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The notorious “Long Island Serial Killer” case, which involves the murders of at least 10 people in New York over a nearly 20-year period, remains unsolved and continues to be a deep source of curiosity in the world of true crime. No wonder it's been the subject of numerous films and documentary projects.
Now, there's another movie plumbing the mysterious depths of the case, exploring the potential connections of several figures to the crimes, including a convicted murderer already serving time for the slayings of two women near where the killing spree unfolded.
For more than a decade now, the elusive murderer alternately dubbed the "Long Island Serial Killer," the "Gilgo Beach Killer," and the "Craigslist Ripper" has remained at large. Even the true scope of the killings isn't fully clear. While police have officially linked 10 victims, whose remains were found primarily near beaches along Long Island's south shore in 2010 and 2011, to the investigation, an additional six bodies were found in the same area at around the same time. Although those other victims haven't been officially declared part of the case, theories about how those additional killings could be connected have circulated for years.
Those six other victims, found in March and April 2011, include 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, whose family life and 2010 death are depicted in Lifetime’s new movie “Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother's Hunt for Justice.”
The film follows the Shannan's mother, Mari Gilbert (portrayed by Kim Delaney), as she fights to secure justice for her daughter, battling local police officials who she feels aren't taking the case seriously enough because Shannan and the other victims were sex workers. (It's the second dramatization of the case in the last year. Netflix's "Lost Girls," released in March 2020, explored similar themes, with Amy Ryan portraying Mari.)
The Lifetime version also shows how a Suffolk County carpenter named John Bittrolff might have been connected to the case. A DNA swab from his brother, obtained during an unrelated arrest, connected his DNA to that found on two murder victims from the 1990s. From there, Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke goes on to state at a press conference that investigators were looking into whether or not he had anything to do with the women killed in the Long Island Serial Killer case. The movie even ends with an addendum stating that Bittrolff “was convicted in the deaths of two of the women found.”
So were there actual links between Bittrolff and the broader case?
Bittrolff, a married father living in the hamlet of Manorville in the middle of Suffolk County, was arrested in 2014 for the murders of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee. As in the film, he was tied to those killings through a DNA sample obtained from his brother, Timothy, who had been arrested and convicted on a contempt of court charge in 2013 and was thus entered into a criminal database, local station PIX11 reported in 2017. Investigators made a full match to Bittrolff after obtaining a plastic cup from his trash, the Associated Press reported.
Tangredi, 31, was found beaten and strangled to death in 1993, and McNamee, 20, was found murdered in the same manner the following year. The bodies of both women were dumped in wooded areas in the same area on Long Island's south shore: Tangredi in East Patchogue and McNamee in nearby North Shirley, the Associated Press reported in 2017. Many of the Gilgo Beach victims, whose bodies were discovered in December 2010 wrapped in burlap and discarded on a stretch of Ocean Parkway, had also been strangled.
Tangredi and McNamee have not been included in the 10 official deaths linked to the so-called Long Island Serial Killer, nor are they among the six additional women, including Shannan Gilbert, subsequently found in the same area.
In 2014, when Bittrolff was arrested for the two 1990s murders, then-Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota dismissed any potential links to the Gilgo Beach case, saying there was no "evidentiary or investigative link" between the two, according to PIX 11. (Incidentally, Spota resigned in disgrace from office in 2017 after being indicted on obstruction of justice charges related to a police brutality case against Burke, who had been involved in the Gilgo Beach investigation. Spota was convicted on multiple charges in 2019 and is awaiting sentencing.)
However, in 2017, Robert Biancavilla, then an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, suggested a possible link.
“There are remains of the victims at Gilgo that may be attributed to the handiwork of Mr. Bittrolff and that investigation is continuing,” he said, as PIX 11 reported.
A spokesperson for the Suffolk County Police Department told Oxygen.com that they wouldn't discuss whether Bittrolff is, or ever was, a suspect in those murders. Biancavilla did not immediately return Oxygen.com’s request for comment this week.
John Ray, a lawyer for Shannan Gilbert’s family, told the New York Daily News in 2017 that Biancavilla’s comment may have been a bit of a stretch. He reiterated that to Oxygen.com this week, noting that there is no evidence that he is aware of to suggest that he had anything to do with the victims of the Long Island Serial Killer case.
Bittrolff was sentenced to two consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences in 2017 for the killings of Tangredi and McNamee and he is currently incarcerated at Downstate Correctional Facility in New York.
"Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother's Hunt for Justice” debuts on Saturday at 8/7c on Lifetime.
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