The Long Island serial killer (also referred to by media sources as the Gilgo Beach Killer or the Craigslist Ripper) is an unidentified suspected American serial killer who is believed to have murdered 10 to 17 people associated with the sex trade over a period of nearly 20 years and dumped their bodies along the Ocean Parkway, near the remote Long Island beach towns of Gilgo Beach and Oak Beach in Suffolk County and the area of Jones Beach State Park in Nassau County.
The remains of four victims were found in December 2010, while six more sets of remains were found in March and April 2011. Police believe that the latest sets of remains predate the four bodies found in December 2010.
On May 9, 2011, authorities surmised that two of the newest sets of remains might be the work of a second killer. On November 29, 2011, however, the police announced that they believe that one person is responsible for all 10 deaths and that they did not believe that the case of Shannan Gilbert, an escort who was missing when the first set of bodies were found, was related. “It is clear that the area in and around Gilgo Beach has been used to discard human remains for some period of time,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Police were initially searching for Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old woman from New Jersey, who went missing on May 1st 2010 working as an escort. She was reported missing in May 2010. She was last seen in the area after she ran from, rather than to, her driver, Michael Pak, who was waiting for her outside a client’s house in nearby Oak Beach.
In December 2010, a police officer and his dog on a routine training exercise discovered the first body – “the skeletal remains of a woman in a nearly disintegrated burlap sack”. This discovery led to three more bodies being found two days later in the same area on the north side of the Ocean Parkway. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said “Four bodies found in the same location pretty much speaks for itself. It’s more than a coincidence. We could have a serial killer.”
A few months later, in late March and early April 2011, four more bodies were discovered in another area off the parkway. Suffolk Police expanded the search area up to the Nassau County border, looking for more victims.
On April 6, 2011, Detective Lt. Kevin Smith of the Nassau County Police Department said that his office will “further explore and investigate any criminal activity which may be in close proximity to the recently discovered human remains found in Suffolk.” Smith also said that Nassau Police will be coordinating with Suffolk County and New York State Police on the investigation. Five days later, the search for more bodies began in Nassau County. Local media reported that an additional set of partial human remains was found, as well as a separate skull, bringing the potential total number of victims found since December to ten.
On April 22, 2011, two human teeth were found about a foot from the skull. On June 16, 2011, Suffolk County police raised the reward from $5,000 to $25,000 (the largest ever offered in the county’s history) for information leading to an arrest in the Long Island murders.
On September 20, 2011, police released composite sketches of two of the unidentified victims whose remains were found in March and April 2011 (an Asian male and Jane Doe No. 6), as well as photos of jewelry found on the remains of a female toddler and her mother, found on April 4 and 11, 2011, respectively. The toddler’s mother was also revealed as one of the sets of remains found in Nassau County on April 11. Also on September 20, police revealed that the second set of remains found in Nassau County on April 11, 2011, matched two legs that were found in a garbage bag that had washed up on Fire Island in 1996. As of September 22, 2011, the police had received over 1,200 tips via text, email and phone since the beginning of the investigation.
On November 29, 2011, police announced that they believe one person is responsible for all 10 murders, and that the person is almost certainly from Long Island.
On December 13, 2011, the remains of Shannan Gilbert were found in a marsh about half a mile from where she disappeared, and a week after some of her clothes and belongings were found in the vicinity. Police believe that Shannan accidentally drowned after stumbling into a swamp, a view not shared by her mother. She had last been seen banging on a resident’s door and screaming for help before running off into the night. A panicked 911 call from Gilbert that night revealed her saying that “they were going to kill her.”
On December 10, 2015, (the evening before the 5 year anniversary of the discovery of the first four sets of remains) the Suffolk County Police Department announced that the FBI had officially joined the investigation. A spokesperson for the FBI confirmed the announcement. The FBI had previously assisted in the search for victims, but was never officially part of the investigation until this announcement.
