A worker cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy on Rockaway Beach in Queens, above, found the body of a man that showed signs of blunt trauma and was stuffed in a garbage bag. (Photo: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)
A forester working for New York City’s parks department made a horrifying discovery last week, beside a huge pile of fallen trees destined for the wood chipper, according to a follow up story in the New York Times.
A dead man.
And with that discovery on Nov. 15, add this to the huge list of troubles Hurricane Sandy has brought to the neighborhoods hit hardest: wreckage from the storm seems to have created inviting spots for killers to dump bodies.
Hours after the discovery, in Forest Park in Queens, a second body was found on storm-ravaged Rockaway Beach. Workers cleaning up around O’Donohue Park heard a shriek from one of their own, standing over a dune near the shoreline. There, a man’s elbow protruded from the cold sand.
There is no evidence the cases are related, but they appear to be the first victims discarded in the changing landscape that followed the storm’s landfall — places where people, especially the police, might not think to look.
On the beach, it was unclear how the man died. The medical examiner’s office said the case was pending further investigation. But the man had been tied up and placed in a garbage bag, and there were signs of blunt trauma and bruises, the police said. The body carried no identification, and facial-recognition testing on the corpse did not produce a match in city records.
Unauthorized vehicles are not allowed on the beach, something that may not have mattered to a killer during a blackout. But if the body was carried there, it was no small feat: from Seagirt Boulevard, the closest road, past a skateboard park and playground, over a boardwalk and several feet of sand to the dune. From the crime scene, one could look across the Rockaway Inlet out at Atlantic Beach on Long Island.
Medical Examiner personnel remove the body of Shawn Rucker, 32, of Baltimore on November 15th from Rockaway Beach. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)
Days later, the man was identified as Shawn Rucker, 32, of Baltimore. Detectives called his relatives on Tuesday, ending three frantic weeks for them.
Mr. Rucker came to New York in early October to pursue a relationship, said Kym Ellison, 46, his sister-in-law.
He called his family in Baltimore in the hours before the storm arrived on Oct. 29, she said. “He said he’d call back the next day, and he never did,” she said. “Everybody was calling him, everybody was texting him, everybody was going on Facebook trying to get to him.”
There has been no arrest in the case.
The body found in Forest Park that morning was in a parking lot between the Seuffert Bandshell, where people go to enjoy free concerts on summer nights, and the old-fashioned Forest Park carousel, recently brought back to life after years of dormancy. After the hurricane, workers dumped fallen limbs and trees from the surrounding neighborhoods into a pile in the lot.
Woodhaven Boulevard is nearby, but the lot is accessible only by a park road. Someone saw the pile, and an opportunity for a hiding place. The body found by the forester was identified as that of Thomas Dudley, 21, and he had stab wounds in his neck and a footprint mark on his back.
Mr. Dudley lived miles from the park, in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment on Bedford Avenue where he was raised. The block had changed as much as the neighborhood, with a hip coffee shop on one side of his building’s door and a bar with an “absinthe drip” on the other.
But a rougher side of Brooklyn arrived at the door on Nov. 14, the police said. A man with a gun entered the apartment and demanded money, and when Mr. Dudley gave it to him, the man led him outside anyway, the police said. Detectives were investigating the possibility that the crime was drug related.
Mr. Dudley had a police record with marijuana and trespassing arrests, but his father, also Thomas Dudley, said he was a good young man.
“Marijuana, criminal trespass — things an average teenager would get,” the elder Mr. Dudley said. “Nothing violent. He wasn’t a really bad dude. Obviously, this was a really bad choice that he made, whatever had happened.”
Did whoever placed his body behind a new pile of wood know the Forest Park area? Or just happen upon this new pile of debris? And again, as in the case of Mr. Rucker, no arrest had been made as of Friday morning.
The parks department declined to comment while the police were investigating the two homicides.
On Tuesday, five days after the discovery in the dunes, parks workers were busy with rakes and garbage bags and lifting heavy rocks from the sand. I asked a supervisor if anyone was worried about finding another body, and he shrugged.
“You never know,” he said.
In Storm’s Debris, the Macabre
New York Times - November 23, 2012 - By Michael Wilson
Two Bodies Found By Park Workers-In Different Queens Parks
A Walk In The Park - November 15, 2012- By Geoffrey Croft