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N.Y. Times – Among Bodies Discarded on a Beach, One That Doesn’t Fit

Posted by 4love2love on June 29, 2011

By 
Published: May 29, 2011

The little girl had lived, at most, 730 days or so. Someone had hidden her body in the thicket of branches and poison ivy off Ocean Parkway on the South Shore of Long Island. By the time the police discovered her on April 4, the remains had turned skeletal.

About 250 feet from the toddler’s body, the head, right foot and hands of a woman yet to be identified were found. More than a mile away, the head, hands and forearm of another woman, a 20-year-old missing prostitute, were discovered in the brush. And farther down Ocean Parkway, even more bodies were found, including those of four prostitutes who had advertised for clients on Craigslist.

Investigators have long been searching for the serial killer, or killers, responsible for the murders of the prostitutes. But a mystery of a different kind shrouds the death of the toddler, who was found on the same scrubby and desolate stretch of land, a tragic, nameless footnote in the case.

While the other victims had clearly been murdered, Suffolk County officials said, the toddler’s body showed no sign of injury or trauma, and her death has not been classified as a homicide.

The other bodies were found stuffed into burlap sacks or dismembered, but the toddler was found intact, wrapped in a blanket. The cause and date of her death have not been established, and investigators believe that her death was most likely unconnected to any of the other bodies.

“For all its beauty though, the parkway and Jones Beach can hold many secrets I guess, and this is another,” said Kristine Enfield, 40, whose home in Wantagh is perpendicular to the parkway. “I’m surprised, but in this day and age, I’m not shocked.”

A spokesman for the Suffolk County Police Department said that DNA tests had not yet been completed, and that if the tests did not lead to an identification, officials might seek the public’s help.

The girl was between 18 months and 24 months old at the time of her death, older than in typical abandoned-infant situations, in which mothers with unwanted pregnancies discard or kill their newborns in the minutes or days following the births.

Criminologists and other experts said that it was unlikely that the toddler had been abducted by a stranger, and that the details about the case suggested that the girl’s parent or caretaker placed her in the brush to conceal her death for reasons that are still unknown.

“It is not simply that it is a toddler’s death,” said Franklin E. Zimring, a criminologist and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “It is that it’s a toddler’s unreported death. Whether it is accidental, intentional or something in between, when the death of somebody that young goes unreported to the authorities, the lack of reporting suggests that this is intimately linked to events involving the custodial parent. Sometimes it’s abuse. Sometimes it’s neglect. Sometimes it’s an accident.”

One clue suggesting that the toddler’s parent or guardian was involved is the blanket. Cheryl Meyer, a psychology professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a co-author of “When Mothers Kill: Interviews From Prison,” said wrapping the toddler in a blanket suggested an emotional connection between the child and the person disposing of the body. The gesture itself was something a mother might do.

Often, mothers who kill their children dispose of the body close by, like in their backyard or even in their house, unlike in many cases involving fathers or stepfathers, who often discard the body far from home, Professor Meyer said. She recalled an Ohio case where a child died of a fever because the mother and stepfather did not take the child to a hospital. The mother agreed not to report the death, but wanted the body nearby, so they hid it in a crawlspace of the house.

“It would just be odd for a mom to bury a child at some place that she had no connection to,” Professor Meyer said of the toddler on Long Island, adding: “Transporting the body somewhere else for a burial — that doesn’t sound to me like a mom. But wrapping the body in a blanket does. So maybe you have a couple.”

It is not clear if the little girl was ever reported missing. A vast majority of missing-children cases in New York State involve not toddlers but suspected runaways age 13 or older. Of the 20,309 reports of children missing last year throughout the state, only 190 were of children 5 or younger, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Most of those 190 cases involved children abducted by relatives. Out of the thousands of missing-children reports, many were resolved either by the child’s voluntarily returning home or by the work of law enforcement agencies.

Last year, only five children who had been reported missing in the state were later found dead, and all but one of them were teenagers. Marc Bookal, 4, was the exception. His body was found a few blocks from his apartment in Newburgh, N.Y., in early 2010. His mother’s boyfriend, who had been watching him and who said he had vanished from their apartment, was charged with second-degree murder.

“Many of us who worked on that case, we all had young kids,” said Charles Broe, a retired Newburgh police lieutenant who is now chief of police in Hyde Park, N.Y. “You know certainly at that age that these kids didn’t have a choice in it. They didn’t have a say in how things go, and that’s what makes it so hard.”

Marc’s body was discovered by police dogs in a bag in a small wooded area near a factory. Though the girl on Long Island was found on Jones Beach Island, she too was essentially discarded in the woods.

At the site where she was found, the tangled and thorny branches stretch so high and thick that they form a kind of impenetrable wall. There is neither surf nor sand nor the sound of waves. It is one of those forlorn places on the side of the road where bits of trash and car parts and license plates end up.

The police cut a path into the brush and made a small clearing where the body was found: She appeared to have been laid on a patch of dirt about 50 steps from the edge of Ocean Parkway, at the foot of a thin tree, leafless and largely branchless.

Angela Macropoulos contributed reporting.

 

© 2011 The New York Times

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