What we know about the Long Island Serial Killer?

The first thing we know is that he was never caught. Ok, now let’s lay down everything else. He is also known as the Craiglist Ripper or Gilgo Beach Killer and is suspected to have murdered 10 to 16 people over a period of 20 years. The victims were believed to be involved in prostitution or similar activities. The bodies were dumped along Ocean Parkway near the remote Long Island, New York beach towns Gilgo and Oak Beach in Suffolk County, as well as the area of Jones Beach State Park in Nassau County.

So far investigators uncovered four sets of remains in 2010, followed by another six bodies discovered in March-April 2011. The remains discovered in 2011, according to the police, are believed to predate the ones discovered in 2010. Another woman went missing in the same area, before any of the remains were discovered. Her name is Shannan Gilbert, an escort. Though police believed all remains seem to be the work of one killer, they do not believed the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert is related to the case.


How it all started


Shannan Gilbert

Shannan Gilbert

On May 1, 2010 Shannan Gilbert, a 24 year old escort from New Jersey, was reported missing. She was at a first-time client’s house nearby Oak Beach, Joseph Brewer; Shannan was working as an escort, like many other young women choosing this path of live. She was 24 years old and she was reconnecting to her family. Her mother’s birthday was coming up and Shannan used the opportunity of this client to make enough money to buy a present for her mother. Outside the house, her driver Michael Pak was waiting for her.

Shortly before she went missing, at 4:51 AM, Shannan placed a 20 minutes long call to 911, screaming “they’re trying to kill me”. After this call, she runs out of the house, but she runs away from her driver, rather than to him. She runs to a neighbor’s house, Gustav Coletti, saying her live is in danger, but ran away again when Gustav said he would call the police. The last place Shannan was seen was at the house of another neighbor, Barbara Brennan. She called the police at 5:22 AM and within 10 minutes, they got there, but couldn’t find a trace of Shannan. She vanished.


First set of remains are discovered

On December 10, 2010 a detective, John Mallia, accompanied by his K9 dog discovered skeletal remains along the northern edge of Ocean Parkway. Upon the discovery, it was believed the remains discovered were the ones of Shannan Gilbert. But the victims was identified as being Melissa Barthelemy, from Bronx. She was a young woman, advertising as an escort on Craigslist. She was last seen in July 2009. The same detective discovering the remains, returned to the area for further evidence. It is then we he makes another discovery. Three more bodies are discovered. They were all reported missing and all were working as young escorts. They were: Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Costello and Megan Waterman.

Long Island Serial Killer

Gilgo Sign


March-April 2011 remains discovered

In late March and early April 2011, six more remains are discovered.  Still no signs of Shannan Gilbert. Four of the remains were discovered west on Ocean Parkway, one in nearby Nassau County, and a skull in Tobay Beach. The skull was matched to a set of legs discovered in 1996 on Fire Island. Investigators now suspect they are all victims of a serial killer.

Long Island Serial Killer Unidentified victims and clues

Long Island Serial Killer Unidentified victims and clues

On September 20, 2011 investigators release sketches of two of the victims: an Asian male and Jane Doe, no 6. They also released photos of some jewelry found on two other victims discovered on April 4 and 11: a female toddler and the woman believed to be the mother.

On December 13, 2011 the remains of Shannan Gilbert were finally discovered, half a mile away from where she was last seen. Her clothes were found nearby. Investigators believed she had accidentally drowned after stumbling in a swamp. Her case was never connected to the previous 10 bodies discovered.


The Police Investigation

Well the investigations were highly scrutinized. It seemed that efforts in the case were disproportionate. In December 2011, days after Gilbert’s body was found, County Executive Steve Bellone announced that James Burke, chief investigator in the District Attorney’s Office, would take over as police chief in January 2012. Former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone, involved in the investigations, was told to retire. The new chief, James Burke, did not have a proper transition in the department, especially in the light of a serial killer investigation.

James Burke

James Burke

James Burke and District Attorney Thomas Spota knew each other for a long time. Burke was a key witness when he was 14 years old, for the prosecution in a 1979 brutal murder of a 13 year old boy. At 21, Burke joined SCPD, but soon after he was under investigation for having a romantic relationship with a  prostitute and drug offender. It was revealed that she had access to his weapon. Burke didn’t seem to be disciplined for this misconduct.

