April 12, 2011

Long Island Serial Killer

"Every time they find more, it's like it starts the whole tragedy all over again. It's like we find out it's our own child that they found over again," said Lorraine Ela, the mother of murder victim Megan Waterman.

That ritual was carried out again Monday when investigators discovered a skull and another set of remains near the Long Island beach, bringing the total number of possible victims to 10.

Ela's 22-year-old daughter disappeared last June and her body was discovered in December. As the investigation continues, Ela said that she sends Facebook messages to other victims' relatives daily and has developed a strong bond with them.

"They're like family. We're like one big family," she said.

As a sign of solidarity, several of the relatives have used the photos of the four victims identified so far Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amanda Costello and Melissa Barthelemy as their profile pictures on Facebook.

Ela will meet the sister of victim Maureen Brainard Barnes tonight. "I'm very emotional, but I'm also excited," she said.

All of the families will gather in June when Ela has organized a memorial for the victims on the same Long Island beaches that investigators are now scouring for more bodies and clues. The memorial will be held on the day her daughter disappeared, June 11. Her daughter left behind a 4-year-old daughter. "I wanted to go where they found my daughter to pay my respects and say my final goodbye to her. Part of me doesn't feel closure until I can go down there and say my goodbye down there. I owe that to my daughter and all the other women," Ela said.

She said that unlike the family of victim Melissa Barthelemy, she and the other families did not receive cell phone calls from the killer. Barthelemy's teenage sister told "Good Morning America" Monday that she has received taunting phone calls from a man who is believed to have killed her sister.

"She was the only one. It boggles my mind that someone would do that to a 16 year old child," Ela said.

Suffolk County police, who are being assisted by Nassau County cops as well as state police and the FBI, have been tight lipped about the investigation. ABC News has learned that at least one of the victims died by "homicidal asphyxiation," which could mean strangulation or being smothered.

Investigators also are not clear whether one killer is responsible for all of the bodies being found or whether the area is a burial ground for a serial killer and that other murders have been dumped there as well.

Police are still deciding whether to resume searching today for more bodies on the heavily thicketed ground that borders a highway along a stretch of New York beaches. The brush and terrain is so cumbersome, investigators have used cadaver dogs, horses and even ladders to search for bodies and clues.

"With this terrain, this brush, the dogs play an incredibly vital role," said Chis Padden, team leader of Long Island Search and Rescue. "The dogs are using their nose to locate the decomposition odor that's being put off."

Experts say that the hidden bodies show the killer knows the neighborhood well.

"It's very easy to dispose of a body, either under the brush, or dig it up," said Wally Zeins, a former NYPD homicide detective. "It tells me that he [the killer] knew the area, knew this was an area where not many people are going to go."

Since December, police have discovered nine and possibly 10 sets of bones. On Monday a set of bones was discovered in one area and a skull was found about a mile away and it's not clear yet whether they are the remains of one or two people.

In addition, police continue their search for missing prostitute Shannan Gilbert. Gilbert, a 24 year old sex worker who advertised on Craigslist, was last seen near the beach area shouting, "He is trying to kill me."

According to ABC News sources the first four bodies discovered, now badly decomposed, were wrapped in burlap and were prostitutes who advertised on Craigslist.

"Apparently the first four were found in burlap bags, that could be a possible lead. The connection between how the victim met the bad guy is extremely important. In other words, did he call them all to a particular hotel in Long Island?" said Brad Garrett, an ABC News consultant and former FBI investigator.

The next four sets of remains, discovered over the past two weeks, were not wrapped in burlap and one was a toddler. Authorities have not said whether the toddler's remains were linked to one of the adult remains, or is unrelated.

"It's not uncommon that these women have children. Did he get into a situation with one of them that her child was and so he just disposed of the child as another witness," Garrett said.

According to multiple sources familiar with the investigation, a number of persons are under investigation in connection with the first eight corpses, and those include persons of interest with a law enforcement or emergency service background, and familiarity with the beach.

Experts say that the killer is of high intelligence and not a loner.

"He could be a copycat of the BTK killer. He was an animal control officer, and he killed 10 bodies from 1991 to 2005. He knew everybody, had roots in the community, pillar of the community, churchgoer," said Zeins.

The corpses were strewn along a several-mile stretch that includes state run and county beaches. The stretch begins about 45 minutes from Manhattan and includes the popular Jones Beach State Park.

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