones they thought were human. Most of the time they turned out to be animal. Matt led the police up the trail, and they were just as surprised as he initially was to see a full human skeleton.

There was no flesh. It must’ve been there a while, maybe ten to twenty years. A blueberry bush had begun to grow through the bones. They noticed moss along the arms and legs. The skeleton appeared to have been placed on top of the ground without much effort to dig a hole or conceal it in any way — aside from the bed sheet and trash bags that had been weathered. The bones had sunken slightly into the ground over time. Seeing as how it was left directly off the trail for that long, countless people had probably walked right past it without so much as a glance.

Did someone leave it there knowing someone else would eventually find it? Was that part of the urge? Or did the killer leave the body there in a rush; in the anxiety of what might have been a passion crime? Or did the killer think so little of what they’d done that it was as if they merely threw garbage on the side of the road? Or was the body left there, easily accessible, so the killer could return as often as they’d like to view their trophy — the way arsonists might return to the fire?

Suffolk County Police called in multiple crime scene vans. They parked along the narrow bend in the road — near where whoever dumped the body might’ve also parked at least a decade earlier. There is a small pull-off by the gate that leads up the trail and the skeleton wasn’t 150 feet from the road, just past a marsh and high cattails.

Each of the men who encountered the skeleton that night were interviewed separately by the police. Matt said he’s found a lot of strange things in those woods — from dildos to mannequins — but nothing, as far as he knew, that ever amounted to a crime scene.

Authorities removed the skeleton and sent it for forensic analysis. Not much had been reported on it since — other than that it might be a male.

(Timcast filed two separate Freedom of Information Act requests and both were rejected within 24 hours. Each rejection said the office needed more information about the particular case — but I had given them the case number concerning the unknown skeleton, date of discovery, the name of the person who discovered the skeleton, exact location, my full name and address, etc. In the past, I have easily obtained FOIAs with even less information. It could be a clerical error, so I contacted the Suffolk County PD’s Public Information Office as recently as November 26, 2021 — and unlike the last time I contacted them, they wrote back and said they would like to help. But the person they have to ask won’t be back in the office until Monday — after this story will have been filed. But I will include updates in subsequent parts should they deliver.)

After the police eventually left the scene, Matt returned to find a dark, approximately five foot wide, depression in the ground where the skeleton had been resting for so long.

The idea that this skeleton might be the work of a serial killer did cross both Matt and Mike’s minds. About one month earlier, the remains of four women were found along the surface of Gilgo Beach — an hour southwest of Manorville. Each of the remains were placed atop the sand and bramble, just off the side of Ocean Parkway. And about one month later, four more sets of remains would be discovered on Gilgo Beach.

Although Manorville is known locally as the gateway to the Hamptons, it does also have a history of people finding dismembered human remains.

But Matt and Mike don’t believe there’s any connection between the remains in Gilgo Beach and the remains in Manorville.

“[Manorville] is the first bit of undeveloped wilderness you get to if you’re coming in from the west,” Matt said. He also noted that this particular patch of forest is not far at all from the Long Island Expressway. “I think that’s why we ended up with a lot of peoples’ shady baggage,” he said.

Mike thinks there are probably psychopaths all over the place. We just don’t quite know who’s who. There is evil out there that assumes a human form. People capable of true wickedness, the unimaginable. Crimes so devastating that it’s easier for some people to ignore them rather than have to confront exactly how unhinged some humans can become.

Both men also attribute many of the nightmarish murders that have happened throughout Long Island to the fact that it’s a small strip of land with such a high population density.

But Matt was unaware that the torso of a woman found in Manorville near the Long Island Expressway on July 26, 2003 would later match a pair of hands found in Gilgo Beach. He remembers hearing about the mutilated torso when it happened. He said it was about two or three miles to the east of where he found the skeleton. The torso would later be identified as Jessica Taylor — a 20-year-old sex worker whose hands would be found an hour away almost ten years later. The remains were discovered, posed on a woodpile off of Halsey Manor Road, about 8 minutes from the skeleton Matt found on North Street.

