Questions Remain in Long Island Serial Killer Case Two Years Later


By Timothy Bolger and Jaclyn Gallucci

When Superstorm Sandy washed out a five-mile stretch of Ocean Parkway in October, questions arose whether more human remains were unearthed to add to the 11 found in the brush near the Long Island Serial Killer’s Gilgo Beach dumping grounds.


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When no new victims were discovered along the parkway once it reopened, one of the former lead investigators on the case breathed a sigh of relief, describing it as proof of the Suffolk County Police Department’s thoroughness.

“The storm has pretty much clarified the fact that it doesn’t appear any more bodies will be found along Ocean Parkway,” retired Homicide Squad Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky tells the Press. “Right now, we know the exact number of people that we’re dealing with.”

Pelkofsky led the probe when police scoured the barrier island from land, sea and air after four suspected serial killer victims’ remains discovered near Gilgo turned into 10, likely dumped by multiple killers.

A year ago Dec. 13 police found the skeletal remains of an 11th—Shannan Gilbert, the 24-year-old New Jersey woman they were originally looking for when they discovered the others. That date also marks the two-year anniversary of police finding three of the four serial killer victims—who, like Gilbert, were online escorts.

Police remain mum about new developments on Gilbert and the others—eight women, a man and a female toddler, only half of whom have been identified. Homicide Squad Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick resumed his post as the unit’s longtime commander earlier this year.

“We are not commenting further at this time on the Gilgo investigation until/unless we have some additional information pertaining to the investigation that serves the investigation or the public by its release,” the department said in a statement.

Suffolk police did, however, say they doubt the involvement of 60-year-old ex-con Lucius Crawford—apprehended Dec. 4 by authorities for his suspected involvement in murdering a woman this week and two others in the ’90s—to the slayings after LI’s lone daily hyped the NYPD saying Crawford is a “possible person of interest.”

“At this point in time there does not appear to be any reason to suspect that Crawford has any involvement with the homicides that have occurred in the last several years where the bodies were discovered in the vicinity of Gilgo Beach,” Suffolk police said, adding that Homicide Squad detectives still intend to investigate whether Crawford has any connection to the case.

Dr. Louis B. Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College and serial killer expert, says the public should not hold its breath waiting for an arrest.

“It can go on for 30 years,” he says, pointing to Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway, who confessed in 2001 to killing 71 women throughout the ’80s and ’90s. “This could never be solved or it could be solved next week,” he adds, pointing to the relative quickness in which David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz was caught versus the Zodiac Killer, who was never apprehended.

Pelkofsky cautions that people shouldn’t assume Gilbert or any of the other victims were killed by the same serial killer believed to have murdered the four young women found in Gilgo.

“There’s two separate incidents here,” he says. “We were searching for Shannan Gilbert and we found another set of circumstances that appear to be totally unrelated.”

Nearing the grim anniversaries, two developments have spawned new questions regarding the slayings: the recent announcement by Gilbert’s family that they’re suing one of the Oak Beach men who claimed to be among the last to see Gilbert alive, and a new book penned by a career criminal that lived with Gilbert’s last client.

Attorney John Ray and Mari Gilbert announce a wrongful death lawsuit against Oak Beach resident Peter Hackett outside the Suffolk County Supreme Court building in Riverhead.

WRONGFUL DEATH

Hair and bones were all that remained of Gilbert when investigators found her in the marsh bordering the Oak Beach community. Last month, standing outside Suffolk County Court, Gilbert’s mother Mari and her attorney, John Ray, blamed Oak Beach resident Dr. Charles Peter Hackett for her disappearance and death.

Hackett was a neighbor of Joseph Brewer, the Oak Beach man who last hired Gilbert, who was last seen by another neighbor, Gus Coletti, as she was fleeing Brewer’s house in a panic  in the early morning hours of May 1, 2010.

In a wrongful death lawsuit filed Nov. 15, Gilbert’s family alleges Hackett gave Shannan drugs at his Larboard Court home—bordering the marsh where Shannan’s body was found—before letting her leave, thereby causing her death, and then covering it up.

“We allege that Dr. Peter Hackett has told others that he encountered Shannan knocking on his door on May 1, that he let her into his home and that he administered narcotics,” said Ray. “He used the phrase that it was ‘too late’ to help her and that he then released her.”

Gilbert’s family hopes the lawsuit will lead to more details about what happened the night Shannan disappeared.

“I really believe in my heart that [Hackett] played a major role in my daughter’s death,” said Mari. “He denied he called me for over a year. The phone records proved that he did call me, so we proved that he lied to me. And if he could lie about something like that imagine what else he’s capable of.”

