Long Island Serial Killer

// December 25th, 2012 // Serial Killers

Police search for Long Island Serial Killer bodiesThe Long Island Serial Killer (also known as the Gilgo Killer or the Long Island Ripper) is a serial killer who is believed to have murdered at least ten people in the Long Island area.  He targets prostitutes, who were often contacted from the online bulletin board Craigslist, and has been in operation for at least fifteen years.  The Long Island Serial Killer dumps the bodies of his victims along Ocean Parkway, a fifteen mile highway that traverses Jones Beach Island on Long Island, New York.  Located near the populated beach towns of Gilgo Beach and Oak Beach in Suffolk County as well as near Jones Beach State Park in Nassau County, the killer dumps his victims, unburied in thick brush, often only a few feet from the roadway.  Some victims’ bodies lay undiscovered for over a decade.

The discovery of the active serial killer came by chance during the unrelated hunt for a 24-year old missing prostitute, Shannan Gilbert.  Spurred along by her concerned family, Shannan’s mysterious disappearance prompted a 7-month search by area law enforcement.  Police could not find Shannan Gilbert, who seemingly vanished into thin air, despite a very clear record of her last living moments.

On May 1, 2010, Joseph Brewer, a resident of the Oak Beach gated community located only a few miles from Gilgo Beach, found Shannan Gilbert’s escort advertisement on Craigslist.  Brewer requested Gilbert’s services at a “party” he was hosting at his home.  At 2:00 AM on May 1, 2010, Gilbert arrived at the home of Joseph Brewer.  Gilbert’s “driver”, Michael Pak, waited outside the home.  Brewer claims that shortly after her arrival, Gilbert demanded money from Michael Pak who then asked her to leave the house.

Gilbert’s driver, Michael Pak, told police that Gilbert ran from the home screaming “they’re trying to kill me!”.  At 4:51 AM, Gilbert called 911 emergency services.  Operators noted that Gilbert seemed disoriented and confused.  Gilbert mistakenly gave her location as Jones Beach.  Gilbert then ran to the nearby home of Gustav Coletti.  When Coletti told Gilbert he would call the police for her, Gilbert ran away.  A few minutes later, Michael Pak pulled up to the home in his sports utility vehicle and told Coletti that he was “looking for a woman who’d become upset and run out of his party.”  For over six months, nobody heard nor saw Gilbert ever again but her mysterious disappearance would serve as the catalyst for a series of very gruesome discoveries.

Police search for Long Island Serial Killer bodiesThe search for Shannan Gilbert seemed to stall.  Whether budget cuts, lack of experience, or uncooperative weather hindered the search, the Gilbert family became frustrated and angry at the perceived lack of progress police made in their investigation.

On December 11, 2010, Police Officer John Mallia took his cadaver dog to an area near the spot where Gilbert was last seen.  Mallia recognized an opportunity to train his dog while at the same time, searching in the area where Gilbert was last seen.  His efforts paid off when the skeletal remains of a woman in a nearly disintegrated burlap sack was found along the highway that leads to Jones Beach, 45 miles east of New York City.  Expanding the search area, three more bodies were found just two days later, on December 13, 2010.

Four bodies were found all within 500 feet of each other and in various stages of decomposition.  Police determined that all four were missing prostitutes who had advertised their services on the bulletin board, Craigslist.  Police surmised that the killer lured the prostitutes back to his home where he killed them and then disposed of the bodies along the beach-front roadway.  All four were strangled and at least one was found with an “item” around her neck.

Victim: Melissa BarthelemyPolice identified the first body that John Mallia’s cadaver dog found, as 24 year old Melissa Barthelemy.  Standing 4’11” and weight a slight 95 pounds, Melissa Barthelemy was identified using DNA taken from a toothbrush in her home.  She was last seen on July 10, 2009 and had lain in the thick brush along the roadway for more than a year before being discovered.