After thinking about how the remains in Manorville were connected, in some way, to Gilgo Beach, Matt took a second to think about where he grew up.

“Lots of bad things do happen in Long Island,” he said. “Even on my road, in the past, we’ve had a few shady things. A mile east of me, there was a large, probably like 100-acre farm that a Colombian drug lord bought. He built a little airstrip in the back and was smuggling cocaine in for a while. He got busted with like 20,000 kilos. And then, right across the street from me — a family with two kids — the husband was somehow involved with this plot to assassinate county executives. He stole radium from a lab and planned to break into [the county executive’s home] and inject it into their toothpaste.”

In 2012, when Matt found the skeleton, a man by the name of John Bittrolff wouldn’t become a suspect in the Long Island Serial Killer case for another two years.

John Bittrolff also lived in Manorville. He was married with two children and worked as a carpenter. He lived in a white house with a white fence and a manicured lawn on a dead end road.

Bittrolff would later be convicted for the deaths of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee. Both sex-workers. Each one was beaten and strangled and found dead in nearby woods. Tangredi’s remains were discovered on November 2, 1993. McNamee’s remains were discovered on January 30, 1994.

The murders had gone unsolved for two decades until Bittrolff’s brother, Timothy, violated an order of protection and had to submit a DNA sample. His DNA would then come up as a match to the DNA found on the murder victims. His was only a partial match, so the authorities would later investigate his relatives. Eventually, they’d stake out John’s house, retrieve some of his trash, and find a perfect match on a cup they picked out of a garbage bag he placed on the street for the garbagemen.

The police claimed John Bittrolff left semen and fingerprints on both victims. He was arrested at his house on July 21, 2014.

When one local man was interviewed about Bittrolff’s arrest, he referred to him as “the mayor” of Manorville.

It’s not hard to imagine that those who perform the cruelest acts on other humans —and who do not get caught, and who might enjoy continuing their cruelty — would also be an upstanding citizen during the day. To ensure their freedom to be cruel.

In May 2017, a jury deliberated for seven days before finding Bittrolff guilty of two counts of murder. He is currently serving two back-to-back 25-to-life sentences at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

Just outside the courtroom, Rita Tangredi’s son, Anthony Tangredi, now an adult and father, told a reporter: “Nothing could be harder for a little boy to lose his mom. … I gave up hope a long time ago.”

The four women found on Gilgo Beach were also sex workers. It is hard to believe that a man who goes out of his way to brutally murder two sex workers has only done that twice, which is why many people believe him to be connected, at least in part, with the remains found in Gilgo Beach.

But there is no proof yet that shows John Bittrolff is indeed a serial killer.

If you search videos of Bittrolff on YouTube, you’ll find many people claiming to have known him in some way before and after he was convicted. There are many who claim to know Bittrolff. They say he is a malevolent person who’d been hiding in plain sight and there are others who say he was a nice guy who always helped out anyone in need.

There’s the user Tanner Stahl who shows up too, who wrote on one YouTube video about Bittrolff: “My dad knows him. He was friends with him… [He] worked on my roof and I know he did it, he is a messed up person.”

As it will become clear later in this story, the internet is the place that helped the suspected Long Island Serial Killer find some of their victims, and yet the internet also becomes a kind of circle of hell where anyone, including victims’ families and completely anonymous strangers, will congregate to accuse one another of murder, sabotage, and some will even attempt to solve this murder before spinning into paranoia.

The Internet, like it or not, acts as a warped mirror for the best and worst in humanity. It is a house of all boogeymen.

A case like the unsolved Long Island Serial Killer collapses both the digital space and physical space into a multi-dimensional haunted house. There are people on and offline sharing stories and/or seeking answers.

Some usernames pop up frequently under posts concerning Bittrolff or the Long Island Serial Case at large.

