(first published on 01/24/2017)

If you’ve ever wanted to delve down into the depths of a murder case gone cold, look no further!  Like A&E’s excellent series, “The Killing Season,” this post will be dedicated to exploring the Long Island Serial Killer (“LISK”) case.

And, here is a link to Dr. Cole and her interview with Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills (producers of the show): https://on.soundcloud.com/Z5bt7

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the case, here is your introduction:

On May 1st, 2010, a young escort named Shannan Gilbert went missing near Oak Beach, New York. Police searched the area, but found nothing. Then, in December of that same year, a police officer took his dog on a routine training exercise on the Ocean Parkway, just off of Oak and Gilgo beaches, and came across “the skeletal remains of a woman in a nearly disintegrated burlap sack.”  As if this wasn’t shocking enough, this discovery quickly led to the uncovering of three more bodies in the same area, all strangled to death and wrapped in burlap.  The victims were:

  • Maureen Brainard-Barnes, age 25, an escort who advertised her services online. A struggling mother, Maureen had been working as an escort to help pay her mortgage.  Originally from Connecticut, she reportedly traveled in to Long Island “to spend the day in New York City” on July 9th, 2007.  She was never seen alive again.
  • Melissa Barthelemy, age 24, had been living in the Bronx and working as an escort through Craigslist. On the evening of her disappearance (July 10th, 2009), she’d met with a client and deposited $900 into her bank account.  Then, beginning about a week after she vanished, Melissa’s younger sister Amanda received a series of “vulgar, mocking, and insulting” calls from Melissa’s cell phone.  Based upon the content, these calls were very likely from Melissa’s killer.
  • Megan Waterman, age 22, went missing in June of 2010 after placing ads on Craigslist as an escort. Since Megan was from Maine, she’d been staying at a hotel in Hauppauge, New York (15 miles from Gilgo Beach) immediately prior to her disappearance.
  • Amber Lynn Costello, age 27, went missing on September 2nd, 2010.  She was a prostitute and heroin user who decided to meet with a stranger who had called her several times and offered her $1500 for her services. She got into his car (unknown make and model) and was never seen alive again.

It was determined that all 4 of these victims were murdered by the same perpetrator, and he was subsequently dubbed “The Long Island Serial Killer” or “LISK.”

Photo by Vicki Hess on Pexels.com

Then, a few months later (late March and early April 2011) four more bodies were discovered in another area off the parkway where the original victims had been found. Police were quick to link these murders to LISK.  However, these victims likely weren’t murdered the same way; and, even if they were strangled, the method of their disposal was much different…Rather than being wrapped in burlap, these bodies had been completely dismembered. The victims were:

  • Jessica Taylor, age 20, from Manhattan, New York went missing in early to mid-July of 2003. On July 26, 2003, her naked torso, chopped in pieces and missing its head and hands, was discovered a full 45 miles from Gilgo Beach in the town of Manorville, New York. On May 9th, 2011, the remains of Jessica’s skull, a pair of hands, and a forearm were found dumped at Gilgo Beach. Jessica had been working as a prostitute.
  • “Jane Doe No. 6”: On April 4th, 2011, a head, right foot and hands were found at Gilgo Beach.  However, the remains were determined to have belonged to an unidentified victim whose body had first been found in November of 2000 in the same part of Manorville where Jessica Taylor had been discovered. Both victims had been disposed of in a similar way (with identifying parts such as hands and head removed), which suggests a link. Reports say that it is likely Jane Doe #6 also worked as a prostitute.
  • “Baby Doe”: The third body found in 2011 was that of a female toddler between 1.5 and 2 years of age. The body was wrapped in a blanket and showed no visible signs of trauma. She was reported to be “non-caucasian,” and was wearing earrings and a necklace.
  • “Peaches”: The skeletal remains found inside a plastic bag about 10 miles from Baby Doe were determined to share her DNA.  In short, Peaches is Baby Doe’s mother. But Peaches hadn’t always been located  on this stretch of beach. In fact, her torso had been found a mere three days or so after her death on June 28th, 1997 in Hempstead Lake State Park, around 24 miles from Gilgo. When her torso was found, it was noted that the victim had a tattoo of a heart-shaped peach with a bite out of it on her left breast.

Though these four victims were linked by Police to the original LISK cases, all of these victims’ murders pre-dated those of LISK – sometimes substantially.  And would LISK have gone from butchering his victims to wrapping them in burlap and laying them out?  What about the reason the Police started searching in the first place – the missing Shannan Gilbert?

Unfortunately, that last mystery came to a very tragic end on December 13, 2011, when the remains of Shannan Gilbert were finally found in a marsh about half a mile from where she originally disappeared (Oak Beach). Shannan had dropped her belongings and shed some of her clothing as she pushed her way through the marsh, all the while going deeper into the dangerous underbrush. Though Shannan had called 911 and been seen banging on a resident’s door, screaming for help, she eventually ran off into the night.  It is believed that she may have been so drug-intoxicated that she was no longer in touch with reality. Frightened, and pushing into the frigid, wet, dark, Shannan became very cold. Then, as hypothermia took over, she became hot and started to shed her clothing, eventually laying down and expiring. While not everyone subscribes to this theory, it’s a scenario that’s all too common.

Photo by Rudolf Jakkel on Pexels.com

In 2005, teens Mike Wamsley and Janelle Hornickle called 911 multiple times over a four-hour period, begging anyone to help them. High on methamphetamine, the two got stuck in a snowstorm, but rather than stay in the warmth of their truck (which had a 1/2 tank of gas), they fled out into the cold, freezing to death before morning. –> Link to the ABC news report: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Primetime/story?id=549455&page=1 

Another kink in the LISK story was the body of a young man – “John Doe” – who was also found at Gilgo Beach in 2011, close to where the second four bodies were discovered.  John Doe was a young Asian male who died from blunt-force trauma.  He’d likely been working as a prostitute, and was wearing women’s clothing at the time of his death. Experts estimated that he had been dead for between 5 and 10 years (between 1997-2002).

So why Gilgo Beach?  Were they all the victims murdered by LISK?  Or… is there more than one serial killer on Long Island?

NOTE: I am so honored to have spoken with Josh Zeman https://twitter.com/joshzeman and Rachel Mills https://twitter.com/millsrachel, who dedicated much of their own time and resources into getting justice for the families of the victims in these cases. Stream/download their excellent docuseries about LISK here: https://www.aetv.com/shows/the-killing-season

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