Suffolk police Tuesday revealed new details on five still-unidentified presumed homicide victims found along the South Shore last spring, including an artist's reconstruction of two of their faces in the hope someone will recognize who they were.
The only man among the victims was clad in women's clothing, Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said. A head belongs to a woman whose severed legs were found on a remote part of Fire Island 15 years ago -- the coldest case yet in the investigation spawned by the discoveries of remains in Gilgo Beach and other parts of the barrier island. Another woman and a female toddler may be mother and child, he said, displaying jewelry found with them.
"We're hoping that by having this press conference and getting the message out to the public, that somebody will recognize somebody and that will be a break in the case," Dormer said.
The unidentified victims are the most recently found of 10 decomposed bodies or sets of remains discovered along the same coastal stretch since December. The first five -- all women who worked as prostitutes -- have been identified.
Probe making progress
Authorities suspect that at least three killers, unrelated to one another, all saw in the sand and scrub along Ocean Parkway a prime dumping ground for their victims. Even as he went public looking for a break in the case, Dormer said the investigation has not stalled.
"We're making progress," he said. "It's a slow, methodical process. This is not a television show where everything is solved in an hour."
Joseph Pollini, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD homicide investigator, said learning the names of the mystery victims is critical. "If they can't identify those people, they will have a hard time identifying a suspect -- unless they have somebody in custody who makes a confession, which they don't have at the moment," Pollini said.
Though the names elude them, police shared new information on each of the five unidentified victims.
Sketches and theories
One of the artists' renderings is of a white female, 18 to 35, 5 feet, 2 inches tall, with straight, shoulder-length hair, high cheekbones and a prominent jawline. Dormer said she may have worked as a prostitute in New York City in late summer or fall of 2000. That year, her torso was found in the woods in Manorville, 45 miles away. Her head, hands and right foot were discovered April 4 near Cedar Beach.
Authorities think her killing may be related to that of Jessica Taylor, 20, a prostitute whose nude body, its head and hands missing, was found in the same Manorville woods in 2003. The rest of Taylor was found March 29, 1 1/2 miles west along Ocean Parkway from the other Manorville-linked victim.
A female, non-Caucasian toddler thought to be 16 to 32 months old, who was also found April 4, is a blood relative of another woman found 7 miles away in Nassau County on April 11 near Jones Beach. "It is likely that these two individuals are mother and child," Dormer said.
Police released images of hoop earrings and a rope necklace worn by the toddler, as well as two bracelets found with her adult relative. The bracelets are both gold in color, and have a pattern of Xs embedded with stones that resemble diamonds. The woman and child are believed to have been dead one to five years before their discovery.
The head of yet another woman, found April 11 near Jones Beach, Dormer said, was from the same victim as a pair of severed legs discovered in April 1996 along Blue Point Beach on the bay side of Fire Island, about a mile west of Davis Park. The legs stuck out from a black plastic bag, the toenails of one foot painted red.
The other artist's rendering is of an Asian male, 17 to 23 years old and 5 feet, 6 inches tall, with close-cropped hair. Dormer said the man was missing top and bottom molars and a front upper tooth. He was dressed in women's clothing, Dormer said, and was dead five to 10 years.
Authorities said they were investigating the possibility that the four adult victims who remain unidentified may also have been sex workers.
"We want to reach out to people in the escort business," Dormer said. "We feel their information would be very valuable in this investigation."
Authorities suspect the four victims found at Gilgo Beach in December -- Melissa Barthelemy, 24, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, Megan Waterman, 22, and Amber Lynn Costello, 27 -- were slain by one killer. But the suspected methods of killing and body disposal for the six others suggest at least two additional killers were responsible, authorities have said.
Lyn Barthelemy, Melissa Barthelemy's mother, said she still holds out hope police will someday find her killer. "I'm hoping in my lifetime. I'm hoping before he kills many more girls," she said.
The announcement yielded little comfort to the family of Shannan Gilbert, 24, a prostitute last seen in Oak Beach on May 1, 2010. Officials have said Gilbert's disappearance led to the first bodies being found in December. Suffolk police Tuesday said there are no leads on Gilbert's whereabouts.As the wider investigation continues, police are working on developing an artist sketch of the Davis Park victim. Investigators are awaiting results from April's FBI plane and Black Hawk helicopter flyovers, in which aerial images of the dumping area were taken. No new searches are planned.
Gilbert's aunt Lori Grove remains hopeful of learning Gilbert's fate, but said she has recently become discouraged by the lack of updates on the case from investigators.
"We are grateful that in the initial search for Shannan that they found the other victims," Grove said, "but it's all the more reason Shannon deserves to be found. She deserves to be put to rest at peace."