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I'm watching your sister's body rot.
The Gilgo Beach Killer in one of his phone calls

"The Gilgo Beach Killer", also known as "The Long Island Serial Killer" ("LISK"), is a still unidentified serial killer active in Long Island, New York. He is believed to have killed several people, mostly women, in a period of nearly 20 years.

Case History

On May 1, 2010, Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old escort from Jersey City, New Jersey, disappeared from Oak Beach, Long Island. She was last seen fleeing in panic from the house of his client, Joseph Brewer. Her driver, Michael Pak, chased her with his car for a while, but later gave up. Before going missing, Gilbert had managed to make a 911 phone call, and told the operator that "they were going to kill her". Two days later, her mother, Mari, received a strange telephone call from Dr. Peter Hackett, a Oak Beach resident who claimed to have treated her daughter the night she disappeared, and wanted to make sure she was okay. Hackett would later deny making that phone call, but records indeed confirmed it. Both Brewer and Pak were later questioned and exonerated from any criminal involvement. On December 11 of the same year, a Suffolk County police officer, who had been asked by the missing persons detail to search for Shannan with his dog, accidentally found skeletal remains of a woman in a nearly disintegrated burlap sack. Two days later, three more bodies were found in the same area along the north side of the Ocean Parkway, near Gilgo Beach. They were all identified as those of Melissa Barthélemy, 24, Amber Costello, 27, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, and Megan Waterman, 22. Much like Shannan Gilbert, all were sex workers in their twenties who advertised on Craigslist. The discovery led Suffolk police to believe that a serial killer was responsible. Between late March and April 2011, six more sets of remains were found along the Ocean Parkway and in nearby Nassau County, bringing the body count to ten. One set was matched to Jessica Taylor, 20, who also worked as a prostitute, while another was recently (May 28, 2020) matched to Valerie Mack, 24, a Philadelphia escort. The remaining ones, including a young, cross-dressing Asian male and a female toddler with her mother, have yet to be identified.

Mari (left) and Shannan Gilbert.

Later that same year, Suffolk County police raised the reward money for information on the murders and/or the victims, to the point that it was the largest ever offered. They also announced their belief that one person, almost certainly a Long Island resident, was responsible for all the killings, based on both common characteristics and forensic evidence. On December 13, the remains of Shannan Gilbert were found in a marsh about half a mile from where she disappeared, near the residence of Dr. Peter Hackett. Some of her clothes were also found a week later. Police concluded Gilbert accidentally died while suffering a psychotic break. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had fled in panic from his home, after undressing, at least once in her past. Her death was ruled to be totally unrelated to the Gilgo Killer, though she coincidentally shared many traits with the victims and brought to their discovery. As for Peter Hackett, he was determined to have a history of involving himself in major events, and may have called Mari Gilbert for this reason. On her own part, Mari always defended her belief that her daughter was murdered, and Hackett had some role in her death. In 2012, she filed a wrongful death suit against Hackett. In 2014, an independent autopsy found damage to Shannan's hyoid bone, suggesting homicidal strangulation. On December 10, 2015, the FBI officially joined the investigation. On July 23, 2016, Mari Gilbert was killed by her own schizophrenic daughter, Sarra. On January 16, 2020, police released photos of a piece of evidence originally recovered at the Ocean Parkway's drop sites: a belt believed to be a murder weapon, with the letters "HM" or "WH" embossed in black leather. Though several possible suspects were named and possible victims added to the list, as of today the "Gilgo Beach killer", provided that he really is a single killer, remains unidentified. In 2020, the mystery drama film Lost Girls recounted the LISK case, focusing on the story of Shannan Gilbert's mother.

Modus Operandi

Most of the Gilgo Beach Killer's victims were caucasian women associated with the sex trade and were strangled to death (possibly with a black leather belt recovered near the drop sites). Two exceptions were possibly incidental: a young Asian male who was wearing female clothing and is believed to also have been a prostitute, who was killed by blunt-force trauma; and an infant girl aged between 16 and 24 months, who was identified as the daughter of one of the female victims through DNA, and died through undetermined means. The infant girl and her mother were the only female victims who were biracial. Some of the adult bodies were dismembered and/or placed inside burlap sacks. The killer then dumped the remains along the Ocean Parkway, near Gilgo Beach (Suffolk County), and in nearby Nassau County. In Melissa Barthélemy's case, he stalked the victim's sister for weeks by harassing them via obscene and mocking phone calls made with Melissa's cell phone.

