Tuesday, November 22, 2016

16 - The Long Island Serial Killer (Part Three: Suffolk County)



Jessica Taylor was once a living, breathing person, with dreams and goals that she desired to bring to life.

Much like the four victims of the Long Island Serial Killer - Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Costello - Jessica Taylor was brought into the world of prostitution. It was an easy way to make quick money, but it brought with it a life full of pitfalls.

Jessica soon discovered those hazards. She had grown up in New York, where she spent the better part of her early adulthood. It was there that she began to work as a prostitute, and where she had served a small stint at Rykers Island.

Shortly after her prison stint, she relocated to Washington DC. There, she got arrested again and was charged with prostitution. To avoid her charge, she moved back to New York, where she would face two more charges of prostitution: one there, and then another in Atlantic City.

She also began to dabble in drugs, which sent her desperately scrambling to her profession to help support her habit.

Her life was like so many we've seen or heard of before: a tragedy. Unfortunately, few tragedies have a happy ending, and the life of Jessica Taylor was no exception.

Jessica had tried to avoid her prostitution charges in Washington DC by travelling to New York City for work. In February of 2003, Jessica was arrested by an undercover police officer, whom she had solicited for a sum of $50. She had just gotten in trouble for driving a stolen car - a 1995 Chevy Cavalier - and was sent to Rykers Island for a couple of months.

During her arrest, she was noted as assaulting a police aid. Despite that assault charge being added to her grand theft auto and prostitution charges, she was released in April of 2003, less than two months after entering prison. She immediately went back to work, and tried to avoid Washington DC, where she had more charges pending.

Jessica was trying to solicit clients off of New York's 10th Avenue, nearby the Port Authority Bus Terminal, in July of 2003 when she was last seen alive.

When people disappear, it is often months or years before their fate is truly known. Sadly, though, Jessica's fate was known just weeks later.

On July 26th, 2003, a woman was walking her dog in Manorville, New York, just off of the Long Island Expressway. The road itself, Halsey Manor Road, was a small two-lane road that led from the Expressway to more rural areas of Manorville. It was during this walk that she discovered the headless, limbless torso of a young woman - a woman that would later be confirmed to be Jessica Taylor.

A Washington DC police officer, who was personally familiar with Jessica, stumbled upon crime scene photos of her torso, where the killer - or killers - had tried to scrape or otherwise mutilate her most recognizeable mark: a tattoo of wings on her torso, which contained the words "Remy's Angel."

Whomever had killed and dumped Jessica Taylor's body had tried to keep her identity anonymous, but had failed. Unfortunately, the rest of their work - hiding her head and her limbs - would not be uncovered for almost a decade, when the Suffolk County Police would unearth the rest of her body along with other bodies in 2011.

There, the link would be established, and increase the likelihood that the Long Island Serial Killer had been active long before anyone knew he even existed. And it raised the idea that this dumping ground was just one of many, perhaps making him one of the most nefarious serial killers in United States history.

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Welcome to the Unresolved Podcast. I am your host, Micheal Whelan, and this episode is part three of my look at the Long Island Serial Killer, which began two episodes ago with the story of Shannan Gilbert's disappearance and the discovery of the bodies.

Last episode, I told you about the four women originally found, and the lives that led to them becoming victims of the Long Island Serial Killer. All four were found in burlap sacks, being left in the muck of Gilgo Beach as if they were just a bother to the killer - or killers.

I highly recommend that you go back and listen to the first two episodes, if you haven't already. This episode will pick up immediately after the discovery of those bodies, and include a lot of details that take us to the grisly, unsatisfying conclusion of the story so far.

So now, without any further ado, we travel back to Gilgo Beach one final time, where detectives have just discovered the identity of the four bodies.

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Richard Dormer was a man with one foot out of the door. His job, acting as police commissioner for Suffolk County, was likely coming to an end.

Steve Levy, the county executive who appointed Dormer to his office, was on his way out. He had attempted to run for New York governor, but flip-flopped parties at a very inopportune time, and found himself stuck between both without any real support. Instead of risking being voted out of office, while being investigated for misusing campaign funds, Levy was going to avoid running for re-election altogether.

Dormer with Steve Levy, the county executive

So Dormer, an Irish immigrant as a child who had worked his way up the Suffolk County police force, was the odd man out. Any county executive that took over was likely to replace most of the appointed positions, police commissioner included.

This last year, his final year as Police Commissioner, was supposed to be a quiet one. Instead, the remains of four women had been uncovered while searching for another, all five being women that had advertised their services on Craigslist.

The bodies were discovered in December of 2010, roughly seven months after the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert. The bodies were sent off for DNA testing to confirm their identities, but the early word was that they were all females - and all prostitutes.

Megan Waterman, the missing twenty-two-year-old mother from Portland, Maine who had last been seen just twenty or so minutes north in Hauppauge, New York, was immediately rumored to be one of the skeletons discovered in burlap.

When DNA testing confirmed their identities, in January of 2011, Richard Dormer held a press conference to release the details to the public. There, he also told of his theory of who had murdered the four women: a serial killer, who had been using Gilgo Beach as his own personal dumping ground.

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Unsurprisingly, the news that a serial killer had been targetting young women sent shockwaves throughout the worldwide media. The major networks were there to report the news that Dormer had told them, and every news agency had stories about the bodies that were discovered.

