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Who Were All The Victims — And Suspected Victims — In The Gilgo Beach Murders
Ten victims have been officially linked by law enforcement as a series of serial killings which have resulted in remains being scattered across Long Island's beaches.
UPDATE: Police have arrested a suspect in connection to a string of killings that have been referred to as the Gilgo Beach Murders.
The arrest comes after the Suffolk County, FBI, and New York State Police launched a new investigative task force in February 2022. The agencies said they hoped to "reinvigorate" the case through new avenues of investigation.
When police began digging on the beaches of Long Island, they uncovered what they thought were the remains of Shannan Gilbert, whose family was relentless in their search for answers. But then, little by little police found more and more bodies along the stretch of water. In total, they found the remains of 11 victims.
The relatives of these friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters connected with one another as investigators began to realize that there was a killer on the loose. The elusive murderer, or murderers, known as the "Long Island Serial Killer," the "Gilgo Beach Killer," and the "Craigslist Ripper" has been officially tied by law enforcement to the slayings of 10 people. There were an additional six bodies — including Shannan's — found around Long Island beaches, that have not been officially linked to the serial killings, but theories have been put forth that their deaths could also be connected.
While the circumstances surrounding Shannan's death remain unclear, one thing is certain: her May 1, 2010 disappearance heralded the grim discovery that a serial killer has been dumping bodies along Gilgo Beach on Long Island. All the while, the families of victims fought to make sure that their slain relatives were remembered as more than sex workers.
“They’re not here to defend themselves, so I have to do it,” Lorraine Ela, mother of one of the victims said at a memorial for several victims in 2012, LongIsland.com reported at the time.
Shannan's sister Sarra Gilbert told CBS News' "48 Hours" back in 2011 that she felt like her sister was being unfairly judged by police. She echoed her mother's sentiment put forth in the new movie.
"I believe they judged her by her profession and not as a person," she said. "Not as the missing sister, the missing aunt. They're just, 'Oh, a missing prostitute.'"
Here are all the victims that have been linked to this heinous string of killings, starting with the ten victims that law enforcement have officially said were killed by the Long Island Serial Killer. The first four victims found have been given the moniker "The Gilgo Four" by law enforcement.
The Gilgo 4
Melissa Barthelemy, 24, was the first victim to be found. Her skeletal remains were discovered in a brush area off Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach on Dec. 11, 2010, as investigators searched for Shannan, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. Skeletonized remains refer to a body in its final stage of decomposition. Most bodies take a few months to a year to reach this stage, depending on environment and other factors.
She was last seen on July 12, 2009 in the Bronx.
She grew up in upstate New York and graduated from South Park High School in Buffalo, the Wall Street Journal reported in early 2011, when the known body count was still at four. She then got her cosmetology license and worked briefly at a Supercuts.
Barthelemy moved to the Bronx in 2007 at age 20. She was tiny — standing at only 4 foot 10 inches and weighing just 95 pounds according to her missing poster — but she had big dreams of owning a business.
“She wanted to make money for a salon of her own,” her mother Lynn told New York Magazine. “And originally when she moved to New York, she was working in a salon."
Her uncle Jim Martina told the outlet that she was drawn to the city’s appeal as a center of commerce.
“She loved New York City,” he said. “She loved the excitement of the city. She loved to shop. That’s what she was — a shopper.”
He said his niece “had the most wonderful personality I’ve ever seen,” Martina said. “She was just so full of life.”
The blonde-haired, hazel-eyed woman, like three other victims that would soon be included in the “Gilgo Four,” worked as a Craigslist escort, according to police. Before Craigslist took down its adult section in 2010, it was an area of the internet where many escorts would advertise their services.
The profession of the Gilgo Four led to the birth of the moniker “Craigslist Ripper,” one of several nicknames attributed to the mystery killer or killers behind the slayings. The family’s attorney Steven Cohen told the Associated Press in early 2011 that she worked as as escort as a means for survival.
“Nobody goes down to New York City to become a prostitute, an escort,” he said.
Amber Lynn Costello
Amber Lynn Costello, 27, was the second victim to be found. Her skeletal remains were discovered two days after Barthelemy’s remains were found. She was found 0.16 miles away, also just off Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, according to police.
Costello was last seen leaving her home in North Babylon, Long Island in early September 2010 and getting into a client's car, according to the book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.
Like Barthelemy, she was tiny, standing at only 4 foot 11 inches, according to Newsweek.
She was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and raised in the state’s charming coastal city of Wilmington, Long Island outlet, Newsday reported.She was married twice in her young life and adored her four nieces, according to the outlet. She was very involved in faith and her local church. Rev. Wayne Griffiths, former senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Babylon, said she loved Christmas because of her generosity.
"She'd give even though she didn't have a lot," he said during her memorial service, according to Newsday.
He said that Costello was a natural giver and possessed an intuitive gift: she was able to use her own life struggles — she battled substance misuse issues — to assist others.
"She had understanding," Griffiths said. "She had empathy. She used these characteristics to help others.”
Costello’s older sister Kimberly Overstreet said she brought Costello to New York a year before her death to get her admitted into a rehabilitation program. While she got sober, Overstreet told Newsday that sex work led her down the path of using drugs again.
“When her soul left this earth, mine shattered," Overstreet said of her sibling.
The skeletal remains of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, were found third, the same day that Costello was found. She was found just 0.05 miles away from Barthelemy's body, in a brush area, according to police.
Brainard-Barnes lived in Norwich, Connecticut but was last seen in Manhattan on July 9, 2007 where she was staying in a Super 8 hotel overnight in order to arrange meetings with Craigslist clients, according to CBS News. She was expecting to return to her home state the next day, according to the Associated Press.
Like Barthelemy and Costello, she was petite, standing at only 4 foot 11 inches, according to police.
She was a single mother of two — her children were 8 and 1 when she vanished — who grew up in Groton, Connecticut.
Her sister Melissa Cann told Oxygen.com that Brainard-Barnes loved reading as a child and adored the Shel Silverstein children's books. “The Giving Tree” was her favorite.
“She owned every single one of those books up until the day she went missing,” Cann said.
Cann, who found reading challenging as a child, said Brainard-Barnes would read to her in bed at night.
“I looked up to her because she could read so clear and fluently,” Cann told Oxygen.com.
As Brainard-Barnes got older, she began writing herself, dabbling in song lyrics and poetry.
Cann told Oxygen.com that her slain sister once took care of her after Cann was hurt in a 2001 car crash, which landed her in the Intensive Care Unit.
“When I woke up from being on life support, my sister was picking glass and dirt out of my hair,” she recalled, adding that her sister chastised doctors for not cleaning her up.
“She cared so much for me,” she said.
Cann said shortly before her sister was killed, Brainard-Barnes got laid off from her most recent job as a telemarketer. She struggled to find work and was behind on her rent. As a result, she received an eviction notice. So, Brainard-Barnes turned to sex work for survival, Cann said.
The mother previously worked as a card dealer at Foxwoods Resort Casino but quit to stay home with her first child, a daughter, while her then-husband worked, according to the Hartford Courant. Later, when her son was born, Brainard-Barnes juggled cashier and telemarketing jobs while building up a modeling portfolio.
Cann described her slain sister as being “bubbly and outgoing” her entire life.
Brainard-Barnes’ friend Sarah Marquis, told CBS News in 2011 that Brainard-Barnes "had a lot of energy" and "thought everyone was her friend."
The skeletal remains of Megan Waterman 22, were also found on Dec. 13, 2010, shortly after Brainard-Barnes and Costello’s remains were discovered. She was found 0.07 miles away from Brainard-Barnes on the same strip of brush off Ocean Parkway.
“Waterman, who advertised her escort services on Craigslist, was last seen in early June 2010 at a Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge, New York,” police stated. Surveillance footage captured her last sighting, according to the Lost Girls book.
Waterman had grown up in the coastal Maine town of Scarborough. She had a 4-year-old child when she vanished, according to the Associated Press.
