The search for human remains along a deserted stretch of Ocean Parkway appears to have tapered off Wednesday and all that’s left as a reminder of the investigation are bright orange arrows painted on the highway pointing to the sandy dunes covered with brush where four bodies were found in three days.
Investigators say they are considering the possibility that a serial killer may have dumped the bodies—all four of which were identified Wednesday as female.
“We’re looking at that—that we could have a serial killer,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Dormer said in response to a reporter’s question during a news conference on the side of the Ocean Parkway Tuesday morning. “Even though they were far apart, it looks like there is a common denominator here.”
But public speculation doesn’t stop there.
There is a variety of scenarios being tossed around among Long Island residents—and investigators. But right now, aside from the media hoopla, it is only speculation.
Suffolk County police were looking for a prostitute who was reported missing in May, when they turned up three bodies Monday and skeletal remains Saturday—all along the same quarter-mile stretch of roadway in Gilgo Beach on the eastern end of Jones Beach Island. A Canine Section officer combing sections of beach with a cadaver dog made the initial discovery.
Police had been looking for 24-year-old Shannon Gilbert, of Jersey City, N.J., who was last seen in the residential section of Oak Beach on May 1, when her pimp escorted her to meet a client she met on Craigslist.
But Gilbert is not the only prostitute to have gone missing on Long Island this year. Megan Waterman, 22, of Maine, vanished June 6 from a Hauppauge hotel after she also advertised on Craigslist. Before the discovery of the bodies on Ocean Parkway, Waterman’s case and Gilbert’s case hardly got any media attention at all.
Waterman was last seen on surveillance video at the Holiday Inn–about 20-30 minutes away from where the four bodies were found–in the early hours of Sunday morning, leaving the hotel by herself. Where she went after that and with whom is still a mystery.
There was no immediate indication that either of these women was among the four bodies found by the beach. But police say DNA from both Waterman and Gilbert will be used to see if either of these women are among the remains found. And this won’t happen overnight, not even in a few days.
It appears all four bodies were thrown from a vehicle, in some cases about 500-feet apart, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said. Forensic experts have determined that at least two of the four bodies are female, but identifying them through DNA samples and examining dental records could take weeks, he added.
The commissioner said the victims appeared to have been killed elsewhere and then brought to this section of wind-swept barrier island less than 1,000 yards wide that divides the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.
The findings are eerily similar to those found in the Manorville area of the Pine Barrens back in 2003 just off of Halsey Manor Road in Manorville. Three bodies have been found along this stretch of road. One, a decapitated torso, was identified as Jessica Taylor, a prostitute from Washington State. Her killer has never been found.
Three other bodies—two intact males and one dismembered female, all still unidentified—were found in the same area between 2000 and 2003. Police won’t say if these cases are related to each other, let alone related to the bodies found on Ocean Parkway.
The discovery drew comparisons to a 4-year-old New Jersey case in which four prostitutes’ bodies were found in a drainage ditch in Egg Harbor Township, just outside Atlantic City and about a mile from the beach. Those killings remain unsolved.
A New Jersey lawyer has been trying to clear the name of his client, Terry Oleson, who was investigated but never officially named a suspect in those cases.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Theodore Housel said Tuesday that Atlantic County detectives were still investigating the bodies found in November 2006 and had not spoken with Suffolk County authorities about their case.
“We have been in contact with authorities in Suffolk County,” he told The Associated Press. “It would not be fair for us to comment on their investigation.”
Still, police have not yet connected any of these crimes with the Ocean Parkway crime scene, and have not stated definitively that the bodies found on Ocean Parkway were dumped there by a serial killer.
The four women found on Ocean Parkway were badly decomposed, but appeared to have been dumped within the past year ½ to two years, Dormer said.
Dormer said police are working with the FBI because the victims may have been from out-of-state.
“I held a meeting between members of my staff and the FBI’s New York office today concerning the discovery of four bodies in Gilgo Beach during the past several days,” Dormer said in a statement on Wednesday. “The FBI has offered all available resources in support of our investigation.”
Lorraine Ela, Waterman’s mother, told the AP Wednesday that Det. Don Blatchford, lead detective on the Waterman’s case, told her he was “leaning toward one of the four victims being Megan, but he’s not 100 percent guaranteed.”
The stretch of roadway is not far from the county line, but Nassau County police have said they have not dispatched canine units to that side of the island. New York State police, the agency that typically investigates cases involving homicide victims found on parkways, did not return a call seeking comment.
The commissioner added that his officers have assured him that the snow and freezing cold will not inhibit the dogs’ ability to search for more bodies—an extensive search he said “is going to continue for some time.”
-With Associated Press and Timothy Bolger