Relics of crimes past sit in police evidence rooms
The Colt .45 pistol is wrapped in a brown paper bag in the basement of Nassau County's police headquarters in Mineola and dates back to the first recorded - and still unsolved - homicide in the county: a man wearing a brown hat who was shot dead in 1925.
"Anything and everything is here," said Sgt. Brian Thornton, a 17-year veteran police officer, who is in charge of keeping track of such items for the Suffolk County Police Department. "You name any item, and I bet we have it."
For each item, a story
Many of the items in both county's vast evidence rooms are like relics in a history museum, harking back to sensational crimes that once dominated the headlines. In both evidence rooms, the historic and grisly often sit next to the anonymous and mundane - rows of rows of confiscated bicycles, for example, stand next to cabinets with bullets extracted from bodies. Each item tells its own story, often of heartache and loss.
Police collect crime evidence in hopes that items such as shoes or jewelry or blood stains will one day help close cases or solve mysteries. Some items are held longer than others, such as the unsolved March 22, 1925, murder of a man in Nassau. Police property records do not mention a name or where he was shot, but show that a Colt .45, seven bullets and a small brown hat were recovered. Now, in the evidence room, the gun and hat are all that remain.
The smell of marijuana hangs so heavily in the air in Nassau that the officers guarding the narcotics room have trouble breathing. They swat away the insects that fly over the rotting pounds of greenish-brown plant matter and bags of heroin-stained spoons.
"It used to be ecstasy, marijuana, cocaine, crack," said Officer Andrew DiBlasi, one of four Nassau officers who guard it. "By 2007, 2008, we started seeing heroin and spoons."
In Nassau, evidence is split between six locked rooms in the basement of the Mineola police headquarters and a large, aging building miles away. Guns hang on hooks, are piled in wooden and aluminum barrels, and lie on shelves in brown paper bags or white boxes. Shotguns, rifles and old machine guns line the walls.
Boxes labeled "Golub" tell the story of Robert Golub, the man convicted of murdering his neighbor, 13-year-old Kelly Ann Tinyes, in Valley Stream 20 years ago.
'We're safeguarding evidence'
Across the room are all that remains from the evening in 1993 when Colin Ferguson shot dead six people and injured 19 when he opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road car: a 9-mm pistol, bullets removed from his victims, insulating foam from the train, and his victims' clothes.
In Yaphank, officers process hundreds and even thousands of new items each week. Defense attorneys, prosecutors, and officers visit the 40,000-square-foot warehouse regularly to sift through the items looking for details from crimes that date back as far as the 1960s.
The work is rewarding, officers said. "We're safeguarding evidence and helping put the bad guys and bad girls away," said Suffolk Police Officer Robert Viggers.
Seven hundred bicycles, hundreds of bottles of counterfeit perfume, and a large gaming system are in the warehouse. There's also a stuffed Spider-Man doll and a large telescope, and items with a darker past, such as the trunk that washed up on the North Shore in 1973 with a body and an anchor inside. As evidence rooms fill, officers look to unload.
In Suffolk, a group meets regularly to go over old cases and decide what can be thrown out. In Nassau, the lead detective in a case decides when something can be disposed. Most are wary of discarding evidence because at any moment a new development may send officers digging for items.
Both counties hold auctions where clothes, radios and televisions are sold. Drugs and firearms are destroyed.
Walking among a scooter, mangled bikes, and a dented car hood, items that show where life ended for some, Nassau Lt. John Curley reflects.
"You try not to think about this stuff," he said. "Every piece here is somebody's pain and trauma."