One year after Burke was appointed police chief, the FBI offered to present a profile for the serial killer. Surprisingly, Spota’s DA office refused, arguing that if they do arrest a suspect., the profile can be used against them if the suspect does not meet all the elements from the profile.


James Burke and District Attorney Spota

Those in charge of investigating the Long Island Serial Killer as well as the death of Shannan Gilbert had more stories surrounding them than the serial killer. In 2015, James Burke pleaded guilty to charges of assaulting and threatening a suspect, Christopher Loeb, in 2012. Loeb apparently had been taken into custody without access to a lawyer. He stole a bag from Burke’s car – a bag believed to have contained pornography and sex toys belonging to Burke. He also intimidated other witnessing the assault so they would not speak out.

District Attorney Spota, also faced a federal investigation of allegations that his office was complicit in patterns of illegally tracking and strong-arming political adversaries into compliance.

District Attorney Spota

District Attorney Spota

All these allegations and misconducts regarding those in charge of investigating the murders, weakened the trust people had in authorities. Rumors started appearing implying that authorities are hiding something. Though the death of Shannan was said not to be related to the Long Island Smurders, police didn’t say if they are treating her death as a possible murder or accidental death. Her 20 minutes long call to 911 was also never released. Questions were raised about why isn’t the call released if her death is not part of any investigation regarding the serial killer.


FBI is back on the case

In 2015, it was announced that FBI was called on the case and two people are working full time on it, cooperating with the FBI. What is certain is that in all the years following the discovery of the bodies, the investigation went quiet. It was rumored that possible leads might have been lost in both cases.


Suspects in the Long Island Serial Killer case

Along the years, investigators had multiple suspects believed to have committed the murders. James Burke, the former police chief, was one of them. On December 15, 2016, the attorney for Shannan Gilbert’s family said there was a connection between James Burke and the murders. There were rumors that Burke frequently engaged with prostitutes, one escort coming forward claiming that she had “rough sex” with Burke and he “choked” her. The fact that he was convicted a year earlier seemed to add up to this theory.

Dr. Peter Hackett was also on the suspect list. He was another neighbor living in the area of Shannan’s disappearance. Two days after Shannan’s disappearance, her mother, Mari Gilbert, received a phone call from Dr. Peter Hackett reportedly telling her that he was taking care of Shannan, and that he “ran a home for wayward girls”. Days after, Hackett made another phone call to Mari in which denied seeing Shannan, or ever making the phone call. But phone records confirmed that Hackett called Mari twice. Police later ruled out Hackett as a suspect in the deaths of Shannan and the Long Island Serial Killer murders.

Joseph Brewer also was a suspect. He was one of the last people to see Shannan Gilbert alive. But no evidence was found against him and he was soon cleared as a suspect.


Last suspect identified

John Bittrolff was named as a suspect in September 2017 in at least one of the Long Island murders. He was convicted of the murder of two prostitutes in 1993 and 1994 and was a suspect in the killing of a third one.  During investigations it was discovered that he lived in Manorville. It is where the torsos of two LISK were discovered: Jane Doe no 6 and Jessica Taylor. Another possible link between Bittrolff and LISK is that the daughter of one of his known victims was believed to have been friends with Melissa Barthelemy.

John Bittrolff

John Bittrolff (AP Photo/Newsday, James Carbone, Pool)


Ongoing Investigation

The investigations into the Long Island Serial Killer as well as the death of Shannan Gilbet are still ongoing. Investigators seem to be positive saying that these cases will end with a suspect charged. Maybe they do have promising leads and maybe soon enough we will hear about the arrest of the Long Island Serial Killer like we recently heard of the arrest of the Golden State Killer, which came as a mind blowing surprise when the suspect arrested was actually a former cop.

Until more information will be released, speculations will probably continue to pile up; so stay away as much as possible from speculative theories.

However, it looks that Netflix is preparing a movie about the case, called “Lost Girls”, but no release date was given so stay tuned and give us a heads up if you hear more about it.




New York Times