Barthelemy lived in a $700 Bronx basement apartment on Underhill Avenue in Tremont (a Bronx neighborhood).  Barthelemy had grown up in Buffalo, New York where she graduated from cosmetology school and worked in various salons in her area.  Barthelemy moved to New York City hoping to use her cosmetology license to find a better paying job.  Her landlady knew that Barthelemy had begun working part-time as a stripper to supplement her meager income.  Soon, Barthelemy began earning extra money as an escort advertising on Craigslist.

On the night that Barthelemy disappeared, she had met with a client, deposited $900 in her bank account, and attempted to call an old boyfriend who did not answer his phone.  She then checked her voicemail from two motels in Massepequa (a Budget Inn and a Best Western).  She then left the motel for a appointment with a client.  Her pimp had offered her a ride but she declined the offer.  Barthelemy was never seen again.

In desperation, her family hired a psychic who told the family that Melissa was in a shallow grave near the ocean in a place beginning with the letter “G”.  A year and a half after her disappearance, Melissa Barthelemy was indeed found in thick brush along the roadway that ran along Gilgo Beach.

The family was not at all shocked that Melissa was found dead.  One week after her disappearance, Melissa’s sister, Amanda Barthelemy, began receiving a series of mocking phone calls that were placed from her missing sister’s cell phone.  The first calls occurred on July 16, July 19, and July 23.  The caller referred to Barthelemy as a “whore” and a horrible, nasty person.  The calls were coarsely traced and determined to originate from midtown Manhattan in the Madison Square Garden and Times Square areas of town.  Police rushed to the scene after each call but the caller kept each communication under 3 minutes so the exact location could not be pinpointed.  Surveillance video of the area where the calls came from showed hundreds of people milling around, many with phones pressed to their ears.

The mocking calls continued for five weeks.  The called described what he was doing to her sister in graphic detail, including explicit details on the sexual mistreatment the caller was imposing on Barthelemy, and later told Amanda that her sister had been brutally murdered.  The voice, whom Amanda described as belonging to an older white man, sullenly asked Amanda, "Do you think you’ll ever see her again?  You won’t.  I killed her." and he hung up.  The phone call lasted less than a minute.  Amanda and her mother kept a detailed journal of the calls and later turned the journal over to the police.  The last call was received on August 26, 2009.

The next victim’s body was found on December 13, 2010, also along Gilgo Beach.  27-year old Amber Lynn Costello, a prostitute and heroin user, was 4’10” and weighed 100 lbs.  She was from North Babylon, New York, a town located only 10 miles north of Gilgo Beach.  She had been missing since September 2, 2010, over a year after Barthelemy disappeared.  She was last seen in North Babylon, New York.  On the night that she disappeared, Costello went to meet a stranger who had seen her advertisement on Craigslist.  The customer had called her several times and had offered her $1,500 for her services.  At the time her body was discovered, Costello had never even been reported as missing.

Victim Maureen Brainard-BarnesThe third body discovered, and the second body discovered on December 13, 2010, was the remains of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, a 4’11”, 105 lb prostitute.  The 25-year old prostitute had lived a battered life.  During her short life, she had suffered a broken nose, broken fingers on her right hand, and had a scar on her abdomen, a scar on her face, and another scar on her forehead.  She was last seen on July 9, 2007 (over three years before her body was discovered), when she left Norwich for New York City.  Maureen Brainard-Barns had left to meet a client she had booked through Craigslist.

The fourth body was also found unburied and covered in thick brush.  The body was determined to be the remains of 22 year old Megan Waterman.  Waterman’s profile differed from the previous three victims,  Rather than being slight in stature, Waterman was 5’5” and weighed 150 lbs but her proximity to the other bodies left no doubt she was a victim of the same killer.  Megan Waterman came from South Portland, Maine and had been missing since June 6, 2010, a mere six months prior to the discovery of her body making her the most recently deceased of the four victims found.

