ABC News In-depth Feature
It has been nearly 10 years since police were searching for a missing sex worker, Shannan Gilbert, and made the grisly discovery of 10 other bodies on a stretch of beach on the south shore of Long Island -- a chilling revelation that shook the greater New York area and made national headlines.
To this day, mystery shrouds the cases. The killer (or killers, by some accounts) has not yet been caught and five of the victims have not been identified. The way in which the victims who were identified, most of whom police say were sex workers, were killed is still not clear, but a Suffolk County police spokesperson told ABC News investigators are working under the assumption that a serial killer is to blame in some, if not all, of the killings.
And while police do not believe Gilbert's death is connected to the other murders, questions remain about how she died. A lawyer for her family, in fact, believes that she may also be a victim of the possible serial killer, based on an independent autopsy that could not rule out strangulation.
"Unquestionably, I believe it's a homicide," Gilbert's family lawyer, John Ray, told ABC News.
Suffolk County police recently released new evidence in the investigation of the deaths, which are being treated as one case, and announced the launch of a website dedicated to providing updates and collecting tips, in hopes of coming closer to solving the murders.
Yet even with the newly-released piece of evidence -- a photograph of a belt that was collected at the initial stage of the investigation but was withheld from the public -- many questions remain unanswered.
Here's what is known, and unknown, about the murders.
Bodies are found
On Dec. 11, 2010, authorities were searching in a weedy area off Ocean Parkway, which runs through a remote stretch of beach on a barrier island between Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park, for Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker from New Jersey who had been missing since May of that year. Police did not find Gilbert during that search but found the remains of a woman later identified as 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy.
Two days later, during another search in the same area, authorities found the bodies of three more victims: Amber Lynn Costello, 27, Megan Waterman, 22, and Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25.
Three months after that, in March 2011, the remains of 20-year-old Jessica Taylor were also located near Gilgo Beach. Other parts of Taylors body had been found nearly eight years before in Manorville, New York (about an hour further east).
An aerial view of police cars near where a body was discovered in the area near Gilgo Beach and Ocean Parkway on Long Island, April 15, 2011, in Wantagh, New York.
All the women who were identified worked as prostitutes, police have previously said.
Three more bodies -- an unidentified woman, a 2-year-old girl and an unidentified Asian male believed to be between 17 and 23 -- were found April 4, 2011.
A week later, the last two of the 10 victims were found in neighboring Nassau County, including the toddler's mom.
All of the remains were discovered in the search for Gilbert and in relatively close proximity to each other along Ocean Parkway. Some were found as close as .5 miles of one another.
Gilbert's remains were finally found in December 2011 in nearby Oak Beach, which is also along Ocean Parkway. Police do not believe her death is tied to the others because she "doesn't match the pattern of the Gilgo Beach homicides," but have also said that her death is part of the active investigation into the Gilgo Beach murders, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said at the Jan. 16 press conference announcing the newly-released evidence. Gilbert's family lawyer believes that she is a victim of the possible serial killer.
Attorney John Ray has long been fighting to determine exactly what happened to Gilbert and believes police are hiding information regarding her death.
Police have not said exactly how the Gilgo Beach victims died.
The circumstances surrounding Gilbert's death also remain unclear.
The late Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer initially suggested that her death was an accidental drowning. However, former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City Dr. Michael Baden who conducted an autopsy for the family in 2016, did not rule on her cause of death, but indicated that she may have died by strangulation, according to reports at the time.
The assertion was made because of the condition of the hyoid bone in her neck, which is commonly found broken in strangulation cases, Baden said, according to those reports.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that Shannan Gilbert died a natural death," Ray said in 2016.
Gilbert disappeared after making a 911 call to authorities at the home of a new sex client and screamed, "they are trying to kill me," according to Ray, who says he was briefed on the call by police sources and Baden.
Police have said that Gilbert began "acting irrational" during her encounter with the new sex client, who contacted a driver to have Gilbert leave his home.
