Cops: 1 killer to blame in Gilgo murders

Police comb sand dunes and marshland along Ocean

Police comb sand dunes and marshland along Ocean Parkway after four bodies were discovered between Oak Beach, Cedar Beach and Gilgo Beach. (Dec. 14, 2010) (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

Nearly a year into their investigation of the Gilgo Beach murders, Suffolk police have revised their theory of the case: A single serial killer is probably to blame for all 10 victims, and it's likely a Long Islander.

And the longer the killer eludes capture, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said, the greater the fear that there will be new victims.

"That's a possibility, and that's why we are moving as fast as we possibly can to apprehend this person," Dormer told Newsday Tuesday in an interview.

He described some of the circumstances that back the single-killer theory, while declining to discuss in detail the forensic evidence and leads his detectives were following.

"The sex workers dumped in the same place, the ages of the victims and even though we did have a male and a toddler's remains found, we believe that they may be connected to the sex business," he said.

Dormer said the case that began with a grisly discovery of remains near Gilgo Beach has not gone cold.

Investigators in the computer crimes unit are still combing through cellphone records and checking on computer records of the victims who worked as prostitutes and ran ads online. He said members of the homicide unit are sorting through hundreds of tips, some from workers in the sex trade.

But hope for a breakthrough also rides on the killer having slipped up somewhere along the way.

"We know that killers of this type always make a mistake, and our job is to find a mistake, and so that's what our detectives are looking for -- where this subject made a mistake," Dormer said. "And that will certainly make this investigation move forward."

Between Dec. 11 and April 11, the remains of eight women, a man and a female toddler were found dumped along a stretch of Ocean Parkway. Of those women, the five who have been identified worked as prostitutes. Three partial sets of remains were connected to women whose other body parts had turned up far away -- in Manorville and Fire Island -- as early as 1996.

The Gilgo remains were discovered as police were searching for another sex worker, Shannan Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City, who disappeared May 1, 2010, after she was seen frantically running from a house in Oak Beach. Dormer said detectives do not think her case is connected.

"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," he said. "The M.O. is completely different, the scenario is completely different."

In May, after the second batch of remains -- six sets total -- was discovered, law enforcement authorities said as many as three killers could have been responsible, all using the brush along the parkway as a dumping ground.

But, Dormer said, "We are going on the theory now that we are dealing with one serial killer, and similarities are indicating that."

DNA analysis has established the toddler may be the daughter of a woman found 7 miles away. Dormer did not elaborate on what evidence, if any, linked the woman to the sex trade.

As for the man found, Dormer said, "The Asian male was wearing women's clothes, so it's a possibility that he was involved in the sex business."

The single-killer theory "could change as the investigation moves forward," he cautioned, "but that's the theory right now."

Dormer said detectives also believe the killer is from Suffolk or Nassau.

"The theory is that it's a Long Islander," he said, because of the disparate locations on the Island where "the bodies were dumped." Those include Manorville, "about 42 miles away from Gilgo Beach," where authorities in 2000 and 2003 found the torsos of two women whose other body parts later turned up on the South Shore.

"That's a huge distance, so somebody has to be familiar with the Long Island area and comfortable with that area," Dormer said.

Dormer said he expects the slayings will be solved, though perhaps not before he steps down as expected at year's end.

"Even if it's not solved by the time I leave, I have all the confidence in the world that the detectives and the homicide investigators and the command staff of this police department will do everything they can to bring this killer to justice," he said.

 

THE VICTIMS

MELISSA BARTHELEMY, 24, of the Bronx; discovered Dec. 11, 2010, in Gilgo Beach

MAUREEN BRAINARD-BARNES, 25, of Norwich, Conn.; discovered Dec. 13, 2010, in Gilgo Beach

MEGAN WATERMAN, 22, of Scarborough, Maine; discovered Dec. 13, 2010, in Gilgo Beach

AMBER LYNN COSTELLO, 27, of North Babylon; discovered Dec. 13, 2010, in Gilgo Beach

JESSICA TAYLOR, 20, of New York City. Her head, hands and forearm found March 29 east of Gilgo along Ocean Parkway; her torso was found July 26, 2003, in Manorville.

JANE DOE: Unidentified adult woman's torso was found in Manorville in 2000; her head, hands and right foot were found April 4.

JOHN DOE: Unidentified Asian man in women's clothing is found in Cedar Beach vicinity April 4.

OTHER VICTIMS:

-- Unidentified toddler believed to be 16-32 months old found April 4.

-- Unidentified woman's head found near Jones Beach April 11, linked to a pair of severed legs found a mile west of Davis Park, Fire Island, in 1996.

-- Other unidentified adult female bones found April 11 in a plastic bag east of Zach's Bay.

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