The day Waterman went missing, she told her 20-year old boyfriend Akeem Cruz, that she was going out and would call him later. There is much debate as to whether Akeem Cruz was Waterman’s “boyfriend” or pimp.  Cruz had a prior criminal history.  He had once been arrested for threatening a woman with a knife, cutting the tires of her car, and angrily threatening to kill the woman.  After Waterman’s body was found and identified, Cruz went on to earn a 20 month sentence at the Maine Correctional Center for drug trafficking.

After telling her boyfriend she would see him later, surveillance video showed Mega Waterman leaving the hotel on June 6, 2010 at 1:30 AM.  She left on foot.  The Holiday Inn Express motel in Hauppauge, New York was only 15 miles northeast of Gilgo Beach and 23 miles away from the site where her body was found.

The proximity of the bodies and method of killing (strangulation) told the police that a serial killer was unleashing a rampage of killing on their beach town.  Suffolk County Commissioner Richard Dormer announced to the public, "Four bodies found in the same location pretty much speaks for itself. It’s more than a coincidence. We could have a serial killer."  Police immediately suspected the killings could be related to a similar string of killings of four prostitutes who were found in a drainage ditch in Atlantic City, New Jersey but this suspicion was quickly ruled out.  They would retain their search to the area in and around Gilgo Beach, a decision that would soon prove to be mistaken.

Police told the public that the search would resume after the weather warmed up and the ground became more conducible to a detailed search.  When they resumed their search he following Spring, they were stunned to find not only additional bodies, but proof that the killer used more than one location for disposal of the bodies and that the killer had been in operation for a long, long time.

Cadaver dogs searching for bodiesIn late March and early April of 2011, a Marine Unit policeman spotted something unusual in the grass while driving along the beach.  A subsequent search netted the police four more bodies.  Two more women, an Asian man, and a female toddler were found in Nassau County, all about one mile apart, and about five miles west of the four bodies found the previous winter.  Law enforcement officials announced that Suffolk County would now coordinate their efforts with Nassau Police and the New York State Police and expand their search grid to include nearby Nassau County.

The newest set of remains found showed marked differences from the previous four victims.  The newest bodies were not contained in burlap sacks, were placed a bit further from the road, and had been there much longer than the first four bodies.  Some of the victims had lain undiscovered for nearly a decade (later police would discover more bodies that had been undiscovered for nearly 15 years).

At first police believed more than one serial killer was in operation and that it was just a coincidence that they both used the same dumping location for their victims.  After further thought, and to the chagrin of the District Attorney who was prosecuting the case, they changed their minds and decided that the same serial killer was responsible for the deaths of all eight victims found to date.  They surmised that over the long period of time that the killer had been in operation, he had changed his modus operandi.  He had evolved.

The body that the passing policeman spotted on March 29, 2011 was later identified as that of 20 year old Jessica Taylor, a working prostitute from Washington, D.C.  Located off the roadway only a little ways east of Gilgo Beach, only her skull, a pair of hands, and a forearm were found.  Wondering where the remainder of her body might be,  Police remembered a similar discovery that had occurred many years earlier on the same stretch of road but more than 40 miles away.  DNA tests proved their assumption correct.  Police found that the remainder of her dismembered body had been discovered much earlier, on July 26, 2003, on the same stretch of highway but 45 miles away in Manorville, New York.

The subsequent search of the area on April 4, 2011 revealed a second set of remains, a head, hands, and right foot scattered along Ocean Parkway.  Examination of the right foot showed a tattoo that the killer had mutilated likely in an attempt to conceal the victim’s identity (demonstrating that earlier on in his murderous career, the killer had gone to greater lengths in an attempt to hide his victims).  Not immediately identifiable, the victim was dubbed Jane Doe No. 6.  The victim was about 5’2” and between 18 and 35 years old.  As with Jessica Taylor, DNA analysis proved that the remainder of her body, a torso, had been discovered in 2003, also in Manorville, New York.