But, surprisingly, not everyone in Suffolk County wanted Commissioner Dormer to be as candid about his theories to the media.

Steve Levy, the county executive who appointed Dormer to his position, came down on Dormer for revealing too much information with the public. Levy, you see, was facing scrutiny for campaign funding in his unsuccessful bid for the governor's office, and didn't want the cloud of a serial killer hanging over his final months in office.

Thomas Spota

And Levy wasn't alone. District Attorney Thomas Spota hesitated to look after this as the crime of a serial killer. Spota, the prosecutor who had led the pursuit of Steve Levy's fundraising investigation, refused to name the killings the work of a serial killer until the DNA testing came back.

The results? Too conclusive to pass up. All young women, in their twenties, who had disappeared over the prior three-to-four years after advertising their services on Craigslist.

For now, as police continued to comb through the area of Gilgo Beach for more bodies, investigators had to begin looking for clues.


The bodies of the four women were too decomposed to find much forensic evidence. Any DNA that might have been recovered from their bodies had long since deteriorated, and would undoubtedly come back as being inconclusive, the harsh environment of salt water and wind eating away at any chance of that.

Instead, police began to examine the details of their disappearances.

All four women - Maureen, Melissa, Megan, and Amber - went missing between the months of June and September. This led to the first possibility: that the killer was a vacationer, who was familiar with the area itself.

Police began to run off of this, going down their list of locals who should be suspected. They made a pass at Joseph Brewer again - the client Shannan Gilbert had met on the night of her disappearance - and this is when he took his alleged successful polygraph test. Police again cleared him of any wrongdoing, along with Shannan's driver Michael Pak and the less-than-forthcoming neighbor, Dr. Peter Hackett.

Another clue, or calling card of the killer, was how he managed to get the victims to drop their guard with him.

One assumes that, since the four victims advertised their services on Craigslist, they were rather particular about their clientele. Many of the victim's families and friends recall that they rarely did out-calls, only doing so for a special payday or a client that they were familiar with.

Unfortunately, all four women anonymously left to meet up with their final client. Amber Costello, the most recent victim who had disappeared just months before her discovery, left the house she was living in without even bringing a cell phone or her purse. Megan Waterman, the victim who went missing just three months before Costello, left to meet with a client down a dark, abandoned service road.

They were either desperate enough to do whatever this client asked of them, or comfortable enough with him to avoid their regular precautions. Or, perhaps sadly, a little bit of both.

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Another lead the investigators wanted to travel down was to figure out the killer's identity by working backwards through the victim's cell phones and emails.

They had already become aware of the cell phones of both Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Melissa Barthelemy being used after their disappearances. Maureen's had been turned on somewhere close to Fire Island, where it pinged off of a tower there, about a month after her disappearance. Melissa's phone, meanwhile, had been used to call and taunt her younger sister, Amanda.

Because the taunting phone calls contained personal information about Amanda - such as physical details of her and her sister - police figured that whomever took Melissa had likely been in her life for a while. Amanda would constantly make trips to visit her older sister, and police figured that the killer must have been associated with Melissa in some way before her death: perhaps as a regular client, or a stalker of some kind.

But besides the cell phone avenue, police wanted to use the victim's emails against the killer. Unfortunately, what they found were a list of throwaway email addresses that led nowhere; the Craigslist email system notoriously uses an anonymous email system, which clouds most emails. Other than that, anyone with access to a simple VPN - a virtual private network - can cloud their IP from almost anyone else.

If the police wanted to find a suspect, they needed to find more evidence. They continued to search the area until the weather ground them to a halt. In January and Februrary, they were forced to postpone any future searches of the area, at least until the weather picked up again.

When the searches picked up again in March, they were shocked to immediately find something.

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This body, the fifth to be discovered, was found just about thirty feet in from the road, and about a mile east of where the remains of the original four victims had been discovered. These remains were discovered by a police officer who had seen something suspicious and investigated further, but had no idea that he was unearthing a mystery a decade in the making.

These remains were later proven to be that of Jessica Taylor, the prostitute from the episode introduction who had disappeared in July of 2003. Her headless, arm-less torso had been discovered north of Gilgo Beach, off an abandoned road in Manorville, just a few weeks after her disappearance, but DNA would later prove these body parts to be a match.

 "It is very clear that whoever killed and dismembered Ms. Taylor... was very intent on preventing her identity from being discovered - even going to great lengths to remove a tattoo from her body," said District Attorney Thomas Spota.

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The search immediately continued the following week to try and find more bodies or evidence of their supposed serial killer. Already investigators were becoming overwhelmed; this story had gone from a missing prostitute to a full-blown serial killer seemingly overnight, and now police weren't sure just how many bodies there were or how far back they dated.

This was now in April of 2011, close to five months after the four bodies had been discovered in burlap.

Just five days after they found the rest of Jessica Taylor's body, they would uncover the bodies of three more victims, all of whom pointed a very grisly portrait of this killer - or killers.

The first was a woman, known by investigators as "Jane Doe #6," whose head, arms, and right foot were discovered along the Ocean Parkway. DNA testing would confirm that this woman matched remains found in Manorville on November 19th, 2000 - nearby where Jessica Taylor's torso had also been dropped. Police now had more than one case linking these bodies to discarded victims in Manorville.

