Two decades later, suspect arrested in killing of 2 women

For the family of the victims, the news brings a sense of relief but painful memories as well

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Her body was found in a wooded area south of the Long Island Ex­press­way in North Shir­ley, N.Y., about 17 miles east of where she had last been seen, en­ter­ing a small blue car out­side the Blue Dawn Diner in Islan­dia. She was Col­leen McNamee, 20, and she had been stran­gled and bru­tally beaten.

Two months ear­lier, in No­vem­ber 1993, an­other young woman, Rita Tan­gredi, 31, who, like Ms. McNamee, was be­lieved to have been a pros­ti­tute, had been killed nearby, her nude body posed the same way as Ms. McNamee’s.

Twenty years be­fore sec­tions of Long Island beach­front brush be­came a dump­ing ground for pros­ti­tutes’ bod­ies, these two un­solved mur­ders stag­gered the vic­tims’ fam­ily and friends, leav­ing a trail of dev­as­ta­tion that friends say in­cluded the sui­cide of Ms. McNamee’s boy­friend.

Now, fo­ren­sic work by the Suf­folk County Po­lice Depart­ment, com­bined with changes to DNA col­lec­tion pro­ce­dures, has brought some long-de­layed re­lief to fam­ily and friends: John Bit­trolff, 48, a car­pen­ter and mar­ried father of two from nearby Manor­ville, was ar­rested last month on charges of mur­der­ing Ms. McNamee and Ms. Tan­gredi.

He is be­ing held with­out bail af­ter plead­ing not guilty last week. In­ves­ti­ga­tors are also ex­am­in­ing whether Mr. Bit­trolff could have been in­volved in the death of a third woman on Long Island, 28-year-old San­dra Cos­tilla, whose body was found in North Sea in No­vem­ber 1993.

“It was the mir­a­cle of DNA which al­lowed us to ar­rest him and then pros­e­cute him,” Suf­folk County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Tho­mas J. Spota said.

At both mur­der scenes, the killer had left clues. The same item of cloth­ing was miss­ing from both ar­eas, and their nude bod­ies were posed iden­ti­cally. Near the bod­ies were wood shav­ings. And both Ms. McNamee and Ms. Tan­gredi had been beaten so badly that brain tis­sue was ex­posed.

Mr. Bit­trolff’s ar­rest, pros­e­cu­tors say, could be traced to his brother Tim­o­thy’s con­vic­tion last year on crim­i­nal con­tempt charges for vi­o­lat­ing an or­der of pro­tec­tion.

Act­ing on a 2012 New York state law that al­lows law en­force­ment to take DNA sam­ples from any­one con­victed of a crime, au­thor­i­ties col­lected Tim­o­thy’s Bit­trolff’s ge­netic ma­terial, which proved a par­tial match to the DNA in se­men found on Ms. McNamee’s and Ms. Tan­gredi’s bod­ies.

De­tec­tives be­gan ex­am­in­ing rel­a­tives of Tim­o­thy Bit­trolff. They ex­tracted DNA from a cig­a­rette butt thrown out a win­dow by a third Bit­trolff brother, but the re­sults did not match, Mr. Spota said. Then, when John Bit­trolff was be­ing ques­tioned by au­thor­i­ties, he took a sip of wa­ter. Bits of sa­liva taken from the glass, Mr. Spota said, linked him to the de­cades-old mur­ders.

Mr. Bit­trolff’s law­yer, Wil­liam Kea­hon, de­fended his cli­ent in court last week, say­ing “the in­dict­ment is proof of noth­ing.” Mr. Keaton added, “He’s kind, gen­er­ous, the best neigh­bor you could have.”

The ar­rest briefly al­layed the pain of peo­ple who had qui­etly mourned the two women for de­cades, even as res­i­dents be­came trans­fixed by a new string of mur­ders of women, some of them pros­ti­tutes, in and around Gilgo Beach. (Mr. Spota has made clear that there is no known con­nec­tion be­tween the two sets of kill­ings.)

For some, though, re­lief gave way to a fa­mil­iar kind of heart­ache, as state­ments by pros­e­cu­tors about the vic­tims’ work as pros­ti­tutes dredged up mem­o­ries of the way the women were over­looked at the time of their death.

“We’ve been wait­ing a long time for this case to break, and I’m just thank­ful now that it has,” said Law­rence McNamee, Col­leen McNamee’s father. “But in its break­ing, it’s opened up a lot of mem­o­ries that took a long time to put aside.”

Be­fore her death, Ms. McNamee had been re­ceiv­ing out­pa­tient treat­ment for drug ad­dic­tion in an ef­fort to es­cape the fate that had claimed so many young peo­ple in her neigh­bor­hood, friends say. She was known as a bub­bly peace­maker in Sa­chem High School on Long Island, dress­ing im­pec­ca­bly. She could be heard in hall­ways im­plor­ing friends in a squeaky voice to stop fight­ing or sleep­ing in class.

But Ms. McNamee fell into the wrong crowd, said a friend, Sta­cey Ann, 36, and her name was pulled through the muck by po­lice and news­pa­pers when her body was found in Jan­u­ary 1994. Ms. Ann said her friend’s death was dis­re­garded be­cause of as­sump­tions po­lice made about her line of work.

“They la­beled her as a pros­ti­tute,” Ms. Ann said. “They’re gone, both her and Rita. Stop call­ing her that.”

Rita Tan­gredi’s son, An­thony Tan­gredi, who told re­port­ers af­ter Mr. Bit­trolff’s ar­raign­ment that he felt re­lieved, did not re­spond to emails and phone calls seek­ing ad­di­tional com­ment.

Ms. McNamee’s friends gath­ered Sun­day night with a few of Rita Tan­gredi’s rel­a­tives for a can­dle­light vigil to re­mem­ber the two women on the wind­swept Smith Point Park in Mas­tic Beach.

On her way home from the vigil, Jeni­fer Kauff, 41, a friend of Ms. McNamee, had no choice but to drive by the exit off the Wil­liam Floyd Park­way where her friend’s body had been found. She had avoided the site for the last 20 years.

“It felt like a scab be­ing ripped off all the time,” Ms. Kauff said, “a wound that never com­pletely healed for all of us.”

United States - North America - New York


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