A user by the name of ERIEDEDAILY wrote:

“Bro this is insane in 2012 I went to prison and in 2017 I was on a transit trip and was in downstate correction with this man he had just gotten brought to prison and was two cells down from me I sat at the table with this man played cards with him and ate food with him too. Never asked what he was there for now in 2020 I just now am seeing this.”

Another user by the name of MAVERICK WORLD wrote: “He killed my girlfriend Sandra Costilla… I took her to work and she never came back.”

While Costilla’s remains were found on November 20, 1993, there is no evidence yet that Bittrolff murdered Costilla. He is a suspect in her murder.

It’s worth pointing out that the body Matt Samuels found in the woods has supposedly been identified as a male. Some still want to connect the male victims to someone like Bittrolff. Even though the majority of the victims discovered so far have been female, it is possible that someone hired a sex worker that happened to be a male dressed as a female. Eventually, police would find the remains of an Asian male on Gilgo as well — his skull had been crushed by blunt force. It’s possible that the killer might’ve hired that victim as a sex worker and decided to change their MO in the heat of the moment.

Bittrolff still maintains his innocence in the murders of Rita and Colleen and his attorneys said there is no proof that he had anything to do with the Gilgo Beach murders.

The internet is also a machine of speculation. Since so many murders have still gone unsolved, and since the authorities have not been very forthcoming with information, everything is all speculation.

The website known as Websleuths will become a bigger part of this investigation later, but you can search for the names of Bittrolff’s victims on the site and find 40-page threads of anonymous people, many of whom claim to live in Manorville, who discuss the likelihood of Bittrolff — or “JB,” as they refer to him — being the Long Island Serial Killer.

Some are convinced it’s him. Others are not so convinced.

A cursory search through the website concerning the Long Island Serial Killer will also turn up users asking — maybe almost rhetorically — this question: What is wrong with Long Island? Is it really just population density? Or has it become a kind of magnet for serial killers? Or is there something far more sinister at play? A network of killers? Death cults? Demons?

When it comes to seeking truth, the internet does what it does best in a situation like this: it spins out of control.

The Websleuth user JUST K shared her own astonishment: “There are so many dead, headless, handless, footless and even ribless bodies all over LI.”

If you were to indulge the Internet in speculation and connect Bittrolff not just to the murders he is convicted of, but also to the Gilgo Beach remains and the skeleton that Matt Samuels discovered, you might imagine what it would be like to be considered by some as the “mayor” of your town while also driving around with a body in your car, scattering remains throughout the forest.

If you drive to North Street in Manorville, at the exact place where Matt found the skeleton, you’ll find a desolate area wedged between dense woods. There is a gate at the exact place where you can access the path. Today, there are yellow signs nailed to some of the trees that say, NO TRESPASSING BY ORDER OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY.

There is a sharp bend in the road right where you can pull a car over safely. If you were there at night, you could easily see headlights coming from a good distance through the woods in either direction.

There are no houses or businesses within sight, although there are a cluster of homes and a church just a few minutes down the road.

Foliage seems to permanently blanket the ground. The tall trees meet like praying hands over the path where the skeleton lay.

Somebody could park there on the side of the road, carry or drag a body up the path and be back to their car in under a minute.

It’s not far beyond the tree line where Matt found the skeleton; where the temperature dips in the shade of the canopy; where nature feels most like a bridge between the living and the dead.

The forest acts as a kind of Rorschach test — whatever you might fear most you can see within the shadows and shapes of the trees. Nature forces you to confront the impermanence of your humanity. In the daylight, though, you can be tricked into thinking you’re still really at the top of the food chain.

If you can withstand the darkness deep within the forest, you might understand how such desolation can offer the proper cover a killer needs to perform all manner of depravity. To the killer, the forest offers one of the last truly lawless places. It is where the animal feels most at home.

What keeps some people online focused on Bittrolff is his proximity to the multiple remains found in Manorville.

If you think Bittrolff is responsible, then you should know he only lived seven minutes away from this part of North Street. He lived only eight minutes away from where Jessica Taylor’s torso was found.

