No links -- yet -- between Gilgo, N.J. cases

An evidence flag left by Suffolk County Police An evidence flag left by Suffolk County Police along the westbound Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach. (April 10, 2011) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- More than four years after the bodies of four women were discovered floating face down in a drainage ditch behind a motel in West Atlantic City, fear has returned.

It came with the news that eight decomposed bodies -- four found in the past two weeks -- have been found along Long Island's ocean beaches.

The women found in Atlantic City worked as prostitutes. So did the four women found near Gilgo Beach in December. None of the killings have been solved.

Investigators have not linked the cases here with remains found in Suffolk County, though they have compared notes. Connected or not, residents in this casino resort city are unnerved.

"It's something that haunts the people," said Felix Hutchinson, 30, a rolling chair operator who pushes customers up and down the busy Atlantic City boardwalk. "It's something that a lot of the girls are aware of. They know this guy is on the loose."

Hutchinson said many of the women who work the streets here often turn to the rolling chairs for a break from walking up and down blocks looking for clients.

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The bodies of the four women were discovered in November 2006 floating face down and shoeless in a drainage ditch behind the Golden Key Motel on Black Horse Pike, a stretch of ramshackle hotels and a small redeveloped section that serves as a main artery into Atlantic City. A ditch filled with litter and stagnant, murky water passes through the isolated area behind the motel.

That's where police in late 2006 found the bodies of Barbara Breidor, 42; Molly Jean Dilts, 20; Kim Raffo, 35; and Tracy Ann Roberts, 23. All were reported to have worked as prostitutes. Two of them had been strangled; two had been in the water too long for the cause of death to be established, investigators said at the time.

Sal Ersun, 50, rents a small building near the Golden Key Motel for his carpentry business. While the high-traffic area is good for business, he wonders why a murderer in the area hasn't been caught. "They should be in jail, not on the street," he said.

Three women here who said they worked together as prostitutes cited the murders and those on Long Island as reason to increase their awareness of what's going on around them.

At 1 a.m. Sunday, they clustered together on the corner of Pacific and South Morris avenues, as they said they often do.

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One of the women, who would not give her name, said she closely followed the news from Suffolk County. She and other prostitutes take extra precautions, she said, including traveling in groups if a customer suggests going to Black Horse Pike. They would rather not work and lose money than allow a woman to go to the area alone, she said.

The Atlantic City prosecutor's office has confirmed that it has been in touch with Suffolk County investigators, but officials here would not discuss details of the communication. The West Atlantic City investigation remains open and active, they said.

Yesterday afternoon, the boardwalk in Atlantic City was bustling with visitors. Among them was Mark Snyder, 63, of Port Jefferson, who was visiting with his family.

Snyder said he's been following the news about remains on Ocean Parkway but was unaware of the women found just west of the boardwalk.

"That's scary," he said. "There's someone out there that's obviously targeting prostitutes."

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Timeline: The case so far

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May 1, 2010 Shannan Gilbert, 24, who advertised as an escort on Craigslist, goes missing from Oak Beach after visiting a client.

Dec. 11 A Suffolk cop working with a cadaver dog finds a skeleton off Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach, about 4 miles from Oak Beach. Officials initially believe it will be Gilbert.

Dec. 13 Three more sets of remains are located nearby. Like the first, they are wrapped in burlap and left unburied in thick brush. Police believe the four are likely victims of a serial killer. Gilbert is not among them.

Dec. 16-17 After Gilbert is ruled out, an expanded search using more than a dozen cadaver dogs turns up no more remains or significant clues.

Jan. 24, 2011 Officials identify the victims as Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Conn.; Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of the Bronx; Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of North Babylon.

January A law enforcement source tells Newsday that in the days after Melissa Barthelmy went missing on July 12, 2009, a man made six calls from her cell phone to her teenage sister. New York City police monitoring the phone determined the calls were coming from midtown Manhattan, but the caller didn't stay on the line long enough for police to find him, the source said.

February-March Suffolk police say they return periodically to Ocean Parkway to search.

March 29 A fifth set of remains is discovered off the parkway, east of the previous finds.

April 4 Three more sets of decomposed remains are recovered, bringing the total to eight. Still, Gilbert is not among them.

April 6 State and Nassau police announce they will search west into Nassau County beginning Monday. The westbound lanes of Ocean Parkway will be closed from the Suffolk-Nassau line west to the Jones Beach tower between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Eastbound lanes along the stretch will be closed periodically during the search.

April 8 A source with knowledge of the case tells Newsday that the four bodies in the second cluster that was found show significant differences from the four found in December. No link has been made between the first and second groups discovered.

A police spokeswoman, meanwhile, says that no suspects have been identified in any of the homicides.

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