RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The public got its first good look Thursday at the accused cold-case killer of Suffolk County, who had been living an average life as a suburban father for decades.
As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, John Bittrolff, 48, of Manorville, pleaded not guilty in Riverhead court Thursday on two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths 31-year-old Rita Tangredi and 20-year-old Colleen McNamee — in 1993 and 1994, respectively.
Bittrolff has been ordered held without bail.
CBS 2’s cameras were present during the court hearing, as well as the families of the victims killed more than two decades ago.
The carpenter and father of two listened silently as the two cold-case murder indictments were unsealed against him. Prosecutors allegedly have linked his DNA to the Tangredi and McNamee cases.
Tangredi was found dead in a wooded area in East Patchogue in November 1993; McNamee was found dead two months later in the woods in Shirley. Both women – who were considered sex workers at the time – were found nude, beaten and strangled, police said.
They had been beaten so brutally that their brains were ripped from their heads, CBS 2’s McLogan reported.
“It is shocking. It truly is shocking to me that we are here talking about something as horrendous as this,” Spota said.
DNA evidence has linked Bittrolff firmly to the crime, prosecutors alleged.
“Remarkable that we have this wonderful thing called DNA because there can’t be any other person,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
Pending lab results, Bittrolff may be charged with the 1993 murder of a third woman – Sandra Costilla – in Southampton, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported.
“Her manner of death is very similar to the two other women,” Spota said. “All of the women’s remains were uniquely positioned in the very same manner.”
During the hearing Thursday, the families of McNamee and Tangredi left court to sob in the hallway. Dozens of friends and supporters also stifled cries as prosecutors described semen belonging to the suspect, along with wood chips connected to his carpentry work, in the bodies of the victims.
The clues had been preserved for decades, prosecutors said.
Investigators said they were linked to Bittrolff through the miracle of science – collecting cigarette butts flung from car windows by his brother and wife and digging through his garbage.
But Spota said besides the killer leaving the woman in similar and unique poses, he also took a vital clue from each of them that will remain a secret until trial
Defense attorney William Keahon said such grisly actions were completely out of character for his client.
“He’s kind, generous — the best neighbor you could have; always there for you. That’s who he is standing next to me. I’ve heard nothing about a prior record,” Keahon said. “The indictment is proof of nothing. It’s evidence of nothing.”
Keahon said at trial, it would be proved that police arrested the wrong man.
The investigation is ongoing.
Suffolk police are asking for anyone who has information about Bittrolff from the 1990s to contact them.
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