Is there a serial killer on the loose in Long Island? More than one? Could he be a police officer or an ex-cop? Are some of the victims rubbed-out mobsters sleeping near the fishes? Or could they be the long-undiscovered victims of New York's most prolific serial killer of them all, Joel Rifkin?
With police saying next to nothing about the discovery of 10 sets of human remains dumped off a highway near Jones Beach, amateurs and experts alike are offering a multiplicity of theories _ some outlandish, some entirely plausible.
Many of the theories have been compiled on the Web site LongIslandserialkiller.com or offered up in the daily papers.
"It's mostly fodder for laughter by the investigators," said attorney Bruce Barket, a former prosecutor in the Nassau County district attorney's office. "Because the investigators know much more than they have revealed publicly, they're sitting there chuckling at this theory and that theory. Because it really is irrelevant to what they are doing."
The biggest tabloid sensation to hit Long Island since Amy Fisher shot Joey Buttafuoco's wife in the `90s began to unfold in December. That's when a police officer and his cadaver dog happened upon the first set of remains while searching for a 24-year-old New Jersey prostitute last seen in the area a year ago.
Two days later, police found three more bodies; all four were women in their 20s who booked clients for sex on the Internet. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said at a news conference that a serial killer could be at work.
The New York Daily News quickly dispatched a reporter to an upstate prison to interview Rifkin on his "expert" thoughts since he admitted killing 17 prostitutes in a murder spree in the late 1980s and `90s. Four of his victims have never been found. The New York Post immediately hung the moniker "The Ripper" on the killer.
Dormer tried to calm the chatter, telling reporters days later: "I don't want anyone to think we have a Jack the Ripper running around Suffolk County with blood dripping from a knife. This is an anomaly."
Months passed with few updates on the case _ until the snow melted in late March. Police found one, then three more, then two more sets of remains not far from where the first four were discovered. None of the recent six have been identified or linked to the deaths of the four women found in December.
The New York Times cited experts as speculating the culprit may have a law enforcement background because he has managed to elude capture for so long. The experts noted that relatives of one victim had gotten brief, taunting phone calls from the possible killer _ perhaps an indication that he knew how to avoid having the calls traced. Police tracked the calls to busy Penn Station and the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan _ crowded areas that made it hard to hear the caller _ before the signal went dead, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Other reports suggested that some investigators believe some of the newly found remains, which police would describe only as having been there for "some time," may have been Rifkin's work. He denied that in a Newsday prison interview this week.
Franny Louis, a Carle Place, N.Y., resident, said she agreed with Rifkin when he told Newsday that the killer could be someone nearby. "Someone who works along the shoreline and may have access to burlap bags and things of that nature," she said.
Police have not commented on various reports that the first four women were found in burlap, while the most recent remains were not. They have also left open the possibility that more than one killer could be dumping bodies.
Xavier Molina of Lake Grove, N.Y., wasn't buying that theory: "It's really hard to find two serial killers out there dumping bodies in the same spot."
One blogger on the site The Stir theorized the killer could be a real-life Dexter, the TV character who works as a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department and in his free time kills people he believes have eluded justice.
"There are a few differences, of course," according to a recent blog. "Dexter only kills those who deserve it. And in this case no one would ever argue that the women targeted by the Long Island Serial Killer deserved to be killed."
Carina Atteritano of Oceanside, N.Y., said she suspects someone in law enforcement could be involved, since the killer hasn't been caught.
"I definitely have friends who are up late at night because they are concerned about it. We joke about it that it could be somebody in our town, but it really could be and that's scary," she said. "Nobody really knows."
Associated Press Colleen Long contributed to this report.