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Crime

Prosecutor Suggests a N.Y. Carpenter Could Be a Suspect in the Long Island Serial Killer Case

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John Bittrolff
Newsday/James Carbone/Pool/AP

A carpenter named John Bittrolff, who was recently sentenced to prison for murdering two prostitutes, may be responsible for one or more of the unsolved deaths connected to the bodies discovered on Gilgo Beach in Long Island, New York, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

“There are remains of the victims at Gilgo that may be attributed to the handiwork of Mr. Bittrolff, and that investigation is continuing,” Robert Biancavilla, a prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in New York, told the Associated Press.

The Gilgo Beach case, dubbed the “Long Island Serial Killer,” traces back to the discovery of multiple bodies starting in December 2010. Authorities eventually unearthed 10 sets of remains on Gilgo and have said they believe at least four of the deaths — all of women — are linked, raising the specter of one or more serial killers using the area as a dumping ground.

Biancavilla’s statement this week on the investigation came after Bittrolff was sentenced to at least 50 years in prison after his July conviction on two counts of second-degree murder for the 1990’s beating  and strangulation deaths of Colleen McNamee and Rita Tangredi, two prostitutes in Long Island.

“I don’t know what to think, because Melissa had a lot of calls to Manorville [on Long Island] from her phone and that is where this guy is from,” Lynn Barthelemy, mother of victim Melissa Barthelemy, tells PEOPLE.

“I am thinking when he got arrested was when all this stopped again,” Lynn says. “I am just hoping it is him so it can all end.”

In a statement to PEOPLE, the Suffolk D.A.’s office declined to “expand” on Biancavilla’s comments to the AP, citing the active homicide investigation.

Justin Meyers, assistant police commissioner of Suffolk County, says the police department doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations and will not discuss the possibility Biancavilla is involved.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Clockwise from top left: Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Costello and Megan Waterman.
Barthelemy family; Suffolk County Police Department

“It is a very active and ongoing investigation,” Meyers tells PEOPLE. “We have full-time detectives on the case working hand-and-hand with the FBI on it as well. It remains a very active investigation.”

“We are very optimistic this case will be solved,” he adds.

Bittrolff’s attorney Jonathan Manley says the statement is “reckless and baseless and laughable.”

“This was never mentioned before,” he tells PEOPLE. “This trial lasted two-and-a-half months. There were days of pretrial hearings and applications and never once in three years that this case was pending did he ever say anything like this. I think the statements were made simply to sensationalize this and to garner a headline.”

Adds Manley: “I think one of the real troubling aspects of the comment made by the prosecutor yesterday insinuating John’s involvement in the Gilgo Beach case is that it presents hope to the family of those victims that they may receive closure soon and I think that really is unfortunate. ”

 

An attorney for the family of Craigslist escort Shannan Gilbert, who was last seen on May 1, 2010, fleeing the home of a client in nearby Oak Beach on Long Island, tells PEOPLE that Biancavilla’s comments are “nonsense.”

“The only similarities are they are all sex workers and they are all dead and they died violently,” says John Ray. “That doesn’t mean Bittrolff is the guy.”

It was the search for Gilbert, in 2010, that led to the discovery of the other Gilgo Beach victims.

Ray says his investigators looked into the possibility that Bittrolff was the Long Island Serial Killer and found a “loose connection” between him and Barthelemy — but, Ray says, “It is a sixth degree of separation thing.”

“There are no other connections,” he says. “It is a false hope.”

Gilbert’s family has long believed that a doctor who lived in Oak Beach is responsible for her death. But law enforcement insists she likely died of natural causes in the marshy swampland around Oak Beach.

• PEOPLE’s special edition True Crime Stories: 35 Real Cases That Inspired the Show Law & Order is on sale now.

 

Shannan Gilbert
Courtesy Ray Mitev Associates

Bittrolff’s first victim was the 31-year-old Tangredi, who was found on Nov. 3, 1993 in a wooded area off of Esplanade Drive in East Patchogue in Long Island.

McNamee, 20, was killed on Jan. 30, 1994, and discovered in a wooded area south of the Long Island Expressway. Both victims died from strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head.

“He chose them because they were victims,” Biancavilla said during Bittrolff’s sentencing. “He chose them because they were vulnerable. And he chose them because he thought that no one would care, care enough to bring him to justice. And for over 20 years he thought he got away with this.”

“Bittrolff is a coward,” McNamee’s brother, Thomas, said at the hearing. “You’re a liar. You’re an animal. You are a disease to this society. You are a stone-cold killer.”

Bittrolff, a married father of two, was 27-years-old at the time of the slayings, which remained unsolved for two decades until 2014, when detectives linked him to DNA evidence found on the victims.

Detectives were able to trace the DNA to Bittrolff after his brother was convicted of a misdemeanor for violating an order of protection in 2013 and had to give up a DNA sample, the AP reports.

Bittrolff’s DNA partially matched the human detritus found on the two women, according to the AP.

It was close to seven years ago when a Suffolk County police officer and his dog came across the remains of Melissa Barthelemy. Over the next several days, police discovered the bodies of three other young women, all wrapped in burlap and placed within about 500 feet of one another, buried in the marsh on Gilgo Beach.

The remains were later identified as Amber Costello, Megan Waterman and Maureen Brainard-Barnes.

All four women had worked as online escorts and had been missing between 2007 and 2010.

Suffolk County Police Department

Brainard-Barnes, 25, disappeared first — in July 2007, from New York City — after checking out from a Super 8 motel.

Barthelemy, 24, was last seen walking away from her Bronx apartment in 2009.

Waterman disappeared from a Holiday Inn Express room she was sharing with her boyfriend Akeem Cruz in Hauppauge, New York, after she placed an ad on Craigslist on June 5, 2010. A video camera showed the 22-year-old Maine escort leaving the hotel around 1:30 a.m.

Amber Costello negotiated a $1,500 date with her alleged killer before she walked out of her Long Island home on Sept. 2, 2010.

Suffolk County Police Department

In March 2011, two months after police identified the first set of four remains, the remains of six more bodies were unearthed along the beach.

Four of those remains were women, one was a female toddler and one was an Asian male wearing women’s clothing. Two sets of the remains were later linked to the dismembered torsos of women first discovered in Manorville, about 40 miles away.

One of them was identified as 20-year-old prostitute Jessica Taylor, whose torso was found in Manorville in 2003. The other remains have never been identified.

Finally, Gilbert’s remains were discovered in December 2011.

In December 2015, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini pulled the FBI into the investigation and, in February 2016, he launched a Gilgo Beach task force, assigning two full-time detectives to focus only on the deaths, working side-by-side with an FBI agent.

To this day, the cases have not been solved.