Missing woman not among 8 beach victims, police say

Posted April 05, 2011, at 4 p.m.
Last modified April 09, 2011, at 5:22 p.m.

OAK BEACH, N.Y. — Detectives searching for a missing New Jersey prostitute have uncovered the remains of eight possible victims of a serial killer along a remote New York beach highway, but said Tuesday that none is the woman they have been looking for.

“I’m just shocked,” Sherre Gilbert said in a brief telephone interview after learning from Suffolk County detectives that her sister, Shannan Gilbert, was not among the eight bodies found along Ocean Parkway on Long Island in recent months. “I am still hoping for the best outcome.”

Shannan Gilbert, 24, who worked as an escort, last was seen last spring in Oak Beach, near where the latest remains were discovered, after apparently meeting a client she had booked through Craigslist. The bodies of four other prostitutes, all of whom advertised their services on Craigslist and were in their 20s, were found along the same highway by police searching for Gilbert in December.

A fifth body was located last week about a mile from where the first four were found and police on Monday said they uncovered the remains of three more people. Police have not identified any of the most recent victims and have not definitively linked them to the remains found in December.

Detectives suspect a serial killer but so far have no suspects.

The four dead prostitutes were found amid a 4-foot-tall tangle of sea grass punctuated by scrubby pine trees. Authorities have identified them as Amber Lynn Costello, 27, originally of Wilmington, N.C.; Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine; Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 28, of Norwich, Conn.; and Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of Buffalo, N.Y.

Although officers have searched the area several times since December, they intensified a search of the 7.5-mile area on Monday. After searching almost exclusively on the north side of Ocean Parkway, which leads to the popular Jones Beach, police academy cadets, K-9 units and other investigators moved to the south side of the roadway on Tuesday, searching a wide swath of sandy beach down  to the ocean.

The north side of the highway has proved a challenging search for investigators, who have had to contend with a thicket of underbrush and evergreens, peppered with a variety of trash, from helium balloons to car tires to beer cans and bottles.

Although police were able to quickly rule out Gilbert as a victim because of forensic evidence they had on file in her case, identifying the four recently found bodies could take weeks or longer, officials have said. The New York City medical examiner’s office is assisting Suffolk County officials with their investigation.

Gilbert had arranged to meet a client in Oak Beach last May. A resident of the gated seaside enclave told The Associated Press on Tuesday that a woman believed to be Gilbert came to his door around 4:45 a.m. on May 1, pleading for help.

Gus Coletti said that when he attempted to call police, she fled. He said he suspected the woman may have been intoxicated or high on drugs.

A few moments later, an unidentified man in a sport utility vehicle drove past the house and said he was looking for the woman, but then took off. Neither the woman nor the man was seen by the neighbor again.

The client Gilbert had arranged to meet was investigated by police but has not been named as a suspect in her disappearance.

Police said their search of the area for additional victims would resume on Wednesday.

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