Police have released a composite of this victim, whom they assume stood about five feet and two inches tall, and was somewhere in the age range between eighteen and thirty-five. She was most likely a prostitute, like the other victims.


The second body discovered on April 4th belonged, most peculiarly, to a man of Asian descent. Apparently, the body had been discovered wearing women's clothing, leading investigators to believe that this was a trans-woman who had been working as a prostitute, unbeknownst to the killer.

Police believed that this young man, who I stated was of Asian descent, had likely died from blunt force trauma, which they derived from teeth missing from the skull. He was smaller in stature, standing only around five-foot-six-inches tall, and was most likely between the age range of seventeen and twenty-three. This victim had been dead somewhere between five and ten years, according to investigators, who were puzzled at the lack of missing persons reports to link this victim to.
John Doe

Sadly, there was one other victim discovered on April 4th, and this one was the most heartbreaking of all. This victim was just an infant, a little girl somewhere between eighteen and thirty-two months old. Police immediately began to assume that this was the child of a prostitute they had yet to discover, a child that had just happened to be with her mother on the night the killer decided to act.

This young victim, known as "Baby Doe" to the investigators, was found wrapped up in a blanket, wearing two unique items of jewelry: hoop earrings and a rope necklace. This child, the youngest of the victims by far, showed no signs of trauma, implying that her death had not been a violent one.

Unfortunately, police were not done discovering bodies.

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A week after this grisly discovery, police made another startling find: the remains of two other bodies. These body parts would further link the Ocean Parkway dumping grounds to the Manorville dumping grounds from years prior, but also begin to splinter the investigation.

The first body was that of a woman, whose skeletal remains were wearing the same type of jewelry as Baby Doe was. They were two bracelets, one with "X-and-O" charms and the other with stones made to look like diamonds.

DNA testing would confirm that this woman had been related to the unidentified Baby Doe, and had likely been her mother. Surprisingly, though, her skeleton was found inside a plastic bag placed over seven miles away, as she was discovered just near Jones Beach State Park.

The other body discovered on this day was the most shocking of all: found near Tobay Beach, a few miles to the west of Gilgo Beach, was the skull of yet another woman. They also found a few of her teeth in the surrounding area, but DNA testing would show that this woman was the same victim from 1996, whose legs had washed up to shore in a plastic bag on Fire Island, miles away.

This would raise the biggest question of all: was there one serial killer that had been preying on prostitutes for nearly twenty years?

Richard Dormer

Richard Dormer, the lame duck Suffolk County Police Commissioner, obviously clung to the idea that this was a single killer. However, Thomas Spota, the reigning District Attorney, thought otherwise.

Thomas Spota

Spota began circulating the idea that, due to the differences in time periods and disposal methods of the multiple bodies discovered, there were multiple killers that had been using this stretch of Ocean Parkway as a dumping ground.

This wasn't odd, because there were obviously differences in the bodies discovered. The older bodies that had been discovered were unidentified, but dated back to 1996. There was a possibility that the four identified victims who had been found in burlap were connected, but they were connected solely by the location and their probable employments.

This also doesn't mention, of course, how the remains connected to Manorville would open up the investigation to other unidentified victims, whose bodies had been found in the years and months prior to the investigation began.

But this simple argument would begin to fracture the investigation as a whole: certain detectives would cling to the single killer theory, while others would follow Spota and begin to pursue the multiple killer theory.

Despite this growing fraction between different sides of the investigation, everyone involved would agree that this wouldn't have a simple solution.

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During this April search for more bodies, police had started to use new and innovative ways to search the terrain.

They had begun using helicopters overhead to find places of interest to have officers look later. They would mark these on an interactive map as "places of interest," going on to pinpoint over ninety spots in the surrounding area to send searchers to.

Speaking of searchers, hundreds of officers from Suffolk County and the surrounding areas were sent to participate in the search. Unfortunately, the rough bramble kept the search from progressing quickly, meaning that police needed to find new ways to look.

They would begin sending out large pieces of equipment to trim and cut the bramble as they progressed, as it was too rough for searchers to walk without hurting or injuring themselves. They would take vehicles like fire trucks, and extend the ladders sideways with officers on top looking down at the ground below, to try and locate any signs of more bodies or clues.

As it happened months earlier, the weather was beginning to get rough for investigators once again. The weather was turning once again, and would require police to put their search on-hold until the weather cleared up. Those "ninety places of interest" would have to wait months to be looked at.

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The investigation continued to split apart, with most belonging in Spota's camp of multiple killers but others clinging to Dormer's single killer theory, but police now had a few things to work with.

They had discovered that the earlier victims had been dismembered, their bodies cut up into pieces with identifying marks removed. Whomever the killer had been, he had tried to hide the features of the women involved: with the victims whose torso had been found in Manorville, he had removed the head and the hands, in a way of keeping dental records and fingerprints from being utilized. He had also tried to scrape off identifying tattoos and definitive features.

Also, when the victims had been dismembered, the killer had gone out of the way to split up the remains. Jessica Taylor and the other Manorville victim had had their body parts split up by a matter of forty miles. In the case of the woman who had been killed along with her child, the killer had split up both bodies nearly ten miles apart, even though the infant had been found within a short distance of other victims.