That alleged call the day her daughter disappeared is the crux of the complaint, along with comments allegedly made to Ray by Hackett’s Oak Beach neighbors.

“[Hackett] did say that he had Shannan, that he was taking care of Shannan, and he was running a halfway house for girls,” said Mari. She added that Hackett seemed “very distant” and worried about himself more than about the well-being of her daughter when asking whether Shannan had come home.

Ray alleges Hackett told bizarre stories to neighbors, including that he would perform operations on people’s fingers and reattach them on his kitchen table. Hackett, whose Oak Beach home is currently up for sale and who resides in Florida, could not be reached for comment. Police have stated that Hackett is not considered a suspect.

“We want to know what really happened,” said Ray, who added that there is no direct evidence to link Hackett to Shannan’s death, which was ruled by the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office as “undetermined.” “We are just going forward with every legal means we can find to accomplish that.”

Mari agreed and said the lawsuit has nothing to do with money. She just wants any information Hackett could have about the night Shannan disappeared.

“I don’t care if I get $1 or $1 million,” she said, “I just want justice for my daughter.”

Shannan’s remains are still in the custody of the medical examiner’s office at the request of her mother, who is waiting until she has the money to hire an independent medical examiner to give a second opinion on her daughter’s cause of death.

CHRONOLOGY OF A MYSTERY – AN INTERACTIVE TIMELINE

Cash Grab: Confessions of the Oak Beach Drifter, a self-published partly fictionalized memoir by a former roommate of an oak beach man who was among the last to see Shannan Gilbert alive, was released in October.

CASHING IN

While police and victims’ families press on in their quest for answers, one man tangentially related to the Gilbert probe is the latest outsider to try to profit off the case.

A 49-year-old former tenant of Brewer self-published a book titled Confessions of the Oak Beach Drifter in October under the pen name “W.” But not until the end of the nearly 300-page memoir—the author claims it’s partly fictionalized—does he mention living there, and casts suspicion on his landlord, “Damon Brooks.”

“There would be some times I would hear some ‘rough play’ with Damon and his ‘guests,’” he writes, referring to strippers and prostitutes frequently called to the house. “There was one particular night I was awakened by a woman screaming, ‘No! Please stop! Please, don’t do that!’ and that was followed by a loud thud. And then there was silence.”

Police declined to comment on the book, one of several rumored to be in the works.

LongIslandSerialKiller.com also previously tried to profit off the case, by selling t-shirts before victims’ families complained. And the website Serial Killers Ink collected a soil sample from one of the Gilgo dumpsites as “muderabilia”—serial killer collectibles.

Confessions’ author, a West Islip native whose name has not been released, said in a news release that “in the interests of justice for the murdered victims” his goal is to give “a new perspective from the standpoint of someone falsely seen as a suspect to the crimes.”

Police have repeatedly said there are no suspects in the murder and that Gilbert may not be a murder victim. The author says the media “wrongly” dubbed him a drifter and “cast him maliciously into the spotlight as a suspicious persona.”

His “confessions” include pushing his grandmother down the stairs at age 6, dozens of assaults, a “mini career in burglary,” raping two girlfriends and shooting a man in the ear. Most of the book recaps his sex life, failed relationships and cocaine-dealing/strip club-bouncing career in graphic detail. He also writes that he would never kill a woman.

“In the eight months that I lived at Oak Beach, I had a rough period in my life,” the first-time author writes in the epilogue. “Things were out of control and my drug and alcohol abuse was at an all-time high. I had stripper/prostitutes at the beach house, and yes, I had quite a few blackout nights that I don’t remember and there were things I couldn’t explain.”

Among the inexplicable things he writes about is chasing after a young woman who wanted to go home when he got “too rough” with her. “The last thing I remembered was trying to run down the road after the girl, and everything was spinning around me,” he writes.

It’s a peculiar admission—real or not—for someone who repeatedly likens “Damon” to a rapist and says he smelled decomposition in the basement but says he moved out before Gilbert was ever called to the house.

The mystery continues.

THE VICTIMS

Shannan
Shannan Gilbert, 24, and her driver, Michael Pak, drove from Jersey City to client Joseph Brewer’s Oak Beach home, where Shannan reportedly became frantic, locking herself in the bathroom and making a 23-minute 911 call that has never been made public. After running off in the early morning hours, she arrived a few houses away at the home of Gus Colletti, yelling for help, then running away again into the dark when Colletti told her he was calling police. Later that day, Shannan’s mother received a phone call from Oak Beach resident Peter Hackett, who allegedly claimed he ran a home for wayward girls and Shannan was safe with him, a call he later denied making. Neither Pak, Brewer nor Hackett are considered suspects by police. Shannan’s bones were found a year later in the nearby marsh, in shallow water close to Ocean Parkway, where police said she likely drowned trying to get to the road. Her pants and shoes were found 1/4-mile away from her body, also in the marsh, but close to the Oak Beach community where she was last seen. This has led many, including her family, to believe her death, ruled “undetermined” by the medical examiner, wasn’t accidental.

