Faces of the Gilgo Beach victims
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They left behind frantic friends, an ex-husband, unfed pets.
Amber Lynn Costello of North Babylon, Melissa Barthelemy of the Bronx and Maureen Brainard-Barnes of Norwich, Conn., disappeared over the past three years, leaving family members, neighbors and investigators with a mystery.
Suffolk police Monday solved that mystery. The three newly identified women, who worked as prostitutes and advertised their services online, join a fourth, Megan Waterman of Maine, as victims of a suspected serial killer who left their bodies wrapped in burlap on a remote stretch of Gilgo Beach.
Amber Lynn Costello grew up quickly - marrying and divorcing twice by the time she was 27. And she developed a drug habit early in life, according to her husbands.
"She was a good girl, but she just had bad habits," said Michael Wilhelm, her first husband.
Costello grew up in North Carolina, in Rocky Point and Wilmington. She married Wilhelm after they met at a local beach - a whirlwind romance, he said, that soured when he discovered her heroin addiction.
"I found out about it the hard way, finding stuff lying around," like needles and paraphernalia, Wilhelm said. "I told her you have to quit it. Then we got married."
Wilhelm, 41, now of Kannapolis, N.C., couldn't recall exactly when they were married or for how long, but he said the marriage lasted for about two years.
"I always wondered how she was doing," he said, noting they had not spoken to each other in years. "But she lived on the wild side and I couldn't handle it."
Costello's second husband recalled similar memories.
"Amber kept a lot of secrets," said Don Costello of Clearwater, Fla. "She was not truthful throughout our marriage."
Don Costello said they met at the First Assembly of God Church in Clearwater and were married from December 2007 to March 2009. The last time he saw her was in December 2009, when she picked up a Christmas tree from his home.
Sometime after that, Costello moved to Long Island. Her sister Kimberly Overstreet lived in Lindenhurst. The victim was last seen alive in North Babylon, where she rented an apartment, on Sept. 2, 2010. Overstreet could not be reached and no information on services could be found.
She kept in touch with her parents and younger sister regularly, speaking to them several times a week, said her uncle Jim Martina. He last saw his niece on New Year's Day in 2009 when she came home for the holidays.
"She said she just loved New York," Martina said.
The family, he said, had no idea she worked as a prostitute until after her disappearance in July 2009.
Barthelemy lived on a quiet residential street in the Bronx, paying $700 a month for a basement apartment, said her former landlady, Bella Miah.
She kept cats, according to a neighbor who identified himself only as Victor.
According to the Manhattan district attorney's office, Barthelemy was arrested on Sept. 12, 2008, at Sixth Avenue and West 46th Street on suspicion of prostitution. In April 2009, she pleaded guilty to attempted prostitution, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to five days of community service.
The family has suspected Barthelemy was among the bodies found in December.
"We kind of expected it, but, obviously we still held out a little hope that it wasn't her," he said. "At least we have some closure."
Maureen Brainard-Barnes was named after her grandmother.
"She was very outgoing. She had so much energy," said Sarah Marquis, a friend from Groton, Conn.
The family suspected she was dead when she didn't show up for her brother's funeral more than a year ago, Marquis said. "She would never go for long without being on the phone and contacting her friends and family."
Brainard-Barnes was trusting, "thinking she was kind of cool with everyone," Marquis said. "That would be why . . . she could get hurt."
Brainard-Barnes grew up in Groton and attended Fitch High School.
A few years before she disappeared after taking a trip to New York City, Brainard-Barnes moved to Groton to be with the father of her young son, Dylan, Marquis said. She also had a daughter, Nicolette. The children now live with their fathers.
Her mother, Marie Ducharme, of Groton, Conn., declined to comment.