However, to some, this was simply a sign of the killer becoming comfortable. It's possible that the killer, if he had been a local and familiar to the area, would know that the area off of Ocean Parkway would be a safe place to dump a body: nobody would be traversing that area if they could help it, as the tough bramble would tear apart clothing and would be an issue for even the ardent explorers. Maybe after a time, when none of the bodies had been discovered for almost a decade, the killer began to get comfortable. He wouldn't have to split up the bodies anymore, and wouldn't have to make hourlong drives to dispose of the victims. He could simply drop by one area, right off of the Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, which would not only make an easy dumping ground for him, but provide anonymity while also allowing him to re-experience the thrill of the crimes over and over again.

Noted author and former NYPD lieutenant commander Vernon Geberth came out in defense of Richard Dormer's single killer theory.

"I wouldn’t be so quick to be talking about multiple killers,” said Geberth. “The probability of having two serial killers using the same dumping ground is very, very remote—to the point where I don’t buy into it. I am looking at a serial killer who has basically progressed. He has become more effective at disposing of the bodies. He doesn’t have to go through all the work of decapitating his victims.”

Forensic psychologist N.G. Berrill, who had experience working for the NYPD, also agreed.

“That coincidence, in and of itself, would be remarkable,” said Berrill, addressing the multiple killer theory. To him, two killers sharing such a similar propensity of victims while also dumping the victims in the same area, would have such a minute possibility of actually happening.

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Mari Gilbert

The one-year anniversary of Shannan Gilbert's disappearance was approaching, and with it, her mother Mari Gilbert continued to pester the police for any information. As I stated beforehand, they had halted their search of the area due to the conditions being unsearchable, but Gilbert wanted her daughter to not go forgotten.

Mari Gilbert along with Shannan's sister, Sarra

Gilbert began to turn the intensity up, trying to use the media as a weapon. As journalists and documentarians began to focus on the burgeoning boogeyman of the Long Island Serial Killer, Gilbert tried to turn the focus back on her missing daughter, whose disappearance had jump-started the entire investigation.

Dr. Peter Hackett

She began to make her qualms about Dr. Peter Hackett public knowledge, bombarding him at his home with a documentary crew in-tow. She confronted him about the phone calls he had made to her on May 3rd of 2010, the day that Shannan had later been reported missing. He denied having any knowledge of Shannan or her disappearance, but that didn't stop Mari Gilbert.

She started to make claims of Dr. Hackett providing prescription drugs for people in the neighborhood, aided by two neighbors who had had multiple Homeowners Association disputes with Hackett and testified to that account.

Gilbert also took question with Hackett's claims that he knew nothing of Shannan's disappearance. Gus Coletti, the retired insurance agent who opened up his door to Shannan on the night she disappeared, was often regarded as a close friend of Hackett's, who lived right next to him. What are the odds that in the days after Shannan disappeared, the two didn't talk at all about the most exciting story to hit the neighborhood in some time?

Shannan Gilbert

At this point, it hadn't become common knowledge that Shannan had been on the phone with 911 when she went running from door-to-door. The press began to run wild when that was brought to light, with rumors that Shannan was screaming "they're trying to kill me," and the Gilbert family began to push for the 911 call to be released to the public. However, to this day, over half-a-decade after Shannan disappeared, that call has not been released. Rumors persist to this day over why the call hasn't been released, but the most persistent of those is that she was bounced around from jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction throughout the entire twenty-three minute call.

A few months after turning up the heat in the media, Mari Gilbert began pushing for the marsh behind Dr. Hackett's house to be dredged, thus allowing investigators time to fully search it. See, Dr. Hackett lived next door to Barbara Brennan, who owned the last house to receive a knock from Shannan on the night she disappeared. Dr. Hackett originally went against these wishes, not wanting the marsh to be drained, but consented after a month or so.

When the search for bodies finally picked up again, and the police began hitting their noted "ninety places of interest," that marsh would finally be drained. And Shannan Gilbert would finally be found.

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The search began again in earnest the first week of December of 2011, nearly a year after the first four bodies had been discovered. Police still had as much of an idea as to who the killer was as they did then, but were hoping to either find some more evidence that could clue them along or to find more bodies and bring closure to missing persons stories.

On December 6th, they began searching one of their many places of interest, in the dredged marsh  located behind Dr. Peter Hackett's house.

On December 6th, police would finally discover some trace of Shannan. Up until that point, she had presumably just vanished into thin air, but on that morning, they discovered her purse and some belongings of hers, which included her cell phone and her pair of jeans.

Officer John Mallia, who had been the person to discover the bodies of the four victims in burlap a year beforehand, was part of the search party that was searching throughout the area.

A week later, on December 13th, the searchers would stumble upon a body, which was identifiable due to the metal plate in the jaw of the skull.

The same day that police discovered the body of Shannan Gilbert, the families of the other victims were holding a candlelight vigil. Mari Gilbert had been there on that day, and was guided by the police investigators to the back porch of Dr. Peter Hackett, which offered her the best view of the area where Shannan's body was discovered.

She, however, was less than encouraged by how long it had taken police to find her daughter.

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Police had to wait for the forensic examiners to fully look over Shannan Gilbert's remains and perform an autopsy to reveal a cause of death, but the early word was that she had died of the elements.

