Now there are eight.
Suffolk police, investigating a likely serial killer since December, found the remains of three more people Monday in the underbrush near Gilgo Beach.
The discoveries came nearly five months after the bodies of four slain women who worked as prostitutes were found wrapped in burlap near Ocean Parkway, and just six days after a fifth set of remains was found.
Suffolk police didn't yet know who the latest four people were. They declined to reveal whether any evidence found in the past week links them with the four women found in Gilgo Beach in December, whom Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer has called likely victims of a serial killer.
Suffolk police, who returned to the Gilgo area Monday for the first large-scale search there this year, found the remains in less than five hours between Gilgo and Oak beaches.
The searchers Monday included 25 police recruits and three canine units. The North Babylon, Babylon, and Islip fire departments brought tower ladders carrying buckets to give searchers a bird's-eye vantage point.
The hunt for more remains or other clues will continue Tuesday if weather permits, police said, and may reach into Nassau County near Jones Beach. Westbound lanes of Ocean Parkway between Captree Bridge and the Nassau border remained closed overnight.
"It's still a crime scene," Dormer said.
The latest search, like the first one almost five months ago, was an effort to locate Shannan Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City, who was last seen alive in Oak Beach on May 1, 2010.
At midday Monday, a Suffolk detective called the Gilbert family to inform them of the newest development.
"It's a nightmare," said Sherre Gilbert, one of Shannan's sisters. "You don't know. It is her? Is it not her?"
Crime experts predicted the latest sets of remains to be found will be connected to the slayings of the four women.
"Murderers don't know to go to this one area to drop off bodies. The odds are unthinkable that it's not the same individual."
Joseph Pollini, a former NYPD cold case investigator, said the proximity of the latest remains to the other four strongly suggests they were also victims of a serial killer.
"This seems fairly systematic and fairly focused, and looks like one individual dropping them off," he said.
If the remains can be identified through DNA or other means, Pollini said, detectives will begin to look for links among them or to the four women: common associates or lifestyle, shared hometowns or anything to establish how they may have been targeted.
"It's like a puzzle, and the more pieces you have, the easier it is to solve it," he said. "At the point at which a serial killer either stops or there is no further physical evidence to pursue, it makes life difficult for the investigators."
On Dec. 11, an officer discovered remains later determined to be Melissa Barthelemy, 24, in heavy brush in Gilgo Beach, about 4 miles west of where Gilbert went missing.
Two days later, three more women -- Megan Waterman, 25, of Scarborough, Maine; Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Conn., and Amber Costello, 27, of North Babylon -- were found nearby. Police believe they were killed elsewhere and driven to the isolated beach area for disposal.
Gilbert was last seen in Oak Beach, where she had gone to visit a client nearly a year ago, but ran off and made a largely incoherent 911 call, police said.