Profile

Jim Clemente profiled the Gilgo Beach Killer (based on the first four bodies that were discovered) as an organized white male in his mid-20s to mid-40s, who is married or has a girlfriend, is well-educated and well-spoken, has a stable job, owns an expensive car or truck, and is very familiar with Jones Beach Island, where he possibly lives or used to live, and the Ocean Parkway. He has access to burlap sacks, which he employs as part of his "ritual" or because they are the easiest cover he can find. He may have knowledge of law enforcement techniques and perhaps is/was himself a police officer, which have thus far helped him avoid detection (e.g. his calls to Melissa Barthélemy's sister didn't last long enough to pinpoint his location, and were made from crowded places such as Times Square, which would make it more difficult for the authorities to pick him up through surveillance cameras). He is possibly a sadist, as reflected by the phone calls to one of his victims' relative.

Known Victims

A map depicting the Gilgo Beach Killer's victims and crime scenes.

Canonical

All of the following were found along the Ocean Parkway, Suffolk County, Long Island. Dates denote when the bodies/body parts were found.

  • December 11, 2010:
    • Melissa Barthélemy, 24 (last seen on July 12, 2009)
    • Amber Lynn Costello, 27 (last seen on September 2, 2010)
    • Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25 (last seen on July 9, 2007 in Norwich, Connecticut)
    • Megan Waterman, 22 (last seen on June 6, 2010 in Hauppauge, New York)
  • 2011:
    • March 29: Jessica Taylor, 20 (last seen on July 21, 2003; her head and hands were found on the beach, her torso was found in Manorville)
    • April 4:
      • Valerie Mack, 24 (last seen in the spring or summer of 2000 in Port Republic, New Jersey; her head, hands, and right foot were found on the beach, her torso was found in Manorville)
      • "John Doe", 17-23 [1] (was wearing female clothing)
      • "Baby Doe", 16-24 months
    • April 11:
      • "Jane Doe #3" (a.k.a. "Peaches"; her torso was found on June 28, 1997; Baby Doe's mother)
      • "Jane Doe #7" (her skull was found in Tobay Beach, her legs were found on Fire Island on April 20, 1996)

Possible

Tina Foglia.

Tanya Rush.

All of the following were killed and found in New York State. Dates and locations denote when and where the bodies/body parts were found.

  • February 3, 1982: Near Southern State Parkway and Robert Moses Causeway, Suffolk County: Tina Foglia, 19 (last seen on February 1, 1982, in West Islip; was dismembered and abandoned in a Long Island parkway inside three different bags)
  • March 3-21-22, 2007: Mamaroneck (Westchester County), Cold Spring Harbor (Suffolk County), and Cove Neck (Nassau County): "Cherries" (pseudonym; was stabbed to death and dismembered; only her torso and legs were found)
  • June 27, 2008: Bellmore, Nassau County: Tanya Rush, 39 (was dismembered)
  • December 13, 2011: Oak Beach, Suffolk County: Shannan Gilbert, 24 (last seen on May 1, 2011 in Oak Beach; died by unknown causes, possibly strangled; death was ruled an accident by police)
  • 2013:
    • January 23: Lattingtown, Nassau County: Unnamed asian woman, 20-29-30 (was killed by unknown causes)
    • June 24: Gilgo Beach, Suffolk County: Natasha Jugo, 31 (last seen on March 16, 2013 in Queens; was killed by unknown causes)

Suspects

Michael Pak.

  • Michael Pak:
    • Shannan Gilbert's driver
    • Briefly considered as a suspect in Shannan's disappearance since he was one of the last persons to see her
    • Exonerated following a polygraph test

Joseph "Joe" Brewer.

  • Joseph "Joe" Brewer:
    • Shannan Gilbert's client on the night she disappeared
    • Briefly considered as a suspect in Shannan's disappearance since he was one of the last persons to see her
    • Exonerated following a polygraph test

Dr. Peter Hackett.

  • Dr. Peter Hackett:
    • Respected Oak Beach doctor and resident
    • Made a strange phone call to Shannan Gilbert's mother, Mari, claiming he treated her daughter on the night she diappeared
    • Later denied making that call, but phone records confirmed it
    • Shannan Gilbert's remains were found in a marsh near his residence
    • Suspected by Mari Gilbert of being responsible, in some way, for the death of her daughter. In 2012, she filed a wrongful death suit against him
    • Known as an exaggerator and for having a history of involving himself in major events
    • Never considered by police as a suspect in the Gilbert or LISK cases

James Burke.

  • James Burke:
    • Former Suffolk County Police Chief
    • Was said by a prostitute he paid to have sex with to be connected with the LISK case, due to the violent attitude he displayed towards another woman and herself
    • Was reported to have blocked an FBI probe into the LISK case during his time as a police chief
    • Considered as a suspect by Gilbert's family attorney
    • Was charged in February 2016 of civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice for beating a man who stole him sex toys and pornography
    • Was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison, along with three years of supervised release, in November 2016
  • James Bissett:
    • Ran a nursery which was the main supplier of burlap in the Long Island area
    • Committed suicide shortly after Shannan Gilbert's remains were found

Several identified killers have been suspected at one point of being the Gilgo Beach Killer or having a connection to him:

Joel Rifkin.

