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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.

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The killer may have been seen. One witness on Long Island described seeing a frightened woman, later identified as Shannon Gilbert, scream for help outside his house before she disappeared last May, police say. The witness called the police after she ran off. Minutes later, the witness confronted a man who was looking for the woman. Ms. Gilbert remains missing. The search for her is what led police to find the bodies of the killer's victims.

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The killer has also been heard. On Friday, the family of one of the slain women revealed that the presumed killer had called them seven times using her cellphone.

"The fact that he called the family was because he felt he could," says Mr. Fox. "The fact that he didn't use his own cellphone, but the victim's, means he's got to have a certain degree or street smarts or cunning. Since one of the victims was abducted two years ago, he can be pretty smug right now about his ability to evade apprehension."

But as in the case of Joel Rifkin, a Long Island resident who killed at least nine prostitutes in New York City between 1989 and 1993, serial killers are often caught on a fluke or a small blunder. In Mr. Rifkin's case, his car's license plate fell off, leading to a police chase in 1993, after which he was apprehended. In the case of famous serial killer Theodore Bundy, he began to act erratically and was finally caught while driving a stolen Volkswagen van.

"When they remain at large for weeks, months, even years, they can indeed feel superior to the police, so much so that they cut corners a little bit," says Fox.

Local police say they have made some headway. This week, they combed a laptop belonging to a pimp who knew Megan Waterman, one of the victims. They have also questioned guests at a hotel in Hauppage, N.Y., from where she disappeared after traveling there to meet clients for sex.

Without much physical evidence to go on, it's crucial for police to flush out any surviving victims who may be scared to come forward.

"The No. 1 way serial killers are apprehended is by a surviving victim," Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, at City University of New York, tells Time. "Especially early on in a killing series, where the offender has not yet perfected this technique ... somebody may survive."

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