Even though she'd been missing for months, Megan Waterman's family was convinced she was still alive.
They were still clinging to that hope at 11 o'clock Wednesday morning when two Suffolk County detectives knocked on their door near Portland, Maine with the awful news.
"I had so many months to prepare and there's no preparing. This is the worst feeling. I feel like I've been stabbed in the stomach," Pertel said.
Family members first became worried about Waterman after not hearing from her during a trip to New York in early June, her mother, Lorraine Ela, said at the time the bodies were discovered. Waterman always called three times a day to speak to her 4-year-old daughter, Liliana, but the last call came on the night of June 5, she said.
When police searched the hotel room they found Waterman's clothing, makeup, cell phone and other belongings, Ela said.
Waterman, who advertised her escort services on the online classifieds site Craigslist, was last seen in early June at a Hauppauge, N.Y., hotel where she went with her boyfriend. The hotel is about 15 miles from where the four bodies were found in December.
It was the hunt for a missing Craigslist prostitute, Shannon Gilbert, which led cops to the bodies in the first place. Gilbert had vanished in Oak Beach, miles from the discovery, around the same time as Waterman. But when dental records disqualified Gilbert as a match, investigators said they did not believe Waterman would turn out to be one of the victims. For that reason, family members say, they were stunned to hear the news this morning.
"We weren't ready for this. Nothing can prepare you for this. It's just (breaks down crying) the worst feeling," Pertel said.
The search for answers has been anything but easy. Weeks ago investigators said they were stumped.
The four bodies were found strewn over a quarter-mile stretch of marshy grasslands, overgrown shrubbery and sea grass on the barrier island.
Investigators have sifted through hundreds, if not thousands, of missing person's cases while waiting for anthropologists to find matches against the skeletal remains.
"We have worked day or night over a period of 36 days or five weeks to determine what happened," Richard Dormer, Suffolk County Police Commissioner, said.
Now, District Attorney Tom Spota says the investigation has come a very long way. They could be days from publicly naming the three other women.
"I think progress - it's not that I think - I know progress is being made," he said.
Spota predicted the other bodies would be identified in a "very short period of time."
Police said the original missing woman, from New Jersey, was not among the dead.
Spota said since the bodies were found, relatives of other missing women have contacted authorities and tests are under way to compare DNA samples, as well as medical and dental records with the beach victims. He would not comment on whether police had identified any suspects in the killings.
Although Police Commissioner Dormer had initially said a serial killer may be responsible, authorities have since backed away from that assertion, saying all possibilities were being investigated.
Neither Spota nor Dormer would comment Wednesday on statements made last month by police that the victims were likely killed elsewhere and dumped along the parkway. The highway sits on a narrow strip of land that divides the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. A four-lane parkway runs through the middle, connecting Jones Beach State Park with several state- and town-run beaches to its east.
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