Thursday, July 31
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — The cases are separated by two decades, but they share macabre similarities.
A man is suspected of killing at least two prostitutes and dumping their bodies in remote wooded areas of Long Island in the 1990s. A Brooklyn woman is accused of hacking her neighbor to death and distributing the remains in several Long Island neighborhoods this month. Both were ordered held without bail Thursday in consecutive appearances before the same judge.
The cases are the latest in a recent string of bizarre homicides in the suburbs east of New York City, including the unsolved cases of 11 people whose bodies have been found along a remote stretch of a beach highway since late 2010.
"Never, never have I seen three, right now three, young women who were killed in such horrible, horrible fashions with arraignments occurring on the same day," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told reporters following the arraignments of John Bitrolff, who pleaded not guilty in the deaths of two prostitutes in 1993 and 1994, and Leah Cuevas, who pleaded not guilty to stabbing her neighbor more than 40 times.
Bitrolff, a carpenter from Manorville, was indicted on two counts of second-degree murder.
Suffolk County police say the nude bodies of 31-year-old Rita Tangredi and 20-year-old Colleen McNamee were found within three months of each other in wooded areas of East Patchogue and Shirley in 1993 and 1994.
Both women had been strangled and suffered severe head injuries. The prosecutor said the killer removed an item of clothing from both victims, but he declined to identify it.
DNA recovered from the victims was linked to Bittrolf following the arrest of his brother, Timothy, several years ago in a domestic violence case, Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said. A search of a DNA database linked the victims to a member of the Bitrolff family, but not Timothy Bitrolff, the prosecutor said.
Investigators then confiscated nine bags of garbage left outside John Bitrolff's home and found evidence in the trash that linked him to the killings, the prosecutor said. After his arrest, Bitrolff drank from a cup of coffee and DNA from that cup also confirmed he was the person who killed the prostitutes, Biancavilla said.
Defense attorney William Keahon, said prosecutors had yet to provide him with any reports or evidence confirming their claims that Bitrolff was the killer.
"An indictment is proof of nothing," Keahon said.
Spota added that Bitrolff remains a suspect in the unsolved killing of a third woman whose remains were found 20 years ago in the town of Southampton on eastern Long Island.
Prior to Bitrolff's court appearance Thursday, Cuevas pleaded not guilty in the killing and dismemberment of a neighbor whose body parts were found on Long Island.
Prosecutors said the victim, Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, was killed during a July 5 argument over unpaid rent in Cuevas' Brooklyn apartment.
Authorities say some of Browne's remains — including her torso — were discovered July 8 in a vacant lot in Bay Shore. Other body parts were found within the next week in Hempstead, about 25 miles away. Prosecutors said Thursday that the victim had been stabbed at least 40 times before being dismembered.
Defense attorney Mary Beth Abbate argued during the arraignments that there were no eyewitnesses to the killing.