Sandy wreckage appealing to New York killers

Victims discarded in landscape ravaged after storm's landfall

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NEW YORK -- A forester working for New York City's parks department made a horrifying discovery last week, beside a huge pile of fallen trees destined for the wood chipper: a dead man.

And with that discovery, add this to the huge list of troubles Superstorm Sandy has brought to the city neighborhoods hit hardest: Wreckage from the storm seems to have created inviting spots for killers to dump bodies.

Hours after the discovery, in Queens borough's Forest Park neighborhood, a second body was found on storm-ravaged Rockaway Beach. Workers cleaning up around O'Donohue Park heard a shriek of fright from one of their own, standing over a dune near the shore. There, a man's elbow protruded from the cold sand.

There is no evidence that the cases are related, but they appear to be the first victims discarded in the changing landscape that followed the storm's landfall -- places where people, especially police, may not think to look.

On the beach, it was unclear how the man died. The medical examiner's office said the case was pending further investigation. But the man had been tied up and placed in a garbage bag, and there were signs of blunt trauma and bruises, police said. The body carried no identification, and facial-recognition testing on the corpse did not produce a match in city records.

Unauthorized vehicles are not allowed on the beach, a prohibition that may not have mattered to a killer during a blackout. But if the body was carried there, it was no small feat: from Seagirt Boulevard, the closest road, past a skateboard park and playground, over a boardwalk and several feet of sand to the dune. From the crime scene, one could look across the Rockaway Inlet out at Atlantic Beach on Long Island.

Days later, the man was identified as Shawn Rucker, 32, of Baltimore. Detectives called his relatives Tuesday, ending three frantic weeks for them.

As of Friday morning, there had been no arrest in the case.

The body found in Forest Park that morning was in a parking lot between the Seuffert Bandshell, where people go to enjoy free concerts on summer nights, and the old-fashioned Forest Park carousel, recently brought back to life after being dormant for years. After the superstorm, workers dumped fallen limbs and trees from the surrounding neighborhoods into a pile in the lot.

Woodhaven Boulevard is nearby, but the lot is accessible only by a park road. Someone saw the pile, and an opportunity for a hiding place. The body found by the forester was identified as that of Thomas Dudley, 21, and he had stab wounds in his neck and a footprint mark on his back.

Mr. Dudley lived miles from the park, in the Brooklyn apartment on Bedford Avenue where he was raised. The block had changed as much as the surrounding neighborhood, with a hip coffee shop on one side of his building's door and a bar with an "absinthe drip" on the other.

But a rougher side of Brooklyn arrived at the door Nov. 14, police said. A man with a gun entered the apartment and demanded money, and when Mr. Dudley gave it to him, the man led him outside anyway, police said. Detectives were investigating the possibility that the crime was drug-related. Mr. Dudley had a police record with marijuana and trespassing arrests.

Did whoever placed his body behind a new pile of wood know the Forest Park area? Or just happen upon this new pile of debris? And again, as in the case of Mr. Rucker, no arrest had been made as of Friday morning.

The parks department declined comment as police were investigating the two homicides. Five days after the discovery in the dunes, parks workers were busy Tuesday with rakes and garbage bags and lifting heavy rocks from the sand. A supervisor, asked if anyone were worried about finding another body, just shrugged. "You never know," he said.

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