Gilbert refused repeated attempts to leave the location with her driver and instead fled on foot, knocking on several doors in the community before disappearing, according to police.
Ray told ABC News police have refused to release the tape, citing an active criminal investigation into Gilbert's death.
Yet he also said the notion that there is a criminal investigation into Gilbert's death goes against what authorities had originally said: she died due to an accident.
Serial killer in our midst?
There is little to nothing known about whoever may have committed the murders.
There have also been discrepancies over how many suspects may be involved. In December 2011, Dormer, who died in April 2019, and then-Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota engaged in a heated debate over the number at a legislative session, according to Newsday.
Dormer continued to say he believed there was only one killer involved, while Spota, who was convicted late last year in a police-beating cover-up, "openly criticized him," Newsday reported, and stood by his theory that at least three were involved.
Adding to the confusion was Dormer's attempt to assure the public in 2011. "I don't want people to think that we have a Jack the Ripper running around Suffolk County with blood dripping from a knife," Dormer said a the time. "This is an anomaly."
In the Jan. 16 press conference, Hart skirted around the issue, saying "It's important as a team we keep our mind open to all avenues and don't marry ourselves to one theory of the investigation. We go where the facts lead us. We do not speculate."
But in presenting the new piece of evidence, she did refer to only one suspect" who handled it.
Brad Garrett, an ABC News contributor and former FBI agent who has worked on dozens of cold cases and has been following this case for years, said that based on details of the killings, he believes whoever committed these crimes has a connection to Gilgo Beach.
"He knew that Gilgo Beach was there. He knew it was remote. Did he grow up there? Does he live there?" Garrett said.
Garrett also believes there is a single killer and that person is a male because of calls reportedly made to at least one of the victim's families by the suspect.
Pictures of women, whose bodies were identified among 10 bodies found near Gilgo Beach since December 2010, are seen in this Suffolk County Police handout image released to Reuters on September 20, 2011.
The killer is said to have used Barthelemy's cellphone to call her sister and make derogatory statements about Barthelemy, according to reports at the time. The person who made the call had a male voice.
Yet even with the characteristics Garrett laid out, he said "it doesn't really help you get any closer to him."
Other law enforcement officials familiar with the case have in the past speculated that the possible serial killer may have been an ex-cop or other law enforcement officer, according to a 2011 ABC News story.
The officials said it was a possibility because the suspect may have understood investigators' procedures and known how to hinder authorities' efforts.
The new evidence, presented by Suffolk police in January, was a photo of a black leather belt embossed with the letters "WH" or "HM," depending on how it's held.
The belt had been collected at an initial stage of the investigation, though Hart would not say exactly where it was found.
Hart said at the press conference she believed the suspect in the murders "handled" the belt, but would not elaborate.
The locations where eight of 10 bodies were found near Gilgo Beach since December 2010 are seen in this Suffolk County Police handout image released to Reuters, Sept. 20, 2011.
When asked why she was releasing the image now after having had it for all these years, Hart appeared to dodged the question, speaking about technology and saying "Now is the time to release this information," without providing details.
A new website has also been created, gilgonews.com, to give the public an outlet to easily leave tips.
"There has been a tremendous amount of effort put into solving this case and I can tell you that everyone involved is motivated by one goal: to deliver justice to these victims and to give them some sense of peace and some sense of closure," she said at the press conference, which was held at Suffolk Police Headquarters in Yaphank, New York.
In the time since the new evidence was presented, authorities have not released any new information on the case.