Identity of the killer
There has been much speculation in the media concerning the identity of the killer, currently known as “Unsub” – unknown subject. It has been suggested that the serial killer is most likely a white male in his mid-20s to mid-40s who is very familiar with the South Shore of Long Island and who has access to burlap sacks which he uses to contain the bodies. He may have a detailed knowledge of law enforcement techniques and perhaps even ties to law enforcement which have thus far helped him avoid detection.
Some have speculated that serial killer and former Long Island resident Joel Rifkin may have been responsible for some of the older remains found in March and April 2011, as four of the victims’ bodies were never found. In an April 2011 prison interview with Newsday, Rifkin denied having anything to do with recently discovered remains.
– Bodies discovered in December 2010
Of the ten bodies or sets of remains found since late 2010, the four discovered in December 2010 have been identified as missing prostitutes who all advertised their services on Craigslist. They had all been strangled and their bodies wrapped in burlap sacks before being dumped along Gilgo Beach. All are believed to have been killed elsewhere.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Connecticut, was an escort who advertised her services online. Maureen, who was only four feet eleven inches tall and one hundred five pounds, went to Long Island, New York, “to spend the day in New York City” and was never seen again. Maureen, a struggling mother, worked as a paid escort off Craigslist to pay the mortgage on her house, but after successfully leaving the sex industry for seven months Maureen eventually returned to pay her bills after receiving an eviction notice. She was last seen on July 9, 2007, when she left Norwich for New York City. Her body was found in December 2010.
Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of Erie County, New York, went missing on July 10, 2009. She had been living in the Bronx and working as an escort through Craigslist. On the night she went missing, she met with a client, deposited $900 in her bank account and attempted to call an old boyfriend, but did not get through. Beginning one week after her disappearance, and lasting for five weeks, her teenage sister, Amanda, received a series of “vulgar, mocking and insulting” calls from someone who may have been the killer, using her sister’s cell phone.
Megan Waterman, 22, of South Portland, Maine, went missing on June 6, 2010, after placing advertisements on Craigslist as an escort; the day before she had told her 20-year-old boyfriend that she was going out and would call him later. At the time of her disappearance, she was staying at a motel in Hauppauge, NY, 15 miles northeast of Gilgo Beach. Her body was also recovered in December 2010.
Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of North Babylon, New York, a town ten miles north of Gilgo Beach. She was a prostitute and a heroin user, and went missing on September 2, 2010. On the night she disappeared, she went to meet a stranger who had called her several times and offered her $1,500 for her services. As of 2012 Costello’s sister, Kimberly Overstreet, a call girl, has vowed to use the same Craigslist booking system as her sister in an effort to lure the killer.
– Remains discovered in March and April 2011
The four sets of remains discovered on March 29 and April 4 were all within two miles and to the east of those found in December. They included two women, a man, and a toddler. A skull and a partial set of remains were found on April 11 after the search expanded into Nassau County. They were found about one mile apart, approximately five miles west of those found in December.
Jessica Taylor, 20, most recently of Manhattan, went missing in July 2003. On July 26, 2003, her naked torso, chopped in pieces and missing its head and hands, was discovered 45 miles east of Gilgo Beach in Manorville, New York; these remains were identified by DNA analysis later that year. On May 9, 2011, it was reported that the remains of a skull, a pair of hands and a forearm found on March 29 at Gilgo belonged to Taylor. She had worked in Washington, D.C., and Manhattan as a prostitute. The remains of “Jane Doe No. 6” were also found both in Manorville (torso) and on Gilgo beach (head, hands and foot).
“Jane Doe No. 6″: A human head, right foot and hands found on April 4, were determined to have belonged to an unidentified victim, the rest of whose body was found on November 19, 2000, in the same part of Manorville where most of Jessica Taylor’s remains were discovered. The dismembered remains of Jessica Taylor and Jane Doe No. 6 were both disposed of in a similar manner and in the same town, suggesting a link. In September 2011, police released a composite sketch of Jane Doe No. 6: she was about 5′ 2” and was between 18 and 35 years old. It is likely that she worked as a prostitute.
