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Belt discovery a glimmer of hope for relatives of Gilgo Beach victims

Melissa Cann holds a portrait of her sister,

Melissa Cann holds a portrait of her sister, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, whose remains were found at Gilgo Beach on Dec. 13, 2010. Credit: Chris Ware

The sister of a woman whose remains were found at Gilgo Beach nearly 10 years ago said she was filled with hope Thursday after a plea from Suffolk police for help identifying a belt found by investigators of the unsolved killings. 

“I still want justice for my sister,” said Melissa Cann, referring to Gilgo Beach victim Maureen Brainard-Barnes. “…Maybe now we have something we can link to someone. We never had that before."

Brainard-Barnes, of Connecticut, was 25 when her body and those of two other women — Megan Waterman of Maine and Amber Lynn Costello of North Babylon — were found Dec. 13, 2010, along Ocean Parkway. The body of another Gilgo Beach victim, Melissa Barthelemy of Buffalo, had been discovered by Suffolk police two days earlier. The four women were sex workers, police have said. 

“We need that picture to get out there,” Cann said of a photo of the belt distributed by Suffolk police Thursday at a news conference in Yaphank. “Maybe somebody will recognize it. We need the public’s help. This is important.”

The remains of three other women, as well as a toddler and an adult male, were discovered in the following months on the barrier beach off Long Island’s South Shore. 

Brainard-Barnes’ ex-boyfriend, Dylan Haggett, who had a child with her, said the Groton, Connecticut, woman had struggled with drugs.

“I hope they find out who did this,” Haggett said. “It has been such a long time.” 

Brainard-Barnes disappeared when their child was a baby, he said.

Waterman’s mother, Lorraine Ela, questioned why Suffolk police waited nine years before releasing photos of the belt. She expressed doubts police would ever solve the killing spree. Even so, Ela maintained a glimmer of optimism Thursday that investigators might one day crack the case. 

“[The investigation] has gone on for so long," she said. "I hope they do. I hope they do soon.” 

Losing her sister without knowing who killed her has been difficult, Cann said, and while the latest development gave her hope, it also reminded her of everything she lost. 

“It is hard. You live your everyday life. You raise your kids, but you also know your sister is gone," she said. "I’m sad for Maureen. I’m sad for Megan, Amber and Melissa."

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