The Long Island Serial Killer investigation has focused on the remains of 10 people found on Gilgo Beach

By Christine Pelisek
January 16, 2020 04:53 PM
Maureen Brainard-Barnes; Melissa Barthelemy; Amber Costello; Megan Waterman [clockwise from top left]
Barthelemy family; Suffolk County Police Department

Police in Suffolk County, New York, have released a photograph of a black leather belt found at one of the crime scenes in their ongoing efforts to solve the case of the Long Island Serial Killer, which has focused on the remains of 10 people found on Gilgo Beach.

The black belt is imprinted with the letters “WH” or “HM” — which are possibly initials of the killer.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the belt was “handled by the suspect and didn’t belong to any of the victims.”

Hart said the belt was found “at the initial stage of the investigation” along Ocean Parkway in Long Island, but she did not reveal the specific location where it was found.

Hart also announced that the police department was creating a website, www.gilgonews.com, dedicated to sharing information with the public about the investigation, where tipsters can post tips anonymously.

In addition, Hart said investigators were granted approval by the New York State Department of Health to provide DNA samples to the FBI of the unidentified victims to conduct searches on geneology websites.

Police believe the belt was handled by the suspect
Suffolk Police Department

Last month, Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron told PEOPLE that solving the case has been one of the department’s top priorities.

“The case has never gone cold,” he said. “A case of that magnitude takes time to solve. It’s a priority for the police department, always has been a priority for the police department to solve this case. It’s really an unprecedented case in Suffolk County history. So we’re going to continue to put our attention on it and with the intent to solve the case. We would pursue everything to solve this case.”

“I do believe in my heart that we’ll solve the case,” he said. “I think we have some of the best detectives in the nation working on this case and I’m convinced that if anyone can solve it they can solve it. And I’m sure all the families of all the victims, want to see us solve the case, that’s very ever present on our mind.”

Bodies Discovered on Gilgo Beach

The Gilgo Beach case, dubbed the “Long Island Serial Killer” case, 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.

The first body discovered was that of Melissa Barthelemy when a Suffolk County police officer and his dog came across her remains. 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.

AP Photo/Newsday, Jim Staubitser

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

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

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.

Shannan Gilbert
Courtesy Ray Mitev Associates

Waterman disappeared from a Holiday Inn Express room she was sharing with her boyfriend Akeem Cruz in Hauppauge after she placed an ad on Craigslist on June 5, 2010.

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

Their remains were uncovered accidentally as police searched for 24-year-old escort Shannan Gilbert, who went missing after visiting a client, whom she met on Craigslist, in the gated community of Oak Beach on Long Island, and then fleeing the man’s home.

Though it was the search for Gilbert’s body that led to the discovery of the others, police don’t believe her case was linked and suspected she got lost in the inhospitable marshland and either died of exposure or accidentally drowned.

Unidentified female
Suffolk County Police Department

In March 2011, two months after police identified the remains of Costello, Waterman, Brainard-Barnes and Barthelemy, 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.

Unidentified Male
Suffolk County Police Department

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In 2017, a prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in New York suggested that 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.

“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 told the Associated Press.

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.

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