Megan
Megan Waterman traveled from Maine with her boyfriend  Akeem Cruz to the Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge. She called her 3-year-old daughter and hours later was last seen leaving the hotel alone at 1:30 a.m. to meet a client. Megan’s remains were found more than 20 miles away from the hotel on Ocean Parkway. Cruz is not a considered a suspect in Megan’s murder, but was charged with the interstate trafficking of prostitutes and admitted to driving Megan to NY to work as a prostitute. She was found near Gilgo Beach within a mile of Maureen, Melissa and Amber.

Maureen
Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, a mother of two, had been a straight A student who later fell into drugs. She left her Connecticut home to spend the day in Manhattan, the last place she was seen alive. She told her family she would return home the next day, but never did. There are few details known about the day Maureen disappeared.

Amber
North Carolina native Amber Lynn Costello, 27, lived in North Babylon and had been in detox at the Nassau University Medical Center the year before she was murdered. She was last seen leaving her home to meet a client. She had been married but her ex-husband said the marriage ended over her alleged heroin use. Amber had been trying to get clean and out of the world of prostitution before she was killed.

Melissa 
Melissa Barthelemy, 24, left Buffalo, where she worked as a hair stylist, and moved to the Bronx. She worked as a stripper, and later as a Craigslist escort to make ends meet. Melissa is believed to have been at a Massapequa motel early in the morning the day she disappeared. Seven calls were later made from Midtown Manhattan from Melissa’s cell phone to her teen sister, by an unknown man who allegedly taunted her about Melissa’s line of work and claimed responsibility for her death. Melissa’s body was the first to be found on Ocean Parkway, by a K-9 officer and cadaver dog looking for Shannan Gilbert.

Jessica
Jessica Taylor, 20, was last seen working the streets of Manhattan, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. She had already been arrested multiple times for prostitution in Atlantic City, New York and Washington, D.C., where she had just relocated from that same month. Little else is known about Jessica, who was estranged from her family. Her naked torso was found on a plastic sheet in 2003, with her head and hands cut off in the Manorville Pine Barrens. A tattoo on her hip was carved with dozens of razor-thin, crooked gashes but a D.C. detective still recognized it from a previous arrest and Jessica’s body was identified through DNA. Her case went cold until 2011, when her skull, hands and forearm were found on Ocean Parkway just east of where the bodies of Megan, Maureen, Melissa and Amber were found.

Fire Island Jane Doe
Her scarred legs were found by walkers on Blue Point Beach on Fire Island in 1996. They were wrapped in a plastic bag and her toes were painted red. In 2011, her skull was found west of Tobay Beach on Ocean Parkway. Her torso and hands remain missing. She is believed to be 18-50 years old, white and had surgery on her left ankle.

Baby Doe
She was found wrapped in a blanket in the brush of Ocean Parkway in Suffolk County. Police say she is “non-caucasian” and was between 16 and 32 months of age and after DNA analysis is believed to be the child of the Jones Beach Jane Doe, whose remains were found down the road in Nassau County. The child was wearing gold hoop earrings and a rope necklace. She was found 70 yards away from Manorville Jane Doe.

Manorville Jane Doe
She was found nude, in pieces, and wrapped in plastic bags in 2000 by hikers off Halsey Manor Road in Manorville. Her head, hands and leg were cut off. She was 18-40 years old, around 5’2”, white, with brown hair. Police believe she was a prostitute in the NYC area. Her head, hands and leg were found in 2011 on Ocean Parkway in plastic bags, about 1.5 miles east of Jessica. Her nose had been fractured and healed prior to her death.

Jones Beach Jane Doe
Little information has been released on this woman found 1.5 miles east of the Jones Beach tower on Ocean Parkway, She was wearing a snake chain bracelet and  X-O bracelet. The body of her baby daughter was found about 10 miles east of hers, in very close proximity to the Manorville Jane Doe, who is unrelated to both.

John Doe
He is believed to have been between 17 and 23 years of age, Asian, approximately 5’6” with poor dental health. He was missing his top and bottom molars and one front tooth for some time before he was killed. The man was also found wearing women’s clothing and had been dead for at least five years, possibly 10 years. He was found ¼ mile away from the area Megan, Maureen, Amber and Melissa were found.

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