“John Doe”: Also discovered on April 4 at Gilgo Beach, very close to where the first four were discovered in December 2010, was the body of what appeared to be a young Asian male who died from blunt-force trauma.
In September 2011, Police released a composite sketch of the victim and stated that he had likely been working as a prostitute and was wearing women’s clothes at the time of his death. He was between 17 and 23 years of age, 5′ 6″ in height, and missing four teeth; he had been dead for between five and 10 years.
“Baby Doe: The third body found on April 4, about 250 feet away from the partial remains of “Jane Doe No. 6”, was that of a female toddler between 16 and 24 months of age. The body was wrapped in a blanket and showed no visible signs of trauma. DNA tests determined that the child’s mother was “Jane Doe No. 3”, whose body was found 10 miles east near Jones Beach State Park. She was reported to be “non-Caucasian” and was wearing earrings and a necklace.
“Jane Doe No. 3”: On April 11, police in Nassau County discovered dismembered skeletal human remains inside a plastic bag near Jones Beach State Park. DNA analysis identified this victim as the mother of “Baby Doe”. She was found wearing similar jewelry to “Baby Doe”.
“Jane Doe No. 7”: Also on April 11, at nearby Tobay Beach, a separate human skull and several teeth were recovered. These remains were linked by DNA testing to a set of severed legs found in a garbage bag on Fire Island on April 20, 1996.
– Other possible victims
These additional cases have not been officially linked to the other 10 bodies, but are being considered by police.
On June 28, 1997, the dismembered torso of an unidentified young African-American female was found at Hempstead Lake State Park, in the town of Lakeview. The torso was found in a green plastic Rubbermaid container, which was dumped next to a road along the west side of the lake. Investigators reported that the victim had a tattoo of a heart-shaped peach with a bite out of it and two drips falling from its core on her left breast. Her head and limbs were never found, the identity of the victim was never determined, and she is referred to as “Peaches” by investigators.
On March 3, 2007, a suitcase containing the dismembered torso of an unidentified Hispanic or light-skinned African-American washed up on a beach at Harbor Island Park, in the town of Mamaroneck. The victim had a tattoo of two cherries on her left breast that was similar in appearance to the tattoo found on Peaches, and was determined to have been stabbed to death. Never identified, the victim is referred to as “Cherries” by investigators. One of her legs washed up at Cold Spring Harbor on March 21, and her other leg washed up at Oyster Bay in the village of Cove Neck the following day. Both Peaches and Cherries were dismembered in a fashion similar to that of Jessica Taylor and Jane Doe No. 6, and both are possibly linked to the other 10 official victims.
On May 17, 2011, the New York Post reported that Long Island police are now revisiting at least two other similar unsolved murders of prostitutes. The only victim named in the article was Tanya Rush, 39, a mother of three from Brooklyn whose dismembered body was found in a small suitcase in June 2008 on the shoulder of the Southern State Parkway in Bellmore, New York. Police refused to reveal information about the other case.
Shannan Maria Gilbert (October 24, 1986 – May 1, 2010) was an escort who may have been a victim the Long Island serial killer. She left for a client’s residence in Oak Beach after midnight on May 1, 2010. At 4:51 in the morning, 911 dispatchers received a panicked phone call from Gilbert, who can be heard saying that there was someone “after her” and that “they” were trying to kill her. She was last seen a short time later banging on the front door of a nearby Oak Beach residence and screaming for help before running off into the night. After nineteen months of searching, police found Gilbert’s remains in a marsh, half a mile away from where she was last seen. In May 2012 the Suffolk County medical examiners ruled that Shannan drowned while she ran through the marsh in a drug induced panic, ruling her death as “death by misadventure” or “inconclusive”; while her family believes she was murdered.
