Police in New York fear a serial killer may have abandoned four bodies, each apparently dumped from a car, along a desolate, windswept stretch of highway near a beach east of the Big Apple.
Officers found the badly decomposed remains feet from the roadway near Cedar Beach as they searched for a missing prostitute last known to be headed to the resort area of Fire Island, said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer. At least two of the bodies were female, but authorities haven't determined the gender of the other two.
Investigators were taking DNA samples and examining dental records to try to identify them.
"We're looking at that - that we could have a serial killer," Mr Dormer said in response to a reporter's question.
The beach is about three miles from where the missing woman was headed when she disappeared on May 1, but Mr Dormer said there was no indication yet that hers was one of the four bodies.
He said the four appeared to have been killed elsewhere and then brought to the site, a strip of land less than 1,000 metres wide that divides the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The road connects the landmark Jones Beach State Park with several state and town-run beaches to its east, including Cedar Beach.
The remains were badly decomposed, but appeared to have been dumped over an 18-month period, Mr Dormer said. The first set of remains were found on Saturday as police were following up on a missing person report. The three other bodies were found on Monday.
Jersey City police identified the missing prostitute as 24-year-old Shannon Gilbert, of Jersey City. Mr Dormer said she worked as a prostitute and had arranged to meet a client on Fire Island.
Police returned to the scene with a cadaver dog, searching the area for additional bodies. Mr Dormer said the search of the vast, remote area could take days or longer.
The discovery drew comparisons to a four-year-old New Jersey case in which four prostitutes' bodies were found in a drainage ditch in Egg Harbour Township, just outside Atlantic City and about a mile from the beach. Those killings remain unsolved.