“The world lost an awesome girl, a wonderful, wonderful mom, a friend,” Waterman’s mother, Lorraine Ela, said after she was found dead, according to 107.1 KTSA.
Ela told New York Magazine that she missed out on a lot of her daughter's childhood "because I was a drunk." But when Waterman became pregnant at age 17, she moved in with Ela and the two connected.
“Megan was fun, caring, a loving mom,” she told New York Magazine. “If you ever met Megan, you would fall right in love with her.”
She is the only one of the "Gilgo Four" who is over 5 feet tall. She stood at 5 foot 5.
Other linked victims
Months after the "Gilgo Four" were found, authorities made other gruesome discoveries. On March 29, 2011, some skeletal remains were discovered along Ocean Parkway as police continued their search for Shannan Gilbert, according to police.
Those remains were later identified as belonging to Jessica Taylor, 20. Previously back on July 26, 2003, human remains were found “in a wooded area on the northwest corner on Halsey Manor Road and the Long Island Expressway in Manorville" but the body's "head and hands were severed and missing," according to police.
Manorville is about a 50 mile drive from Gilgo Beach. The town itself does not touch any beaches.
Police refer to her as simply “another known escort," on their website dedicated to the killings.
Less than a week after Jessica Taylor’s partial remains were discovered, three additional sets of remains were discovered on April 4, 2011. The first were some partial remains, found off Ocean Parkway a little over two miles from where the “Gilgo 4” were found. Like with Taylor, a partial set of the woman's remains had also been found in Manorville years earlier. Hunters had discovered some of her “decomposed remains” on Nov. 19, 2000 “while in a wooded area off of the then LILCO [ former Long Island electrical company] right-of-way on Halsey Manor Road in Manorville,” police said.
The remains were referred to as Jane Doe No. 6 until May 28, 2020 when she was identified as Valerie Mack, 24, thanks to genetic genealogy testing.
Mack went missing in 2000 while living in Philadelphia. She had no known ties to Long Island.
She was working as an escort at the time of her disappearance. Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said investigators are looking into whether she advertised services online as Craigslist was just in its infancy in 2000.
Hart noted at a press conference announcing Mack’s identification that she lost her parents at an early age and entered the foster care system before she was adopted. She was living with a boyfriend when she vanished.
Her family had last seen her in spring or summer of 2000 in the Port Republic area of New Jersey.
“She had a normal life,” Hart said at the news conference, discussing the last time Mack’s family saw her. “Nothing really stood out. She just didn’t come home one day.”
The skeletal remains of an unidentified female toddler were discovered 0.04 miles away from Jane Doe #6, on the same day.
“It is believed the toddler was approximately 2-year-old at the time of death and likely non-Caucasian,” police have said. “The sex of the child is undetermined but believed to be female.”
The skeletal remains of unidentified man referred to only as “Asian Male” by police was the third set of remains to be found on April 4, 2011. His remains were found 0.28 miles from where Waterman was discovered.
“It is estimated that the male was between 17 and 23 years old at the time of his death,” police said. “He was approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall with poor dental health.”
Police think he died sometime between five and ten years prior to his remains being found.
Former Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer told NBC New York in 2011 that even though the male and the toddler don’t fit the same victim profile as the female remains he said “we think they were connected to the sex trade in some way. And these common denominators indicate we have the one person committing these crimes."
A week after the discovery of the three unidentified individuals, police discovered two more victims. Both victims were found on April 11, 2011, about seven miles away from where the recent three victims were found. Only parts of their skeletonized remains were found in this location.
The first set “is believed to be the mother of the toddler found a week earlier,” police have said.
Officials linked this woman’s partial remains to a still-unidentified woman whose torso was found in a wooded area of Long Island's Rockville Centre in 1997, according to The Long Island Press. A hiker found her torso crammed in a black plastic bag inside a green Rubbermaid container along with a maroon towel and a flowery pillow case, according to the outlet.
The unidentified woman had a distinct tattoo of a peach with a bite taken out of it on her left breast, which led several in the media, including The Long Island Press, to refer to her as “Peaches.” She is believed to have been an African American woman between 20 and 30 years old and it appeared that she had a Cesarean section, according to the Long Island Press.
