NEW YORK - A forester working for New York City's parks department made a horrifying discovery last week, beside a huge pile of fallen trees destined for the wood chipper.
A dead man.
And with that discovery, add this to the huge list of troubles that Hurricane Sandy has brought to the neighborhoods of the city hit hardest: Wreckage from the storm seems to have created inviting spots for killers to dump bodies.
Hours after the discovery, in Forest Park in Queens, a second body was found on storm-ravaged Rockaway Beach. Workers cleaning up around O'Donohue Park heard a shriek from one of their own, standing over a dune near the shoreline. There, a man's elbow protruded from the cold sand.
There is no evidence the cases are related, but they appear to be the first victims discarded in the changing landscape that followed the storm's landfall -- places where people, especially the police, may not think to look.
On the beach, it was unclear how the man died. The medical examiner's office said the case was being investigated. But the man had been tied up and placed in a garbage bag, and there were signs of blunt trauma and bruises, police said.
The body carried no identification, and facial-recognition testing did not produce a match in city records.
Unauthorized vehicles are not allowed on the beach, something that may not have mattered to a killer during a blackout. But if the body was carried there, it was no small feat: from a boulevard, past a skateboard park and playground, over a boardwalk and several feet of sand to the dune.
Days later, the man was identified as Shawn Rucker, 32, of Baltimore. Detectives called his relatives Tuesday, ending three frantic weeks for them. Rucker came to New York in early October to pursue a relationship, said Kym Ellison, 46, his sister-in-law. "Everybody was calling him, everybody was texting him, everybody was going on Facebook trying to get to him."
As of Friday, there had been no arrest in the case.
The body found in Forest Park was in a parking lot between a bandshell, where people go to enjoy free concerts on summer nights, and the old-fashioned carousel. After the hurricane, workers dumped fallen trees into a pile in the lot.
A boulevard is nearby, but the lot is accessible only by a park road. Someone saw the pile, and an opportunity for a hiding place. The body found by the forester was identified as that of Thomas Dudley, 21, and he had stab wounds in his neck and a footprint mark on his back. He lived miles from the park, in the Brooklyn apartment where he was raised.
Did whoever placed his body behind a new pile of wood know the area? Or just happen upon this new pile of debris? And again, no arrest had been made.