Cops: Serial killer dumped 4 women at beach

The Suffolk County police K-9 unit searches wooded The Suffolk County police K-9 unit searches wooded brush area along Ocean Parkway, where four bodies were recovered. (Dec. 14, 2010) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Suffolk police believe a serial killer dumped the bodies of four women on a secluded spot along Ocean Parkway between Gilgo and Cedar beaches, and are using DNA from the families of two women who vanished on Long Island last spring to determine if any of the bodies are theirs.

Working with cadaver-sniffing dogs, investigators Tuesday completed a sweep of the road and believe no more bodies are there.

Police said both women had advertised on Craigslist as escorts and had traveled to Suffolk County to meet clients. Police said it could take weeks to make comparisons with the families of the two missing women and the four remains found in underbrush along the road.

"I'm operating on the idea that it's one person or one group who did this," said Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky of the Suffolk Homicide Squad. Earlier in the day, police Commissioner Richard Dormer said the four remains "could" be the work of a serial killer.

Authorities believe the most likely chance for initial identifications are two young women, both of whom went missing in Suffolk in recent months.

While there are no known connections between Shannan Maria Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City, and Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine, police and their families said both worked as prostitutes.

Gilbert was apparently last seen early on May 1 at an Oak Beach home where she'd made a late-night visit with a driver to meet a client, according to interviews conducted by Newsday and police. Pelkofsky confirmed that Gilbert placed a frantic 911 call during that visit. The call and other details from the missing-person case had not yet been reviewed. Detectives have interviewed both the client and the driver.

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Several of Gilbert's family members raised questions about the police response to the disappearance. "We never felt like it was taken seriously," said Mari Cox, Gilbert's mother. Dormer said all aspects of the disappearances would be reviewed.

An Oak Beach man interviewed by Newsday said Gilbert spent an hour at his home in the early morning hours before she ran off. He said he contacted her through Craigslist expecting a "date" but said he was surprised when she showed up driven by a man. "I thought it was just going to be her," the man said. "And then I saw what's going on, I thought it was a little strange."

Gilbert's driver, who was also interviewed by Newsday, said Gilbert spent three hours at the man's house. About 4 a.m., the driver said, the man walked outside and asked for help getting Gilbert to leave. Gilbert ran out of the house, screaming and waking up neighbors before eventually running off, the driver said. The driver said he looked for her for about an hour before giving up and going home.

Waterman was last seen alive outside a Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge on June 6, where she went with a Brooklyn man police here and in Maine describe as a pimp. They identified him as Akeem Cruz, 21, now behind bars in Maine on drug related charges.

"Waterman was involved in the sex business and an investigation is being conducted into whether she was forced into the sex business or forced to meet with clients," Pelkofsky said. There was no indication Gilbert was forced into prostitution, he said.

Using DNA matching and possibly dental records, positive identification of the woman could take weeks or longer, if they can be identified at all. FBI agents are to meet with Suffolk homicide detectives today to discuss what assistance the bureau can provide, sources familiar with the investigation said.

On the first full day of what promises to be a lengthy investigation involving out-of-state and federal authorities, a forensic anthropologist with the New York City medical examiner's office positively identified two of the bodies as women, and made the same preliminary determination of the other two.

Waterman's DNA is already in a federal forensics database for comparison to material found in the bodies; Gilbert's mother has also provided a cheek swab for comparison. DNA from the bodies will also be matched against the FBI database in hopes of hits. The bones will also be examined for signs of trauma, such as stabbing or gunshot wounds.

Once a forensic expert has determined age ranges, sex and heights, missing-persons detectives can begin searching for likely matches.

The bodies - three of which were discovered Monday, two days after another set of skeletal remains was found nearby on Saturday - were likely brought to the area in a vehicle at different times. The oldest remains could go back as far as two years, police said.

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At least two of the bodies found Monday were wrapped in burlap, a source familiar with the investigation said.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated the bodies had been found in Oak Beach.

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