People online like to point out that, as a carpenter, Bittrolff would have had a business truck or van. It’s possible that it made transporting bodies easier. They say that he would have had access to tools that would help him dismember bodies, too. Others argue these points by saying anyone can go to a hardware store and get any number of tools to help take apart a human body.

There are multiple roads to take from Manorville to get to Gilgo Beach. But there are only two ways out of North Street by vehicle. At the north eastern end, closest to where the skeleton was found, you drive past a K-9 search and detection facility. At the end of the street, there is a church at an intersection. At the time of this writing, the church sign said: It might get dark, but it won’t last.  

It’s hard to say exactly why this case gripped my imagination. For some reason, I have always been fascinated with the gruesome crimes some humans seem to perform with ease and coolness. Maybe it’s because writing about these crimes becomes my way of confronting the memento mori — the reminder that I too must die; as if the knowledge of true horror helps remind me of the beauty in life. Perhaps this is a personal defect. Whatever the case may be, I have been following the Long Island murders closely for years.

Some people seem so dislodged from reality that they appear possessed to us — from the infamous Ted Bundy to the recent case of Ronnie Oneal case in Florida, a man who murdered his wife and daughter and attempted to murder his own son. Oneal defended himself in court and had to question his own son about what he saw happen the night his father murdered the family. I don’t think demonic is even the right word when trying to define the type of person who can commit acts so heinous — especially someone they supposedly love. The Oneal case disturbs me even more than the way Ted Bundy once strewn one his victim’s intestines through the branches of a tree — a detail that I find to reveal just how brutal an animal some humans are beneath the surface; a detail that I find to be left out of all the films made about Bundy. I wonder if the detail is left out because the studios refuse to have the guy from “High School Musical” recreate something so atrocious. Or maybe the producers don’t want their audience to confront the uncensored truth, opting instead for the sleek, bright, condensed, MTV video-like storytelling some of these serial killers wind up getting in post.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m no better than the ones trolling the comment sections of YouTube videos, attempting to play some role in the Long Island Serial Killer case. Why do I keep driving through Long Island retracing the steps that the killer (or killers) have taken?

For some reason, the Long Island Serial Case keeps trying to reach me — on a personal level.

I lived about two hours away from Gilgo Beach. But after I began investigating this case, I learned that I went to college with the sister of one of the men who discovered the skeleton in Manorville on North Street.

Then, one of my best friends, a tattoo artist who owns a shop more than three hours away from Gilgo Beach, happened to have a client who drove all the way north from Long Island.

Eventually, I found out that this man had a friend who was doing time in the Downstate Correctional Facility — not far from the tattoo shop. His friend happens to be John Bittrolff. And he told my friend, while getting tattooed, that he believed Bittrolff is not only a murderer, but that he could be responsible for more than what he’s currently serving time for. This was before Bittrolff was moved upstate.

I consulted a woman who calls herself a witch, a woman I trust very much, about why I kept having these odd connections to the case.

She told me that I was a prostitute in a past life — or, rather, in her own words: a woman of ill repute.

I can’t say I subscribe full-scale to the idea of astrology or psychic abilities or past lives, but when she told me I was once, in some other life, working the streets, I didn’t have to do that many mental gymnastics for it to make some sort of strange sense.

Maybe this was the reason why I felt compelled to investigate the unsolved murders of sex workers whose remains were found lined up along a lonely beach-town road. Maybe it was my past life that hijacked my reasoning, convincing me to fall in with an Internet crowd trying to solve the Long Island Serial Killer case. Not the cops. Not the FBI. These were stay-at-home moms, taxi drivers, part-time psychics, people on bed rest, bankers, trolls, and haunted house employees who’ve spent years turning the Internet inside out, looking for anything the authorities had yet to find, anything that could lead to the capture of the Long Island Serial Killer — a killer who’s supposedly been operating undetected for at least twenty years…

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