The woman whose disappearance sparked a search that led investigators to the remains of four sex workers near Gilgo Beach may herself still be in the deep underbrush there, Suffolk County police said Wednesday.
Police said they will reopen the search for Shannan Gilbert. The decision was disclosed a day after Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said authorities now believe one killer is responsible for 10 murders dating to 1996.
The 24-year-old sex worker, who lived in Jersey City, vanished May 1, 2010, after visiting the Oak Beach home of a man who had answered her ad on Craigslist. Gilbert was last seen running from the house.
A Suffolk police spokeswoman said the commissioner received information from the department's detective division Wednesday morning indicating the "possibility" that Gilbert may be dead, with her body dumped along the parkway.
Dormer told Newsday on Tuesday that police do not believe Gilbert's disappearance is part of the serial killer case.
Police plan to return to the Gilgo, Cedar and Oak Beach area to search for her, the spokeswoman said. Police would not say when the searches would be conducted and declined to further discuss the new information.
Dormer said Tuesday that police first launched an extensive hunt for Gilbert on May 3, 2010, two days after she disappeared. That search included a helicopter.
Additional efforts to find her and eventually other victims were conducted last December, and in March, April and June of this year, some involving scuba divers and a Black Hawk helicopter.
It was during a search by a police officer and a trained dog last Dec. 11 that investigators found the first of what turned out to be the remains of four women who worked as prostitutes near Gilgo Beach. Subsequent searches along Ocean Parkway turned up other remains, including those of four more women, a man and a toddler.
Dormer said Tuesday that investigators now believe the slayings may be the work of a single serial killer because of where the victims were dumped and their ties to the sex industry.
Relatives of the victims had varied reactions to Dormer's comments on the latest theory.
"Why after a year is he now finally saying it's only one person?" said Lorraine Waterman, mother of victim Megan Waterman, of Scarborough, Maine. "The case has gone cold. Everybody knows it," she said.
But Melissa Cann, 27, sister of victim Maureen Brainard Barnes, of Connecticut, said, "It's a good time to get it back in the media" to bring renewed attention to the case. Police "are trying to catch up to a killer that's ahead of them by 15 years."
The families of four victims plan to hold a vigil at Gilgo Beach on Dec. 13 to mark the first anniversary of the discoveries.