The Producers Behind A&E’s ‘The Killing Season’ on the Unsolved Gilgo Beach Murders

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DianeClehaneLunch_FeaturedI was joined today by the executive producers of A&E Network’s gritty new docuseries, The Killing Season, Joshua Zeman (who also directed) and Rachel Mills. The series, which Joshua and Rachel co-produced with Academy Award-winner and noted documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, premieres November 12 at 9 p.m. The Killing Season is an eight-episode intensive look into the world of serial killers in which Joshua and Rachel investigate one of the most unsettling, unsolved cases in recent memory involving 10 dead sex workers first discovered on Gilgo Beach on Long Island in 2011.

Joshua Zeman, Diane Clehane and Rachel Mills
Joshua Zeman, Diane Clehane and Rachel Mills
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Joshua told me the show goes beyond the sensational headlines to expose a real-life American nightmare behind serial killings around the country. “So many of the shows about serial killers don’t tell the truth,” said Joshua. “Serial killers are not evil geniuses.”

“And they’re not sexy,” interjected Rachel, referencing the all-too familiar stock character of misunderstood loner like the one Ed Westwick played on the thankfully short-lived ABC series Wicked City.

“These are guys who just think they can get away with it,” said Joshua.

As a Long Island native who spent many teenage summers at those beaches, I’ve always found the Gilgo Beach murders particularly creepy, thinking that just beyond the high grass that surrounds those stretches of beach so familiar to me lies the discarded bodies of women no one cared enough to find.

“This a bizarre case,” said Joshua, who was born on Long Island, as we settled in for lunch. “What we learned is that it’s much more complicated than what people might think about an individual crime. It’s about our society — and there are a lot of bad guys out there doing very bad things.”

And not all of them are murder suspects. Just this afternoon James Burke, the former police chief of Suffolk County who first headed up the criminal investigation into the Gilgo and Oak Beach murders, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for his actions in a series of events surrounding his attempts to recover a duffle bag he owned containing pornography and sex toys.

Joshua told me that Mr. Burke’s decision, along with those of the district attorney, to remove the FBI from the investigation into the murders is just one of many factors that have left the Gilgo and Oak Beach murders unsolved. “He’s done a lot of bad things including having his own detectives under surveillance,” said Joshua, who added at one point that Mr. Burke’s own detectives sent a letter to him and to the district attorney asking for the FBI to be reinstated in the investigation into the murders. “The request was denied. Who does that? [Mr.Burke] didn’t want the FBI snooping around his own bad deeds.”

When I told Joshua and Rachel that both my husband, who is the son of a New York City police officer, and myself believe that the Gilgo Beach killer is a cop because a police car is probably the only vehicle that could come and go from the desolate beaches without notice, Rachel said, “That’s funny, that’s what a lot of people have said.” There have even been anonymous posts online claiming the killer is a corrections officer, noted Joshua.

Joshua and Rachel’s own investigation, in conjunction with ‘armchair’ cyber-sleuths from Websleuths.com, plus other journalists and the victims’ families, uncovered connections that suggest the Long Island killer is just the beginning. “On the show, we reveal that serial killers are targeting sex workers around the country,” said Joshua, who noted that the epidemic of opioid addiction has resulted in an increase in the number of drug addicted sex workers and, as a result, more murders of people who often find themselves in very dangerous situations.