On November 15, 2012 a lawsuit was filed by Mari Gilbert (Shannan’s mother) against the Suffolk County Police Department in the hopes of getting more answers about what happened to her daughter the night she went missing. Due to controversy surrounding the cause of Gilbert’s death, in September 2014, famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden agreed to conduct an independent autopsy of Shannan Gilbert’s remains in hopes of determining a clear cause of death. Upon examination of Gilbert’s remains, Baden found damage to her Hyoid bone, suggesting that strangulation may have occurred. Baden also noted that her body was found face-up, which is not common for drowning victims. Despite this, her death is still officially listed as an accident.
On January 23, 2013, a woman walking her dog found human remains intentionally buried in a small piece of brush in a sandy area along the shore at the end of Sheep Lane in Lattingtown, near Oyster Bay. The remains are believed to be of a woman between the ages of twenty and thirty years old, possibly Asian. She was wearing a twenty-two karat gold pig pendant which may be a reference in Asian culture to “The Year of the Pig”. This leads some to believe she died at the age of twenty-nine. There was trauma caused to her bones; investigators believe she was buried before Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. Her case may be connected to the other 10 bodies found thirty-two miles away in and around Gilgo Beach, New York.
On March 16, 2013, a 31-year-old woman, later identified as Natasha Jugo, was last seen leaving her home near Alley Pond Park, Queens. Her car was found along Ocean Parkway and some of her clothes and belongings were found in the sand near Gilgo Beach the following day. Jugo was described as 5-feet, 7-inches tall, 120 pounds with brown eyes and blonde hair. She was last seen wearing a black robe, pink pajamas, gray hooded sweatshirt, black coat and black boots. Police are unsure whether the case is connected to the victims of the Long Island Serial Killer. Jugo’s family mentioned that she had “a history of problems in which she thought people were following her”. On June 24, 2013, Jugo’s body washed up on Gilgo Beach.
Prosecutor renews interest in Long Island serial killer case
MINEOLA, N.Y. – For years, the thicket along a beach highway on Long Island held a horrible secret. Hidden from passing drivers were the skeletal remains of 10 people, mostly young women who had worked as prostitutes. Who killed them, and why, is a mystery that has vexed a slew of seasoned homicide detectives.
The case took an intriguing turn when a veteran county prosecutor became the first authority to publicly name a suspect in at least one of the deaths: John Bittrolff, a Long Island carpenter who was sentenced to consecutive 25 years-to-life terms in prison this week for beating two prostitutes to death in 1993 and 1994.
Robert Biancavilla, an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, said after the sentencing that some of the remains found near Gilgo Beach “may be attributed to the handiwork of Mr. Bittrolff.”
If authorities have evidence to back up their suspicions, though, they aren’t saying.
Biancavilla declined to elaborate. Suffolk County police officials declined to comment. They last spoke publicly about the case nearly two years ago when they announced detectives were working with FBI profilers on developing leads.
Any suggestion that Bittrolff had anything to do with the dead women is “laughable,” said his lawyer, Jonathan Manley.
Even a lawyer for the family of one of those linked to the case expressed skepticism.
“To stir this pot when there’s no evidence is looking to easily blame a convicted killer and not have to perform the investigation that is required,” said John Ray, an attorney for the family of Shannan Gilbert, whose disappearance in 2010 several miles from Gilgo Beach triggered the hunt that exposed the larger mystery.
Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker, vanished in spring 2010 after leaving a client’s house on foot and disappearing into the marsh.
Months later, a police officer and his cadaver dog were looking for her body in the thicket along Ocean Parkway when they happened upon the remains of a different woman. Within days, three other bodies were found, all within a short walk of one another.
By spring 2011, that number had climbed to 10 sets of human remains — those of eight women, one man and one toddler — all found along several miles of parkway. Some remains were later linked to dismembered body parts found elsewhere on Long Island, making for a puzzling crime scene that stretched from a park near the New York City limits to a resort community on Fire Island and out to far eastern Long Island.
Police found the skull of a prostitute named Jessica Taylor, who was 20 when most of the rest of her body was found in a wooded area of Manorville shortly after she disappeared in 2003. Body parts found on Gilgo Beach were also linked to another corpse found in Manorville in 2000. That female victim has never been identified.
