Suffolk County police search Ocean Parkway after four bodies were...

Suffolk County police search Ocean Parkway after four bodies were found in the area on Dec. 14, 2010. Credit: James Carbone

A missing Maine woman has been identified as one of the four decomposed bodies found dumped near Gilgo Beach last month, and Suffolk officials said Wednesday they are "very close" to confirming the names of the three other women.

New York City police forensics technicians made a DNA match of Megan Waterman, 22, with her family members, Suffolk officials said. The death of the Scarborough, Maine, woman was ruled a homicide, but police declined to discuss how she was slain.

Investigators have said that the identification of at least one of the women would be a critical step in targeting suspects. The revelation that Waterman was one of the victims came as a surprise because her connection to the case had been thrown into doubt soon after the discovery of the bodies.

"We're very close to identifying the other three bodies," said Police Commissioner Richard Dormer. Police declined to say what links, if any, they are pursuing among the women.

Suffolk police believe the women - all found wrapped in burlap and dumped in underbrush over an isolated, quarter-mile stretch of the barrier island - were left there over a period of years. A Suffolk officer working with a cadaver-sniffing dog discovered the first skeleton on Dec. 11. Waterman was among those found two days later.

Police initially linked Waterman to the case because she went missing under similar circumstances to Shannan Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City.

Like Waterman, Gilbert worked as a prostitute and traveled to Long Island to meet clients she met on Craigslist, police and family members said. Days after the Gilgo Beach discovery, Gilbert was proved not to be among the dead, leading police to earlier question the connection to Waterman and raising the Waterman family's hope she could be alive. Gilbert remains missing.

Waterman's family said they were shocked by the news Suffolk detectives delivered in person late Wednesday morning.

"We're doing OK, for the moment," said Waterman's mother, Lorraine Ela.

Elizabeth Meserve, Waterman's aunt and one of the guardians of Waterman's 4-year-old daughter, wept.

"We didn't expect this," she said. Waterman would have turned 23 this past Tuesday.

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said forensic investigators have received genetic material, dental records and personal information from family members of the victims. Spota and Dormer declined to say if any recent information supported or undermined the police's theory, offered early on, that a serial killer is responsible.

Waterman was last seen leaving a Hauppauge hotel on June 6. She had traveled to Long Island with a boyfriend who acted as her pimp, Akeem Cruz, 21, of East New York, Brooklyn, police said.

Cruz was arrested last May along with three other men at a South Portland hotel and charged with aggravated drug possession for having 4 or more grams of cocaine, according to Maine authorities. Cruz was out on bail when he was sentenced in November to 20 months in jail. He is expected to be released from the Maine Correctional Center early next year.

Joe Brewer, Gilbert's client on the night she went missing, said Wednesday that police never questioned him about Waterman.

"I feel sorry for the family. I don't know Miss Waterman," said Brewer, initially a focus of the investigation but later cleared. "I pray for the family."

With Yamiche Alcindor

and Matthew Chayes

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