Torso found on Breezy Point beach may have belonged to Irish filmmaker, police say

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By Dan Sears

Police officials said they believe the torso found on a Breezy Point beach last week belonged to Ross McDonnell, an Irish filmmaker who enjoyed open water swimming at night.

Police used video footage, bloodhounds and interviews with friends to retrace McDonnell’s steps on Nov. 4, the last night he was seen. He left home at 10:30 p.m., biked to the beach, locked his bike and left his clothes on a rock jetty, according to police. His body was found two days later.

“It was typical for him to go swimming this late in the night, according to friends,” Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said at a press conference Tuesday.

Kenny said McDonnell was an avid swimmer in Ireland, where open water swimming is commonly called wild swimming. Kenny said McDonnell likely drowned in the undertow. Authorities said the force of the waves crashing against the rocky shore may have removed his limbs.

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“If you can imagine, the way it was described to me, the churning of a washing machine, the body going back and forth and hitting the rocks, was what could have caused the limbs and the head to be removed from the body.”

Open water swimming is common in New York City, though far less common at night. According to New York Open Water, a sporting organization, only four of the 35 swims they do each year take place at night.

“Because during the day, it’s too windy,” said Rondi Davies, one of the group’s organizers. “It’s better to swim when it’s calm, so they do those swims at night.”

For night swims, the group uses lights and support kayaks, and obtains permits.

“You take every precaution you can,” she said. “It’s quite a beautiful experience, especially around Manhattan, because you’ve got all the lights of the city.”

McDonnell was a director, cinematographer and producer. In 2021, he won an Emmy for cinematography on Showtime’s “The Trade,” and another for a COVID-19 documentary entitled “The First Wave” in 2022.

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Kenny said NYPD is still waiting for toxicology and DNA results to positively identify McDonnell.

Contributed reporting by Bahar Ostadan.

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