A major chasm developed Thursday over who may be responsible for the deaths of 10 people found over the past year along a seaside parkway on New York's Long Island.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told county legislators at a hearing that he disagrees with Police Commissioner Richard Dormer's latest theory that a single serial killer left the remains along several miles of highway between Long Island's Jones and Gilgo beaches.
Spota said he was "shocked and surprised" when he received a telephone call from a reporter several weeks ago asking about Dormer's change of heart.
"I had no idea what that reporter was talking about," Spota said, adding that Dormer has yet to discuss the revised theory with him personally.
"I would never even discuss this publicly, except I think that the facts that have been disclosed so far do not bear out the single killer theory at all," said Spota, who had previously declined to comment through a spokesman.
The district attorney and Dormer were in agreement in May when they appeared at a joint press conference to say that authorities believed multiple killers were likely responsible for the deaths of eight women, a man and a toddler.
The remains were found in the thick underbrush along the beach highway between December 2010 and April. Investigators later determined that some remains found near the parkway were linked by DNA to remains of homicide victims found more than 40 miles away as far back as 1996.
Dormer said in interview with The Associated Press earlier this month in advance of the anniversary of the Dec. 11 discovery of the first body that he had revised his theory. He now believes one killer is likely responsible.
Dormer discounted that some of the victims had been dismembered while some had not, arguing that serial killers often evolve and change their tactics. He pointed to the likelihood that all the victims were linked to the sex trade as another indicator that one killer was likely responsible.
On Thursday, Spota countered that because five of the 10 victims have yet to be identified, the police commissioner is not able to confirm that all had a link to the sex trade.
The toddler who was found is believed to the child of one of the unidentified dead prostitutes, Dormer has said. The male victim was found wearing women's clothing, which Dormer said indicates he may have been a prostitute. Spota countered that men can be cross-dressers without being prostitutes.
The district attorney said not only does he disagree with Dormer's view, but contended that many of the homicide detectives investigating the case do not share the commissioner's opinion. Dormer has conceded that others, including some in his department, may not agree with him and has left open the possibility that he could change the theory if additional information is received.
Dormer, who is leaving office at the end of this month, had testified before the legislature's public safety committee prior to Spota's appearance Thursday morning but left before the district attorney's testimony. A spokeswoman said later that Dormer had no comment on what Spota said.
The district attorney said he felt he had been blindsided by Dormer's revised theory. He said his chief assistant assigned to the case didn't even know about it.
"I have to tell you that in our office, the DA's office and the homicide squad work hand in hand," Spota said. "The moment that any police are called to a crime scene and they determine it to be a homicide, the prosecutor is called out immediately. They're right there. And that's the way we've always worked.
"And for me to have to call a prosecutor to answer a question from somebody in the media, that we now have a different theory, it's disturbing. It really truly is disturbing."
The legislative hearing of the criminal justice committee took place days after police found another set of remains that they believe are the corpse of Shannan Gilbert, the prostitute whose disappearance spurred the search.
An officer and his cadaver dog were searching along Ocean Parkway last December when they happened upon the first skeletal remains. Two days later, three more bodies were found. By April, the body count had risen to 10. Police have not identified any suspects.
Investigators have said they think Gilbert's death is probably unrelated to the other deaths. She vanished into a wetland after fleeing a client's home in a panic, for a reason that is still unclear.
Dormer said the skeletal remains discovered this week were in a location that suggested that Gilbert became exhausted and drowned while trying to force her way through the marshy thicket to a nearby road. He said unlike the other remains, which were dumped from the nearby roadway, there would have been no way for someone to leave Gilbert's remains where they were found because of the daunting thicket and underbrush.