A week into the investigation of four women's remains discovered on a desolate stretch in Gilgo Beach, a top Suffolk police official said Friday that they had found nothing to suggest Megan Waterman was among those bodies - and detectives still had far more questions than answers.
During a news conference, Deputy Insp. William Neubauer also distanced the department from earlier comments by Police Commissioner Richard Dormer that a serial killer could be responsible and said it was unclear how any of the women died.
"We have no idea whatsoever that we're dealing with a serial killer," Neubauer said. "Anything is possible at this point because there's so many unanswered questions.
"For us to use terminology such as murdered victims or serial killers - that would be presumptuous and it does not advance our investigation whatsoever for us to engage in such a discussion," Neubauer said.
Asked about the possibility that Waterman, of Scarborough, Maine, was among the remains, Neubauer said: "At the present time we have no evidence indicating that it is probable that Megan Waterman is among those that were found here." But he added: "anything at this point is possible."
While Neubauer said cops hadn't even established that the women were victims of foul play, investigators are still pursuing the case as multiple homicide victims dumped at the site. Sources told Newsday on Friday that all four women were wrapped in burlap.
The circumstances of the discovery strongly suggest that one person or group of people is responsible, said Joseph Pollini, a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD lieutenant with the department's cold case homicide squad.
"The fact that you have four bodies in a specific area, they're all females, it's most likely you're dealing with the same person or persons involved in the homicides," he said.
The remains were discovered in Gilgo Beach, and early in the case, two names had surfaced as possible victims. Shannan Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City, who disappeared after visiting a home in Oak Beach on May 1, was ruled out as one of the victims, officials said Wednesday. Waterman, 22, was last seen June 6 leaving a Hauppauge hotel with a man.
Both women had advertised as escorts on Craigslist and had gone to meet clients at the time of their disappearance.
Once Gilbert was ruled out, any link to Waterman's disappearance also became far less likely.
The news that Gilbert was not among the victims and that Waterman might not be complicates the work of investigators. Police are analyzing the remains and Neubauer said it could take weeks or even months to identify them.
Waterman's mother, Lorraine Ela of South Portland, Maine, was relieved that her daughter's remains might not be among those found in Gilgo, and holds out hope Waterman might still be alive. But "just because she's not one of the four, it doesn't mean she's not laying out there somewhere," Ela said.
For two days, police closed down portions of Ocean Parkway to search for remains. Friday, they closed the roadway for nearly five hours as they proceeded west into Nassau County in the search. The search is not expected to continue Sunday.
The investigation now involves a multitude of precinct commands and specialized squads, including missing persons, computer crimes, homicide, and major cases. No formal task force has been formed, police said. Suffolk police have been in contact with the prosecutor's office in Atlantic County, N.J., where four women were found dead and shoeless in a drainage ditch in West Atlantic City in 2006. That case is unsolved.
Work on the Waterman and Gilbert missing-persons cases will continue, police said. Investigators say they have interviewed, taken a vehicle from and searched the house of Joseph Brewer, 46, of Oak Beach, who said he summoned Gilbert to his house after contacting her on Craigslist. Police say Brewer is not a suspect and has cooperated fully.
"My prayers go out to the families," Brewer said outside his West Islip home Friday. "I'm alive. I'll be with my family for Christmas . . . I'll live through this."