NEW YORK -- It is a stomach-churning sign of spring, as reliable as cherry blossoms or allergy attacks: reports of dead bodies rising to the surface of New York's harbor and rivers as the water warms with the season, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
More of these so-called floaters are recovered from the city's waterways in April, May and June than during the rest of the year, according to Capt. Anthony J. Russo of the New York Police Department Harbor Unit.
Of the 25 bodies pulled from local waters in 2009, Russo said 10 were recovered during the spring months. Last year, when 26 floaters were recovered, half of the total surfaced in spring. This year through the end of April there had been nine bodies gathered from the harbor by city officials.
Icy waters slow the decomposition process during the winter, which helps conceal submerged bodies. Warmer spring weather raises water temperatures, speeding decomposition and causing the release of gases. "The buildup of the gases is what makes the body more buoyant and float to the top," Russo said.
Once a floater is reported, aquatic officers head to the scene and determine whether the remains are human. If so, they haul the body onto the deck of their boat using ropes, poles and a gurney.
"You want to be careful bringing them out of the water because you don't want parts of the body to dislodge [and] you don't want to lose any forensic evidence," said acting Lt. Jeff Kronenfeldof the New Jersey State Police
Major Crime Unit, which is called to the scene once a floater is found.
Once on land, various law enforcement entities are called on to help, including members of the crime scene, missing persons and major crime units. An investigation of the body is conducted, seeking obvious signs of trauma like wounds or gunshots.
After recovery, the body is transported to the medical examiner's office, which attempts to identify the person from fingerprints, dental records, tattoos or scars and determine the cause of death.
Kubic said foul play is common in floater cases. "You're not going to get that many people floating in the East River or the Hudson from a fall from the pier," he said.
Source: Floating Corpses Rise During Spring Months