A look at Gilgo Beach murder victim Karen Vergata, whose remains were identified after 27 years. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; File Footage; Photo Credit: Diane Doherty; National Archives and Records Administration; North Shore High School

Karen Vergata is home again.

Her cremated remains are being returned to her sons after almost 30 years amid a sprawling police investigation into a serial killer on Long Island.

Vergata was identified in August as a Gilgo Beach victim with scientific techniques not available when she went missing in 1996.

Gary Doherty, 35, and Eric Doherty, 33, said they are grateful for the chance to give their mother a dignified funeral.

“It is just a relief we can finally have her back,” Eric Doherty, who was a barely past toddler age when Vergata disappeared, told Newsday.

The woman who raised the brothers said they are finally getting answers and some closure.

“They want to have their mother placed in a grave where they, too, can lie in rest with her,” said Diane Doherty, 80, who — along with her late husband, Edward — adopted the boys in 1994. The Dohertys raised Gary and Eric for many years in Nesconset.

A troubled woman who dealt in drugs and prostitution, the 34-year-old Vergata’s remains were found in 1996 on Fire Island and also in 2011 near Jones Beach. Once only known as “Fire Island Jane Doe,” Vergata was publicly identified through genetic genealogy.

Gary, who was born with cerebral palsy and lives in a group home in upstate New York, cannot speak normally despite having normal cognitive ability. In a recent interview, he answered with an emphatic “Yes! Yes!” when asked if he was happy to finally get his mother’s remains. A staff worker at the group home said Gary thinks of his mother “every single day.”

Eric, who also lives upstate, said the ability to give a final ceremony for his mother after decades of uncertainty makes him feel at peace.

The effort by Vergata’s sons to give her a final resting place closes the circle on one of the tragic stories of a Gilgo Beach victim. Ten killings are considered by investigators to be part of the pattern, mostly of women sex workers. Vergata also was said to have worked as an escort.

Through a series of interviews and the examination of various court records, Newsday learned that Vergata had a complicated existence. For a few years, she had a relationship with a married man who fathered her two sons and who was a longtime employee of Fred Trump, former President Donald Trump’s late father. For a time, Vergata lived in one of Fred Trump’s buildings in Brooklyn. 

Vergata's killing is one of 10 the Gilgo Beach task force is trying to solve. The task force's efforts already have led to the indictment of Massapequa Park resident Rex A. Heuermann on four of the Gilgo Beach homicides. Vergata's killing has not been linked to him.

Born on Nov. 4, 1961, Vergata was the second child of Dominic and Ann Vergata. The couple also had a son, Victor, who was four years older than his sister. The Vergata family settled in Glen Head. Dominic Vergata over time did well, amassing an estate at his death of well over $2 million, Surrogate Court records show.

Vergata was a petite girl, barely weighing over 100 pounds, who Doherty said suffered from scoliosis, an abnormal spine curvature. She attended North Shore High School, where she was known as “Pumpkin,” and fancied floppy hats and jewelry, according to classmates. A woman with an artistic interest, Vergata took a special class called “math for daily living” aimed at helping people not good in the subject understand it. She graduated in 1979, and her yearbook entry ends with the words “Thanks Dad, love ya.”

“First and foremost she was the most sweetest of people,” classmate Eugene Koebler said on Facebook after news of Vergata's death surfaced last year. “Always had a smile on even when she was dealing with some of the struggles she had at the time. She was a unique dresser, absolutely had her own style.”

In an interview, Jimmy Biedrzycki remembered starting to date Vergata around 1980 after meeting her at Sgt. Pepper's Pub off Glen Cove Road by Glen Head.

“She was quiet and sweet. She was really beautiful,” said Biedrzycki, who grew up in Roslyn. “She was a partyer.”

Vergata’s favorite rock song was the nostalgia-themed “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac. She had an underlying sadness about her, possibly rooted in the death of her mother in 1977, recalled Biedrzycki, who remembered she left the area around 1981.