Gilbert’s body was found in the marsh in the community of Oak Beach in December 2011, about 3 miles east of where the other 10 sets were discovered.
Police have long maintained that Gilbert’s death was accidental. They say she drowned in a drug-induced haze after wandering into the wetland, but her relatives have long disputed that determination. In one of the more unusual twists in the saga, Gilbert’s mother, Mari, was murdered last year by another daughter in her upstate New York home.
Bittrolff was arrested in 2014 in an unrelated investigation involving the deaths of two prostitutes left in wooded areas of eastern Long Island two decades ago. The nude bodies of Rita Tangredi, 31, and Colleen McNamee, 20, were found 9 miles (14 kilometers) apart in late 1993 and early 1994. Both women had been strangled and suffered severe head injuries.
Bittrolff, 51, was convicted after investigators linked his DNA to substances found on the women’s bodies. He denies killing the women and intends to appeal.
Before he was jailed, Bittrolff lived in Manorville, part of the vast Long Island pine barrens region and the same hamlet where Taylor’s corpse and the body of one other woman were found.
John Ray, the Gilbert family lawyer, discounted any significance to the fact that Bittrolff lived there.
“Manorville is a huge, forested area; I don’t think that makes it much of a connection. Manorville just happens to be a great place to leave bodies,” he said, agreeing that the same could be said for Ocean Parkway.
In talking about the bodies near Gilgo Beach, investigators have said several times over the years it is unlikely one person killed all the victims.
Joseph Pollini, a retired New York City police detective who investigated cold case homicides and now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he found it hard to believe a prosecutor would publicly connect Bittrolff to the Gilgo Beach investigation on mere speculation.
“It’s highly unlikely a district attorney would put his neck out on a limb like that if he didn’t have something to back it up,” he said.
(1.) 11/3/1993 – Rita Tangredi (age 31) is discovered in a wooded area off of Esplanada Drive in East Patchogue. She was last seen the day before she was found, hitchhiking on Montauk Highway, in East Patchague.
(2.) 11/20/1993 – Sandra Costilla (age 28) is discovered in a wooded area in North Sea. Her body was discovered between 1-2 days after she was murdered.
(3.) 1/30/1994 – Colleen McNamee (age 20) is discovered in a wooded area south of the Long Island Expressway in North Shirley. She was last seen on January 5, getting into a small blue car in front of the Blue Dawn Diner in Islandia. According to police, McNamee was an outpatient of the South Shore Treatment Center in Islandia and had once been arrested on loitering for the purpose of prostitution charges.
(4.) 4/20/1996 – “Fire Island Jane Doe”/Jane Doe #7 (still unidentified) is discovered at Blue Point Beach, near Davis Park on Fire Island. Her legs were found wrapped in plastic near the beach. Her skull was discovered in 2011, off Ocean Parkway, west of Tobay Beach (see #4 below).
(5.) 6/28/1997 – “Peaches”/Jane Doe #3 (still unidentified) is discovered in Hempstead Lake State Park. Her torso (with the head and hands removed) was found wrapped in a black garbage bag and stuffed into a Rubbermaid container with a floral pillow sham and frayed red towel. She was dubbed “Peaches” because of a heart-shaped peach that was tattooed onto her left breast. Additional remains of Peaches were discovered in 2011 on Jones Beach State Park. We now know that Peaches/Jane Doe #3 is the mother of “Baby Doe,” who was also found along Gilgo Beach in 2011 (see #5 below). Both mother and daughter probably died around the same time, in June of 1997.
(6.) 11/19/2000 – Jane Doe #6 is discovered in pieces in Manorville about a half-mile west of Halsey Manor Road, north of the Long Island Expressway. The body parts are wrapped in plastic and her head, hands, and right foot are missing. Those parts are later discovered along Ocean Parkway in April of 2011 (see #6 below). Jane Doe #6 is determined to be a white female, about 5’5”, 125 pounds, and in her thirties. She likely died in early November 2000.
