On August 2, 2016, 30-year-old Karina Vetrano disappeared while running in the Howard Beach community of Queens, New York. The attractive and fit aspiring writer was found about four hours after she vanished. She’d been dragged off a trail and assaulted, then strangled to death. She fought her attacker all the way, losing a tooth in the process.
Five days later and just under 200 miles away, 27-year-old Vanessa Marcotte—who worked for Google in New York—vanished while on a run in rural Princeton, a small community northwest of Worcester, Massachusetts. Marcotte was found murdered hours later. She was nude, part of her body burned. Police said she fought her killer hard enough that he likely had visible wounds from the encounter. Like Vetrano, it’s possible she was sexually assaulted.
I know, I know. It’s a question that at the moment seems more of interest to some pretty sketchy websites that traffic in hyperbolic posts meant to gin up more traffic to their ads. Still, as the investigations into the murders drag on, it’s hard to avoid wondering: could these horrific murders somehow be connected?
The victims’ similarities are unmistakable: A general physical resemblance; both smart and likely highly-motivated as well as confident. In a tangential way—because the city is so densely populated—even Marcotte’s job and weekday home in New York seems worth noting. Also, as my former Maxim colleague Gabriella Paiella wrote about for New York Magazine, the question of physical safety is always looming for women who run alone—it had surely bothered both Marcotte and Vetrano in the past. Yet both women were confident enough in themselves to push past that kind of anxiety and get out there and run. They presented tough victims to sexual predators, who—like many criminals—often target perceived weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
The killer or killers of Vanessa Marcotte and Karina Vetrano were even more strongly motivated than the average sexual predator and had to have had a lot of confidence in what they were doing. It’s easy to believe that in either case—and multiple reports indicate neither the NYPD nor the Worcester County, MA DA have not ruled out a connection—the victims fell prey to someone who had committed similar crimes in the past.
The New York Daily News reported Thursday that Karina Vetrano’s father believes police are close to an arrest in her case. Police said they don’t have a suspect, but Philip Vetrano even addressed a woman he said was the killer’s relative, saying, “We know there is a family member of the killer that we need for them to come forward, to finalize this very quickly, and she is in great distress…We know she wants to make that call.”
Hopefully the grieving father is right and at least one arrest in these strangely parallel crimes is in the offing. If that happens and both women were killed by the same man, he’ll have had previous victims, too. If the killers were different after all, there will still be another very dangerous man still out there, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he struck again.