DISGRACED ex-Long Island police chief James Burke asked multiple colleagues if they knew where he could get a snuff film and described in graphic detail the kind of sordid material he was seeking, a former cop has claimed.
Rob Trotta, who was a detective in Suffolk County for 25 years, told The U.S. Sun he first met Burke in the mid-1990s.
He was attending to the scene of a car accident when the then-sergeant made a disturbing request that left him stunned.
“He came up to me and said: ‘Trotta, I heard about you. You’re a heavy-hitter […] I want you to work for me one day,'” recounted the ex-cop.
“And then, we had some small talk, and then, he looked at me and goes: ‘You know where I can get a snuff film?'”
A snuff film is a violent pornographic video documenting an actual murder.
Trotta told Burke he didn’t know what a snuff film was, so Burke then gave him a “graphic description” of what one usually entails.
Trotta claimed Burke also described how murdering a woman during sex would be pleasurable to the killer.
“I just said: ‘No, Sarge. I don’t,” Trotta said he responded to Burke’s request.
“I thought he was crazy. I thought that maybe he was testing me somehow, I don’t know.
“I’ve never heard anything like that before and no one has ever said anything like that before, so I was taken aback.”
This story is the first in a series of stories investigating James Burke’s handling of the Gilgo investigation
Trotta claimed in the years since Burke’s very public fall from grace, at least two other police officers have called him to tell him Burke did the exact same thing to them.
Still unsure whether Burke was serious, Trotta said he’s often wondered if Burke used the question as a litmus test to determine if an officer could be trusted to enter his corrupt inner circle.
At the time of the alleged conversation, Burke had recently been transferred between departments after he was found having relations with a sex worker in his patrol car.
The incident was swept under the rug by the department at the time, Trotta says, and wouldn’t become public knowledge for another two decades until Burke was appointed chief of police.
SNUFF FILM RUMORS
Burke’s lawyer has been contacted for comment about Trotta’s claims.
John Ray, an attorney representing the family of a woman found dead on Long Island, Shannan Gilbert, told The U.S. Sun earlier this month that since he joined the case in 2011, allegations concerning snuff films have been rife.
Ray said early on, he received credible information that Gilbert’s murder may have been recorded to be sold on the dark web later. The allegation has never been substantiated.
Gilbert was found dead in an Oak Beach marsh in December 2010.
She vanished seven months earlier, shortly after calling 911 to report that someone was trying to kill her.
Burke’s department ruled her death a “horrible accident,” but her family has long maintained that she was killed.
Burke was forced to step down after his arrest in 2015 for the brutal beating of Christopher Loeb, which he conspired with numerous other officials and officers to cover up for years, including then-District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Burke attacked Loeb in 2012 after he stole a duffle bag from his car containing sex toys and pornographic DVDs.
Loeb had claimed that Burke was also in possession of a snuff film inside his duffle bag.
Ray says that Loeb’s claims of Burke allegedly snuff film possession were, in his mind, not out of the realm of possibility.
In fact, he claims one law enforcement source told him that Burke once allegedly watched a snuff film at work and openly laughed at the distressing images depicted on screen.
“There was a showing of a snuff film in the police department, presumably for evidentiary reasons,” Ray recounted his unnamed source telling him.
“And Burke was there, and he was giggling. [The source] was so offended that he left. He wouldn’t stay in the room with Burke.
“Why he found that funny, I don’t know.”
Burke endured a short yet tumultuous and scandal-ridden reign as chief between 2012 and 2015, including the Loeb attack.
He threatened to kill Loeb and punched him repeatedly while he was handcuffed to the ground inside a police station.
In 2016, Burke pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of Loeb and orchestrating the cover-up of his crime.
Years later, during an appearance on a podcast, Loeb would claim that among the X-rated DVDs inside Burke’s bag was a snuff film and child pornography.
“I put it on for about two minutes, I saw a guy with a mask on torturing a girl, a prostitute. She was tied behind her back, makeup was running down her back, she was scared to death,” claimed Loeb on Discovery’s Unraveled podcast in 2021.
Loeb claimed to have also seen images of prepubescent boys. Neither of his claims has ever been verified.
Numerous other reports about Burke’s troubling past and alleged sexual exploits would come to the fore in the wake of his arrest, including allegations of frequent drug use, sex parties, and cross-dressing.
Burke was appointed chief during the crucial early stages of the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) investigation.
The hunt to find LISK began in late 2010 when the remains of missing sex worker Melissa Barthelemy were found along Ocean Parkway while searching for another missing woman, 23-year-old Shannan Gilbert.