Fire Island Jane Doe
The other set of remains found on April 11, 2011 included the skull of a still unidentified woman, the Doe Network indicates. These partial remains were “linked through DNA analysis to remains found in Davis Park on Fire Island in 1996.”
Passer-bys walking through Blue Point Beach back on April 20, 1996 had found the victim's legs wrapped in plastic, according to the Doe Network, which is a volunteer organization devoted to helping investigators close cold cases. Todd Matthews, often referred to as the first internet sleuth, helps run it.
While her identity remains unclear, she is believed to have been a white female between the ages of 18-50, according to the Doe Network. On the middle of her right leg she had a three and a half inch lateral scar, a one inch linear scar on the lateral mid to lower leg and a half inch scar on the medial ankle. She had a 2 inch “surgical scar with adjacent suture scars on the medial left ankle,” according to the Doe Network which suggest that “the victim may have had surgery on her left ankle.”
She had red nail polish on all her toes.
The Case That Sparked The Investigation
Shannan Gilbert, whom police describe as "an escort who advertised on Craigslist," visited a home in Oak Beach home on May 1, 2010 to meet with a client.
"Gilbert was driven by a driver who remained in the area while she visited with the individual," police wrote. They claim that "at some point during the visit, Gilbert began acting irrational and the individual contacted the driver to have Gilbert leave his home. Gilbert refused repeated attempts to leave the location with her driver and fled on foot into the Oak Beach community, knocking on several doors before disappearing."
She was not found until after the 10 victims that officials believe were all killed by a serial killer were found. Her skeletal remains were found in a marsh in Oak Beach on Dec. 13, 2011. Her clothing, cellphone and purse were found a quarter a mile away just a few days earlier.
Police have previously claimed she possibly died of natural causes and officials had theorized at the time that Shannan may have been the victim of an accidental drowning, according to NBC New York. The Suffolk County Police Department told Oxygen.com that a medical examiner has ruled her cause of death as inconclusive. While she is not officially considered a victim, she is included on the Suffolk County Police Department's victim list on their site dedicated to the investigation.
Her family's lawyer John Ray has long disputed the natural death claim and has spent years trying to obtain 911 calls — one made by Shannan, one made by her client the night she vanished, and two from the client's neighbors — that he thinks could point to foul play. At a recent press conference on the case, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the 911 calls are part of an ongoing investigation and noted that it’s unclear if Gilbert died of natural causes or if she was killed in a criminal act. They are fighting a court order to give the 911 calls over to Ray.
Shannan grew up in Ellenville, New York. She was bright, and graduated from Ellenville High School early, at just age 16, according to New York Magazine.
“She wasn’t street-smart, but she was book-smart,” her mother Mari Gilbert told the outlet in 2011.
She worked odd jobs after graduating high school — at an Applebee's and a senior center — but by age 20 she began working as an escort. She moved to New Jersey to live with a boyfriend and worked as an escort while trying to make it as a singer.
"My sister had other dreams, you know," Sherre Gilbert, sister of Shannan, told CBS News' "48 Hours" back in 2011. "She wanted to be a singer, an actress. She was pursuing that. And she was also goin' to school to be a writer."
As "Lost Girls" suggests, she did in fact get beat up at one point so badly that she needed a titanium plate to be inserted into her jaw. She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder but didn't like the side effects of prescribed medication, according to New York Magazine. She was also in foster care for a good part of her childhood, John Ray, who represented the Gilbert family, told Oxygen.com.
An autopsy report conducted by former chief medical examiner Michael M. Baden, obtained by Oxygen.com noted that a toxicologic analysis of her skeletal remains showed that she was not abusing drugs. Investigators had theorized previously that they thought she tripped and drowned during a drug-fueled episode, according to ABC7.
Editor's note: The original version of this article included victims who haven't been officially linked to the Long island Serial Killer case by authorities. Those references have since been removed.
(This article was originally published on March 12, 2020. It has since been updated.)