It’s been six years since the first victim in the Long Island Serial Killer case was found lifeless, buried at New York’s Gilgo Beach. Since then, authorities have uncovered at least 10 other bodies. No matter how long it takes, the victims’ families are holding on to hope that they can get justice for their loved ones. In one of the most baffling cases in New York history, the Long Island serial killer remains elusive.Shannan Gilbert (above, main photo), of Ellenville, New York, was a talented student who graduated high school at the young age of 16. Described as cheerful and motivated, she had big dreams of moving to New York City to become a singer. In 2007, she relocated to Jersey City to be closer to Manhattan. The move proved difficult, as Gilbert was struggling with a minimum-wage job. She took on work with an escort agency to help pay bills, and although it worried her family, it seemed to be going well for her at first.
Authorities caught wind of the escort operation, and Shannan’s new line of business ended almost as quickly as it started. Determined to make ends meet, she started booking her own escort appointments via Craigslist. This proved to be a detrimental mistake when she ran away from a client’s home near the beach and vanished into the night. For months, Shannan’s family members were stricken with worry as they desperately tried to find her.
In 2010, seven months after her disappearance, authorities uncovered skeletal remains on Long Island’s Gilgo Beach while searching for Shannan. The remains were wrapped up in a burlap bag. Shannon’s family braced themselves for the unfortunate news, but they were met with a mix of relief, followed by apprehension and terror, when they learned the remains found were someone else.Within the next few days, police found three more bodies, all female and all wrapped in burlap. The victims (Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello, and Melissa Barthelemy) were known sex workers who advertised their services on Craigslist. While police initially thought Shannan’s disappearance was an isolated incident, they quickly realized that the victims likely met their fate by the same person, and that a serial killer was on the loose. People reports that some experts, including a few investigators, theorize that there’s more than one killer involved in the Long Island murders.
In 2011, police unearthed an additional six victims around the Gilgo Beach area: five women and one man, dressed in feminine clothing. Some of the victims are still marked as “Jane Doe.” A toddler’s body was later discovered in the vicinity. “Baby Doe” is believed to be the child of one of the victims: a prostitute whose remains were found down Ocean Parkway. Shannan’s remains were also eventually discovered, with parts of her fingers and toes missing. The small bone in her neck was also gone, but detectives have yet to determine her cause of death. The toxicology report did not show any drugs in her system, despite her reported paranoid and hysterical behavior that night.
There tends to be a stereotype about escorts and prostitutes that they have no family support or that they’re strung out on drugs. And while several victims have yet to be identified, the Long Island serial killer case squashes the speculation that prostitutes and escorts are the forgotten ones, used goods, or disposable afterthoughts. These women were real people with families who loved them and wanted them home, safe. The loving relatives of the murdered women have been vocal in the press and have rallied around each other, offering each other support as if they were family.
“I’ll always love my sister, and I’m proud of her no matter what anyone says,” said Kimberly Overstreet, Amber Costello’s sister. “Some TV station said they were women whose families just didn’t keep in touch,” the late Mari Gilbert, Shannon’s mother, complained at the time.
Main photo: Shannan Gilbert [Jersey City Police Department]
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