At a December 14, 2010, press conference, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer stepped up to the microphone and delivered the day’s lead story on a silver platter: “We could have a serial killer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that four bodies ended up in this area.”
Thus began the fascination with the “Long Island Ripper,” a story that has consumed the media and people of Long Island, New York, for years.
Dormer’s press conference was made necessary by a ghastly find made just days earlier by veteran officer John Mallia, of the Suffolk County Police, and his K-9 partner, a tough old German Shepherd Dog named Blue.
The team was searching the high grass and thicket along a desolate seven miles of beach adjacent to a parkway on the island’s south shore. The search was part of an investigation into the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert, who was last seen in the area the previous May. “I assumed we would find her,” Mallia told the New York Times. “I assumed she was dead.”
Mallia and Blue spent that summer looking for Gilbert. They searched acres of thorny bramble and tick-infested sea grass, but got nothing for their trouble but some bad scratches for Blue and a case of poison ivy for his handler. Mallia was not deterred.
The team returned on December 11, this time to a section called Oak Beach.
“When he’s tracking, he’s relentless,” says Mallia’s boss, Inspector Stuart Cameron. “He’ll work and work and work. That’s what happened at Oak Beach. His persistence is what led to the discovery of that first body.”
Late that afternoon, Mallia says, “The tail starts wagging. He’s making adjustments with his head.” It was Blue’s way of indicating a find in the thick brush. “There was some burlap, and most of the skeleton was there.”
Two days later, on a brutally cold morning, the team returned to the area to help conduct an evidence search. Some 500 feet from the site of the first find, they discovered another body. Again a woman, and again wrapped in burlap. And by early afternoon, Blue indicated on yet two more sets of decomposing remains, both women.
By April, the search had widened east, to Nassau County, where again Mallia and Blue were plodding through rugged beachfront. “We came through some thick brush and we saw it together,” Mallia says. “Right away, we knew what it was.”
For a cadaver-dog team, locating five bodies in multiple locations would distinguish an entire career. To do it within three months is unheard of. Yet, in Mallia’s line of work, succeeding beyond all reasonable expectations is hardly a source of joy. “This is a once in a lifetime thing,” he says. “Hopefully, I will never have to go through this again.”
“True Crime K-9s” is based on “The ACE Files” stories originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine.