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John Bittrolff pleads not guilty to two '90s slayings, ordered held without bail

John Bittrolff pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the slayings of Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee, whose bodies were found in Suffolk in 1993 and 1994, respectively. On July 22, 2014, Suffolk officials announced at a news conference that the suspect was connected to the murders based on DNA evidence. (Credit: Newsday/ Chuck Fadely, WCBS pool)

The Manorville carpenter charged with killing two women more than 20 years ago left two calling cards at each crime scene, a Suffolk prosecutor said Thursday -- his DNA and wood chips.

John Bittrolff, 48, pleaded not guilty Thursday to an indictment charging him with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Rita Tangredi, 31, of East Patchogue, on Nov. 2, 1993, and Colleen McNamee, 20, of Holbrook, on Jan. 30, 1994.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla told Suffolk County Court Judge John Toomey Jr. that several things -- including Bittrolff's DNA and the wood chips -- tied the crimes together and to the defendant.

"The similarities between these two crimes, your honor, are remarkable," Biancavilla said. He added later that the significance of the wood chips "is that for his entire adult life Mr. Bittrolff has been a carpenter."

Biancavilla said the DNA evidence removed from the victims' bodies is overwhelming. The odds that it could come from anyone other than Bittrolff are 1 in 81.6 quintillion, according to the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory.

Both victims were found in wooded areas, naked and posed in identical ways, missing the same article of clothing, and they died from similar, extraordinarily brutal injuries. As Biancavilla described those injuries, Tangredi's sister, Diana Santacroce, burst into sobs and ran from the courtroom, followed by her husband, Frank.

Outside court, Biancavilla said almost all of the similarities -- including the posed body and the wood chips, but not the DNA -- were present at the November 1993 death of Sandra Costilla, 28, in North Sea. He and District Attorney Thomas Spota said the investigation of her death is active.

Defense attorney William Keahon said in court there has been no proof of anything.

"We will be going to trial on this," Keahon said, predicting his client would walk free in the end. He said neighbors described him accurately in a Newsday story last week.

"He's kind, generous, the best neighbor you could have," Keahon said.

If convicted, Bittrolff faces a maximum of life in prison.

Friends of Bittrolff attended the arraignment and left without commenting.

Investigators took 11 months to piece together DNA evidence linking the two deaths to Bittrolff by digging through his family's garbage and collecting cigarette butts flung from car windows by his wife and brother, Biancavilla said in court papers last week.

Family and friends of Tangredi and McNamee stood behind Spota as he talked with reporters after the court proceedings, but declined to comment.

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