Few things are as terrifying as knowing a serial killer is on the loose and not knowing if he or she is still active. Unfortunately, that is the situation the residents of Long Island face with the so-called Long Island or Gilgo Beach Killer. The killer’s victims come from several states, but the dumping ground is always in Long Island, leading police and locals to wonder if the killer is one of their neighbors. It is a tough case with few leads, but police are continuing to work on it, as of early 2014.
The true beginnings of the Long Island Serial Killer case go back to at least 1996, but realization that a serial killer is at work in the area did not come until 2010. The discoveries of at least 10 related bodies began with the unrelated disappearance of a young escort named Shannan Gilbert. Shannan had been working when she ran off from her client’s house as her driver watched. She screamed for help, banging on people’s doors and even calling 911 to say, “they” were going to kill her. This was in May of 2010. This prompted a search for the girl that turned up nothing for some time.
In December of the same year, police were either training a cadaver dog or looking for Shannan, depending on the source, when the dog found the skeletal remains of a woman in a burlap sack off Ocean Parkway. Two days later, three more bodies were found, all in burlap sacks, all in the same area of the parkway. What was happening soon became evident. By April of 2011, another four bodies were found. Though the additional bodies were killed and disposed of using a different M.O than the initial bodies found in burlap sacks, police believe they are all connected. They noted the differences initially, but later asserted that they have reason to believe they were all killed by the same person. Some of the details have yet to be released.
Interestingly, some of the body parts discovered in 2011 were matched to remains found years earlier. Two legs washed up on Fire Island in 1996. Partial remains found in April of 2010 matched those legs. Another of the victims was matched to remains found on November 19, 2000. The forearm, hands and skull of Jessica Taylor match remains found 45 miles away from Gilgo Beach in 2003.
Because of the disappearance timeline of the known victims and these earlier discoveries, it is known that, if this is truly a single killer, he or she was active for at least the 14 years between 1996 and 2010. It is unclear if the killer is still active in the area or has found a new dumping ground.
The victims of the Long Island Killer are as follows:
Maureen Brainard – Barnes, a 25-year-old prostitute who advertised on Craigslist. She was strangled and her body was found in a burlap bag on Ocean Parkway. She disappeared on July 9, 2007.
Melissa Bathelemy, a 24-year-old prostitute who advertised on Craigslist. She too was strangled and left on the Ocean Parkway in a burlap bag. She disappeared on July 10, 2009.
Megan Waterman, a 22-year-old prostitute who advertised on Craiglist, died and was disposed of in the same manner as Brainard – Barnes and Bathelemy. She disappeared on June 6, 2010.
Amber Lynn Costello, a 27-year-old prostitute who advertised on Craiglist and disappeared on September 2, 2010. She was strangled and left on Ocean Parkway in a burlap sack.
(Note: The four victims above were the only four who followed this seemingly strict modus operandi. However, the victims who were murdered and disposed of by different means appear to have been killed before the Craigslist victims, showing that the change in M.O came later, if the following victims are indeed from the same killer.)
Jessica Taylor was 20 years old when she was killed. She was working as a prostitute. Some of her remains were found in 2003. Her forearms, hands and skull were found when police found all of the other victims.
The rest of the victims are unidentified:
Jane Doe No. 6 was about 5′ 2″ and was between 18 and 35 years old at the time of death. The rest of her body was found on November 19, 2000.
A young Asian male victim was between 17 and 23 years old when he died. He was dressed as a woman and beaten to death. The victim and method of murder is different in this case, but police say they have reason to believe it is connected.
The body of a toddler was found near the young Asian man. She was about 16 to 24 months old when she was murdered. Her body was wrapped in a blanket. One of the victims found in April 2011 was determined to be a relative of the child, possibly her mother.
A young male between 20 and 30 washed up on Amagansett Beach. His head has yet to be found.
Multiple other murders are speculated to be related. However, no positive links have been confirmed between these 10 victims and any others. Of course, there is always the possibility of more victims.
As for the killer him or herself, very little is known. There has been speculation that he or she has solid knowledge of police procedure because virtually no evidence is left on the victims. In one case, an effort was made to remove one of the victim’s tattoos, but that effort was never seen in other victims. Even personal belongings were left on some of them. What we do know is based on police and media profiling. The killer is assumed to be a white male because that is typically the case with such murders. That is all there is, to the public’s knowledge.
Some hoped to connect known New York City serial killer Joel Rifkin to the murders. The M.O is quite similar, including the profession of the victims. Nonetheless, there is an obvious glaring hole in the theory. Rifkin was apprehended in 1993. Sure, maybe one or two of the victims died before then, but all of the known victims disappeared after Rifkin was put in jail. It’s a worthless connection.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, no more evidence has been found in the case since the initial discoveries, as far as the public is concerned. Nonetheless, the police have stated categorically that this is not considered a cold case and investigations are moving forward. There is always the hope that the remaining victims will be identified and their killer will be brought to justice.
Shannan Gilbert’s body was found in December of 2011. Police say she drowned when she fell in a swamp. That theory seems dubious, given her last known actions. However, her case is nearly certainly unrelated to the murders it helped uncover.