Suffolk County Police have recently released a photograph of a black leather belt embossed with the initials “WH” or “HW”. The belt is believed to belong to the Long Island Serial Killer and was recovered during the early stages of the investigation. Police are asking for anyone who recognizes the evidence to contact them or post a tip to their website.
In the spring of 2010, a 24-year-old online escort named Shannan Gilbert went missing after placing a frantic phone call to 911 while out on a date in the Oak Beach area. She fled from the client’s house and was seen by witnesses running from door to door seeking help. Residents of the neighbourhood were afraid to let the panicked young woman inside of their homes but offered to call 911 on her behalf.
Shannon went missing that night and her skeletal remains were found over six months later, on the North side of Ocean Parkway. The discovery lead police to search the area where they found the bodies of four more women buried relatively close to one another in the marsh on Gilgo beach, leading them to believe that the area was a dumping ground for a local serial killer. Suffolk county police did not believe Gilbert’s death was a murder or was in any way linked to the suspected serial killer and ruled her death as accidental, proposing that the young woman had, in a state of confusion, drowned in the marsh or died of exposure to the elements. A second autopsy was performed on the remains revealing that the hyoid bone in her neck was broken, an injury indicative of strangulation.
The client Gilbert had gone to see that night was later named as Joseph Brewer. He was later cleared as a suspect.
Two days after Gilbert went missing, her mother received a strange phone call from a Dr. Peter Hackett, a neighbour of Joseph Brewer. Hackett told Gilbert’s mother that he ran a home for wayward girls and that Shannon had come to his home that night, so he had given her some medication to calm her down. Shannon’s mother asked him where he had gotten her phone number, to which he told her that any girl who stayed at his home had to provide emergency contact details. He called a couple of days later to deny everything he had previously said and denied running a home for wayward girls. He would go on to tell investigators that he never made the calls but was later presented with phone records showing that he did. He too was cleared as a suspect in the case as police said he often fabricated things and tended to “insert himself” into high profile cases such as Gilberts disappearance. The victims family remained suspicious and Shannon’s mother even told the media that Gilbert’s home was so close to the location of her daughters body that the police actually took her into Hackett’s home and stood her on the balcony to point out the exact spot where they found Shannon’s remains.
One by one the remains of the women were identified as online escorts who had been working in and around the area. One of the women, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, had been missing for three years. The 25-year-old went missing after leaving a motel in New York in 2007 and was never heard from again.
Another victim went missing after walking out of her apartment.
25-year-old Megan Waterman went missing from the Holiday Inn she was living at in the summer of 2010 and Amber Costello also went missing from her home just three months later. All women had posted adverts for their escort services on Craigslist.
A further six bodies would be found after police expanded their search out 16 miles towards the Nassau County border. The additional remains of four women, a mother and child and an Asian male wearing female clothing were discovered. Opinions were split over whether it was the work of a single serial killer or the dumping ground for multiple killers. Some of the remains were linked to torsos and limbs that had washed up on beaches or been discovered years prior, while some of the victims were fully intact and others had been decapitated, dividing opinions about whether it was the work of a single serial killer who had changed his M.O or whether it was the work of two different killers operating in the same area. Over time the theory that the murders were linked to a lone serial killer became the predominant one and earned the killer his nickname: The long Island serial killer, or LISK.
There have been a few suspects over the years, including convicted killer John Bittrolff, who was convicted of the murders of two sex workers in the early 90’s and lived in Manorville, Suffolk County, just a few miles from where parts of two Long Island Serial Killer victims were found. At the time he was working as a carpenter and was later arrested in 2014 thanks to DNA evidence.
The identity of the Long Island Serial killer is still unknown, but those working on the case are confident that he can be identified and that the case will be solved.