As the intense search started up Monday in Nassau County for the first time and the body count at the beach has hit a possible 10—police are still awaiting word whether or not the most recently found skull and leg bones belong to any of the previously found victims—a fog rolled in so thick, only the bottom half of the Jones Beach tower can be seen from below.
There are no beach buses coming in from the city, just a police bus, and a 5-foot-wide homicide tip line painted on the side of a police van, parked in front of the tower. There are no air-show F-22 Raptors spinning in the sky, only a police helicopter dipping so low by the boardwalk dozens of seagulls gathered in the parking lot swarm and scream from the strange noise. The Jones Beach Theater is silent, its parking lot filled with police cars and satellite-equipped TV news vans.
“Collectively we want to bring to justice this animal that has obviously taken the lives of a number of people,” Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano told reporters huddled across the street in Field 6.
And those walking the boardwalk have had become local celebrities, as camera crews approach them and hold microphones to their faces, asking the same questions to all who pass: What is it like to live here? Are you scared?
News organizations from CNN to Noticias have been camped here for days. Kimberly Overton, the sister of one of the first four victims, Amber Lynn Costello, slipped just days before into a similar gathering area for police and media in an Oak Beach parking lot and tried to sneak on a media bus that was scheduled to drive through the crime scene.
“It’s sad, and I just wanted to get a chance to see where my sister was,” Overton told reporters through her tears, before police escorted her away and continued their search for more victims.
Suffolk police are continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding Costello’s disappearance, as well as those of the three women whose bodies were found yards away from her, all of whom went missing after meeting a client they had met while placing online escort ads.
And while all this is going on, the unnamed “Long Island Serial Killer” has received international coverage, with news outlets from al Jazeera to The Irish Voice reporting on the story.
More locals pass by on the boardwalk wearing CSI: Miami t-shirts, and peering down into the parking lot where a real-life CSI episode is happening right in front of them—police whispering quietly, forensic laboratory vans in the distance. Others gather on a bench, throwing out their own theories on what happened.
“They found a huge bone washed up on the beach a year ago over here. You never heard another thing about that…,” says one woman wearing sweats and sunglasses. “Someone found a head in a bag a few years ago, I have a friend who’s a cop…,” another man adds before continuing on his walk.
And for those who aren’t just stopping by, but live in the immediate area, which is lined with marked and unmarked law enforcement vehicles at any given time, things have become even more of a spectacle as their homes and property are searched for human remains and evidence.
“I’m not used to this, no,” says 76-year-old Gus Coletti, a 35-year resident of Oak Beach, a town about 10 miles east down Ocean Parkway. “This is a quiet community; we don’t get this type of thing.”
Shannan Gilbert, who had advertised escort services on the Internet, met a client in this oceanfront hamlet on May 1, 2010. At around 5 a.m., she frantically knocked on a neighbor’s door and screamed for help, before she ran away and was never heard from again. That neighbor was Coletti—the last person known to have seen Gilbert before she disappeared.