When she had gone missing, word had gotten out that Shannan suffered from bipolar disorder. That, in conjecture with her drug use and alleged use of cocaine, led many to believe that she simply got zonked out of her mind and stumbled out into an area that overwhelmed her.

However, her body was discovered just a few hundred feet away from the Ocean Parkway. At the time of morning that she disappeared, she would have seen cars driving by and would have kept travelling towards the road if she was in a serious emergency.

Also, it is worth noting, that on the day that she disappeared, the water level was low; low to the point of being a non-threat. Experts agreed that on the day Shannan disappeared, the area that she had wandered into had a water level less than a foot deep. If she had drowned, it was highly probable that she had drowned in six-to-eight inches of water.

When her body had been discovered, she had also been found without her jeans, and lying face-up.

What's most confusing about her discovery, however, is the absence of two hyoid bones in her throat. To many, this would imply that she had been strangled, but the Suffolk County medical examiners didn't think so.

In May of 2012, two years after she had run throughout the neighborhood of Oak Beach, Shannan Gilbert's death was finally ruled as accidental. She was said to have died of "misadventure," or otherwise via mishap. This is, however, after the medical examiners tested the exterior of her remains for any trace of cocaine, and found nothing.

What's confusing about this ruling from the medical examiner's office is that it ignores some of the evidence, such as the missing hyoid bones in Shannan's throat, and only tested for cocaine on the surface of the skeleton. They could have tested Shannan's bone marrow for evidence of cocaine use - or other drugs, for that matter - but for some reason, decided not to.

However, despite all of the speculation regarding her cause of death, Shannan Gilbert still hasn't been officially tied to the investigation of the Long Island Serial Killer. Despite years of tribulations faced by her mother in trying to get her case looked at further, Shannan Gilbert's death is still ruled as accidental.

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In the latter part of 2012, investigators were still trying to gain any semblance of a lead in the case for the killer. Richard Dormer, the police commissioner, had been replaced by the newly-elected county executive Steve Bellone's favored candidate, Edward Webber.

By all indications, Webber followed through with District Attorney Thomas Spota's recommendation, that there were multiple killers. The notion was, at the time, that there were at least three serial killers operating in the area and dumping the bodies of prostitutes within a ten-mile stretch of land.

Thomas Spota with police commissioner Edward Webber

This is how police continued their investigation in the coming months, and unsurprisingly, no new evidence would come to light.

In the Fall of 2012, the investigation would face a new hurdle: mother nature herself. That October, Hurricane Sandy would strike the east coast of the United States, causing irrecoverable harm to the investigation and causing over seventy-five billion dollars worth of total damage.

It's impossible to know just how much of the investigation was forever changed by Hurricane Sandy. While I know it's not wise to argue what-ifs, one has to wonder just how much evidence was washed away by the insane winds and flooding, most of which impacted the New York and New Jersey area.

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After the setback of Hurricane Sandy, the future was not bright for Suffolk County investigators. They wouldn't find any more bodies the following year, in 2013, and all investigators could do was try and piece together what they knew.

Rumors would begin to crop up that some of these rash of killings had been related to those in Atlantic City, where the bodies of four women - prostitutes, also - had been discovered outside a motel. This unknown killer, known as the Eastbound Strangler, had killed four women between October and November of 2006, and all four victims had been found fully-clothed and facing east.

The four victims found in Atlantic City

One has to wonder if this would help fill in the gaps? Was this area of Long Island just one of his many dumping grounds? The links to remains discovered in Manorville point to "yes."

What's more, is that one of the victims discovered in Atlantic City was Facebook friends with Amber Costello. That might be a bit of a stretch, but one has to wonder if there's a connection there, in some small way? I'm sure the circles that prostitutes run in aren't huge, but at that time, in 2006, Facebook wasn't nearly as well-known as it is now. It served as more of a networking tool.

Dave Schaller, the best friend and roommate of Amber Costello, definitely thinks that her killer was someone she knew.

"It's unclear why, but something made her trust him," recalled Schaller, who said his cellphone was used for one of their conversations and that he overheard parts of it. "It was like she knew him."

Police haven't officially connected any of the Long Island victims to the Atlantic City victims, but a possibility remains that there is a link between the two.

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A possible link between the Atlantic City and Long Island victims is a man known as John Bittrolff.


John Bittrolff lived in the Manorville area of Long Island, where he was married, had two children, and worked as a carpenter. By all accounts, he was a regular guy, who had lived in the community without issue for decades.

In 2014, John's brother, Timothy, was arrested on charges of criminal contempt for violating an order of protection. Police, like always, take evidence from everyone arrested and check it in their DNA database.

Surprisingly, the DNA pinged something. Not Timothy's DNA, but someone related to him.

In the early 90s, two women in the Manorville area had been brutally strangled, beaten, and left for dead in the woods. Their bodies had been posed in such a way that the bodies were quickly linked together, and their killer evaded justice for over two decades.

Colleen McNamee and Rita Tangredi, the victims Bittrolff is accused of killing in 1994 and 1993, respectively

That is, until Suffolk County police managed to get ahold of John Bittrolff's DNA, and it provided a clear match to those two cold cases.

Ever since then, 2014, Bittrolff has been facing trial for those two murders. He has also been tied to a third similar crime, which occurred in the same time period in November of 1993, but beyond that, no official link has been made to connect him to the victims found near Gilgo Beach.

