In 1984 and early 1985, Long Island was the scene of several rapes and murders aimed at teenage girls, with evidence suggesting that the crimes had been committed by a mobile group including three or more young men.
Police have solved one case, with indications that the perpetrators -- and unknown accomplices -- may be responsible for other slayings in the area. New evidence, secured by newsman Maury Terry, further indicates the possible involvement of a devil-worship cult with ties to other lethal groups in New York City and in California.
The first Long Island victim was 15-year-old Kelly Morrissey, who vanished on the short walk home from a popular teenage hangout, on June 12, 1984.
Five months later, on November 11, a friend of the missing girl -- Theresa Fusco -- was forced into a van after leaving a skating rink in Lynbrook, one mile from the spot where Morrissey disappeared. Fusco's body, beaten, strangled, and raped by at least three men, was found on December 5, realizing the worst fears of her family and friends.
John Kogut, a 21-year-old high school dropout and unemployed landscaper, was jailed on charges of burglary and disorderly conduct when police began asking him questions about the Fusco homicide. Cracking under interrogation, he confessed to the crime, naming two accomplices, and was formally charged with the murder on March 26, 1985.
Kelly Morrissey was still missing, but her diary contained entries describing at least one date with Kogut prior to her disappearance. Eight hours after the announcement of Kogut's arrest, I9-year-old Jacqueline Martarella was reported missing from Oceanside, a short four miles from the scene of Theresa Fusco's abduction.
Kogut was obviously innocent in that case, but his alleged accomplices were still at large, and police were already collecting evidence of Kogut's alleged participation in a Satanic cult that favored the rape of young virgins as a form of "sacrifice." Kogut's friends informed police that he had once burned the mark of an inverted cross on his arm, and acquaintances of Theresa Fusco recalled her discussions of a Satanic coven reportedly active in the Long Beach-Oceanside area.
On April 22, Martarella's raped and strangled corpse was found beside a golf course at Lawrence, Long Island. Visiting the scene, journalist Maury Terry reported discovery of a "cult sign" linked with Satanists in Queens and Yonkers, who allegedly participated in the infamous "Son of Sam" murders in 1976 and '77. Not far from the dump site, searchers discovered an abandoned root cellar, its walls festooned with cult symbols and slogans.
Outside, some articles of clothing were found, described by Jacqueline Martarella's parents as "very similar" to items she wore on the night of her disappearance. John Kogut steadfastly refused to discuss the cult angle, while freely admitting his role in the rape and strangulation of Theresa Fusco. After she was raped, he said, the girl had threatened to inform police, whereupon one of Kogut's associates handed him a rope, with instructions to "Do what you gotta do."
On May 9, 1985, authorities went public with their theory that a gang of twelve associates was linked with three known murders and at least four rapes in which the victims had survived. By June 21, suspects John Restivo, 26, and Dennis Halstead, 30, were in custody on charges of first-degree rape and second-degree murder in the Fusco case.
Kogut was convicted and sentenced to life in May 1986, with Restivo and Halstead joining him later that year. (Prior to Kogut's trial, a teenage friend -- Bob Fletcher -- who had testified to Kogut's Satanism and involvement in pornography "committed suicide" in Rosedale, Queens. Police have been unable to explain the disappearance of the weapon that he used to shoot himself.)
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial
Killers - Hunting Humans
Charge: Murder, Rape
Sentence: 31.5 Years
Year of Conviction:
Real perpetrator found?
Science, False Confessions /
Admissions, Forensic Science
On December 21, 2005, Nassau
County Judge Victor M. Ort found John Kogut not
guilty of the 1984 rape and murder of a 16 year old
girl. Kogut was charged with the crime in 1985 and
convicted in 1986. He was sentenced to 31.5 years to
life in prison.
Kogut’s 1986 trial was separate
from that of Dennis Halstead and John Restivo, who
were also tried and convicted of rape and murder, on
the theory that the three men had acted together in
abducting, raping, and killing the victim.
It took almost two decades for
Kogut to win a retrial after a series of
postconviction DNA tests excluded all three men as
the rapists and proved that semen from the victim’s
body had come from unknown assailant.
On November 10, 1984, the victim, a 16-year-old girl
disappeared after leaving her job at a roller rink at 9:45 p.m. On
December 5, 1984, her body was found, naked, in a wooded area of
Lynbrook, New York. The body had been covered by leaves and debris and
was located a short distance from the roller rink.
