The only clue was a faded tattoo above her right breast: two red cherries attached to a green stem.
Thirteen years ago, the woman’s dismembered torso washed up on a beach in Mamaroneck, in New York’s Westchester County. She was stuffed in a suitcase. She had no limbs, no head, and no DNA profile. The police dubbed her “Cherries Doe.”
“It was a particularly violent crime which was not something you’d typically see,” Det. Sgt. Mark Gatta told The Daily Beast on Friday. “From what we can tell, it wasn’t a crime of passion per se, it was something that took time and planning.”
Gatta, supervisor of the Mamaroneck Police Department’s Cold Case Unit, released a photo of Cherries’ tattoos this week, ahead of the 13th anniversary of the discovery of her remains.
It’s also a tattoo with a possible link to the Gilgo Beach serial-killer case, which has haunted New York and Long Island for nearly 20 years.
Gatta hopes it will jog someone’s memory or prompt a relative to come forward to submit a DNA sample. Several weeks after Cherries’ torso was found at Harbor Island Park, her legs washed up at the Long Island waterfront property of Madison Square Garden CEO James Dolan. Police have since extracted a DNA profile from Cherries but need to run it against a relative’s profile to confirm her identity. They hope advancements in genealogical technology can help.
Gatta said there are no obvious theories for what happened to Cherries.
“At this point it’s wide, wide open,” he said.
Investigators say they believe the victim was a heavy-set Hispanic or light-skinned black woman, between 35 and 50 years old, about 5’4” to 5’6” tall and weighing 160-200 pounds.
She had been dead for as long as two weeks, the Long Island Press reported in 2011.
Scraps of paper were found in the crevices of the suitcase from a calendar page that said “cinco” and “begin to live.” The suitcase was a model sold only at Walmart.
Gatta hasn’t ruled out a connection to the infamous unsolved Long Island serial killer case; there are eerie similarities to one of that killer’s unidentified victims, “Peaches.”
Peaches was killed in a similar manner—her torso was found in a container that washed up in Lakeview, New York, in 1997, 10 years before Cherries. She had a tattoo on her left breast of a peach with a bite taken out of it and two drops falling from its core.
The Long Island serial killer, also referred to as the Gilgo Beach Killer, is thought to have murdered 10 to 16 people over 20 years—mostly women associated with prostitution—and left their bodies along the south shores of Long Island.
Last month, authorities on Long Island revealed new evidence in that case, in a similar appeal to the public, showing a photo of belt with distinctive markings that may have belonged to the killer.
However, Cherries’ torso floated onto the Mamaroneck beach during storm-induced floods, so police say she could have originated from almost anywhere.