She did not say why they thought that, or even where the belt came from. She didn’t show the belt itself — just an image of the initials. But this was the first major clue the police had disclosed in years. Even though the police had, Ms. Hart acknowledged, found it many years earlier, it was new to the public. Alongside that clue, Ms. Hart announced a new website meant to aggregate public police information about the case and encourage tips from the community.
Not everyone was impressed. All over the internet, skeptics wondered: Why did it take this long for the police to release this image? Why did the website keep crashing? And why did the news conference take place the same day that Netflix released the trailer for “Lost Girls?” Others took the opportunity to criticize the investigation: John Ray, the lawyer for Shannan Gilbert’s estate, held his own news conference the same day, blasting the inquiry as “inadequate and negligent.”
Ms. Hart defended her decision to be more public about the case. “We’re coming up to the 10-year anniversary on this. It’s received a ton of publicity. So how do we get the word out? How do we get the message out?” she asked. “The thought is, somebody out there knows something.”
The identification of Valerie Mack this May came as a complete surprise to her family, which had been in the dark about what happened for 20 years. “They had attempted to report her missing, but they weren’t able to,” Ms. Hart said. It was an aunt’s DNA, found on a commercial genealogy website, that helped the F.B.I. and the police identify her at last — making hers the first successful genetic genealogy investigation in New York.
The discovery has already bolstered various theories about the case. “It helps show the geographical footprint of this killer or killers is bigger than we think,” suggested Josh Zeman, a documentarian whose series, “Killing Season,” pushed the idea that the murderer traveled far and wide to find victims. Some have tried to connect the Long Island serial killer case to a string of unsolved escort killings in Atlantic City. While Ms. Hart said there was no connection yet, “We are absolutely in touch with Atlantic City.”
It’s also tempting to connect Ms. Mack to Jessica Taylor — two women discovered in the same way, in two of the same places. Ms. Hart has her own theory — unproven of course, though she sounds energized as she shares it. She notes that two other victims were similarly disposed of: body parts, still unidentified, found at Davis Park in 1996, and the victim known as Peaches, who was found in Nassau County. It is possible, Ms. Hart has been thinking, that these four victims have the same killer — a different one from the four women found in 2010 in Gilgo Beach. “The method of dismemberment and disposal is kind of unique to these four,” she said.
Before committing to that theory, Ms. Hart intends to pursue more clues by identifying more victims. But she is candid enough to admit that some victims have been tougher to trace than Ms. Mack. “The toddler and the Asian male are a little more challenging,” she said. “We’re not able to get their DNA raw data file out of a DNA piece that we sent over to the labs. But we are pursuing an alternative method on that.”