The autopsy revealed that the victim had died as a
result of ligature strangulation. Vaginal swabs taken during the autopsy
revealed the presence of semen and spermatozoa - evidence that she had
been sexually assaulted. However, serology tests to determine the semen
donor’s blood type were never performed.
The Nassau County Police Department was under
enormous pressure to solve this crime, particularly since there had been
several other disappearances of young girls in the area in recent years.
Kogut, Halstead, and Restivo were all initially interrogated as part of
an investigation into the disappearance of another girl, before the
police changed their focus to this rape and murder.
After 3 polygraph examinations, detectives began to
focus on Kogut as a suspect in the rape and murder. Kogut, though he was
told that he failed the polygraph, continued to maintain his innocence.
After nearly 18 hours of interrogation, however, the police produced a
confession from Kogut.
The confession was hand written by the interrogating
officer for Kogut’s signature, allegedly after five other versions of
the confession that were never transcribed. Kogut was then taken to the
crime scene. He could not point the police to any evidence from the
crime that was missing, such as the victim’s clothes, jewelry, or murder
weapon. The next day, the confession was recorded on video tape. It
contained no details that were not previously known by law enforcement.
According to the confession, Restivo, Halstead, and
Kogut were all in Restivo’s van. They approached the victim, who was on
foot, and she entered the van voluntarily. When the victim demanded to
be let out of the van, she was stopped, stripped, and raped by Halstead
and Restivo. They drove to a cemetery, where the victim was taken out of
the van and Kogut strangled her with a piece of rope. The victim’s body
was then rolled into a blanket and dumped in another location.
Based on the confession, investigators procured a
warrant to search Restivo’s van. They claimed they found two hairs in
the van that were microscopically similar to the victim’s, including
indications of chemical treatment.
At trial, prosecutors argued that the hairs found in
Restivo’s van provided corroboration of the confession, and all three
men were tried for rape and murder. All three men denied having anything
to do with the abduction, rape, or murder and offered separate alibi
Prosecutors also relied on snitch testimony against
all three men. Kogut was convicted in May 1986 and was sentenced to 31.5
years to life. Restivo and Halstead were convicted in November 1986 and
were then sentenced to 33 1/3 years to life.
Biological Evidence and Post-Conviction
Centurion Ministries began working on behalf of all
three defendants in 1994. The Innocence Project began working on
Restivo’s case in 1997. In the postconviction proceedings that secured
the defendants’ release, Kogut was represented by Wilmer, Cutler &
Pickering and Halstead was represented by Pace Law School’s
DNA testing in this case went through many rounds
over a period of ten years, despite repeated exclusions of all three men.
The prosecution initially argued that the samples tested (vaginal slides)
were not the “best” samples available and could have failed to detect
semen from the defendants present on the original swabs.
In 2003, however, the defense team obtained property
records from the Police Department which led to the discovery of an
intact vaginal swab that had never been tested. STR testing on the
spermatozoa on the vaginal swab matched the single unknown male profile
from the prior testing and again excluded all three men.
In addition, defense attorneys also secured a new
affidavit from former Det. Nicholas Petraco, who had testified for the
state in 1986 regarding the hairs allegedly found in Restivo’s van. Det.
Petraco concluded, based on 20 years of research and expertise, that the
hairs displayed “post-mortem root banding,” a hallmark of decomposition
that only occurs while hairs are attached to a corpse that has been dead
for at least 8 hours, if not days or weeks.
The banding on these hairs was suspiciously similar
to those found on dozens of hairs taken from the autopsy that had been
in unsealed envelopes in a Police Department laboratory for months.
Because the victim was only alleged to have been in the van for a few
minutes after death, he concluded, the hairs could not have been shed
during that time, and were instead autopsy hairs that were commingled
with others from the van – whether through police negligence or
Based on these results, all three convictions were
vacated in June 2003 and all three defendants were released. John Kogut,
however, faced re-trial, based largely on his confession.
At trial, the prosecution sought to rebut the DNA
evidence by arguing that the victim, who was said by her mother and best
friend to be a virgin, had consensual sex with an unknown male prior to
her rape and murder. Kogut’s lawyer argued that the confession was false,
and won a motion to have expert testimony on false confessions admitted
for the first time in New York State.
After a three month bench trial, Judge Ort found
Kogut not guilty on all counts. His verdict included specific findings
that numerous aspects of the confession were contradicted by DNA and
other forensic evidence, and that that the decomposed hairs from the
victim were not shed by her in Restivo’s van.
The Innocence Poject