Police have released an approximate sketch of an unidentified homicide victim whose body was one of ten found along the beaches of Long Island’s Ocean Parkway. The bodies are believed to be evidence of a serial killer prowling New York, and authorities are asking anyone who recognizes the woman in the sketch to contact the Suffolk County Police Department or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.
The sketch is a composite, based on the woman’s skull which was found last April and has been connected to a pair of legs discovered in 1996 on Fire Island. The police currently have no suspects in custody, but of the ten dead, only five have been identified. Identification is a vital part of homicide investigation, and the public’s help is needed.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer confirmed that police are looking for a single offender in the cases of the first ten bodies, which consist of eight women believed to be escorts, a man dressed as a woman and a female toddler connected by DNA to one of the female victims. An eleventh body was found, that of 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, whose death Dormer contends may have been the result of an accidental drowning and is unrelated to the serial killings.
Gilbert went missing under suspicious circumstances in December 2010. She worked as an escort and visited a client (with whom she’d connected through Craigslist) in a gated community on Long Island. After making a frantic 23-minute 911 call in the early morning, she was last seen by Gus Coletti, a member of the community, running down the street pursued by a black SUV, believed to belong to her driver.
It was the search for Gilbert that led to the discovery of the ten bodies. Only recently, Gilbert’s own body was found in a marshy area in Oak Beach, about six miles from the stretch of beach that has been dubbed the Long Island Serial Killer’s “dumping ground.” Her remains were found a quarter of a mile away from her personal effects – her purse, cell phone and jeans.
Gilbert’s family disagrees with Commissioner Dormer and the police department about the cause of her death. Autopsy results have yet to be returned, but the Gilberts are confident that the autopsy will contain evidence of foul play. The family has also insisted under threat of a law suit that the Suffolk County Police involve the FBI in the investigation into Gilbert’s death, calling the current investigation “clownish.”
The five victims who have been identified also worked as escorts and found their clients through Craigslist. Amber Lynn Costello, 27, was last seen in September 2010 and was an experienced prostitute who met her client alone the night of her disappearance. Usually, someone accompanied Costello, or she had her clients come to her, and her roommate believes whoever killed her manipulated her into leaving the house with no form of protection.
Meghan Waterman, 22, went missing in June 2010, and left behind a 4-year-old child.
Melissa Barthelemy, 24, disappeared in July 2009, and her body was one of the first found in December 2010. Her little sister Amanda received a total of eight phone calls from a man in possession of Melissa’s cell phone. He told Amanda sexually explicit things he was doing to her sister, and called to inform her when he had killed Melissa.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, was a native of Connecticut who went to New York to meet a client in 2007 and never returned. She was last seen in Manhattan.
The victims’ families have complained that investigations of their daughters’ and sisters’ disappearances were postponed because the women worked as prostitutes. Gilbert’s family in particular has expressed that the police searched halfheartedly, at best, for her. The family substantiates this with the fact that Gilbert’s body was found hardly more than a few blocks from where she was last seen. Dormer insists that everything possible was done to find each of the victims, and that the women’s professions did not interrupt police procedure.
The Long Island killings may have occurred over 15 years, judging by the remains found in 1996. Sketches of the other unidentified victims are forthcoming. Safety precautions are advised, and anyone with information is encouraged to make contact with the Suffolk County Police or Crime Stoppers. Police sketches of the victims may be found online at apps.suffolkcounty/gov/police/gilgobeach.html