The attorney for the family of Shannan Gilbert, whose disappearance led to the discovery of several bodies near Gilgo Beach in 2010, told reporters Thursday that former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke had paid sex with a woman in Oak Beach at the time the case was being investigated.
The lawyer, John Ray of Miller Place, said the encounter — described by the woman Thursday at a news conference at Ray’s office — means Burke should be “moved into the circle of real suspects” in the Gilgo murder cases.
Ray’s allegations Thursday did not connect Burke to any of the murder victims or provide any evidence tying Burke to the cases.
One of Burke’s lawyers, Joseph Conway of Mineola, issued a statement Thursday dismissing the claims.
“Today’s alleged witness and her attorney know full well that any credible witness and any credible information should be provided to the proper law enforcement officials and not done via a press conference,” Conway stated. “All of the allegations raised today are false and slanderous.”
Sources familiar with the Gilgo Beach serial killing investigation said they were not aware of the woman. Suffolk County police Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers said the department will not comment on the claims.
Burke, 52, who resigned in October 2015, is serving a 46-month prison sentence for beating a man who stole a duffel bag from his police-issued vehicle and orchestrating an elaborate scheme to conceal the crime.
The woman, identified only as Leanne, 30, said at the news conference that she met Burke at a party in Oak Beach in April 2011. She said she had sex with him in August of that year at another party in Oak Beach at which drugs were present. She said it was the first time she was paid for sex.
She described the encounter with Burke as rough sex and said he became “aggressive” during it.
The woman also said she had worked as an escort for other Suffolk County police officials but provided no details.
“We now have for the first time a direct connection between Jimmy Burke, Oak Beach and prostitution,” Ray said.
Ray is the attorney in a suit by Gilbert’s estate against C. Peter Hackett, a doctor who was a neighbor of the home from which Shannan Gilbert disappeared. It was originally filed as a wrongful-death suit by Gilbert’s mother, Mari Gilbert. A judge has since narrowed it to a medical malpractice claim against Hackett. Hackett’s attorneys have moved to dismiss the case.
Mari Gilbert was killed in July 2016 and another daughter, Sarra, has been charged with murder in her death.
The serial killer investigation began in December 2010 when Suffolk police searching for Gilbert, a missing New Jersey sex worker, instead found the body of Melissa Barthelemy, 24, in Gilgo Beach.
Barthelemy’s body was the first of 10 found in the area. Five of the 10 victims never have been identified. Investigators believe that Gilbert, whose body was found later, was not a victim of a serial killer.
The first four bodies were those of women in their 20s who worked as prostitutes and were found within a quarter of a mile of each other. The victims had been reported missing between 2007 and September 2010.
Shannan Gilbert’s remains were found in December 2011.
In a development in the case that became public this week, Newsday reported Wednesday that investigators have matched through DNA a woman’s torso found in Nassau County 19 years ago to skeletal remains believed to be those of two victims — a mother and daughter — of the Gilgo Beach serial killer or killers.
The Nassau County medical examiner’s office matched DNA from the unidentified torso, known to investigators as “Peaches,” to partial skeletal remains from the same body found at Jones Beach State Park in 2011. It was one of 10 sets of remains believed to be the work of one or more serial killers, according to a report in NamUs, a national database of missing and unidentified people.
With Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler and Gary Dymski