Police say dismembered body on beach may be filmmaker

NEW YORK -- A headless, armless body that washed up on a Rockaway beach Friday may be the remains of an Irish filmmaker, Ross McDonnell, reported missing more than two weeks ago, police sources said Saturday.

The Emmy Award winner, who friends said loved the ocean and enjoyed "wild swimming," or swimming outside in nature, disappeared Nov. 4 after riding his bike to the Rockaways, a short distance from where the body washed ashore.

Detectives believe the deceased is McDonnell but were waiting for the results of a DNA comparison to be sure, a police source with knowledge of the case said.

"We believe the Irish filmmaker drowned and this is his torso," the source said.

Police suspect the body was dismembered in the ocean over the last two weeks by the sharp rocks, waves and local marine life.

"It's not uncommon with the churning current and rocks for this to happen," the source said.

Sharks were spotted in waters off the Rockaways and Coney Island over the summer.

While sharks usually swim south in the fall and winter months, great whites were still being spotted in the Atlantic off Massachusetts in the first week of November, the Boston Herald reported.

The torso and legs were found in the sands near the Silver Gull Beach Club in a section of the federally owned Gateway National Recreation Area, police said.

McDonnell, 44, lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant and often traveled to Ireland for work.

In the hours before he disappeared, the visual artist who traveled the globe -- immortalizing his native Dublin, as well as Mexico, the U.S. and Afghanistan, had taken photos at an antiwar march in the city and attended a show, longtime friend and journalist Ioan Grillo wrote Friday.

He biked away from his home at about 8:30 p.m. Nov. 4, heading to the Rockaways, friends and colleagues told police.

"Friends became worried on Sunday when he failed to follow up on dinner plans and by Monday afternoon they stepped up, finding his apartment empty and calling the police," Grillo wrote on his website "Narco Politics."

"Friend and fellow filmmaker Gene Gallerano knew that Ross had been doing loads of 'wild swimming' over the last year and one of his favorite spots was the Fort Tilden beach in Queens," he wrote. "On Tuesday morning, Gene headed out and got the park police on the case. They located Ross' bicycle double locked."

Friends believed he "went out into the ocean," Gallerano told the Irish Times.

"He was last seen last Saturday night, the alarm was sounded on Sunday, we don't know much more than that," Gallerano said. "It's been a very, very emotionally heavy week."

McDonnell is a photographer, director, cinematographer and producer. In 2021, he won an Emmy for cinematography on the Showtime docuseries "The Trade" about the opioid epidemic, his online biography states.

In 2018, he was nominated for a director Emmy for the feature length documentary "Elian" produced by CNN Films.

"Ross' disappearance not only leaves a gaping hole in the hearts of his family as well as many friends and loved ones," Grillo wrote. "It deprives the world of one of the best photographers and filmmakers of his generation."

As the search for McDonnell continued, friends took to social media, asking anyone with information on his whereabouts to come forward.

"He is an incredible human and his disappearance has caused indescribable anguish amongst his friends and family," longtime friend Alexander Kellum said about McDonnell in a Facebook post last week. "For now we are praying for him."

The city medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.