First police found the bodies of four dead online escorts in Gilgo Beach, leading investigators to suspect a serial killer is in our midst. Now, four months later, four more sets of human remains were found close by, but have yet to be identified. All were uncovered on the same desolate stretch of Ocean Parkway during the search for Shannan Gilbert, a New Jersey prostitute who was last seen in nearby Oak Beach on May 1, 2010.
Aside from the sketchy details surrounding Gilbert’s disappearance and the victims found in December, Suffolk County police have shared little else about the initial discoveries, a fifth set of remains found last week or three found Monday. Detectives have neither named any suspects nor definitively linked the latest remains with the first four—although forensics scientists have ruled out the 24-year-old Jersey City woman as being among them, meaning the search and DNA tests will drag on.
Independent experts following the case say some inferences can be drawn from the information that has been made available—assuming all eight bodies were dumped by the same murderer.
“Some serial killers will use a dungeon in their home or a basement where people are not likely to find them, but to leave them out in public area—no matter how hidden it is by brush—indicates to me that the person may be daring the police to see if they can find him,” says Fred Klein, a Hofstra University law professor and former Nassau County prosecutor who tried Joel Rifkin, one of Long Island’s last serial killers.
Rifkin, who was convicted of killing nine women and is believed to have murdered 17, has mocked the repeated use of the same dumping grounds. The East Meadow native meticulously scattered his victims to throw off police.
Another forensic expert contends there is precedent for serial killer victims found in clusters. “It’s not unusual for a serial killer to abduct, kill and dump their bodies in an area they’re comfortable with,” says Dr. Louis B. Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College.
But the world has changed since Rifkin was on the loose. Instead of trolling the streets for prostitutes, Johns nowadays simply visit any number of websites to shop around, which decreases the likelihood of a witness spotting the killer picking up the victim, Klein says.
It also means shoe-leather detective work must also be combined with tracking computer and phone records. Schlesinger takes issue with how such suspects are often made out to be evil geniuses, suggesting investigators might find their man if he didn’t cover his digital tracks.
“Most of these offenders are not high-tech people, these are often unemployed, blue-collar types,” he says, noting that high intelligence is not a prerequisite for a sexually motivated murderer—someone aroused by violent control. “The whole mythology of Hannibal Lecter is just a myth.”
He added that the best chance of solving the case will be if a surviving victim is found—provided such a victim exists and isn’t afraid of talking to police.
Those who know the area best dispute characterizations of the vicinity as desolate and say the killer is lucky his dumping ground wasn’t uncovered sooner, considering how clumsily they were strewn in the brush.
“Hemlock Cove is a place in the summer months that is congested with boat traffic, people often cross the parkway to get from the bay side to the ocean side,” said a 9-year Oak Beach resident who asked not to be named, referring to the area near the Gilgo Beach discoveries.
Police have said they still suspect Gilbert will be found within the wildly overgrown area they have been combing through. They also have interviewed Joseph Brewer, the Oak Beach man who allegedly last hired her, but have not named him as a suspect.
“I’m just shocked,” Sherre Gilbert—Shannan’s sister—told the Associated Press this week after learning from detectives that Shannan was not among the new remains. “I am still hoping for the best outcome.”
Klein, the former prosecutor, said if Gilbert does turn up nearby, the suspect will not be far. “If she’s there, then I’m convinced that the killer is in the area.”