Within two days, Suffolk County police realized they had a serial killer on their hands after the remains of three more women were found among the reeds at the roadside, bound in a similar way with tape or belts: Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Costello, and Megan Waterman.
By mid-2011, seven more sets of remains would be found, three of whom remain unidentified.
But the investigation quickly hit a wall – and the blame for the years of stagnation that followed has often been placed solely on the shoulders of Burke.
In addition to failing to follow up on concrete leads, Burke is accused of actively obstructing the investigation.
As chief, he blocked the FBI from assisting in the case, a move many who worked with him – including Trotta – believe was made to conceal his own proclivities for hiring sex workers and taking drugs.
Burke moved to remove all FBI influence from the department, not just blocking their involvement in the LISK investigation.
Trotta was on an FBI task force at the time of Burke’s appointment. He returned from testifying in a money-laundering case in Costa Rica in 2012 and was reassigned to a local beat investigating thieves stealing copper pipes from abandoned homes.
He retired from the department the following year and successfully ran to become a legislator for Suffolk County’s 13th District.
“The reason I decided to leave the police was because I thought I was going to be arrested by a corrupt district attorney [Thomas Spota] and a corrupt police chief,” explained Trotta.
“And I can say that because one of my partners, one of the three of us that were assigned to the FBI, actually did get arrested on trumped-up charges.
“Another one got cancer and died, which I think has a lot to do with the stress of having a corrupt district attorney and a corrupt police chief.”
VICTIMS: ‘SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS’
A breakthrough in the LISK investigation finally came in July of this year when Rex Heuermann, a 59-year-old architect from Massapequa Park, was arrested outside his midtown Manhattan office.
Heuermann has been charged with three of the Gilgo Four murders – Barthelemy, Costello, and Waterman – and remains a prime suspect in the killing of Brainard-Barnes.
He was first identified as a suspect in the murders last September – just six weeks after a new task force was formed to finally solve the notorious killing spree.
Investigators working the case matched Heuermann’s description and a vehicle he owned to an eyewitness account of an orge-like man driving a Chevrolet Avalanche who was spotted with Amber Costello the last time she was seen alive.
DNA evidence yielded from a discarded pizza crust later tied him to the killings.
Trotta said it’s unforgivable that information investigators received more than a decade ago was the key to finally identifying Heuermann.
He said he was made aware recently that the chief of detectives overseeing the Gilgo investigation during its crucial infantile stages was never made aware of the tip.
“What explanation do you have that the bosses didn’t know about that and they didn’t properly follow up on it?” asked Trotta.
“You know what my opinion is why they didn’t follow up on it? It’s because Burke was patronizing prostitutes.
“Burke was a sexual deviant. These [women] were nothing to him – nothing!
“There was a ‘they were only prostitutes’ attitude in the department at that time.
“They thought of prostitutes as second-class citizens, I guess.”
State Senator Phil Boyle, a long outspoken critic of Burke’s, told The U.S. Sun he believes that once the ex-chief removed the FBI from the department, all investigation into the LISK case ceased.
Boyle said: “I’m of the mind that practically nothing happened in the years after that.
“In my letter to the commissioner at the time, I told him, ‘Look, you don’t need to tell us the names of the people who were interviewed, just give me the number of people.’
“Was it 30 people in the Oak Beach area that they talked to or how many sex workers did they interview?
“I never received a number, but I don’t believe there was much of an investigation going on at all against the Gilgo serial killings once Burke kicked the FBI out.
“If it didn’t stop dead in its tracks, it certainly came very close to it.”
‘HEADS SHOULD ROLL’
Had it not been for Burke, both Boyle and Trotta believe the Gilgo case would’ve been solved within a matter of weeks.
Both of the men believe Heuermann may have claimed additional victims in the 13 years between the discovery of the bodies and his arrest two months ago.
If that is the case, they believe Burke and the other officials who appointed and enabled him have blood on their hands.
“It’s everyone’s fear that that’s the case and that we could’ve got this guy back in 2011, but he was still out there and killed other people,” said Trotta.
“That would be a horrible thing. I’m hoping it’s not, because where are the bodies? Where are the missing people?
“I’m hoping that maybe he stopped. Maybe he said, ‘Oh, my God. I’m going to get caught.’
“I really hope that’s the case. If not, it’s a horrible thing.”
Boyle has called for an investigation into Burke and the years-long failings of the initial Gilgo probe.
“I think that the people of Suffolk County deserve to know what went wrong and why it took so long to catch the serial killer and God help us if somebody else was hurt during those wasted years,” he said.
“I’m very much afraid there are more victims out there.
