When four bodies were found last December strewn along a remote barrier beach south of New York's Long Island, police figured they were dealing with a serial killer. When the remains of six others were uncovered later, they widened the possibility to multiple killers using the same dumping ground.
On Wednesday, the Suffolk County police commissioner told The Associated Press in an interview that detectives now think one person is probably responsible for all 10 deaths dating back to 1996.
But the veteran police official, who retires at the end of the year, isn't betting the ranch that he's right.
"Looking at the common denominators involved with the dumping ground, the type of victims, the dismemberments, all on Long Island. Our theory is that it's probably one serial killer," Richard Dormer said in an interview in his office.
"Other people may have a different theory, within the department and within the profession, the police business. I'm sure you could talk to people that have a different theory, but we're leaning toward that now because of the common denominators involved."
Meanwhile, police are to resume their search for Shannan Gilbert, a New Jersey prostitute whose disappearance led to the eventual discoveries of the 10 remains, according to a police spokesman.
The spokesman said the decision to resume the search was based on new information received by detectives on Wednesday. He did not say when the search would begin.
Dormer has been giving media interviews in advance of the anniversary of the discovery of the first body on Dec. 11, 2010. His latest theory was first reported Wednesday by Newsday.
The theory is in direct conflict with some of Dormer's past statements, in which he speculated as many as three killers could be on the loose, as well as the county prosecutor, who said in May he believes multiple killers were responsible.
"It is clear that the area in and around Gilgo Beach has been used to discard human remains for some period of time," District Attorney Thomas Spota told reporters. "As distasteful and disturbing as that is, there is no evidence that all of these remains are the work of a single killer."
A spokesman for Spota said the prosecutor was in meetings Wednesday and not immediately available for comment.
The remains of 10 people _ eight women, a man and a baby _ were found strewn mostly along a remote beach parkway, but some body parts from those victims also were found on eastern Long Island and nearly 50 miles away on Fire Island. Police have identified only five of the 10 victims. Those five were all women working as escorts. The oldest remains are linked to a case 15 years ago.
Dormer believes nine of the 10 were somehow involved in the sex trade. The other, a female toddler, was linked by DNA to a woman believed to be her mother, Dormer said Wednesday. Their remains were found seven miles apart.
The remains of the Asian man have yet to be identified, but police have previously said he was found wearing women's clothing, leading them to theorize he was a male prostitute.
The first of the victims was found almost by accident in December 2010, when a police officer and cadaver dog were searching for Gilbert. She was last seen in a beach community along Ocean Parkway in May of that year. Dormer said Wednesday that police believe Gilbert is likely dead, although he said the circumstances of her disappearance do not match those of the other victims.
The last of the 10 sets of remains were found in early April. Since then, a $25,000 reward has led to 1,200 tips in the case, but no suspects have been identified in the nearly year since the mystery was uncovered. Dormer declined Wednesday to comment on suspects.
Tom Mansfield, a retired New York Police Department detective who investigated homicides for the cold case squad, said Wednesday that he would not second-guess Dormer's latest theory, noting that such investigations often ebb and flow until a suspect is apprehended.
"It's a guessing game," he said. "These investigations are very tedious and very time-consuming; sometimes it's a mind-numbing process. They're looking for one key piece of evidence that will then knock down the rest of the dominoes."