Investigators trying to solve the deaths of 10 people dumped in the Gilgo Beach area face a big hurdle in putting names to the five unidentified sets of remains, law enforcement and forensic experts said Tuesday.
The bones were dumped on a windswept barrier beach, in some cases years ago, and exposed to elements that degrade DNA -- salt air, ultraviolet light, heat and humidity. Some of the remains, such as those found in Nassau, are merely partial skeletons -- a skull, legs and other bones, sources have said -- that provide few clues to identity other than whatever DNA can be extracted.
Once a DNA profile is compiled, detectives have an incomplete database of missing people for comparison. Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said Tuesday that DNA profiles were still being compiled for two of the Suffolk finds. Nassau police have been awaiting results for the two sets of bones found there.
"Once you have DNA, you need someone to match it to," said John Fudenberg, the president elect of the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners. "That's what people don't understand. Even if you can get DNA, that doesn't solve a case by itself."
The original four sets of remains found in December -- all women who worked as prostitutes -- were identified through DNA and are believed to be victims of the same killer. Of the remains found in March and April, only one name is known -- Jessica Taylor, 20, who was identified through a tattoo after her torso was found in Manorville in 2003.
"Getting those identifications are critically important to pursue the cases further," said Lawrence Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "It's a real difficult problem. This case is a long way from being solved."
Along with Taylor, another woman's bones were found both in Manorville and in the Gilgo area. She has been unidentified since her torso was discovered in 2000. Authorities believe she and Taylor were victims of a second killer.
There is also an Asian man, thought to have been in his late teens or early 20s, who was slain by what authorities believe is a third killer, and a female toddler not labeled a homicide.
A New Hyde Park family wondered Tuesday whether the Asian remains could be Yim Yeung Tsui, a Stony Brook University junior whose disappearance in August 1998 at age 20 remains unsolved. Tsui is the only Asian male from New York listed in a publicly available federal database of missing persons.
"If it's him, then it is a relief," said his brother, Tom Tsui. "It's been very bad for the family and even some of his friends still ask about him. Just don't know how to answer those questions."
But investigators voiced doubt the remains are Tsui's. A law enforcement source said Tuesday that a preliminary visual exam of the remains revealed some differences from Tsui's physical description. DNA analysis is still under way.
With Laura Amico
and Andrew Strickler