- Islands of Ireland: Whiddy in the same boat - Irish Examiner - June 1st, 2020
- Mackinac Island eases into summer season with soft, soft opening - MLive.com - June 1st, 2020
- Watch Rivers Cuomo cover Jesus Christ Superstar song for Islands In The Zoom sessions - NME - June 1st, 2020
- Hundreds gather at Brown's Island: 'We are going to protest peacefully' - wtvr.com - June 1st, 2020
- New COVID-19 case with ties to San Juan Island under investigation - SanJuanIslander.com - June 1st, 2020
- Meet kumu the whitesaddle goatfish - Thegardenisland.com - June 1st, 2020
- Cruise the Greek Islands with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon - The New Yorker - June 1st, 2020
- No new COVID-19 cases reported on Big Island - West Hawaii Today - June 1st, 2020
- Staten Island obituaries for May 31, 2020 - silive.com - June 1st, 2020
- Staten Island ShopRite melee ignites feuding factions on masks in pandemic - silive.com - June 1st, 2020
- Allow Staten Island students to have outdoor graduation ceremonies, city official says - SILive.com - June 1st, 2020
- The island that can save America | TheHill - The Hill - June 1st, 2020
- Long wait to reopen is over for Vancouver Island gyms Vancouver Island Free Daily - vancouverislandfreedaily.com - June 1st, 2020
- A Vancouver Island Road Trip of Crisp Wines and Gigantic Trees - Cond Nast Traveler - May 15th, 2020
- Up-Island towns uneasy about summer influx - Martha's Vineyard Times - May 15th, 2020
- Rock Island County reports another COVID-19 death - Quad City Times - May 15th, 2020
- Kite-surfing and social distancing, but no Sullivans at Castle Island - The Boston Globe - May 15th, 2020
- A grand opening - Thegardenisland.com - May 15th, 2020
- Long before Covid-19, these islands were a refuge from plague - CNN - May 15th, 2020
- Booth doing 'virtual' concert to raise Trooper Island funds - WTVQ - May 15th, 2020
- Love Island's Finley Tapp creates Scottish lockdown survival kit while isolating with Paige Turley - Daily Record - May 15th, 2020
- The Womens Jail at Rikers Island Is Named for My Grandmother. She Would Not Be Proud. - The New York Times - May 15th, 2020
- Top Cuban Official Accuses America Of Committing Acts Of Terrorism Against Island Nation - CBS Miami - May 15th, 2020
- Grand Island Public Schools Foundation launching Give GIPS Week - Grand Island Independent - May 15th, 2020
- District Court judge: City of Bellevue cannot engage in 'island annexation' - Omaha World-Herald - May 15th, 2020
- Rare blue dragons are washing up on the Padre Island National Seashore - CNN - May 15th, 2020
- Staten Island Home of the Week: Privately-gated community with panoramic views, $3M - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- Antibody testing begins on the Big Island - West Hawaii Today - May 11th, 2020
- Hardwood logging on Manus Island has not delivered promised local benefits, report finds - The Guardian - May 11th, 2020
- Coronavirus claims 11 more Staten Islanders; more than 2K released from Island hospitals - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- South Padre Island properties unphased by COVID-19 housing market, realtor explains - KGBT-TV - May 11th, 2020
- Love Island's Malin Andersson felt 'shame' for staying with abusive ex after he 'beat her up' - Mirror Online - May 11th, 2020
- Love Island 2020 could be set for surprise return this Autumn after cancellation - RadioTimes - May 11th, 2020
- Tunnel to Towers Foundation working to take care of Staten Island - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- Staten Island obituaries for May 10, 2020 - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- Reveling in the Enigmatic Beauty of Easter Island - The New York Times - May 11th, 2020
- Help for parents and teachers; author gives tips - Shelter Island Reporter - Shelter Island Reporter - May 11th, 2020
- NYC's Coney Island Beach in Cyclone of Confusion for Summer - THE CITY - May 11th, 2020
- Danny Dyer says Love Island is a "pile of s**t" and leaves The Ranganation viewers - digitalspy.com - May 11th, 2020
- Island Luck CEO: No logic or rational in govt. decision making - EyeWitness News - May 11th, 2020
- Staten Island Zoo to host virtual meet and greet with exotic animals: How to attend - SILive.com - May 1st, 2020
