(Originally written by Dr. Cole on 01/24/2017)
Link to After Hours AM Episode with Dr. Cole, Josh Zeman & Rachel Mills, (producers of “The Killing Season”) – https://on.soundcloud.com/Z5bt7
Before delving into what I’d suggest as a possible profile for the perpetrator in the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) murders, it’s important to differentiate which murders I feel are directly attributable to him.
To be clear, I am of the belief that the four young women found wrapped in burlap (Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello) are the confirmed LISK victims.
While there may well be others, these are the four that I attribute to him, and him alone. The remains of the other four victims also found on/near Gilgo beach (Jessica Taylor, Jane Doe #6, Baby Doe, and Peaches), were dismembered and pre-date the LISK murders. The disposal method of these victims’ bodies was sufficiently different for me to conclude that it was likely the work of a separate murderer (sometimes referred to as “The Manorville Butcher”). Specifically, unless LISK is now too physically impaired to dismember a body (like back when the Manorville murders were committed), it doesn’t make sense that he would step back from dismemberment (which was likely done to obscure the victims’ identities) and just wrap them in burlap.
Typically, serial killers graduate from simpler forms of disposal to methods that are more gruesome – not the opposite.
Additionally, it seems likely to me that The Manorville Butcher was attempting to capitalize on the discovery of the LISK victims. My guess is that the dismembered body parts found on Gilgo beach were originally buried or stored somewhere closer to where the Jessica Taylor’s torso had been found (Manorville). And, to evade detection, the Butcher moved the remains to Gilgo in an attempt to be lumped in with LISK. After all, he hadn’t been caught yet, but knew that the other body parts would be probably found someday (or he was keeping them, just waiting for the perfect dump site). Why not try to throw off the authorities and have someone else take the fall? In that way, the emergence of the LISK killings was the perfect cover for The Manorville Butcher.
So, if the victims attributed to LISK are the four young women wrapped in burlap (other victims excluded), it helps to clarify his modus operandi. First off, LISK is careful about his victim selection. His victims were not from New York City, proper. Though they were disposed of in Long Island, the four victims that were chosen were not from the area – so they were less likely to have the same street smarts or a network of friends and family close by. LISK also communicated with all of his victims through multiple avenues (the internet and cell phone) prior to their disappearances, meaning that he was likely ‘vetting’ them – or trying to ascertain if they would be ‘right’ for his purposes. One of the keys to this process was LISK’s offer of big money up front. In one case, $900 was deposited, and in another, $1500 was offered. Thus, LISK is attempting to sway the victims to abandon their better judgement (about basic safety), and to convince them that he’s an atypical client – a “big fish,” or a “one-time” type who would never normally step out on his wife (thus, the large payday).
Once the deal was struck, LISK would pick up the girls in a vehicle and drive off with them. My guess is that – unless he is unusually confident – he is not using his personal car (or if he is, he may be changing out the license plate). The risk of being seen with each victim would be too great for such a meticulous and ritualistic killer to be so lax. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that he is either renting cars, or that he has access to a fleet of vehicles for his day job. Either way, it makes sense that his vehicle would change frequently to avoid detection by the women he does not kill…and, yes, I believe there are female prostitutes that LISK has hired that came to no harm. LISK is too familiar with the ins-and-outs of hiring escorts to have only done it when the murders occurred. He is likely a bit of a ‘regular’ who has chosen women from outside the usual NYC prostitution circles for the simple reason that they could identify him. In that vein, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that LISK is a “disappointing customer” in his dealings with other women (evidencing erectile dysfunction or similar), as his actions following the murders seem to indicate a guy who is desperately insecure about his basic manhood (more on that later).
The murders themselves appear to be effected by strangulation. This is an up-close-and-personal method of killing that would seem to indicate that LISK is still physically capable (again, arguing against the thought that he butchered bodies previously, but can’t anymore). It also indicates that he has a significant amount of pent-up rage. While this may seem like an obvious conclusion for a murderer, it isn’t always the case. Some killers dispatch their victims in a quick, unfeeling manner (like shooting), and others prefer spontaneously violent means where the anger spikes abruptly, but subsides quickly (like stabbing or bludgeoning). But strangulation is a protracted process that involves some ‘intimacy.’ While death can still occur rather quickly, it’s usually a face-to-face affair wherein you can observe the victim closely. Many people (including convicted killers) don’t have the stomach for such a ‘personal’ act. It involves a level of simmering hatred that most murders don’t possess. Thus, it’s probable that LISK may use this as a form of sexual gratification – and it may be the only way he can achieve true sexual release (seeing a woman suffer and expire).
