Suffolk detectives are the leading players in the Gilgo Beach case, but their supporting cast has grown, and the structure of the investigation could be reshaped by what forensic scientists finally learn about the remains found in the past month.
If links are established between the recent discoveries -- four in Suffolk and a skull and a bag of bones in Nassau -- and the slayings of four women found in Suffolk in December, the case will become not only bigger but far more complex. Experts say one option would be creation of a multijurisdictional investigative task force to maintain effective coordination among the agencies.
"Just the information management alone is a major undertaking," said Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank based in Washington.
Beyond the difficulties of solving the four suspected serial killings, Suffolk detectives have to juggle information, some of it years old, gathered by far-flung police agencies.
New York City police and agencies in Connecticut, Maine and New Jersey have investigated parts of the disappearance of the four identified women. All the women worked as prostitutes and are believed to be the victims of a person who killed them separately and dumped their bodies in burlap off Ocean Parkway over a three-year period.
The expanded search and discoveries this spring brought in Nassau police and State Police. The FBI has contributed killer-profiling expertise and high-tech airborne imaging equipment to scan remote terrain for remains and other possible evidence. The New York City medical examiner has worked to identify remains through DNA and other means.
The Gilgo case's notoriety has drawn international media attention and hundreds of tips. The flood of phone calls and emails, all requiring evaluation and varying levels of follow-up, has already led to meetings among Suffolk, Nassau and state investigators to try to ensure detectives are not duplicating work and wasting time.
Suffolk police Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky of the Homicide Squad said the county's own task force, composed of detectives from several commands, is working well with Nassau police, state troopers and others. "It hasn't been a problem and we don't anticipate it being a problem," he said. "We expect it will continue to go very smoothly."
Still, some experts say a joint task force structure strengthening the investigative links among the agencies involved could become the way to go.
Wexler, co-author of a study on multijurisdictional investigation management, said as more detectives become involved, a task force is a good way to ensure those pursuing similar investigative avenues are in direct contact and share all necessary information.
When asked about Nassau's possible inclusion on a Gilgo task force, Nassau police Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said: "There is no hard and fast rule on how these things are run. If there is a need for a joint investigation, that's the way it will be done."
Michael Bouchard, a member of the task force that oversaw the 2002 hunt for snipers who killed 10 people in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, said agencies accustomed to operating independently can work well together under common leadership.
"The law enforcement agencies all want it to be success, so it's just a matter of getting over the personalities and the parochialism," said Bouchard, a former assistant director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who is now a private security consultant.
Wexler and others said federal agencies like the FBI should have a role on any multidepartment task force, but are better suited to providing specialized expertise and technology than taking the investigative lead.
"At its heart, it's a homicide investigation," Wexler said. Homicide cases "are something local jurisdictions do day in and day out, and they know how to do it best."