(7.) 7/26/2003 – The torso (missing the head and hands) of Jessica Taylor (age 20) is discovered just off Halsey-Manor Road, in Manorville, not far from where Jane Doe #6’s torso was found in 2000. She was last seen earlier that month. Her skull, hands, and forearm are discovered in March 2011, on Gilgo Beach, along with 9 other bodies (see #7 below). It is estimated she died mid-July, 2003.
(8.) 3/3/2007 – The torso of “Cherries” (still unidentified) is discovered in a suitcase that washed ashore at Harbor Island Park on Mamaroneck Beach. She was stabbed in the torso and dismembered in a similar fashion to Peaches, Jane Doe #6, and Jessica Taylor. In late March, one of her legs washed up on the shore of Cold Spring Harbor and the other washed up on the shore of a man’s home in Oyster Bay, in Cove Neck. She is described as Hispanic, weighing just under 200 pounds, around 5’10”. She had a tattoo of two cherries on her right breast and was estimated to have died approximately two weeks earlier.
(9.) 6/27/2008 – The dismembered body of Tanya Rush (age 39) is discovered in a dark-colored suitcase on Southern State Parkway, in Bellmore. In May of 2011, the New York Post reported that Long Island police were investigating the possibility of the connection of this case to other similar cases. While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, I am going to keep Tanya on this list for now.
(10.) 12/11/2010 – The body of Melissa Barthelemy (age 24) was discovered on Gilgo Beach. She’d been missing since July 10, 2009.
(11.) 12/13/2010 – The body of Amber Lynn Costello (age 27) was discovered on Gilgo Beach. She’d been missing since September 2, 2010.
(12.) 12/13/2010 – The body of Maureen Brainard-Barnes (age 25) was discovered on Gilgo Beach. She’d been missing since July 9, 2007.
(13.) 12/13/2010 – The body of Megan Waterman (age 22) was discovered on Gilgo Beach. She’d been missing since June 6, 2010.
(7.) 3/9/2011 – Jessica Taylor’s skull, hands, and forearm are found on Gilgo beach, less than a mile from the GB4. (If you recall from earlier, her torso was discovered in Manorville, back in 2003.)
(14.) 4/4/2011 – John Doe, an Asian male is discovered. He is estimated to be between the ages of 17 and 23, and approximately 5’6″. He is known to have had poor dental health and had been missing several teeth for quite a while before he was killed. He was found wearing women’s clothing and police estimate at the time he was found, he’d already been dead for at least 5 to 10 years.
(6.) 4/4/2011 – Additional remains (head, hands, and right foot) from Jane Doe #6 (originally discovered in Manorville, in 2000) are found along Ocean Parkway.
(15.) 4/4/2011 – “Baby Doe”, who we now know is the daughter of Peaches/Jane Doe #3, is discovered about 250 feet from the remains of Jane Doe #6. Baby Doe was approximately two years old when she was killed, wrapped in a blanket, and discarded along Ocean Parkway.
(5.) 4/11/2011 – More remains from “Peaches”/Jane Doe #3 are found inside a plastic bag near Jones Beach State Park. She was found wearing jewelry similar to that of her daughter, Baby Doe, who was found about 10 miles west.
(4.) 4/12/2011 – Additional remains (a skull) of Fire Island Jane Doe are found along Ocean Parkway, about two miles away from Peaches.
(16.) 12/13/2011 – The body of Shannan Gilbert is finally found. She disappeared on May 1, 2010, after running away from the house of a man (Joseph Brewer) who’d hired her for the night as an escort. Police do not believe she was murdered, but died from drowning in the swampy marshes the night she disappeared. Her family believes she was strangled and murdered by the same killer who left the bodies along Gilgo Beach. They believe Dr. Peter Hackett, a man who called Shannan’s mother several times shortly after her disappearance is involved. Shannan’s body was discovered much farther away from the other Gilgo Beach victims, but only about 1500 feet from Peter Hackett’s home (I’ve plotted both Brewer’s and Hackett’s houses on the map).