Scratched out in the sands beneath the pine needles carpeting the spine of Eastern Long Island’s North Fork, there’s this scruffy lot. The grass is brown there, and crunchy, and stubbled with ant hills. Beyond a tangle of vines, about 75 feet away from its main road called Halsey Manor, there is a clearing. Beyond that, looms the ominous Manorville Pine Barrens. The high buzzing calls of a few blue winged warbles camouflage the intense gloom of this place. Bandaged to one of the pines, a flap of crime scene tape still flutters as a reminder.
On the clearing however, brick dust and broken bottles bits shed themselves from a larger pile of junk squatting in the scrub. Hollowed by rot, there is a car muffler balanced across a sheet of walnut colored paneling heaved into the heap’s mid-section. Mounds of lawn clippings crown the entire array stinking up the air. Several cinder blocks and rough hunks of cement line the clearing’s interior. Lodged in cakes of mud, they look like uneven headstones. There’s a bicycle frame in there too, and a mattress, some netting, a Nerf ball infested with beetles and a few pitted tires collecting rain water. On occasion, apart from the odd filing cabinet drawer, Halsey Manor also yields corpses. The Long Island serial killer stalks these woods.
Of the four sets of remains recovered from that same wooded stretch in Manorville, only one has been identified. She was Jessica Taylor, a 20 year-old sex worker from the D.C. area who sometimes worked in Manhattan.
Left to bake out in the summer heat, her nude body was discovered exhibited across a bed of branches in 2003. She was headless and without hands, with a small heart and wings tattooed on the right side of her back. Its inscription was marred. Suffolk County Homicide Commander Detective Lieutenant Jack Fitzpatrick confirmed to me that the tattoo was deliberately gouged to obscure its writing. Initially, investigators reported that it said, “Pete’s Angel.” Through subsequent interviews police determined that Taylor wasn’t “Pete’s Angel,” she was really “Remi’s Angel.” Declining to comment on the nature of Taylor and Remi’s relationship, Detective Fitzpatrick, on the topic of whether or not this Remi is a suspect, remained reticent. “We are not releasing any information about Remi,” he said.
Three years earlier in the fall, three hunters stumbled over some garbage bags crammed with body parts. Like Taylor, the victim was female. Reduced to skeins of human gristle, the head and hands were similarly separated from the body. Also missing, the hacked lower portion of her right leg. She is called, “Jane Doe No. 6.”
Days later, hidden in the tree-line knitted along the Northern side of the Long Island Expressway, police discovered the remains of a male victim. Just four months after Taylor’s body was recovered, blanketed with twigs, and again found secreted along the tree-line, the remains of yet another male surfaced.
Normally a quiet farm swept town, Manorville is seated right on the edge of Long Island wine country. Clotted with squares of coffee colored earth, sun dappled roads serve up a bounty of pastoral treats for the hordes of day trippers who arrive each thaw. Along with the fresh eggs and wedges of goat cheese wrapped in tinfoil, makeshift farm stands hock bouquets of fresh cut flowers for five bucks. A hand painted sign at one of them points to a cloudy mason jar stuffed with bills; patrons in Manorville are on the honor system.
Encumbered by the lengthening shadows of the pines surrounding it, Manorville is a full two to three degrees cooler than its bordering towns. Shivering in the blue cold morning, I lumber through the clearing, kicking tubes of carpeting and guess at the contents of one or two steel drums by rolling them. Crouching over a few soggy burlap sacks overflowing with sand, I examine a bundle of oil soaked rags with a stick and think. To someone who isn’t from here, this sure must seem like a way out place.
In a sandy gulch rutted beside a brush feathered parkway swelling with dunes, the heads and hands of both Jane Doe No. 6 and Jessica Taylor were recovered some 45 miles west of Manorville in 2011 on Jones Beach Island. Including the intact remains of a toddler whose DNA matches Manorville’s Jane Doe, the beach sites, spanning sections of Western Suffolk and Nassau Counties have so far yielded 10 victims in total.
In February of that same year, a man walking his dog on North Street in Manorville spotted a foot high blueberry bush sprouting up through the center of a set of male skeletal remains. The badly decomposed body was sealed in a ruddy garbage bag wrapped with duct tape, and bound in a bloodied bed sheet. A month later in nearby Manor Hills County Park, another set of female remains were unearthed.
“There is somebody out there,” said Fitzpatrick “who isn’t criminally connected to this, but might know something, and we continue to encourage them to come forward,” he said.
The woods on Halsey Manor are cold; there is a deathly chill.