SALT POND, Long Island — A gruesome secret that lay beneath the dramatic cliffs and windswept dunes of a typically quiet and undisturbed beach was uncovered when the bodies of two local women who had been reported missing two days prior were unearthed on Friday.
By Saturday morning, flowers lined the doorstep of the small cottage Melissa Hui, 34, and her mother, Jane Harding, 62, had lived in.
Outside, their pet cats eyed visitors hopefully, as if awaiting the return of their owners.
The women, who didn’t have much in terms of physical belongings or money, had leaned on each other.
They were always together, looking out for and taking care of one another.
Nobody who knew them could understand why they would be victims of such a horrendous crime. It was the definition of an unfair life, one person who knew them said.
Many remembered them as humble souls who were always kind to those they encountered.
Harding’s sister, Loretta Harding, said in a social media post that her sister and niece were taken from their home at night, killed and buried in the sand like animals.
“This atrocious, inhumane act against my family will not go unpunished,” she stated.
“God will reveal who the ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ are. He will surely bring this hurtful, heart wrenching, disgusting, hateful act to justice.”
Harding added, “My poor, humble sister and niece never bothered anyone. Now they are lying in the morgue tonight.”
Sancha Carroll-Knowles, who grew up only steps away from Melissa and her sister, Samantha, told The Nassau Guardian, “I know I share this rage I have right now with many people today.
“I’m trying my best to not think of what happened to Jane and Melissa, but to think back on the times when I was a little girl in Salt Pond and seeing ‘Jeany’ sitting on the wall in front of Harding’s food store talking with Mommy, while me, Samantha and Melissa played around the back by the storeroom.
“I remember that we always went fishing off the dock across the street and how we walked that very same road that was their last drive, just to go to the very same spots of their demise, to see what we could find on the north side.
“My heart cries for them.
“I can hear Jeany with her belly laughs that made me laugh with her.
“I can hear Melissa’s soft voice. Sometimes I had to ask her to repeat because of how soft-spoken she was.
“I’m convinced that I can count the words Melissa spoke because of how humble and shy she was at times.
“These are the things I’m thinking of to drown out the harshness and heartless things that have happened.”
The saga that shook up the typically quiet island began on Wednesday morning when Hui didn’t show up for work at Long Island Petroleum, a gas station just a few hundred feet from her home.
Hui’s concerned employers asked a relative who lives nearby to check on her. He found the house empty with nothing missing except the two women.
Their car was still parked outside. Harding’s walking stick was still in the home and a cup of tea was untouched.
Cindy Petsch, whose husband was believed to have been murdered in a now closed lumber yard in the same Salt Pond community, cried out for justice for Jane and Melissa.
Petsch said there have been too many unsolved crimes on Long Island including her husband’s case.
“Who in their right mind would go to the extent of killing somebody in this way and then disposing of them like garbage?” she said.
She added, “I think it has put the whole island on edge. Persons feel angst.
“So they are really angry about it, and they are hoping that this gets solved this time and it’s not like other incidents that happened where persons got killed or persons disappeared and nothing ever came of them.
“And it’s not good for the island. Something like this happening on Long Island is not good for Long Island because the island right now is struggling economically. Things are bad on this island.
“And to have something like this on top of what’s going on, the financial situation of this island, it’s not good.
“So, that’s why we have to implore the government to make sure that there is closure. Yes, get the right person. But make sure that there is some kind of closure to this, because, at the end of the day, the people of Long Island, this is where they get their bread and butter from. And if we don’t have visitors coming anymore because of what happened, I just think it puts a stake in us.”
Petsch called for the government to resume capital punishment for heinous crimes.
“There needs to be some kind of deterrent,” she insisted.
“…Things like this, especially this type of crime, I do think that the government, in order for especially Long Island to move forward and this country to move forward, the government has to revisit capital punishment.”
She added, “I do not think that taxpayers, whoever this criminal is, I do not think that taxpayers should be paying for any criminals in jail who commit such heinous crimes.”
Police said a man was in custody in relation to the murders.