Jewelry found on Baby Jane DoePolice were surprised to find that the body of the seventh victim found was that of a young, female toddler.  On April 4, 2011, shortly after find the body of Jane Doe No. 6, searchers found the small body near the body of Jane Doe No. 6.  They concluded that the toddler was between 18 and 24 months old.  The small baby was found wrapped in a blanket and wearing hoop earrings and a rope style necklace.  Reported to be “non-Caucasian”, police at first believed the toddler was likely the daughter of Jane Doe No. 6 (given the proximity of the bodies).  Adding a further twist to the story, DNA analysis linked the toddler to another victim that would be found the following week, nearly 7 miles away.

Later in the day on April 4, 2011, police found the body of a victim that truly baffled them.  This time the victim was a male – dressed in women’s clothes.  Police determined that the victim was of Asian descent, 20 to 30 years old, about 5’6” in height, and of slight build.  They concluded that the victim died of blunt force trauma and had been dead from between 5 and 10 years.  The body was discovered at Cedar Beach and was missing four teeth, two molars, and at least one of his top front teeth.  Since the victim was found wearing women’s clothes, police deduced that the cross dresser was working as a prostitute.

On April 11, 2011, another unidentified victim was found near Jones Beach by a cadaver dog.  Only a skull was found but was quickly linked (via DNA) to a pair of legs, wrapped in plastic, that had washed up on the Davis Park section of Fire Island on April 20, 1996, nearly 15 years earlier (Fire Island is on the same stretch of road as the other locations but about 45 minutes away).  Police noted that the victims jewelry matched that of the toddler found a week earlier.  DNA analysis proved what they had suspected – the victim was the mother of the toddler.  Eleven days later police would find two teeth, about 12 inches from the location of the skull, that also belonged to this victim.  That it took police nearly two weeks to find additional remains so near the skull is one of the reasons many people question the competency of the law enforcement officials in this investigation.

Later in the day on April 11, 2011, police found remains of a tenth victim.  Police have revealed very little information on this body.  Adult female bones were found east of Zach’s Bay.  Wrapped in a plastic bag, they were found less than 40 feet from Ocean Parkway and on state-owned land.

After the tenth victim was found, police informed the public that they believed multiple killers were responsible for the deaths of the 10 victims.  By November 2011, the police had reversed this announcement and informed the public that they believed one person was responsible for all 10 deaths.

"Serial killers evolve," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said. "They don’t necessarily do the same thing all the time. What’s common here is the dumping ground, and the people who are victims: sex workers."

Police search for Long Island Serial Killer victimsThe timing and location of the bodies offered a theory that the killer carried the bodies away from the highway down Ocean Parkway, first depositing part of the remains in Manorville, New York, driving a bit further and depositing the baby into the brush, then driving seven miles further and disposing of the remainder of the toddler’s mother’s body near Gilgo Beach.

The discovery of the older remains showed police that the killer’s method of operation had evolved, possibly due to his confidence increasing after the first victims laid undiscovered for so long.  In the beginning, the killer had dismembered the bodies and spread the remains across multiple locations in an effort to keep the bodies hidden and unidentified for as long as possible.  The killer had hidden part of the remains in Manorville, New York and part of the remains on Ocean Parkway nearer to Gilgo Beach.  The remains at Manorville were typically found much sooner than the ones nearer Gilgo Beach.  He also deposited the bodies further from the road and attempted to hide their discovery by wrapping them in plastic.  Recognizing that the bodies at Manorville were quickly discovered while the bodies at Gilgo Beach had yet to be found, the killer began leaving the bodies intact, depositing them in the same location along Ocean Parkway and closer to the road, and wrapping them in burlap instead of plastic.  Possibly the killer was ready for national exposure and sought to make it easier for the police to find the bodies of the victims or maybe the killer became more comfortable that the bodies would not easily be discovered.  If the later is true, the revelation of the new dumping ground proposes that the Long Island Serial Killer will continue killing but again change his modus operandi and find another secluded area to dispose of his victims’ bodies.