“You don’t have to be an expert in serial killing to know they don’t usually stop for 10 years and do not harm anyone else.
“So whether there are other victims in New York, or in South Carolina and Las Vegas where he owned property, I believe we’re going to find more of them.
“This investigation needs to be carried out because hampering an investigation is a crime.
“I don’t care how many years have passed since Mr. Burke and anyone else caused this problem – they should be held accountable.”
Rumors, conspiracy, and innuendo have followed Burke around for years.
After his arrest in 2015, various people, including Trotta, Boyle, and Ray, all called for Burke to be investigated in connection with the LISK case, believing him to be a compelling suspect.
Ray renewed those calls in an interview with The U.S. Sun last month, calling for Suffolk County detectives to take a second look at him, particularly in connection with the unsolved murder of an unidentified Asian male known as John Doe #8.
John Doe’s skeletal remains were found along Ocean Parkway in April 2011.
The victim, who was dressed in women’s clothing, is believed to have died between 5-10 years earlier and suffered severe trauma to their skull, possibly from a gunshot wound.
“I do think Burke is worth another look around completely,” said Ray.
“We have the dead, young Asian male whose remains were found in such bad shape because, unlike the others, he was shot in the head – apparently several times.
“Rex [Heuermann] had lots of guns so he could have used one of his if he is the killer but we don’t know that, that’s just speculation.
“But another person who would have a gun is a cop.”
Burke has never been accused or charged with any wrongdoing in connection to the Gilgo investigation.
But Trotta called Burke a “compelling suspect” and echoed Ray’s calls to investigate him.
“Yeah, I think he’s capable,” said Trotta. “Do I think he’s a killer? I don’t know.
“I mean, nothing would surprise me now. Nothing.
“I hope he’s not, but I can’t put anything past someone like that, [because] you can see the pattern here: he’s a vicious person who would ruin people’s careers, who would abuse women, all the way down the line.
“And could he have taken that next step?
“I hope he didn’t, but I don’t know.”
DID HE KNOW REX?
During his interview with The U.S. Sun, John Ray suggested claims made by Loeb that he found a snuff film and child pornography in Burke’s bag could provide a potential link to Rex Heuermann, if the claims are true.
Before he was apprehended, investigators say Heuermann had been searching for violent pornography and child pornography in the weeks and months leading up to his capture.
Ray said that he also recently heard that during a search of Heuermann’s home, police unearthed a “huge cache” of child pornography.
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the claims, adding that they are not sharing any additional information about the search at this time.
But Ray said should the rumors prove to be true, investigators should look at any potential social ties between Heuermann and Burke.
“If you have a cache of different videos and that kind of thing, the chances that you’re trading on the black market or on the dark web – those kinds of things – is very high,” said Ray.
“And when you get those kinds of things, you sell them, buy them, swap them, and you find groups of people who have like-minded interests.
“So, the chances that Rex is isolated in this stuff would go against the trend; usually, these guys form these little groups, trade materials, and even go meet each other, sometimes even flying to different cities.
“That’s a rumor [regarding Burke], and I don’t know it to be true, but it’s certainly something investigators should be taking a close look at.”
Ray believes there is a possibility that Burke could be connected to the Gilgo murders, but there is no evidence to support that opinion.
BURKE’S ‘GOT ISSUES’
Burke’s already wrecked public image sustained further damage last month when he was arrested in late August for attempting to solicit sex from an undercover park ranger in Farmingville.
According to an unsealed criminal complaint, Burke allegedly pulled down his pants, exposed himself, and began manipulating his genitals in a sexual manner.
He also allegedly told the ranger, “I like sucking d**k,” before he was taken into custody.
Burke’s arrest came as part of an undercover sting operation, and he was apprehended mere minutes after the sting began.
He was initially charged with offering a sex act, public lewdness, indecent exposure, and criminal solicitation.
Two of those charges – offering a sex act and criminal solicitation – were later dropped for reasons unknown.
On Monday afternoon, Burke pleaded not guilty to the remaining charges of public lewdness and indecent exposure.
Neither Burke nor his attorney offered comment while leaving court.
Trotta said he was saddened but sadly, unsurprised by the news of Burke’s arrest last month.
“I’m not shocked at all. Not at all,” said Trotta. “We’ve been saying for years he was a deviant.
“But I don’t want to get into his personal life. I actually feel sort of sorry for him, in a weird way.
“Though people would tell me he didn’t feel bad for you when he was transferring you out [of the FBI task force], and he ruined other people’s lives and belittled them.
“I don’t want to kick the guy when he’s down.
“He’s obviously got issues.”