Many view him as a prime suspect in the case, due to his close proximity to the Manorville victims, which include Jessica Taylor. He lived just miles away from where those torsos were discovered, and many find it odd that he's linked to those three cold cases but none others. Many skeptics don't believe that a serial offender would strike three times over the period of two months, and then avoid killing altogether from then on.

If we go back to the words of forensic psychologist N.G. Berrill, this is perhaps an instance of a killer who adapted. In the killings he's been charged with, Bittrolff did nothing to hide the bodies, and left crucial evidence behind. It's very possible that he continued to strike, adapting as he went along.

It is also worth nothing that one of Bittrolff's alleged victims, Rita Tangredi, had a daughter. That daughter had grown up to become best friends with Melissa Barthelemy, the first body discovered in burlap.

Police have theorized that the Long Island Serial Killer had stalked Melissa, due to the knowledge he had of her life and her sister. Even though police have supposedly cleared Bittrolff's name of any Long Island crimes, I find it hard to believe that this is all just coincidence.

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Other than Bittrolff, there have been no serious leads into other suspects.

Many have suspected Akeem Cruz, also known as "Vybe," the pimp and boyfriend of Megan Waterman. In the year after her disappearance, Cruz served a 20-month sentence for drug trafficking and other prostitution-related offenses, for working as a pimp. While he was in prison, Waterman's family pled with police to keep him there until she was located, and he was then sentenced to a three-year sentence for violating the Mann Act, transporting Megan over state lines for prostitution. During his sentence, Cruz completely refused to cooperate with police, not telling them any details of the night Megan disappeared, and whether he was with her at any point during her last, fatal client meetup.

Akeem Cruz

Others have tried to link convicted serial killer Joel Rifkin, who lived and operated in the Long Island area, to the crimes, but I just don't see it. The earliest victim linked to the Gilgo Beach dumping grounds was killed in 1996, two years after Rifkin began serving his life sentence. While it is possible that the killer is someone inspired by Rifkin, who also preyed upon prostitutes in the New York area, the idea of him being the killer is preposterous to me.

Joel Rifkin

Many have continued to suspect the men involved in Shannan Gilbert's final night, including her driver, Michael Pak; her client, Joseph Brewer; and Brewer's neighbor, Dr. Peter Hackett. Police have come out and definitively stated that none of those three have been persons of interest in Shannan's disappearance, let alone any of the murders. Both Brewer and Hackett have moved from the area, both claiming that their lives were ruined by the suspicious allegations that embroiled them and their families.

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Other than the suspects, we only have leads that police have undoubtedly followed up on.

Investigators have looked at the possibility of a police officer being the killer, but come up with nothing. This was due to the fact that whomever contacted Amanda, Melissa Barthelemy's sister, seemed to have some knowledge of police tracking techniques. He knew to get off of the phone after a couple of minutes, called from heavily populated area full of tourists, and knew how to cover his tracks. Once the story broke, no other calls were made.

Besides that connection, investigators uncovered that one of the final people to be in-contact with Maureen Brainard-Barnes was a Staten Island police officer, who was acting as a client and not a part of any police investigation.

Other than that lead, there is a strong likelihood that the killer - or killers - are decently skilled in certain technical skills. While it wouldn't require a technical genius for the killer to stay anonymous online, the fact that he managed to mask his IP address implies some knowledge of VPN's, online tools that allow users to mask their IP address with another. Again, these don't require a genius to use, but in the mid-2000s were more difficult to obtain and less widely-used.

The possibility also exists that whoever killed the victims was a frequent drug user, someone who particularly used cocaine. Kim Overstreet, the sister of Amber Costello, has urged the police and media to continue investigating this lead, as almost all of the victims were drug users that could have provided the killer with his drug-of-choice.

A much-lesser-sought-after clue was that of the burlap bags that Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Costello's remains were found in. Many people have theorized that whomever abducted and killed the four of them had access to burlap bags aplenty, at least to the point where transporting them wouldn't seem out-of-the-ordinary. Online theorists have pointed to some of the nearby parks as being a potential place-of-employment for this person, perhaps as a park ranger; where walking through the bramble at any time of day or night and carrying burlap bags wouldn't seem too peculiar.

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One thing I haven't really spoken about, throughout these episodes, is the relationship between Suffolk County and the FBI.

Early on in the investigation, the FBI had offered its assistance. The FBI often helps to assist in any search for a serial killer, since so many serial killers cross state-lines. Suffolk County, however, kept the FBI at arm's length. The FBI supplied a personality profile for the probable killer back in 2011, which detailed the likely psychological map of the killer's life.

They surmised that he was somewhere between his late-twenties and his mid-forties, that he is a white man who likely has a girlfriend or is married, that he is well-educated and works a stable job. It is possible that he had been to the hospital for poison ivy treatment, as he undoubtedly came in contact with the vine during his many travels in the Gilgo Beach brush. The FBI profilers also pointed out the easy access to burlap sacks, or figured that he may have just bought a decent supply of them at one point.

James Burke

However, despite the FBI's insistence for further help, Suffolk County refused. The rationale was unknown at the time, but was exposed in 2014, when the long-serving police chief, James Burke, was arrested amidst a corruption scheme.

