FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Police on Wednesday were investigating a possible connection between a man who was fatally struck by a train and a professor who was found decapitated on a quiet suburban street, a killing neighbors initially took as a macabre Halloween prank.
The woman was found dead outside a tidy apartment building in a working-class neighborhood in Farmingdale at around 8 p.m. Tuesday. Her employer, Farmingdale State College, identified her Wednesday as assistant professor Patricia Ward.
Dale Silverman, a medical editor who lives in the same Long Island community, was driving away from the train station shortly before police arrived.
"I saw what I thought was a head in the street. I saw long, black, straight hair and the head face down," she said Wednesday. "And I did a double-take. And I opened the window and said, 'No, that can't be what that is.'"
Several yards away, "I saw the body, completely straight legs together, hands at its side," said Silverman, pointing to still-bloodstained areas of the street several yards apart.
"It looked fake," she said. "I thought it was a stupid Halloween prank."
Another witness, Nick Gordon, told Newsday he saw a trail of blood on the apartment building stairs.
A half-hour after the woman's body was found, a man in his 30s was killed by a Long Island Rail Road train.
"Right now we feel there's a connection between the two individuals," said Detective Michael Bitsko.
Ward, who taught language arts in a program that prepares high school students for college, "was a member of the campus for 28 years," Farmingdale State College said in a statement. "She was well-known, well-liked and well-respected. The campus is a very sad place today."
The body was found near a home decorated with Halloween pumpkins, fake cobwebs and a mock graveyard.
"At first, everyone thought it was like a Halloween prank," said neighbor Barbara Smalls, recalling Wednesday morning how she had seen the sheet-covered body. She also "thought maybe it was a mob hit or something."
"This doesn't happen here," said Smalls. "This is a very nice, nice neighborhood. People are very friendly."