Naming the Long Island Killer: 'What Rhymes With Burlap?'

The tabloid search for a catchy moniker, and the uncomfortable reflections it provokes

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News broke today that the bodies found on a remote stretch of beach in Long Island weren't the work of one killer, but rather at least two. This is bound to complicate things for newspaper editors who have already had a tough time making a catchy moniker stick. Unlike many serial killers who live on in memory through catchy nicknames provided by tabloids (Son of Sam, Nightstalker, and so on), the case of the bodies along Cedar and Gilgo beaches remains frustratingly anonymous.

The New York Post has tried calling the culprit the Long Island Ripper (or even just Jack the Ripper at Long Island), but nobody's repeating it. New York Daily News took a crack at coining the Seashore Serial Killer. Ice Tubes, a surf blog, tried to generate buzz around the name Burlap Sacker because the first four victims were found wrapped in burlap.

But as New York Daily News's John Lauinger told The Atlantic Wire, it's hard to make anything stick because not much is known about the killer. "I have used seashore serial killer. But we don't know anything about this person yet. All I have to go on is where the bodies were found," he told The Atlantic Wire.

"The guy only has one trademark, and that's the burlap. What rhymes with burlap?" said Lauinger's colleague at the News, Matt Lysiak. "Somebody floated 'Sack the Ripper,' but… the parallels between this person and Jack the Ripper, I mean, they’re not there. Jack the ripper was very distinctive." Lysiak and Lauinger, along with Newsday's Andrew Strickler, have pointed out how inaccurate it is to compare a killer who appears to use strangulation as his method of choice to the famed 19th-century London slasher. "That's very irresponsible. Jack the ripper was a specific killer who mutilated his victims," Lauinger said.

"It's not a tabloid gore-fest," Strickler said. "It's easy to get caught up in the sensational side of serial killers, but at the heart of it, it’s a lot of innocent people, probably, who have been killed." He had few kind words for the tabloids, in particular the New York Post. "They're making no effort to verify anything. They're not trying, they don't care, they just throw everything out there. Not everybody realizes what a level of bullshit it is. We spend a lot of time fielding questions and trying to tell people what's happening."

Reporters and an editor from the Post declined to comment, but word from the newsroom there is that the frustration at not being able to find a good moniker has not gone unnoticed.

"There are just so many unanswered questions here, from the unidentified bodies to the fate of Shannon Gilbert," Lauinger said. Gilbert is the sex worker who went missing last year, sparking the manhunt that turned up the first four bodies.

The reporters agree, the case is gruesomely fascinating. "People love a serial killer, and the story is very compelling, but it's pretty horrible too," Strickler said.

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