By 1981, Vergata seemed to wander up and down the Eastern Seaboard, supported by money from her father, court records show. By late September 1983, Vergata got into trouble in New Orleans, where she was arrested on drug charges. Records on the case disposition weren’t available.

She encountered more legal trouble connected to her drug use in Connecticut in 1984, court records show, including court-ordered drug treatment programs.

Biedrzycki, who now lives in Virginia, said it was around 1985 that Vergata returned briefly to the Roslyn area to visit. 

In 1986, federal court records show Vergata resurfaced in the Shore Haven apartments in Brooklyn, where she had been living with a married man.

Guenther Hugo Lind, an immigrant from Saarbrucken, Germany, was a wiry, hardworking man who his family said resembled actor Christopher Plummer and worked as a resident engineer and manager in the building. According to his family, Lind was hired for the job by the late Fred Trump. Fred Trump, also of German ancestry, took a liking to Lind and gave him perks, including an apartment in the large complex the Trump family constructed in the late 1940s with federal housing grant money. 

According to Lind’s wife, Lynnette, who never divorced him even after years of turmoil, her husband apparently met Vergata in Brooklyn, where she had been living at various addresses in the borough. Their relationship continued for a few years.

“He took pity on her,” was how Doherty believed the relationship began. “He was the first one to take care of her.”

Vergata became pregnant with Gary in 1988 while still dealing with a major drug problem. Five months' pregnant, she walked across the busy Brooklyn-Queens Expressway near the Williamsburg Bridge, where she was struck by a car.

Vergata suffered a broken right leg, ruptured spleen and other injuries. A lawsuit resulted in Vergata being awarded a $90,000 settlement for her injuries and court records revealed she was on methadone treatment at the time of the accident.

Gary was born premature two months after the accident at Bellevue Hospital with cerebral palsy and there was concern his congenital condition was somehow caused by the accident, court records showed.

After the accident, Vergata and Lind remained together and she became pregnant with Eric, who was born in 1990. But with Vergata facing continuing drug and psychological problems, she had to give up custody of both boys, and it was then that Doherty and her husband became the children’s foster parents and began raising the children.

Lind’s relationship with Vergata and his absence from his marital home was wrenching to his wife and family. But today, Lynette Lind, of Staten Island, expresses no rancor about him, saying he was a kind man with a big heart.

“He was a prince,” she said. “He had a heart of gold. He would walk through fire for you.''

Vergata remained in contact with her family after the birth of her children, and sometimes Lind would be present on visits the boys made to the Long Island home of their grandfather, Dominic, and other family members, Doherty remembered.

A skilled building craftsman, Guenther Lind built three homes in upstate New York in rural Sullivan County. Diane Doherty said that in an effort to get Vergata away from the bad city influences and give her the prospect of a better life, Lind offered to move her to one of the homes. But Vergata refused because a move outside the city would take her too far from her children on Long Island, Doherty recalled.

Suffering from numerous afflictions, Lind died on Dec. 19, 1991, at the age of 50. His newspaper obituaries cited his years of service with the Trump Organization. Lind was buried by his family in a small rural cemetery in Sullivan County, near the homes. His gravestone is inscribed with the simple words “Beloved Father.”

Vergata was not around when Lind died.

From December 1991 until late 1994, Vergata was arrested 11 times in New York City, mostly on charges of loitering for prostitution, but twice for drug possession, court records show. The resulting sentences were either time served, short stints of community service or relatively short jail sentences, none of which appeared to act as deterrents.

By September 1994, the Dohertys had adopted Gary and Eric in a final order from Suffolk County Judge William Kent. Vergata visited the boys, and those family visits were warm and friendly, Doherty recalled.

“There was a two-seater [miniature] electric Jeep they drove around,” Doherty recalled about the family visits. “The car ride was a big thrill.”

Vergata was arrested for the last time in New York City in November 1995 on a drug charge and sentenced to a week in jail in 1996. She had been living in Manhattan at the time.

Dominic Vergata spoke to his daughter for the last time on Valentine’s Day 1996, when he told authorities she called him from jail. In papers later filed in Manhattan Surrogate Court, Dominic Vergata said his daughter often called him on holidays and special occasions, usually asking for money.