It would turn out that Burke had long been taking advantage of his position as police chief to get away with being a criminal. He had frequented prostitutes in his youth, had allegedly dabbled in drug dealing and minor crimes, and even confessed to driving drunk multiple times on the job, but he finally fell in hot water when he got so bold as to physically and verbally torture a prisoner who had stolen his SUV and unearthed a bag of sex toys. While this sounds like something out of a ridiculous cop show, I guarantee you that it's a true story.

James Burke being arrested

Burke would plead guilty, just earlier this year in 2016, but the corruption scheme would go all the way up to District Attorney Thomas Spota. Allegations have been made that paint Spota in a very negative light, and do nothing to repair his reputation as someone that damaged the integrity of the investigation itself.

Apparently, James Burke wanted to avoid bringing in the FBI to completely avoid any of his own misdeeds from coming to light. So, even though the largest crime-fighting organization in America offered to help find this sick killer, with the best criminal profilers and forensic analysts that money can employ, Burke decided to say no because he wanted to continue being a corrupt cop.

Thankfully, Burke was eventually discovered and kicked out of office. He has since plead guilty to charges of corruption, among others, but Spota, the D.A. who pushed the idea of multiple killers, now finds himself on the ropes and facing opposition from all sides... including the FBI.

James Burke with Thomas Spota, whom he considered his mentor

In December of 2015, the FBI announced that they were joining the investigation into the Long Island Serial Killer. It had been over five years since the original four bodies had been discovered, and likely any chance of unearthing forensic evidence from the crime scenes themselves, but finally the investigation was being handed off to a higher power.

One has to wonder just how much James Burke and Thomas Spota damaged the integrity of the investigation for the simple sake of a man's greed.

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2015 was a big year not only for the investigation of finding this unknown serial killer, but also for finding out the fate of Shannan Gilbert.

Police had long since established the story: after meeting up with Joseph Brewer, Shannan had run off into the night in a drug-fueled frenzy, where she eventually fell into a bog and, ultimately drowned. However, no drugs were found in her system, and her cause of death was ruled as being inconclusive. But, again, medical examiners didn't do a scan of her bone marrow for any illicit narcotics, for some unknown reason.

Mari Gilbert, Shannan's mother, had long since argued the cause of Shannan's death as being unnatural. For years now, she had pointed some amount of blame at Dr. Peter Hackett for being involved in her death, and hired an attorney to file a suit claiming such.

Mari Gilbert with her attorney, John Ray

As part of this pending lawsuit, Mari Gilbert and her attorney, John Ray, acquired the services of Michael Baden, who was at one point, the New York state medical examiner. He was a guy with an established professional record, whose opinion would be highly valued in any criminal investigation.

Baden was brought in to perform a second autopsy of Shannan's body, to try and find anything that might have been missed or ignored in her prior screening.

In February of 2016, Gilbert's attorney, John Ray, made those autopsy results public, along with a statement written by Michael Baden.

Baden wrote that Shannan Gilbert's death was most likely caused by strangulation, due to the absence of her larynx and the missing hyoid bones from her throat. Baden ruled that these were undoubtedly "signs of homicidal strangulation," words he wrote explicitly in his report.

Dr. Michael Baden

This went completely at-odds with what the Suffolk County police had originally found in their own autopsy, and they had never investigated Shannan's disappearance or death as a potential homicide. Even after this report went viral, and was submitted into the public record of Mari Gilbert's pending civil suit against Dr. Peter Hackett, police chose not to say whether or not they were opening up a homicide investigation for Shannan Gilbert.

This was a huge score for the Gilbert family, but another tragedy was incoming.

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Just a handful of months later, in July of 2016, Mari Gilbert would be murdered by another of her daughters, Sarra.

Sarra Gilbert

Over the years, it had been revealed to the Gilbert family that Sarra suffered from schizophrenia, leading to ten hospitalizations as she tried to come to grips with the disease. Her mental disorder began to manifest itself in an extreme way weeks before this tragic occurrence, due in part to her going off of her medication and going as far as killing the family dog in front of her eight-year-old son before this tragic outbreak.

Needless to say, this was yet another terrible tragedy for the Gilbert family to have to face.


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I wish that I could end the podcast on some kind of high note, but unfortunately, there's not much more story to tell.

While investigators have long debated whether this is the tale of a single serial killer or multiple, the facts are still true: nearly a dozen victims - mainly women but also one man - have been killed by an unknown, unidentified terror that has escaped justice for these crimes.


In December of 2015, the bodies of two women were discovered in the woods outside of Brockton, Massachussets. FBI profilers that looked at the case viewed the killer as someone who had killed before, and would likely kill again. Both victims - one aged fifty years old and the other just twenty - were prostitutes and both known to have issues with drugs. Sound familiar?

In July of 2015, a prostitute working in Charleston, West Virginia was shocked when a client - an unassuming middle-aged man named Neal - turned violent on her. She battled for her life, eventually able to grab the man's gun, and shot and killed him. That man, now known as Neal Falls, was a potential serial killer who had a trunk full of devices and tools intended to kill and dispose of that prostitute's body - had she not fought back.

Neal Falls, along with the woman that killed him

Police have been working on re-tracing the footsteps of Neal Falls, and think that he may be responsible for the deaths of multiple women across the country. His potential victims most likely all worked as prostitutes and advertised their services online.

