The investigation into the mystery of four female bodies found in burlap bags near a picturesque Long Island beach earlier this month is being headed by an Irishman who says that the killings could be the work of a serial killer.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, a native of Co. Laois and the top cop in Suffolk since 2004, told the Irish Voice on Tuesday that he and other experts working on the shocking case that has gained national attention haven’t yet ruled out that the women, all of whom remain unidentified, were slain by the same person.
“We just don’t know,” Dormer said. “I was asked that question last week and I said it could be a serial killer. The experts are saying that it looks like a serial killer, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Dormer says his police department, the 12th largest in the U.S. with more than 2,500 officers, is receiving leads and tips from the public about the case “literally by the minute,” and every one of them is being followed up.
“Many are not useful, but others we’re not so sure of yet,” he said.
The first of the bodies was discovered near Gilgo-Oak Beach, just off the Atlantic, on Saturday, December 11 during a police search for a missing female, Shannan Gilbert, a prostitute who disappeared in May after a pre-arranged encounter with a client resident in Suffolk.
Three days later, police and trained dogs following up on that discovery came across a further grim finding nearby, three more bodies that fueled fears of a serial killer on the loose.
Dormer estimates that the remains “at first guess could be two years old. It’s very hard to tell right now. It’s a tough environment where they were found right off the beach.”
Dormer has complete faith that his department, aided by other agencies and the FBI, will eventually crack the mystery of who the victims are, and who or whom is responsible for their deaths.
“This is what our police force is ready for. You train for cases like this, but of course you hope they never happen,” Dormer said.
“We certainly have the expertise to bring it to a successful conclusion.”
Dormer was nominated by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to serve as commissioner, which is a civilian appointment, but he’s hardly a stranger to police work.
A native of Newtown Crettyard, Co. Louth, Dormer emigrated to New York in 1958 and immersed himself in the local Gaelic football scene in the Bronx before pursuing his life-long goal to be a detective.
In 1963 he took the Suffolk County police exam and finished an impressive 19th out of more than 1,000 applicants. His dream career was poised to begin, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I am a cop who became a commissioner. I walked the beat. I worked midnights. I worked rotating shifts,” he says of his career. Dormer retired from the Suffolk force as a three-star chief in 1993.
He’s also made a point of accumulating educational accolades, among them an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology. Dormer also studied at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and the FBI National Academy.
After leaving the Suffolk force Dormer managed a private security company and taught police classes on Long Island. Being asked to serve as Suffolk’s 11th police commissioner was a call too good to pass up, he says, priding himself on the fact that, at the end of the day, he remains a cop’s cop.
“I'm still very much a hands on guy. I attend roll call in the precincts and I ride around with them. You should see their faces when I tell them I'm going to ride with them,” Dormer says.
Another growing problem Dormer and his staff are dealing with is wrong-way drunk drivers wreaking havoc on Suffolk’s roads. Suffolk cops have made three arrests of wrong-way drivers during the past three weeks, with a number of similar cases making headlines prior to that.
“I just don’t have an answer as to why it’s happening so much lately,” Dormer said. “I can’t explain. We’re not saying don’t drink, but we are saying don’t drive drunk.”
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