  • Joel Rifkin (January 20, 1959)
    • Serial killer who is believed to have murdered at least 17 prostitutes in New York and Long Island
    • Denied any involvement with the case

Neal Falls.

  • Neal Falls (September 24, 1969 - July 18, 2015)
    • Suspected serial killer who is believed to have murdered at least ten prostitutes in multiple states, most of whom were advertising themselves online
    • Was shot and killed by an escort when he attempted to strangle her

John Bittrolff.

  • John Bittrolff (July 1, 1966)
    • Suffolk County local who was found guilty in 2017 of murdering two prostitutes in 1993 and 1994 and is suspected of murdering a third
    • On September 12, 2017, it was announced that Bittrolf was also a suspect in one of the Gilgo Beach murders
    • Bittrolff lived in Manorville at the time the first victims of the Gilgo Beach Killer died
    • The daughter of one of Bittrolff's known victims was best friends with Melissa Barthélemy, one of the Gilgo victims

Robert Durst.

  • Robert Durst (April 12, 1943)
    • New York real estate heir and suspected serial killer
    • Like the Gilgo killer, Durst dismembered a victim, bagged the body parts, and disposed of them near the ocean (though the victim was male and a Texas jury ruled that the killing itself was an act of self-defense)
    • The FBI created an informal task force in 2012 to investigate places where Durst was known to have lived in the past, one of which was the state of New York
    • Ultimately, a connection between Durst and the Gilgo Beach Killer was ruled out.

Joseph DeAngelo.

  • Joseph DeAngelo (November 8, 1945), the then-unidentified "Original Night Stalker", who was believed by some to have moved from the Western to the Eastern Seaboard and continued killing, escaping detection by utilizing a completely different M.O.

A number of unidentified serial killers have also been mentioned as suspects in the case:

  • The Eastbound Strangler, a serial killer active in Atlantic City in October-November 2006, who strangled four women to death and dumped the bodies in a drainage ditch. Any connection to the Gilgo Beach murders was eventually left aside by investigators.
  • The West Mesa Bone Collector, who murdered at least eleven prostitutes in Albuquerque, New Mexico and buried their bodies in a mass grave, which was found one year before the Gilgo Beach Killer's first canonical victims' remains were found.
  • The Brockton Killer, who murdered two women and dumped their dismembered bodies in a wooded area of Massachusetts. The bodies were found on December 28, 2014. Due to the nature of the murders, he is highly believed to have murdered more victims in the past.

On Criminal Minds

  • Season Six
    • "Remembrance of Things Past" - Though the case didn't become infamous until a few months after this episode aired, the Gilgo Beach Killer is very similar to the episode's main unsub, Lee Mullens - Both are serial killers who targeted women and made phone calls to their victims' families (though the Gilgo Beach Killer did so to taunt them and did so after killing the victim, Mullens made his victims call their loved ones to say goodbye), and were given nicknames for their crimes.
  • Season Twelve
    • "Scarecrow" - The Gilgo Beach Killer was mentioned when the BAU briefly assumed a serial killer in Yakima, Washington, to be him, since both targeted female sex workers and disposed of their victims' bodies in a single location near or in a body of water. Both also wrapped at least some of their victims' bodies in burlap sacks. In addition, a would-be victim of Decker's, who was nicknamed "Cherry", had a tattoo of cherries near her cleavage; a suspected victim of the Gilgo Beach Killer, known only as "Cherries", had a near-identical tattoo on the same spot. In one scene of the episode, the BAU believed that the Gilgo Beach Killer may have relocated to Yakima before formally identifying the unsub, which is not unlike a criminology professor's theory that the killer may have fled the state altogether after the discovery of his burial ground. A Twitter post confirmed that the Gilgo Beach Killer case provided some inspiration for the episode's plot.
    • "A Good Husband" - While the case wasn't mentioned or referenced, there is a scene in which the BAU discuss dismemberment being a possible strategy to ensure difficult identification and the killer most likely being a local if he was capable of getting rid of a torso in a large city without suspicion. This discussion is similar to law enforcement's ideas about the Gilgo Beach Killer's earliest crimes. The Gilgo Beach Killer may have also been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Mark Tolson - Both are killers who targeted a specific gender (women in the Gilgo Beach Killer's case, homosexual men in Tolson's. Though one of the Gilgo Killer's victims was a cross-dressing young male), and dismembered them after killing them.

On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders

  • Season Two
    • "Il Mostro" - While the Gilgo Beach Killer was never directly mentioned or referenced on Beyond Borders, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Onario Alighieri - Both were serial killers who mutilated their victims post-mortem and used cellphones to taunt people linked to their crimes in some way (Alighieri used a cellphone taken from one of his victims' sister and used it to taunt authorities, while the Gilgo Beach Killer taunted his victims' families with cell phone calls).

Sources

References

  1. Estimated age
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