After that final call to her father, Vergata’s family lost contact with her.

Court records showed that on March 12, 1996, Vergata missed a court date, and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. Dominic hired a private detective to look for leads and also tried to file a missing persons report with the NYPD but was unable to do so.

After not hearing from his daughter for nearly 20 years, Vergata’s father filed a Surrogate Court action in 2015 to have her declared legally dead. The court issued such a declaration in October 2017.

Dominic Vergata died in 2022, and his will stated that he disinherited Vergata for “reasons good and sufficient to me.”

Karen Vergata's family would learn of her fate and whereabouts in August, when Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney announced that the dismembered remains of a woman found in 1996 on Fire Island and a skull found near Jones Beach in 2011 had been identified by the FBI as those of Vergata, one of the 10 Gilgo Beach victims.

The announcement stunned her sons, who told Newsday they learned about it through news reports.

Eric said his mother’s manner of death was stunning, but he said the brothers are taking a small amount of comfort knowing that she had not abandoned them.

“I guess it was a shock to find out about the manner how she passed,” said Eric, adding, “but a major relief was that it wasn’t her choice” to leave.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the woman in the photo with Gilgo Beach victim Karen Vergata’s sons.

Karen Vergata is home again.

Her cremated remains are being returned to her sons after almost 30 years amid a sprawling police investigation into a serial killer on Long Island.

Vergata was identified in August as a Gilgo Beach victim with scientific techniques not available when she went missing in 1996.

Gary Doherty, 35, and Eric Doherty, 33, said they are grateful for the chance to give their mother a dignified funeral.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Karen Vergata's cremated remains are being returned to her sons after almost 30 years amid a sprawling police investigation into a serial killer on Long Island.
  • Vergata was identified in August as a Gilgo Beach victim with scientific techniques not available when she went missing in 1996.
  • Her sons, Gary and Eric, told Newsday they are grateful for the chance to give their mother a dignified funeral.

“It is just a relief we can finally have her back,” Eric Doherty, who was a barely past toddler age when Vergata disappeared, told Newsday.

Karen Vergata with her firstborn son, Gary, taken circa 1989-90.

Karen Vergata with her firstborn son, Gary, taken circa 1989-90. Credit: Diane Doherty

The woman who raised the brothers said they are finally getting answers and some closure.

“They want to have their mother placed in a grave where they, too, can lie in rest with her,” said Diane Doherty, 80, who — along with her late husband, Edward — adopted the boys in 1994. The Dohertys raised Gary and Eric for many years in Nesconset.

A troubled woman who dealt in drugs and prostitution, the 34-year-old Vergata’s remains were found in 1996 on Fire Island and also in 2011 near Jones Beach. Once only known as “Fire Island Jane Doe,” Vergata was publicly identified through genetic genealogy.

Gary, who was born with cerebral palsy and lives in a group home in upstate New York, cannot speak normally despite having normal cognitive ability. In a recent interview, he answered with an emphatic “Yes! Yes!” when asked if he was happy to finally get his mother’s remains. A staff worker at the group home said Gary thinks of his mother “every single day.”

It was a shock to find out about the manner how she passed, but a major relief was that it wasn’t her choice to leave.

—Eric, 33, Karen Vergata's son

Eric, who also lives upstate, said the ability to give a final ceremony for his mother after decades of uncertainty makes him feel at peace.

The effort by Vergata’s sons to give her a final resting place closes the circle on one of the tragic stories of a Gilgo Beach victim. Ten killings are considered by investigators to be part of the pattern, mostly of women sex workers. Vergata also was said to have worked as an escort.

A complicated life

Through a series of interviews and the examination of various court records, Newsday learned that Vergata had a complicated existence. For a few years, she had a relationship with a married man who fathered her two sons and who was a longtime employee of Fred Trump, former President Donald Trump’s late father. For a time, Vergata lived in one of Fred Trump’s buildings in Brooklyn. 

