Published: 1:23 PM - 04-14-11
Densely Populated, but No Shortage of Grisly Dumping Sites
. In June 1991, a fisherman found a barrel in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Seven months later, a police officer saw two men leaving the park’s woods. He asked them what they were doing, and they told him they had gone into the woods to bury a dog.
There are places in New York City where it is safe to peek inside a barrel, and where an officer can trust two men in the woods. Pelham Bay Park in the 1990s was not one of them.
Inside the barrel was the decomposing body of a man who had been chained. And when the police officer ventured into the woods to check out the men’s story, he discovered the body of a young man who had been shot and stabbed repeatedly. He also found a gun, but no dog.
The two cases were not related. The only thing they had in common was the park.
Pelham Bay Park used to be a dumping ground for dead bodies. Throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, there have been numerous others: the swamps of the Meadowlands in New Jersey; the shallow marshes off Fountain Avenue at the Brooklyn-Queens border. And now there is another, in the brush off Ocean Parkway on the Long Island shore, where the police have found as many as 10 sets of human remains — four of whom have been identified as those of prostitutes — as they hunt a serial killer.
The region’s grisly dumping grounds are forlorn patches of land on the outskirts of towns and boroughs. They are thought of as remote stretches far from civilization, but nothing is truly out of reach in a densely populated area. Bodies have been discarded less than 100 feet from well-traveled highways and parkways. The dead are close, but not that close.
“You just don’t think there’s any place that people can dispose of a body anymore,” said Robert Sullivan, the author of “The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures on the Edge of a City.
“You think every place is noticed. But it’s not. There’s so many places that are mysterious. There’s two maps of New York overlapping here. The map of places that are somehow forgotten and beautifully mysterious, and the map of people that are forgotten.”
From 1986 to 1995, at least 65 bodies were discovered in the 2,700-acre Pelham Bay Park. Bodies were found floating in a turtle cove or buried under blankets, occasionally missing fingers or limbs. Some of the killings were mob-related, and some were tied to local gang or drug violence.
“Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in New York City, so it’s vast, vast territory,” said Lloyd Ultan, 73, an author and the Bronx borough historian. “A lot of it is wild. It would take a long time for anybody to find anything there that shouldn’t be there.”
The Meadowlands and Fountain Avenue, according to fact and lore, were also popular repositories for mob detritus. The organized-crime syndicate Murder Incorporated dumped its bodies at the Brooklyn-Queens border in the 1930s; a Gambino soldier, Roy DeMeo, was said to have disposed of as many as 200 bodies at a Fountain Avenue garbage dump. And it was thought, though never proved, that the man who accidentally killed John Gotti’s 12-year-old son was dumped there. The Meadowlands, the reputed home to many dead gangsters, is thought to have an even more famous permanent resident: Jimmy Hoffa.
To venture into these locations today is to step into another world, and Pelham Bay Park is no different. A few hundred feet off Shore Road, near where the fisherman found the barrel, thorny branches tugged at your clothes, as if holding you back. The age of some of the trash could be counted not in months but in years: Soda cans bleached by the sun appeared to be about two decades old. There were strips of old police crime-scene tape and a pair of blue plaid boxers, torn at the waist.
Near the roots of an overturned tree was a small plastic bucket. Pulled from the dirt and the leaves, the bucket was heavy and packed tight with random belongings: a string of Christmas lights, white sneakers crawling with bugs, sections of a blue tentlike material. The edge of an object stuck out near the top — a brown toddler-size dress shoe. Perhaps there was a simple explanation — the bucket, along with the nearby pots and cooking utensils, might have been abandoned by a homeless person — but the burial grounds of New York feed not on reason but on myth, mystery and imagination.
The reasons those who kill people in different ways and with different motives discard bodies in some of the same places are obvious. The chances of someone seeing them are slim. These sites are dark or dimly lighted, out of view of where people live and work, yet accessible by car.
“Even Tony Soprano knows — you go to the boondocks to get rid of the bodies,” said Walter Arnold, 65, a longtime resident of West Gilgo Beach on Long Island, more than a mile from where the police found a skull on Monday. “This is the boondocks.”
The places where people have died in traffic collisions and in street crime are often marked with makeshift memorials. The woods and swamplands where people’s bodies have been discovered are different: No one usually lays flowers there. Perhaps it is because the relatives choose to mark the sites where their loved one are laid to rest rather than where they are discarded.
Along a metal guardrail on Fountain Avenue in Brooklyn, there is an exception: an aging memorial of teddy bears where the police discovered the body of Imette St. Guillen, the John Jay College graduate student murdered in February 2006.
The memorial’s cluster of stuffed animals was wet with rain and caked with dirt, and yet there it was, nearly five years later. Someone had paid his or her respects recently and had tied a bouquet of white and purple silk flowers to the guardrail, above Ms. St. Guillen’s picture. On a wooden light pole overhead hung a sign with bold red letters. It said, “No dumping.”
Source & References: Manny Fernandez
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