Off The Beaten Path
On a Saturday morning in the summer of 2003, a woman walking her dog down Halsey Manor Road, near the Long Island Expressway overpass, took a turn down a small paved road leading to a gated sump on one side, and lined by the Pine Barrens on the other. Between the two is a path of wild grass, and today, a torn-up mattress, broken and discarded toys and ceramic statues, rusted Reddi-Wip cans probably used by kids to get high, and piles of sticks and chopped wood. It was on top of one of these piles that, on the morning of July 26, 2003, the woman discovered the naked body of 20-year-old Jessica Taylor on a plastic sheet, her head and hands cut off. They have never been found.
A police photo taken at the scene shows a tattoo on the right side of her back, with dozens of razor-thin crooked gashes, as though someone spent some considerable time not merely cutting the tattoo off but repeatedly slicing it from top to bottom.
Police say it took medical examiners pushing the skin together to figure out what the tattoo was: a red heart with an angel wing that said, ‘‘Remy’s angel.’’ A Washington, D.C. detective recognized the tattoo, six months later, as belonging to a woman reported missing by another local prostitute.
Taylor was an upstate New York native, last seen on the streets of Manhattan, working near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the week before her body was found, according to police reports. She had been arrested for prostitution in Atlantic City, New York and D.C., where she had just relocated from that same month. Little else is known about Taylor; she was estranged from her family. She had been working near the Port Authority Bus Terminal between July 18-21, an area once known as the Minnesota Strip—a term coined by cops in the ’70s because that stretch of Eighth Avenue between 42nd and 50th Streets was known for prostitution, and when Minnesota passed tough anti-prostitution laws, many women left for the streets of NYC.
During that time, NYC punk band The Dictators penned the song “The Minnesota Strip” [“The strip is hopping on Friday night / They come from so far away”]. In the ’90s, the area was cleaned up—making it much more unusual to see women walking the streets topless after midnight—but there are still a handful of sex shops scattered around the area, and, although you have to look a little harder, there are still prostitutes.
When Taylor got into a car in this area, she ended up 70 miles away in Manorville, where police say she was merely dumped, after being killed somewhere else.
“If somebody from Brooklyn says, ‘Well, I’m going to get rid of this body,’ they think driving out here on Long Island is the middle of nowhere,” says Thomas Hughes, a New York State police investigator, who handles cases of bodies found on New York State highways.
And Danny agrees. He says if the killer or killers were from Manorville, they would know better places in the woods to hide a body than within walking distance from homes.
“If you live here and you knew the woods, you wouldn’t pull over and leave [a body] practically on the side of the road,” says Danny, adamant that the “Butcher of Manorville” is a butcher from somewhere else. “Unless you want it to be found.”
Taylor’s was the third body to turn up along this patch of woods since Nov. 19, 2000. The first body belonged to a white woman in her 30s with brown hair. She had been dead for several weeks before her nude, headless body was found, cut into pieces and stuffed in plastic bags. Her hands and right foot were never located, and police say the woman must have had some kind of identifying mark, like a tattoo, on her ankle that the killer had wanted to get rid of.
Four days later, hunters found the body of a white or Hispanic man in his 20s with black hair in the woods off the eastbound side of the LIE near Exit 68—also the same patch of woods. He was wearing light blue-and-white striped GAP boxer shorts and had crushed neck bones—meaning he was strangled.
On Nov. 10, 2003, mushroom pickers found the body of another white man, again in the same patch of woods. Police say his body had been there four months. He is estimated to have been anywhere between 35 and 50 years old at the time of his death.
To this day, Taylor is the only one of the four bodies to be identified.
“I think the dump jobs are the hardest cases because, where do you begin?” says Investigator Hughes. “If you can’t identify that person, where do you begin? Was the person from Montauk, from NYC, were they from Jersey? Whoever dumped them here, where are they from? The first step is identifying them. If we don’t identify them, there is nothing we can do.”
Suffolk County police say there is no evidence linking the bodies found in Manorville, but they cannot eliminate the possibility that all were victims of the same killer either.
“Until we know who these people are, we can’t formulate a connection between any of them,” the Suffolk County Police Department told the Press in a statement. “If they all had similar backgrounds or if they all knew the same people…But if we don’t know who they are, we’re not going to be able to tell if they’re related or not.”
The Manorville bodies also can’t be linked—or ruled out—with several similar finds scattered around Nassau County.