According to My FOX NY, in 2011, searchers found eight sets of remains on Jones Beach, New York, which is a popular beach on Long Island. Later, authorities found a ninth and 10th victim, the latter of which was a skull outside a bird sanctuary on Ocean Parkway.
Soon, investigators knew there was a serial killer on Long Island. He would be known as the Long Island serial killer, but other names would be the Gilgo Beach Killer and the Craigslist Ripper. The name of the Craigslist Ripper would be used because the killer frequently killed escorts who advertised their services on Craigslist.
Remains would be found of two more victims, which may have been the work of a second serial killer. However, they found the work was similar to the previous killings, as was the location. Authorities discovered the bodies in 2011, but one of the new dead bodies was found in 2003, while another was found in 2000.
What linked the murders was that they were all disposed of in similar ways, and similar locations on Jones Beach on the Sourh Shore of Long Island. The two newer bodies were found in the woods.
This is the story of the Long Island serial killer, the status of the current investigation, and the horror of the killings on Long Island.
According to Joel Rose on NPR, the investigation started when a prostitute named Shannan Gilbert went missing in Oak Beach, New York in May 2010. She was last seen on a boardwalk running away from the client’s house. Her driver, Michael Pak, picked her up, and said she sounded normal. She posted another ad on Craigslist, then went to another appointment.
According to Newsday, the location was on Long Island’s South Shore, but no one would ever see her again. Gilbert vanished, and it led to one of the largest police investigations in Suffolk County, Long Island. They would investigate the cellphone records of Gilbert, and interviews from family and the last people who saw her.
Gilbert was a foster child who had been working as a call girl since 2007, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She started to advertise online in 2009, and she would charge $200 per hour. Pak would take a third of the cut for driving her, but he would say she would usually be very nice, but eventually start cursing and yelling at him.
Pak said he called Gilbert at 12:20 a.m. when the other client called. The man’s name was Joseph Brewer, a 75-year-old man who said he was a “lonely guy,” being divorced and living alone. He was looking on Craigslist, not for hookers, but just to not be lonely.
Gilbert and Pak arrived at Oak Beach at around 2 a.m. He played poker on his phone, while Gilbert went inside to spend time with Brewer. Brewer would say he didn’t have any sexual contact with her, but he asked her to leave after she demanded money from him. Brewer asked Pak for help when she started to “freak out.” Gilbert called 911 at 4:51 a.m. and would stay on the phone for 23 minutes.
Police wouldn’t arrive until 6 a.m, but Pak said she was acting erratically and he suspected bad reactions to drugs and alcohol, which she allegedly often did with clients. Nevertheless, witnesses said she ran away. She would never be found again.
“Four bodies found in the same location pretty much speaks for itself. It’s more than a coincidence. We could have a serial killer.”
All of the remains found were those of young women, mostly in their mid-20s. Many of them were escorts. Another victim was an Asian man. Another was a female toddler. Suffolk County police started offering $25,000 for an award. As of September of that year, the police received 1,200 tips.
They would suspect one serial killer to be responsible for most of the killings. The location of the dumpings was the main reason why they thought so. Many of the women killed were prostitutes who advertised on Craigslist.
“We’ve had the same dumping ground, sex workers, young women — even though there were the Asian male and the toddler — but we think they were connected to the sex trade in some way. And these common denominators indicate we have the one person committing these crimes,” the Suffolk County Police Commissioner said.
Once the serial killer was profiled, the media speculated it was probably a white man in his mid-20s to mid-40s. Living in Long Island, I would say that’s about 40% of the population, so that’s not a very specific measure. Manny Fernandez and Al Baker at the New York Times suspected the man had a girlfriend or was married, and that he was educated and charismatic. Obviously, they also suspected he lived near Ocean Parkway on the South Shore of Long Island.
They just called him Joe C. as an unknown subject. All of the women were buried in burlap sacks, leading to authorities believing he had a stockpile of burlap sacks. According to serial killer researcher Scott Bonn, an assistant professor of sociology at Drew University:
“This is someone who can walk into a room and seem like your average Joe.”
Other experts said the killer didn’t just stumble on the location. He had significant familiarity with it. Other Long Island serial killers scattered their victims across the state. These men include Joel Rifkin and Robert Shulman, who also killed many women and spread them all around.
The person who used the burlap sacks made FBI profiler Jim Clemente believe the man had significant sophistication in his killings, leading Clemente to think he was interested in rituals and sadism.
Even Rifkin, who killed many women, told Newsday the killer was likely “a landscaper, contractor or a freshman,” based on the killer carrying burlap bags.
There were five prime suspects, one of whom included Brewer, since he was the last person to see Gilbert. Another included a corrupt Suffolk County police chief named James Burke who interfered with the FBI investigation and blocked it. He was known to be violent with prostitutes and had been arrested for assault. Another man, John Bittrolff, had been arrested for killing multiple prostitutes. One doctor, Peter Hackett, called Gilbert’s mother and said he “ran a home for wayward girls,” but he would later be ruled out.
Lastly, an aquarium director named James Bissett owned the main supplier of burlap in the region, but he took his own life two days after Gilbert’s remains were found.
It is still undetermined who the Long Island serial killer is. It is now a cold case. But a new police chief of Suffolk County, Geraldine Hart, has reopened publicity into the case. Despite the lack of success, she’s optimistic:
“There’s a lot of work left to do…But there is momentum. And I’m going to continue to use that momentum to move forward,” Hart said.
Originally published on CrimeBeat on March 4, 2021.