Matt Spillane, The Journal News Published 6:00 a.m. ET Feb. 13, 2020 | Updated 6:01 a.m. ET Feb. 13, 2020
Five things to know about crime in Westchester County. The Journal News
It has been 13 years since a woman’s torso washed up in a suitcase in Mamaroneck.
Village police are still trying to identify the remains that were found at Harbor Island Park on March 3, 2007, and they are hoping a new push for the public’s help will lead to someone recognizing the tattooed body.
“Someone murdered her, which was in a very gruesome, awful, violent way,” Detective Sgt. Mark Gatta told The Journal News/lohud on Monday. “But then they stole her identity, so it’s almost like being victimized twice. If we can give her an identity, maybe we’ll be that much closer to figuring out who did it.”
The woman had a tattoo, a bit bigger than an inch, above her right breast that depicted two cherries on a stem. She may have been a light-skinned Hispanic or black woman, about 35 to 50 years old, police said. She may have stood about 5 feet, 4 inches to 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 160 to 200 pounds.
Advancements in DNA have given police hope of identifying the woman, whose DNA they have, but they need a relative’s DNA to match hers up with. Now police are hoping to track down any of the woman’s relatives who could provide a missing piece to this puzzle.
“I don’t think that was really put out at the time,” Gatta said. “Not that it wasn’t available per se, but it was never really fully explored, perhaps. Back then, judging by the reading, we kind of did the very traditional police investigation. Very traditional as far as forensics. We had nothing to check the DNA against. DNA is good, but in the case of identifying a person, you need to check that DNA against something. We have cherries’ DNA, but what are we going to run it against to identify her? Just because of the condition and the violence that was committed, we don’t know who she is.”
In 2007 Westchester County’s medical examiner said the woman died about a week before her remains washed up on a beach in Mamaroneck.
Almost four weeks after that suitcase floated ashore, a severed leg washed up on the Long Island estate of Cablevision CEO and New York Knicks and Rangers owner James Dolan. The Nassau County coroner determined that leg belonged to the woman whose torso was found in Mamaroneck.
The case was featured on “America’s Most Wanted” that spring and police passed around fliers locally and made inquiries at tattoo parlors and in Hispanic communities in the area, Gatta said.
A significant amount of tips flowed in for a couple of years, but after a few years nothing was coming through about the case, he said.
“They checked every single tip with that, and none of them ever panned out,” Gatta said.
Gatta said he was promoted to detective sergeant two years ago and that one of his responsibilities is to monitor unresolved cases, such as the suitcase mystery and the September 2007 killing of Stephen Spina, who was found stabbed to death in his home.
“Looking at it, March was coming up and we wanted to throw a flier out there trying to get interest generated,” he said. “Our hope is if we can identify her then maybe that would give us an investigative lead to move the case forward.”
The woman’s DNA is now in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUs, which “provides technology, forensic services and investigative support to resolve missing persons cases,” according to its website. That database was just taking shape when the Mamaroneck case developed in 2007, so Gatta said the hope is NamUs will now be able to help identify the woman if a relative comes forward.
“Genealogy is big among younger people, knowing where you’re from,” he said. “Maybe someone believes that this might be, based on the description we have, which isn’t the best, this might be aunt so-and-so, this might be my mother’s sister that we always heard about but never met. That’s kind of what we’re hoping for.”
Anyone who may have information on the case is urged to call Gatta at 914-825-8588. All calls will be kept confidential.
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