Ocean Parkway is closed as police search Gilgo Beach Tuesday...

Ocean Parkway is closed as police search Gilgo Beach Tuesday night. (March 29, 2011) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Investigators late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were examining skeletal remains found in the Gilgo Beach area where four female bodies were discovered last year, police said.

The remains were "not far" from the four bodies found last year, a source said. Police made the find during a daylong search of the area. The remains have not been identified.

Ocean Parkway between Cedar Beach and Gilgo Beach remained closed early Wednesday morning during the investigation. Homicide detectives left the scene late last night and will return to the scene later this morning, police said. 

Cadaver-sniffing dogs returned Tuesday to search for Shannan Gilbert, 24, who was last seen running into underbrush on the night of May 1, 2010. Three dogs and their handlers, supported by detectives and a helicopter, worked through the day along a thin strip of land along Ocean Parkway, next to clusters of beachfront homes.

Officers Tuesday worked west toward the spot, about three miles away, where a Suffolk canine officer searching on Dec. 11 for Gilbert found a skeleton just off the parkway in Gilgo Beach. Two days later, three more remains were discovered, similarly wrapped in burlap and left unburied near the roadway.

Like Gilbert, the four were women in their 20s who disappeared after posting ads online as escorts and meeting clients on Long Island.

The discovery of the four bodies overshadowed the original reason for the search -- to find out what happened to Gilbert -- and triggered an ongoing investigation into a potential serial killer targeting prostitutes. Using old medical records, police later showed Gilbert was not among the four women.

Tuesday, Gilbert's aunt, Lori Grove of Pennsylvania, said she was relieved the search continued. "We just hope they don't stop until they find her," she said.

Tuesday's search -- the largest in periodic police searches on the barrier island in recent months -- also turned up small animal bones and debris.

It was timed in part to take advantage of good visibility in the winter-stripped brush, and in the hope that wind and erosion would reveal something new to the dogs.

Shortly after 4 p.m., a caravan of marked and unmarked police vehicles headed into a gated section of Oak Beach, where Gilbert, who had traveled with a driver, ran from a client's home and banged on neighbors' doors.

Det. Sgt. Thomas Groneman of the Homicide Squad characterized Tuesday's activity as a "training exercise" but said the search was intended to look for clues in Gilbert's disappearance.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Conn., was last seen alive in Manhattan on July 9, 2007, police said. Police believe the killer left her body in Gilgo Beach shortly after.

Melissa Barthelemy, 24, went missing from her Bronx apartment on July 12, 2009.

Amber Lynn Costello, 27, the only victim who lived on Long Island, was last seen alive Sept. 2, 2010, in North Babylon, where she lived shortly before her death.

Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine, the first of the women police identified, disappeared June 6.

With Tania Lopez

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