YAPHANK, N.Y. — Investigators returned Monday to their theory that four young women were slain by a serial killer and dumped on a desolate stretch of barrier island, as authorities said all the bodies were identified as those of prostitutes who advertised online.
Officials on New York’s Long Island, where the bodies were found in early December strewn along a quarter-mile stretch of marshy grasslands in overgrown shrubbery and sea grass, would not say Monday whether they had identified any suspects.
Three women were identified Monday by county law enforcement as Maureen Brainard-Barnes of Norwich, Conn., Melissa Barthelemy of New York’s Erie County, and Amber Lynn Costello of North Babylon, on Long Island. Authorities said those locations were where they were last seen, not necessarily where they lived.
Authorities last week identified the first of the four women as that of Megan Waterman, a 22-year-old Craigslist escort from Scarborough, Maine, who disappeared June 6.
District Attorney Thomas Spota said that he believes they are victims of a serial killer. The bodies “probably were in that location for some period of time,” he said.
Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, who had backed away from early assertions that a serial killer was involved, agreed with Spota.
“What activities these victims may have engaged in prior to their murders does not matter,” Dormer said Monday. “They were young women whose lives were cut tragically short.”
Spota said he would reach out to women who work in the escort business, appealing to them to come forward if they have details about the slain women.
Brainard-Barnes was 25 when last seen in Manhattan on July 9, 2007. She had left Connecticut for New York that day and never returned, according to several missing-person websites.
Barthelemy was 24 when she disappeared July 12, 2009, and Costello was 27 when last seen Sept. 2, 2010.
Waterman last was seen at a Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge on Long Island. She disappeared after traveling to New York on Memorial Day weekend with Akeem Cruz, a 21-year-old Brooklyn man described as her boyfriend. Cruz is now serving a 20-month sentence in Maine for drug trafficking.
Police found the first body Dec. 11 just steps from Ocean Parkway, which leads to the popular Jones Beach State Park. The other three bodies, including that of the missing Maine woman, were found two days later during a follow-up investigation.
Police were looking for another missing Craigslist escort when they happened upon the bodies near the beach. They since have said that the person they originally were looking for, a woman from New Jersey, was not among the dead. Authorities said Monday that case is still under investigation.
The highway sits on a narrow strip of land that divides the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The four-lane parkway runs through the middle, connecting Jones Beach with several state- and town-run beaches to its east.