Victim Shannan GilbertOn December 7, 2011, Shannan Gilbert’s clothing and some of her personal belongings were found less than 400 yards from Coletti’s home.  Police discovered a purse, cellphone, jeans, shoes, and lip gloss in a marshy vacant field between Ocean Parkway and the bay.  The pocketbook was discovered by Suffolk Police Officer John Mallia, whom in an ironic twist, was the first to discover a Long Island Serial Killer’s victim’s body barely a year earlier.

Police began methodically searching the area and after more than six months and after nearly a dozen dead bodies had been found, on December 13, 2011at 9:14 AM, the remains of Shanna Gilbert were found in a marsh about a half mile from where she disappeared.  Although the marsh was somewhat dry at the time, police believed the marsh would have contained 2 to 3 feet of water at the time of her death.  Drainage canals running through the area often contain water even after surrounding areas ran dry.  Her body was found only a few feet from the Ocean Parkway road that she was trying to reach.

Police believed that Gilbert collapsed in the marsh, exhausted, and drowned.  Gilbert’s mother disagreed.  She noted that Gilbert was terrified of the water and said that Gilbert would have immediately turned back if she felt water on her legs.

Police also discounted the Long Island Serial Killer as the culprit.  "We believe that it’s just a coincidence that she went missing in Oak Beach and the bodies were found on Gilgo Beach, which is right across Ocean Parkway and farther west," Dormer said. "The M.O. is completely different, the scenario is completely different."  The police noted that Gilbert’s body was found deep within the underbrush and they felt the killer could not have worked his way that far into the brush to leave her body.

An odd fact was uncovered though.  At the home of Joseph Brewer, where Gilbert ran frantically screaming “they are trying to kill me”, another man was inside.  A 48-year old male who was known to have utilized the services of prostitutes, was staying with Joseph Brewer at the time.  Police would not say whether or not they had question the man.  The man has since moved and is believed to be living in Georgia.

Profile of the killer

Police believe the killer could have knowledge of law enforcement, a common belief whenever a serial killer proves particularly adept at his trade.  They also feel that he carefully plans his attacks, a more plausible evaluation given the Long Island Serial Killer’s ability to evade police for over a decade.

"He premeditated his acts," Cohen said. "He knew what he was doing and my personal belief is that Melissa was not his first victim. He started to get good at this, and he’s getting better at it."

Police also think the killer is a white male who is familiar with the South Shore of Long Island (likely a long-time resident of the area).  And given the costs he was willing to pay for the escort services, they believe there is a high likelihood that the Long Island Serial Killer is an upper class citizen in a high income bracket.

Controversy and ineptitude within the ranks

Several families of the victims are upset with the way police have handled the investigation.  Delays in search campaigns and refusal to explore alternative theories are the two primary complaints.  In addition, there has been public disagreement between law enforcement personnel and the District Attorney’s office.

In December 2011, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota disagreed with Police Commissioner Richard Dormer’s theory that a single killer is responsible.

"I would never even discuss this publicly, except I think that the facts that have been disclosed so far do not bear out the single killer theory at all," said Spota.

Spota was particularly upset when Police Commissioner Richard Dormer changed the Police Department’s original theory that multiple killers were involve and even more upset that he was not told the new theory before it was announced to the public.  Spota was introduced to the revised theory during a public press conference.

"I have to tell you that in our office, the DA’s office and the homicide squad work hand in hand," Spota said. "The moment that any police are called to a crime scene and they determine it to be a homicide, the prosecutor is called out immediately. They’re right there. And that’s the way we’ve always worked.

The disagreement is easy to understand given the evolution in the Long Island Serial Killer’s method of operation during his decade plus rampage.  Early victims had been dismembered and body parts spread over multiple geographic areas while later victims where dumped, bodies intact, in the Gilgo Beach aera. Police Chief Dormer felt that serial killers can evolve over time and their modus operandi often evolve too.  It is feasible that early on, the killer dismembered the victims and scattered their remains over multiple locations but after the victim’s bodies were not discovered along Long Beach, he felt that dismemberment was not really needed and began dumping the bodies intact along the waterway.

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