It was nearly midnight last Sunday, three frantic days after 24-year-old Rebecca Koster went missing, when a light flashed on her mother's cell phone.
A text message from Becky's phone. The flash of hope turned to dread.
"Dan has me tied up in a basement. I think I'm in Commack," it read. The family scrambled to her boyfriend Dan's home. He was there, distraught and talking with police. Becky was not.
Less than three hours later, another text. "Don't tell Dan about my text message or he will kill me."
The messages were not from Becky. Her body had been found charred the previous Friday in a brush-filled field in North Stonington, Conn., about the same time the family was filing a missing persons report. It took investigators five days before they could confirm the identity and rule her death a homicide.
Koster's stepfather, Larry Ross, a truck parts salesman, said the exact cause of death was unclear but police had told him she was stabbed. "I don't want to think that they burned her alive," said Ross, 36.
The family Friday lashed out at whoever sent the messages. They believe that person is their daughter's killer. They called the texts a smoke screen, a pitiless prank, a cowardly attempt to cover the killer's tracks or divert blame.
"How would your mother feel if she got that message?" Barbara Ross said as she wept in the family's Copiague home. "We just want closure. We just want to know who murdered our daughter, and they should pay for it."
Koster, a 2003 Patchogue-Medford High School graduate who worked as a home health aide, went out with friends to two Suffolk bars the night of Dec. 3. Her boyfriend and two female friends have said they dropped her at home at about 3:30 a.m. the next day.
Phone records indicate Koster received a 17-minute call from a prepaid cell phone with a Boston area code at 4:10 a.m., followed by another brief call from the same number.
Police are now interviewing friends, retracing her last days, and have reviewed a bar surveillance video. No one has been charged in the case.
The Ross family said Friday they believe Koster's boyfriend since October, Dan Mayor, 28, is not responsible but that the killer knows him, citing his name in the messages. Attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police Department said their detectives are working with Suffolk police, sharing resources and information. "We are making some progress but there is still a lot of work to do," he said. Vance declined to comment on the text messages or the family's belief they came from her killer or killers.
"It would be inappropriate of me to comment on any of that for fear of compromising the investigation," Vance said. Suffolk police said they are assisting Connecticut police with their investigation but declined to comment further.
Koster's close friend, Nicole Longo, 24, of Coram, called her "a sweetheart," a loyal friend who sat through Longo's high school detentions, helped care for her toddler, and liked to curl up with her mom on the couch for a movie.
"She had no enemies, no jealous people, none of that," Longo said. "These people are going to be found, I believe that."