Vergata's killing is one of 10 the Gilgo Beach task force is trying to solve. The task force's efforts already have led to the indictment of Massapequa Park resident Rex A. Heuermann on four of the Gilgo Beach homicides. Vergata's killing has not been linked to him.

Born on Nov. 4, 1961, Vergata was the second child of Dominic and Ann Vergata. The couple also had a son, Victor, who was four years older than his sister. The Vergata family settled in Glen Head. Dominic Vergata over time did well, amassing an estate at his death of well over $2 million, Surrogate Court records show.

Left: The Suffolk County DA released a photo of Karen...

Left: The Suffolk County DA released a photo of Karen Vergata at a press conference on Friday, Aug. 4, 2013. Right: Vergata is pictured in the 1979 North Shore High School yearbook. Credit: Suffolk County DA, North Shore High School

Vergata was a petite girl, barely weighing over 100 pounds, who Doherty said suffered from scoliosis, an abnormal spine curvature. She attended North Shore High School, where she was known as “Pumpkin,” and fancied floppy hats and jewelry, according to classmates. A woman with an artistic interest, Vergata took a special class called “math for daily living” aimed at helping people not good in the subject understand it. She graduated in 1979, and her yearbook entry ends with the words “Thanks Dad, love ya.”

“First and foremost she was the most sweetest of people,” classmate Eugene Koebler said on Facebook after news of Vergata's death surfaced last year. “Always had a smile on even when she was dealing with some of the struggles she had at the time. She was a unique dresser, absolutely had her own style.”

In an interview, Jimmy Biedrzycki remembered starting to date Vergata around 1980 after meeting her at Sgt. Pepper's Pub off Glen Cove Road by Glen Head.

“She was quiet and sweet. She was really beautiful,” said Biedrzycki, who grew up in Roslyn. “She was a partyer.”

Vergata’s favorite rock song was the nostalgia-themed “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac. She had an underlying sadness about her, possibly rooted in the death of her mother in 1977, recalled Biedrzycki, who remembered she left the area around 1981.

She was quiet and sweet. She was really beautiful. She was a partyer.

Jimmy Biedrzycki

By 1981, Vergata seemed to wander up and down the Eastern Seaboard, supported by money from her father, court records show. By late September 1983, Vergata got into trouble in New Orleans, where she was arrested on drug charges. Records on the case disposition weren’t available.

She encountered more legal trouble connected to her drug use in Connecticut in 1984, court records show, including court-ordered drug treatment programs.

Biedrzycki, who now lives in Virginia, said it was around 1985 that Vergata returned briefly to the Roslyn area to visit. 

A Brooklyn romance and the births of two boys

In 1986, federal court records show Vergata resurfaced in the Shore Haven apartments in Brooklyn, where she had been living with a married man.

Guenther Hugo Lind, an immigrant from Saarbrucken, Germany, was a wiry, hardworking man who his family said resembled actor Christopher Plummer and worked as a resident engineer and manager in the building. According to his family, Lind was hired for the job by the late Fred Trump. Fred Trump, also of German ancestry, took a liking to Lind and gave him perks, including an apartment in the large complex the Trump family constructed in the late 1940s with federal housing grant money. 

According to Lind’s wife, Lynnette, who never divorced him even after years of turmoil, her husband apparently met Vergata in Brooklyn, where she had been living at various addresses in the borough. Their relationship continued for a few years.

“He took pity on her,” was how Doherty believed the relationship began. “He was the first one to take care of her.”

Diane Doherty, the adoptive mother of Karen Vergata's children.

Diane Doherty, the adoptive mother of Karen Vergata's children. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Vergata became pregnant with Gary in 1988 while still dealing with a major drug problem. Five months' pregnant, she walked across the busy Brooklyn-Queens Expressway near the Williamsburg Bridge, where she was struck by a car.

Vergata suffered a broken right leg, ruptured spleen and other injuries. A lawsuit resulted in Vergata being awarded a $90,000 settlement for her injuries and court records revealed she was on methadone treatment at the time of the accident.