Even if these final two stories have nothing to do with the story, they show a trend of these victims being targeted as nothing more than sport. Ever since Jack the Ripper rose to notoriety, the sadistic among us have viewed these victims as targets because of their place in society: they are poor, they are weak, and they are easily forgotten. We can only hope this changes, because these are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our friends, our neighbors. Given a different set of circumstances, they might be us.

To this day, the identity of the Long Island Serial Killer remains unresolved.

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Well, everyone, there you have it: the story I've been obsessively researching and preparing for about a month now.

The hardest part about doing this podcast is the utter, unrelenting depressing nature of it all. These are all stories that NEED to be told, and deserve to be, but are so morbid that it's hard to see the good side of humanity when I'm done.

Anyhow, I'll step off of my soapbox for now. Thanks for listening to these episodes of the Unresolved Podcast, everyone, I really appreciate you taking the time to do so. I apologize for the long wait between the last episodes and this one, I took a bit of a break to relocate across the country. I'm now living on the East Coast, which has been a weird change, but I think I'm getting used to it - slowly and surely.

Hope to get a lot more episodes done in the near-future, and even though I may rant about the depressing nature of these stories, making the podcast is a ton of fun and something I enjoy doing. And now I have a decent amount of time to commit to it, just gotta get past the aversion towards hearing my own voice.

If you'd like to stay in touch with the podcast, you can find it on Twitter, Facebook, the works. I may not respond instantly, but I promise to respond to your comments and messages in due time.

You can also donate to the podcast via Paypal or Patreon, which is now set up. A warning to all of the Patreon listeners, I'm currently working on getting those perks set up and released, so please don't fret. I promise to get out everything that I've promised, just been working so hard on researching and recording that I haven't had much time to devote to the online portion of the podcast. My apologies.

But, anyhow, that's it for me. Hope you all are as ready as I am to kick off season two of the podcast, which I hope will be an incredibly productive one. Until next time, stay safe everyone.

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Sources

"Lost Girls" by Robert Kolker

Wikipedia - Long Island Serial Killer

VICE News - "Inside the Bizarre, Unsolved Case of the Long Island Serial Killer"

Newsday - "Chilling find links LI dumping grounds"

New York Times - "IN BRIEF: A Manorville Body Is Identified"

PIX11 - "The hunt for a serial killer: Revisiting the Gilgo Beach murders"

New York Times - "Bright, Careful, and Sadistic: Profiling Long Island's Mystery Serial Killer"

Psychology Today - "Long Island Serial Killer, Where Are You Now?"

New York Times - "Identifying Another Victim, Officials Raise Possibility of a 2nd L.I. Killer"

Staten Island Live - "Ex-Staten Island cop was one of last people to contact prostitute killed by Long Island serial killer, source says"

Newsday - "Dormer, Spota clash over Gilgo case"

Fox News - "Famed coroner Baden seeks to autopsy remains of Craigslist escort"

New York - "Shannan Gilbert's Mother Sues Doctor, Claiming He Could Have Prevented Her Death"

PIX11 - "New Shannan Gilbert autopsy reveals 'disturbing' findings in Gilgo Beach case, medical examiner says"

CNN - "Report: Shannan Gilbert could have been strangled"

Huffington Post - "Long Island Serial Killer is Seasonal Visitor, Expert Scott Bonn Contends"

New York Post - "Two more faces of death"

New York Daily News - "At least three killers dumped bodies at Long Island's Gilgo Beach: Suffolk County DA"

Daily Mail - "'Craigslist Ripper' police reveal up to FOUR killers may have dumped bodies on Long Island beach as new victim is identified" 

Newsday - "Before serial murder probe, LI already had... Unsolved mysteries of dumped bodies"

PIX11 - "From Gilgo Beach to Atlantic City: A serial killer by the sea"

PIX11 - "As Suffolk County DA is told to resign over allegations of criminal wrongdoing, exclusive details of alleged acts are revealed"

NBC News - "Long Island Murder Suspect May Be Linked To Three Deaths, Say Officials"

New York Times - "Two Decades After Pair of Killings on Long Island, Authorities Make an Arrest"

New York Times - "Suffolk County District Attorney on Defensive as U.S. Inquiry Expands"

New York Post - "Busted ex-police chief blocked FBI probe of Gilgo Beach murders"

New York Daily News - "Mother of Shannan Gilbert , believed to be Gilgo Beach murder victim, found stabbed to death: other daughter charged in slaying"

Newsday - "Sarra Gilbert pleads not guilty in mom Mari Gilbert's killing"

WCVD - "Brockton killer likely did it before, may do it again, experts say"

People - "Sex Worker Who Unwittingly Killed An Alleged Serial Killer 'Saved Lives,' Say Cops"

Village Voice - "Long Island Serial Killer Connection: Cocaine?"

2 comments:

  1. 'Few tragedies have a happy ending.' REALLY?! Think about what comes out of your mouth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...and? That is a true statement. And it was also meant as an intentional, offhand remark.

      But thank goodness I made these mistakes! Who knows what kind of ACTUALLY productive behavior you could get up to without them! You might actually start an endeavor of your own, instead of just critiquing an online comment thread that no one will ever see. Oh well.

      Delete