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Van Spotted Leaving Burning Scene Where Two Bodies Were Dumped

By  Murray Weiss and Nikhita Venugopal | March 6, 2013 7:48am | Updated on March 6, 2013 2:54pm

HOWARD BEACH — Police were searching for a van seen leaving the scene of a suspicious blaze cops believe was set in a Howard Beach park to cover the deaths of two men.

The men, whose identities were not immediately released, were found facedown in tall marsh grass in Spring Creek Park, just off the Belt Parkway near 78th Street, at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, police said.

They had both been shot in the head, sources said.

The fire is being treated as suspicious, an FDNY spokesman said. More than 60 firefighters responded and worked for about two hours to extinguish it.

A garbage bag was found lying on top of the bodies and may have been used to start the fire, the sources said.

They said the men's arms and hands were found underneath their bodies, but it wasn't immediately clear if they were tied, sources said.

Shortly after the fire broke out, a van believed to be fleeing the scene was spotted driving a mile away at Belt Parkway and Cross Bay Boulevard, law enforcement sources said.

The area near Spring Creek Park, the shallow marshlands off Fountain Avenue near the Brooklyn-Queens border, has traditionally been a notorious dumping ground for the mob, with a string of dead bodies left there over the course of the past half century.

Hundreds of bodies were allegedly dumped in the marshes by the Gambino crime family,  and the organized-crime syndicate "Murder Incorporated" also allegedly used the area in 1930s. In recent times, 24-year-old graduate student Imette St. Guillen's body was dumped nearby by Darryl Littlejohn after he abducted her from the Falls Bar and raped and murdered her, according to reports.

The fire raged in a wide stretch of marshy parkland a few hundred feet away from a set of two story, single-family homes.

Filomena Romano, a resident in the area, said the neighborhood is rife with petty crimes incidents. Recently, her GPS was stolen from her unlocked car. She also said she once witnessed "two young people.. pour gas and light a match."

Theresa Somma, who lives on 79th Street, said her bedroom faces the marsh and when she heard the fire engines, she didn't think anything of it. "I just thought that the leaves were on fire," she said. 

"I was shocked," she added, when she heard about the deaths.

With reporting by Michael Phillis.