Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said Friday he would publicly release 911 calls connected to the investigation of the Gilgo Beach homicides as long as the disclosure doesn't hinder the ongoing serial killer probe.
"I listened to the tapes yesterday," Harrison said. "As long as it doesn’t impede the investigation, I will be sharing those audiotapes to the public. But I want to make sure it doesn’t hinder the investigation at all."
The public release of the 911 calls would represent a marked reversal for the Suffolk County Police Department, which has engaged in a yearslong legal battle to prevent the release of the calls connected to the 2010 disappearance of a woman whose missing-persons case led to the discovery of 10 sets of human remains near Gilgo Beach. The department has argued the release would impede its ongoing investigation.
Harrison, in his fifth day on the job, toured the area of Oak Beach where several sets of remains were found more than a decade ago. The former chief of department at the NYPD, he will be the fifth Suffolk police commissioner to oversee the investigation. Several of the victims were women who were sex workers.
"I want to make a commitment to the residents of Suffolk County, as well as the family members: We will not rest until we bring those accountable to justice," Harrison said. "I stated it when I was nominated as the commissioner of Suffolk County, that solving this serial case is going to be very, very important to me."
He added: "There’s a commitment, a relentless pursuit, to identify the individuals and bring them to justice and that’s for the family members to hear."
Harrison said he had spoken to the Suffolk homicide detectives "that are leading the investigation," as well Geraldine Hart and Timothy Sini, the last two Suffolk police commissioners, to "pick their brains about what needs to be done going forward."
"A lot of great work was done," Harrison said. "I like to bring a fresh set of eyes from my experiences being an investigator in the NYPD — just to make sure all the investigative leads are being done appropriately."
The first bodies were found beginning Dec. 11, 2010, as Suffolk police searched for Jersey City-based sex worker Shannan Gilbert, who went missing on May 1 of that year in Oak Beach. Her body was not found until Dec. 13, 2011. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Gilbert’s cause and manner of death undetermined, and authorities have said they don’t believe Gilbert is a homicide victim.
John Ray, the attorney for Gilbert's estate, who in 2020 was granted access to the 911 calls but was restricted from releasing them publicly, said Friday it's important for the public to hear Gilbert's 23-minute call and those from neighbors.
"This is good news, however, the police department itself is actively resisting releasing those tapes as we speak," Ray said. "The public does need to hear those tapes."
The remains of four women were found in December 2010: Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of the Bronx; Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 24, of Norwich, Connecticut; Megan Waterman, 22, of Maine; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of North Babylon.
Partial remains of a fifth woman, Jessica Taylor, 20, of New York City, were found in the spring of 2011 during later searches along Ocean Parkway. Her torso had been found in Manorville in 2003.
The Gilgo Beach murder investigation was hobbled in its crucial early days by law enforcement infighting. The Suffolk police shut out the FBI, losing access to critical resources. When Sini became police commissioner, he re-engaged the FBI in the investigation in December 2015.
In January 2020, Hart, a former FBI official, released an image of a belt believed to have been handled by the killer at one of crime scenes.
Five months later, police announced they had identified the remains of a woman found near Gilgo Beach in 2011 and in Manorville in 2000 as Valerie Mack, a Philadelphia-based escort, using genetic genealogy DNA technology.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone selected Harrison to lead the 2,400-member department and he was confirmed unanimously by the Suffolk County Legislature last week.
Asked about the odds of solving the murders, Harrison said: "I don’t know what the odds are, but I put my money on the Suffolk County investigators. I’m very confident from my brief interview of what’s been done so far. I like our chances. I like our chances."