Gary was born premature two months after the accident at Bellevue Hospital with cerebral palsy and there was concern his congenital condition was somehow caused by the accident, court records showed.

After the accident, Vergata and Lind remained together and she became pregnant with Eric, who was born in 1990. But with Vergata facing continuing drug and psychological problems, she had to give up custody of both boys, and it was then that Doherty and her husband became the children’s foster parents and began raising the children.

Lind’s relationship with Vergata and his absence from his marital home was wrenching to his wife and family. But today, Lynette Lind, of Staten Island, expresses no rancor about him, saying he was a kind man with a big heart.

“He was a prince,” she said. “He had a heart of gold. He would walk through fire for you.''

Family visits to Long Island

Vergata remained in contact with her family after the birth of her children, and sometimes Lind would be present on visits the boys made to the Long Island home of their grandfather, Dominic, and other family members, Doherty remembered.

A skilled building craftsman, Guenther Lind built three homes in upstate New York in rural Sullivan County. Diane Doherty said that in an effort to get Vergata away from the bad city influences and give her the prospect of a better life, Lind offered to move her to one of the homes. But Vergata refused because a move outside the city would take her too far from her children on Long Island, Doherty recalled.

Suffering from numerous afflictions, Lind died on Dec. 19, 1991, at the age of 50. His newspaper obituaries cited his years of service with the Trump Organization. Lind was buried by his family in a small rural cemetery in Sullivan County, near the homes. His gravestone is inscribed with the simple words “Beloved Father.”

Vergata was not around when Lind died.

From December 1991 until late 1994, Vergata was arrested 11 times in New York City, mostly on charges of loitering for prostitution, but twice for drug possession, court records show. The resulting sentences were either time served, short stints of community service or relatively short jail sentences, none of which appeared to act as deterrents.

By September 1994, the Dohertys had adopted Gary and Eric in a final order from Suffolk County Judge William Kent. Vergata visited the boys, and those family visits were warm and friendly, Doherty recalled.

Dominic Vergata with his daughter's two sons, Gary, left, and...

Dominic Vergata with his daughter's two sons, Gary, left, and Eric. Image circa 1992. Credit: Diane Doherty

“There was a two-seater [miniature] electric Jeep they drove around,” Doherty recalled about the family visits. “The car ride was a big thrill.”

Vergata was arrested for the last time in New York City in November 1995 on a drug charge and sentenced to a week in jail in 1996. She had been living in Manhattan at the time.

A final call to her father

Dominic Vergata spoke to his daughter for the last time on Valentine’s Day 1996, when he told authorities she called him from jail. In papers later filed in Manhattan Surrogate Court, Dominic Vergata said his daughter often called him on holidays and special occasions, usually asking for money.

After that final call to her father, Vergata’s family lost contact with her.

Court records showed that on March 12, 1996, Vergata missed a court date, and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. Dominic hired a private detective to look for leads and also tried to file a missing persons report with the NYPD but was unable to do so.

After not hearing from his daughter for nearly 20 years, Vergata’s father filed a Surrogate Court action in 2015 to have her declared legally dead. The court issued such a declaration in October 2017.

Dominic Vergata died in 2022, and his will stated that he disinherited Vergata for “reasons good and sufficient to me.”

Karen Vergata's family would learn of her fate and whereabouts in August, when Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney announced that the dismembered remains of a woman found in 1996 on Fire Island and a skull found near Jones Beach in 2011 had been identified by the FBI as those of Vergata, one of the 10 Gilgo Beach victims.

A makeshift memorial for a victim in the Gilgo Beach...

A makeshift memorial for a victim in the Gilgo Beach murders stands along Ocean Parkway in April 2013.  Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The announcement stunned her sons, who told Newsday they learned about it through news reports.

Eric said his mother’s manner of death was stunning, but he said the brothers are taking a small amount of comfort knowing that she had not abandoned them.

“I guess it was a shock to find out about the manner how she passed,” said Eric, adding, “but a major relief was that it wasn’t her choice” to leave.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the woman in the photo with Gilgo Beach victim Karen Vergata’s sons.

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