Furthermore, LISK’s behavior after the murders, appears to be his attempt at prolonging that gratification. For example, there’s no doubt in my mind that Melissa Barthelemy was long dead by the time the first lewd phone call was made to her younger sister (despite what LISK said), and his reaching out to her was his effort to either heighten the thrill or ‘balance the scales.’ My guess is that LISK was back to his ‘normal life,’ by this point, but his simmering anger (or Ms. Barthelemy herself) somehow got the better of him, so he telephoned her sister. In his calls he was taunting and he recited information he’d learned about Ms. Barthelemy, which led her family to believe that she may still be alive. However, this mistake (a costly one, in my opinion) merely revealed more about LISK himself than anything else. For instance, from the calls we can surmise that LISK is:
- Unassuming/charming at first. All of his victims got into his vehicle willingly, so LISK isn’t obviously a monster. However, I think it can be said that he is much more charming and affable than most people believe due to the fact that he had some amount of personal information about Melissa Barthelemy. Given that there was no deviation on his method of murder, and no reported torture to her body, I’m assuming that this murder was identical to the others…and that Melissa felt comfortable enough in LISK’s presence to openly talk about some things in her life. My guess is that LISK asks many questions and is a good conversationalist. He has the ability to lull his victims (and others) into believing that he is harmless – or even a good family man.
- Insecure in the extreme. Given that LISK felt the urge to taunt Melissa’s younger sister, it can be assumed that he feels incredibly inferior around women in general. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he was ‘henpecked’ at home by a domineering wife and/or has a female boss. This is a man who feels ineffectual around the female gender, so he lashes out at very young women or girls in an attempt to intimidate. Doing this face-to-face (at work or home with the actual objects of his rage) would be unthinkable, so doing it via anonymous phone calls is his only option.
Next, based on the disposal site of LISK victims, it is my belief that he is either a commuter (who likes to drive past daily), or a summertime resident who spent time at Gilgo as a child. He is familiar enough with the area to make me believe that it was a place that imprinted itself on him in an indelible way. He knows it, is comfortable with it, and feels a connection to it. And, since all the murders were committed in the summer months, it could indicate that he is only in the area on a seasonal basis (a “Snowbird”).
Lastly, there is the issue of the burlap. Burlap itself may be significant for several reasons:
- In the Bible, burlap is associated with mourning or repentance.
- In ancient times, burlap was associated with peasants, or the lower classes of society.
- It’s used frequently by landscapers, beekeepers, and emergency response teams (sandbags); all of which are present in Long Island.
All of this is to say that LISK is utilizing burlap for a reason. It may simply be that it’s convenient for him to do so – it’s something that he has quick access to and that wouldn’t look amiss in his possession (like in the trunk of his car, for example). There are a variety of seasonal farmer’s markets that operate from the late spring to autumn seasons, for example. Any one of these employees would likely have access to burlap sacks and multiple vehicles, so someone like this may be a potential match…Either way, LISK is choosing the who, what, and where very carefully. And, I’d like to think that we’ve just explored the question of “why.”
In short, this is a man who feels small and unimportant around women. In order to curb his growing rage, he feels the urge to act out his darkest revenge fantasies on those who have little defense against him. While he may see his victims as lesser than himself, the truth is that he chooses these girls so carefully because he’s terrified. And he’s not just scared of being caught – he’s scared of almost all women in general. He’s been dominated by them for most of his life (likely beginning with his mother). But instead of growing up and growing out of his fear, LISK merely transformed into a more impotent form of the child he once was, targeting an already at-risk population in a pathetic effort to feel manly and virile. At work, he’d only ever rise to mid-level management, because it’s unlikely that he’d never be an effective supervisor, or a competent director. And, at home, he’d stew silently in his anger, but act out only in a passive aggressive way, so as not to rock the boat too badly. Basically, he’s an unobtrusive mole – always present, but never in charge. Always a complainer, but never a reformer. A man who imagines himself a dragon, but whose public persona gives the impression of a mouse. My guess is that, in a room full of suspects, he’d be the one most people are likely to overlook.
NOTE #1 – (07/28/23): Now that Rex Heuermann has been arrested, there are a few details that are somewhat incorrect in the overall profile, if he is indeed LISK. For instance, Heuermann was an architect that owned his own firm. Perhaps he ran his own firm because he wasn’t very good at working with others… But he did take countermeasures, the victims that I originally attributed to him are accurate, and the psychological issues – as far as I’m concerned – still apply. That being said, Mr. Heuermann should also be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
NOTE #2: 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/watch the excellent docuseries here: https://www.aetv.com/shows/the-killing-season