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Long Island serial killer: Portrait of cunning criminal slowly emerges

Up to 10 human remains have been found alongside a beach highway on Long Island. Four are so far tied to the same elusive killer. But the 'Long Island serial killer' may have been seen and heard.

A member of the Suffolk County police search team looks through a brush area for remains of bodies slain by a possible serial killer near the beach area of Oak Beach, New York, on April 7.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

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As the manhunt for the so-called Long Island serial killer intensified this week, it's become clear that officials are searching for a crafty criminal who has carefully covered his tracks – but who felt invincible enough to reportedly taunt one victim's family using the missing woman's cellphone.

The remains of at least eight bodies have been discovered since December along beaches of New York's Long Island – at least four of them believed to be victims of one killer. FBI planes and hundreds of agents have joined the all-out hunt, but experts say progress is as likely to come from an unexpected break as from a piece of hard evidence.

So far, there are no actual crime scenes to scour. The victims were killed elsewhere and their bodies deposited along the coast afterward, discovered after extended periods of lying exposed in thick beach scrub. As a result, much of the physical evidence has eroded. Moreover, the murderer has displayed both cruelty and cunning, making it more difficult for police to crack the case, say criminologists.

"Why cases like this are so difficult to solve and why there are unsolved slayings of prostitutes all around the country is that police have very little to go on," says James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, in Boston. "What they have are some remains that they found at a beach, and they're having a hard time figuring out who the victim is, much less who the killer is. Generally in a case like this, police have to get lucky, and they haven't yet."

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