Fighting Boredom on the Long Island Killer Beat

Their story is gruesome, but the time spent waiting in the parking lot is goofy

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As exciting as it sounds (and sometimes is), being a crime reporter can involve a lot of downtime. Whether you're sitting in the hallway outside the chief's office while she prepares a carefully worded statement or pacing behind the tape at a crime scene waiting to grill investigators, the job often has a hurry-up-and-wait kind of feeling. That's extra-true for the those covering the Long Island killers case. Without a crime scene to haunt or any real witnesses to interview, reporters on the story spend a lot of their time hanging out in a parking lot at the end of Jones Beach, waiting for police and FBI agents to search for bodies and then come back and tell them what they found.

"People are throwing the football. It's just sitting and waiting," said one reporter who has spent a few long days in that parking lot. And with news running short but national interest piqued, some networks have resorted to increasingly wacky tricks to create stories.

A reporter recalled the time cops organized a bus to take photographers from the parking lot to the bushes so that they could get photos of people searching. A team from CNN tried to take along a family member of one of the victims secretly, wired with a small microphone, in order to interview her surreptitiously while they walked the remote bushes. "One of the photogs who has dealt with this person realized who this was, and … all of a sudden they're on this bus and everyone is turning around taking pictures of this woman." When the bus erupted into a scrum, police had to stop and remove her. "When she got off the bus she said something like, 'I wanted to see where my sister was but now I guess I can't.' "

New York Daily News's Matt Lysiak laughed about the team from CNN's Nancy Grace, which joined the media scrum in mid-April: "They had one of their reporters holding up a burlap sack and speculating about what it would be like to be inside. We all witnessed this. I don't know if the shot got on the air, I hope it didn't. She's holding up this sack and she says, 'One can only imagine what your last moments inside this sack would be like. Back to you Nancy.'"

Lysiak said he had kept busy canvassing the nearby neighborhood of Oak Beach where Shannon Gilbert, whose disappearance sparked the search that turned up the first four bodies in December, was last seen alive. "The neighbors turn on each other a little bit. Everybody there has their own little theory," Lysiak said. "I would get anonymous tips from neighbors, pointing to another neighbor. It would be like, this guy's weird, he uses burlap, we think four months ago he was walking around in his underwear. I've gotten three tips to that effect. Not one of the three tips thought that the guy who actually hosted the prostitute actually did it." Lysiak was referring to Oak Beach resident Joseph Brewer, who hired Gilbert on the last night she was seen alive, but who police cleared in the murder investigation.

Finally, yesterday, reporters who had been waiting patiently for police to identify the remains found in April got a break: Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota identified 20-year-old Jessica Taylor--who had been working as a prostitute--as one of the victims, but said she and another unidentified woman had been killed by a different person than the one who murdered the four women found in December. An unidentified Asian man and a toddler were the other two victims, whom Spota said were probably killed by still another killer or killers.

"This confirmed my suspicions all along," said John Lauinger, a New York Daily News crime reporter and Long Island native who has been covering the story from his desk at police headquarters in Manhattan. "I thought it was odd he had so many bodies along a pretty long stretch of highway. I didn't think it was all one person."

Lauinger said he expected the new discovery to help police because it could open new leads, but, "from a law enforcement perspective the task has just become more difficult. Now you're searching for three, maybe four more killers." The area where the bodies were found could still be hiding more remains, and police continue to search. "It is a perfect place to dump a body. Especially in the non-summer months. There's not many people down there. You take any one of those bridges, and once you get past the little bungalow communities it's just you, the ocean and all those dunes."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.