Though ten sets of badly decomposed remains were found on beaches off Ocean Parkway in both Nassau and Suffolk County in December through May of 2010, only four of these bodies are being attributed to a single killer. Authorities believe that, given the varying characteristics of the victims, the area had been used as a dumping ground for a number of years and that more than one killer is responsible for all the deaths.
The four women, all prostitutes, are now known as the victims of the Long Island Serial Killer. A fifth woman, Shannan Gilbert, remains missing and may possibly also be a victim of the killer.
This is not the first time that Long Island has been plagued by a serial killer. By the FBI’s definition of a serial killer, a person who murders three or more people over a period of time, two infamous examples come to mind.
Still considered a milestone in criminal history, Joel Rifkin was convicted of murdering nine women between 1989 and 1993. Though his victims were generally from New York City, mainly Manhattan or Brooklyn, he often brought his victims back to his home in East Meadow or simply killed them in his car. His spree ended with a car chase with New York State Troopers, ironically culminating outside of the very Mineola courthouse where he would later be tried. His final victim’s body was still in the trunk.
Though Rifkin was convicted of nine murders, authorities believe that he has killed as many as 17 women. He was for a time considered to be responsible for the bodies found in 2010, but he denied having any involvement in these deaths. Due to his notoriety and other disturbances, including a 1994 scuffle with Colin Ferguson, the perpetrator of the Long Island Railroad Massacre, prison authorities decided to remove him from the general population. Rifkin is currently serving his sentence of 203 years to life at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, along with 200 other inmates not allowed into the general prison population.
But Rifkin isn’t Long Island’s only known notorious serial killer. Robert Shulman, a postal worker in Hicksville, was convicted of murdering five prostitutes between 1991 and 1996. He would pick up his victims and take them back to his apartment for drugs and sex, subsequently killing them and then dumping their bodies in various garbage bins. He would also remove their arms to keep authorities from identifying them by their fingerprints. Though police originally connected him to only two of the victims, he confessed to killing three more upon his arrest.
Shulman was sentenced to life imprisonment for four of the murders and received the death penalty for the fifth because he had killed this woman after New York had reinstated capital punishment in 1995. This death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2004 when New York’s death penalty statute was found to be unconstitutional. Shulman died on April 13, 2006 of natural causes.
If the bodies found on the beaches in 2010 are truly the work of a serial killer, he will surely join the ranks of these individuals. Authorities have not announced any viable suspects, though it is believed that the killer has a background in law enforcement, a factor which would have allowed him to remain undetected for so long.