Long Island Serial Killer Connection: Cocaine?

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This week's issue of New York magazine has the most in-depth feature yet about the serial killer search spooking locals this year, with body after body being found near Long Islando's Gilgo and Jones beaches. Though remains from 10 bodies have been discovered in the area, the case for a serial killer revolves around five women who share a profile: Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello, whose bodies have been identified, and the still-missing Shannan Gilbert: "all $200-an-hour escorts in their twenties, all but one of them five feet tall or shorter, who advertised online on Craigslist or similar websites." Between them there's a pile of spooky stories, a common affinity for drugs, sad family left behind, and few, if any, police leads.

The article gives a detailed account of Gilbert's disappearance, the most recent of the victims, on May 1, 2010, when she ran from a john's house on Long Island never to be seen again. The search for her led police to the four other bodies, all buried identically in burlap, all identified as women who disappeared during the summer months, beginning with Brainard-Barnes, who was last seen on July 9, 2007.

For New York, family members of victims gathered together for the first time to discuss their dovetailing stories. Much of the biographical information about the women matches, including the circumstances that led them to the escort business and a history with drugs.

Kimberly Overstreet, the sister of Amber Costello, has worked as a prostitute on and off for years and even introduced her sister to the profession. She is the most blunt about the girls' situations and even argues with the other victims' family members about what she sees as overly naive views of the killings. But she comes back to the drugs:

"The connection between these four women is cocaine," she says when we're alone. "That wasn't my sister's drug of choice, but she had access to it. And if it was gonna make her money, she would do it. Shannan had a history of coke. Even though people won't admit it in public, just do your research and you'll see. So I think the killer likes to get high."

Other sections of the New York feature recap what we already know: The cops haven't let on that they're progressing much in the case, but there are a handful of guesses about the killer. Some say he might even be law enforcement because of his skilled evasion tactics; he might be a local. Also, he "gets off on power, not sex."

But the most movie-ready moment, and also the most awful, in the story comes in a longer account of a previously recounted detail -- the killer called the younger sister of the murdered Melissa Barthelemy:

Seven days after Melissa disappeared, the phone rang at Lynn's home in Buffalo. The caller I.D. displayed the number of Melissa's missing cell. Amanda picked up. The voice was self-assured. "Is this Melissa's little sister?" he asked. "I hear you're a half-breed." Amanda's father is black. Whoever was calling knew what Amanda looked like.

There were seven calls in all. Once, the caller seemed to toy with Amanda, asking if she knew what Melissa did for a living. Another time, he said, "Are you gonna be a whore like your sister?" Police traced some of the calls to Midtown Manhattan and another to Massapequa. In the last call, in August 2009, he told Amanda outright that he had killed Melissa.

The other family members are obviously curious about the details of the call, though Amanda is reticent to give away too much. "He was calm, in control," Amanda says. "He knew what he was doing."

Read the rest of the article, "A Serial Killer in Common," here.

[jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com / @joecoscarelli]


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