- Artists campaign against Bristol Spike Island eviction of Howard Silverman - The Guardian - May 1st, 2020
- Coronavirus: Woman took son to Greek island to 'protect him from COVID-19' - Sky News - May 1st, 2020
- TSB investigation into Island Queen III incident issues three concerns - The Kingston Whig-Standard - May 1st, 2020
- This Tech Conference Is Being Held on an Animal Crossing Island - VICE - May 1st, 2020
- Island COVID-19 confirmed cases rise to 19 - Martha's Vineyard Times - May 1st, 2020
- VIRTUAL TOUR Island Farm: Going back in time to coastal farm life in the 1800s | The Coastland Times - The Coastland Times - May 1st, 2020
- Car thieves flocking to Staten Island during pandemic, many of them repeat offenders - SILive.com - May 1st, 2020
- Coney Island Hospital Treated To Record-Breaking Meal Donation For Staff - BKLYNER - May 1st, 2020
- Analysis: Staten Island has the highest rate of people tested in NYC for COVID-19 - SILive.com - May 1st, 2020
- John Grisham Returns to Camino Island, This Time in Hurricane Season - The New York Times - May 1st, 2020
- Naples, Marco Island beaches to reopen Thursday - Wink News - May 1st, 2020
- New confirmed case brings Island total to 18 - Martha's Vineyard Times - May 1st, 2020
- Grand Island's mayor wants to know how the feds will help, says city 'has paid a price' - Omaha World-Herald - May 1st, 2020
- Pete Davidson & Judd Apatow Movie King of Staten Island Skips Theatrical, Hits VOD This Summer - Deadline - May 1st, 2020
- ITV considers filming Love Island in Cornwall or cancelling series - The Guardian - May 1st, 2020
- Elderly fisherman rescued from Niagara River near Grand Island - Niagara Gazette - May 1st, 2020
- Bali is worlds most Instagrammed island - The Jakarta Post - Jakarta Post - April 28th, 2020
- Staten Island coronavirus hospitalizations hold steady; death toll increases by 23 - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Small Island crews return to work - Martha's Vineyard Times - April 28th, 2020
- Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame will once again honor 4 at annual golf outing - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- South Padre Island reopens but some locals think its too soon - KXAN.com - April 28th, 2020
- Grand Island-area residents urged to avoid church services; Health Department worker tests positive - Omaha World-Herald - April 28th, 2020
- New York City's Hart Island: An overlooked final resting place - CBS News - April 28th, 2020
- COVID-19 testing rolls out on island - Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber - April 28th, 2020
- Increased halal, kosher options offered at Staten Island meal sites - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Greg Hardy ready to live on Fight Island, knockout all 15 heavyweights en route to UFC title - MMA Mania - April 28th, 2020
- Staten Island Home of the Week: Multiple large balconies and terraces, $2.9M - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Lone Residents of Little Bay Islands Share Tips for Living in Times of Isolation - VOCM - April 28th, 2020
- On Fishers Island, protocols in place to limit spread of virus - Suffolk Times - April 28th, 2020
- Running for her hometown; Alex Graham completes marathon on the Island - Shelter Island - Shelter Island Reporter - April 28th, 2020
- How Staten Island nursing homes stepped up to face hospital coronavirus overflow - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Grizzly bear just relocated from Vancouver Island shot dead - Nanaimo News Bulletin - April 28th, 2020
- Fears of Coronavirus Catastrophe at Rikers Jail - The New York Times - March 31st, 2020
- Ahead of the Curve? - Big Island Now - March 31st, 2020
- COVID-19: What's closed on Marco Island? - Marco News - March 31st, 2020
- During the coronavirus outbreak, a tale of two Rhode Islands - The Boston Globe - March 31st, 2020
- A Group of Islands in Northern Scotland Have Too Much Clean Energy, so They Are Producing Hydrogen Power - Interesting Engineering - March 31st, 2020
- Civil Defense Announces 11th COVID-19 Case on Big Island - Big Island Now - March 31st, 2020
- In the time of coronavirus, Vancouver Islands gardeners grow resilient - The Globe and Mail - March 31st, 2020