A long trail of death: the Long Island serial killer

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This story is part of the book
Disturbed
The insane stories of the worst serial killers of all time

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The case of the Long Island Serial Killer is rather complex and particular. Unlike most, it does not begin with the investigation of a series of murders, but from the search for a missing person leading to a terrible discovery that unveil a disturbing scenario hidden in the darkness for many years.

The disappearance of Shannan

prostitute. She scheduled an appointment with a client in Oak Beach, Suffolk County, Long Island. Her driver accompanies her to the agreed place and the young woman enters the house.

At 4:51 am Shannan calls 911 in terror, claiming that there are people trying to kill her. From the latest testimonies, it appears that she left the client’s home going around knocking on the doors of the neighborhood asking for help. From then on, all traces of her have been lost.

The Suffolk Police commence the search but it appears immediately to be a rather complex task. Shannan seems to have vanished into thin air.

The searches continue for several months, when all of a sudden it happens something hard to fathom.

On 11 December 2010, Officer John Mallia is inspecting the Ocean Parkway area near Gilgo Beach with his dog when he notices a jute sack. He walks over to check and realizes that human bones are piled up inside.

A frightening circumstance. It will be a matter of time before things take on an increasingly shivering aspect.

Gilgo Beach Four

In the following hours, searches in the area are expanded; within two days three other bodies are located, arranged a few hundred meters away from each other. It seems evident that someone has used that territory to place those corpses.

A heavy and atrocious doubt begins to appear: is a serial killer prowling in the area? And how long has he been acting unnoticed?

Analyses of the remains are quickly arranged. It consists of four women:

  • Melissa Barthelemy, 24 years old.
  • Amber Lynn Costello, 27 years old
  • Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25 years old
  • Megan Waterman, 22 years old

The cause of death: strangulation. Further investigations lead to the discovery that all the victims were practicing prostitutes and used Craigslist’s platform. Had a killer tracked them through that site?

Maureen appeared to have disappeared in 2007, Melissa in 2009 while Amber and Megan had gone missing in 2010.

The trail of death

The situation is concerning. The police decides carry on with the inspections, extending the search range by about 3 kilometers.

Between March and April 2011 other six corpses will come to light bringing the total body count to 10.

The dissected remains of four other women are initially discovered, of which only two of them will be identified. Jessica Taylor, 20, and Valerie Mack, 24, both  also working in the world of prostitution.

Two other findings make the story even more mysterious.

The skeleton of a girl between 16 and 24 months is located, wrapped in a sheet. The analysis shows that it is the daughter of one of the unidentified victims. Finally, the body of a man of Asian origin was discovered wearing women’s clothes. Cause of death: blunt force trauma to the head.

The whole picture becomes more and more ambiguous when DNA analysis shows that parts of the remains of some victims had been discovered many years earlier in different areas.

Jessica Taylor’s torso was found in Manorville in 2003. Also in the Manorville area some pieces of Valerie Mack’s dismembered body had been placed in November 2000.

In the case of the girl’s mother, an African-American woman, it emerged that parts of her body were found in 1997 in Lakeview, New York. The legs of another unidentified victim were found wrapped in a plastic bag in Fire Island, New York, on April 20, 1996.

Revelations that made certain the existence of a serial killer that operated undisturbed for at least 15 years. A backward discovery that complicates further the investigations.

Was it a single person responsible for all the crimes, who adapted the modus operandi according to the circumstances? Or were two or more killers instead acting at different times but somehow choosing the same area to hide the bodies?

Meanwhile, on 13 December 2011, Shannan Gilbert’s body is found in a swampy area about a quarter mile from where she was last seen. Officially it will not be possible to determine the cause of death. Police believe the affair is unrelated to the Long Island crime chain. Her case continues to be debated awaiting for any development that can clarify the circumstances leading to this tragic end.

The investigations

As we see often In the news when there Is no direct relationship between murderer and victim the identification of the culprit is definitely difficult. Over time despite many investigations in the end no compelling evidence has been found.

On January 16, 2020 Suffolk County Police hold a press conference; unpublished information is released. Images of a belt recovered from one of the crime scenes are made public. The item does not appear to belong to any of the victims and believed to be property of the murderer. Two letters are printed on the leather, which can be read as HM or VH depending on the direction. The authorities are confident that someone can give information on the origin of this accessory.

Today the case continues to be investigated and is keenly followed by many  even on internet. It is important to keep the focus on this matter as any detail could prove to be of crucial importance to reach a resolution and restoring justice to the victims and families. In the event that the perpetrator of the crimes is still alive and free, the fact that so many people are interested and vigilant about the facts may dissuade him from striking again, while we eagerly await for the day we reach the decisive turning point.

This story is part of the book
Disturbed
The insane stories of the worst serial killers of all time

Buy it on Amazon