Case Studies
The Mysterious Cold Case of Gilgo Beach Murders

The Mysterious Cold Case of Gilgo Beach Murders

Long island serial killing or Gilgo Beach Murders is one of the most infamous and unsolved cases of recent times. This case is also known as Long Island Serial Killer and the killer has been reported to have killed over 16 victims in Long Island.

The Serial killer is still unidentified and victims were mentioned to be sex workers. Though the killings lasted for 20 years, the bodies were found between 2010-2011.

All victims were found in a pathetic condition with dismembered bodies and we’re dumped near the southern shore of Long Island. The case came to light after the disappearance of one of the victims, Shannan Gilbert.

Overview of Gilgo Beach Murders Case

The story began in May 2010 when a young woman by the name of Shannan Gilbert disappeared in the quiet secluded community of Oak Beach, Long Island. There is a dense plantation in between beach and road which makes the place isolated and vulnerable to any crime.

On the night of May 1, 2010, 24-year-old Shannan was known to be with a Craigslist client named Joseph.  

Shannan Gilbert was brought up by her mother and wanted to be a singer but due to her unstable lifestyle, she was forced into prostitution. On that night she went because she wanted to present a gift for her mother’s birthday. While investigating her phone, a 23 min call to 911 from Joseph’s location was acquired by experts. 

As per Joseph and Shannan’s medical reports she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder for which she was not taking medication and during her time with Joseph, she showed a distinct behavior change which made her call 911 screaming. She ran into the dark banging neighbor’s door for help but they refused.

On that year in May she disappeared which brought this case to the light to the world.

Victims & Investigation

Shannan Gilbert put a light on the case about which the area was unaware till now. As soon as police arrived, Shannan was gone and a missing complaint was then filed by Shannan’s family. Search for Shannan started and it took four months for her identification when 4 more victims were found.

All of the same stature and age as Shannan, they also used Craigslist to escort clients. In December 2010, John Malia and a K-9 found skeletal remains on the northern side of Ocean parkway. The remains were assumed to be Shannan but then shocked to know that it was Mellisa Barthelemy, a young woman with Craigslist clients and was last seen in July 2009.

A person suspected to be a killer called her sister from Mellisa’s phone after Mellisa’s disappearance. The language used by the person was abusive and calls were traced to be from Madison Square Garden and Massapequa.

During this investigation, John found three more victims in Gilgo Beach. The victims were Maureen Brainbard Barnes, Amber Lynn Costello, and Megan Waterman. Experts started assuming the murders to be serial killing who murdered victims in some areas and brought them to Gilgo beach. 

In the case of Maureen, she was a sex worker and used the money to run her home and was known to disappear on July 10, 2009. In this case, calls were obtained to her friend stating Maureen was to be seen alive in the Whorehouse of queens. Looks like the same guy.

Megan was known to have disappeared on July 6, 2009, from a place 15 miles away from Gilgo beach. Amber Lynn Costello disappeared on September 2, 2010. It was mentioned that she received several calls asking for services worth $1500. Her sister was also a sex worker one time, but now she also started using Craigslist with the hope to nab her sister’s killer.

Due to the similarities and the place of identification, they were known as Gilgo four. Shannan’s body was found after a year on 13th September 2011 in Oak beach. In that, one year course of searching police found six more bodies out of which 5 were unidentified. 

The only identifiable body among those six was Jessica Taylor who went missing in July 2000. Her dismembered naked torso was acquired from Manorville on July 26, 2003. Her body was found above a plastic sheet with a mutilated torso tattoo.

In March 2011, a pair of hands, a skull, and a forearm were found in Gilgo which matched with Jessica.

The case of the Craigslist ripper was assumed to have started by 1996 itself when a pair of ripped legs belonging to the 1996 victim was tested with dismembered bodies of one of the Gilgo beach victims in 2011. The DNA test showed a match when conducted by investigators.

Until the autopsy report of Shannan, everyone including investigators thought it to be an accident and the medical report was also inconclusive, which infuriated Shannan’s mother who questioned the ability of investigators to investigate properly.

A private examiner was hired who again ran the tests and showed the results to be inconclusive, but also said that there can be chances of strangulation due to the breaking of neck bones.

It was felt that the death of Shannan was just a coincidence as other gilgo victims were found buried in burlap sacks whereas Shannan was found partially exposed with some of her belongings 100 meters away.

In 2013, another body was found on the beach of Nassau County when a woman was roaming with her dog. The remains were assumed to be of a woman with the age range of 20-30 and to be Asian. The possible victim could be 31 year old Natasha Jugo who had Paranoia and was known to drive to the Ocean parkway at 4:00 am and might have died due to an accident just like Shannan.

The 23 min call was asked to release in public by the judge but police fought and didn’t do it stating that the tape release might jeopardize the investigation. The question that arose was police thought of Shannan’s death to be an accident then why the police were not releasing the tape.

Suspects of Long Island Serial Killings

1. Joseph Brewer, the client of Shannan who stated her to be mentally ill, also said that according to the call she screamed to be in danger and they would kill her. After interrogation and investigation, nothing was acquired and Joseph was cleared of charges.

2. Dr. Peter Hacket, a local physician was accused by Shannan’s mother to be the cause of the death of Shannan. In one interview, she said that Peter called her claiming that Shannan was in Peter’s wayward for some sessions before she was last seen but when interrogated Peter, he denied the fact. The call record of Mary (Shannan’s mother) showed the call of Peter at the said time. But due to lack of evidence, he was also cleared of charges. Later after the investigation, police stated that Peter had a behavior of exaggerating events to get attention because of which he was cleared from suspects lists by the police.

3. James Burke, who was promoted as police chief two years after the disappearance of Shannan. It was believed that he had a romantic relationship with a prostitute and drug offender. She accessed his cruiser and weapon. He was found guilty for having sex toys and pornography clips in his bags for which he trapped another person and even tried to suppress his squad members. He was sentenced to 46 years of imprisonment. He was even reported to have blocked an investigation attempt from the FBI and misconduct in the investigation in the case.

4. The final suspect was John Bittrolff, a convicted killer who lived in Manorville as a carpenter. During the trial, he was convicted for some of the victims because of the manner of killings which were similar to those he was convicted for in May 2014 by beating and strangulation. Those victims were also prostitutes.


In 2016, Mary Gilbert was stabbed to death by Sarah Gilbert, sister of Shannan. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She was admitted to the hospital and was released by the court based on insanity. 

In 2019, a proposal was made to use genetic genealogy to identify the unidentified victims paving way for killer identification. The fight for tape release is still going on among the police from 2019.

The case is still ongoing as the officials are assuming that whoever the killer is, he knows the loopholes, working for the police department which is causing him to hide for so long.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *