Melissa Barthelemy was last seen in the Bronx on July 12, 2009.
But a call made to her voicemail that day came from Massapequa, a Long Island town about 20 miles from where her body and the bodies of three other prostitutes were found dumped on a desolate stretch of beachfront last December, the official said.
A psychic hired by Barthelemy's family to help in the search for her had predicted she would be found in a shallow grave, overlooking the ocean and near a sign with the letter G, the official said. The prediction essentially came true: The bodies were discovered in an area known as Gilgo beach, about 40 miles southeast of the Bronx.
Barthelemy's family hired the psychic in April 2010, nearly a year after the 24-year-old was last seen, said the official, who had direct knowledge of the case but was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The family later reported the findings to police, the official said.
On Monday, Suffolk County officials identified Barthelemy's body and those of two other women, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, of Norwich, Conn., and Amber Lynn Costello, of North Babylon. Megan Waterman's body was identified last week. And investigators returned to their initial theory: A serial killer likely was behind the deaths.
Investigators did not identify a suspect or say how the women were killed, but they were looking into what clients they might have met shortly before they disappeared.
The women were in their 20s and advertised online. One of them was reported missing nearly 3 1/2 years ago; another was seen as recently as September.
On Tuesday, officials said there were no developments in their investigation. But details emerged in the search for Barthelemy, originally from Erie County.
Barthelemy had been living in the Bronx. Her parents filed a missing-persons report after her near-daily calls to them abruptly stopped. A few days after she was last seen, her sister received calls from her cell phone, and a man on the other end said she was a "whore," the official said.
In the days after the missing-persons report was made, New York City police tracked the cell phone signal to midtown Manhattan and searched the areas near Pennsylvania Station and the Port Authority bus terminal, but the signal went dead, the official said.
Later, cell phone records obtained through a court order showed the call in Massapequa. Police canvassed the area, asking around at local hotels, but turned up nothing, the official said. The thick case file was eventually turned over to Suffolk County to help with the investigation.
Barthelemy's family also called to report to police the psychic's findings, the official said.
Meanwhile, family and friends of the slain women said they were grieving over the news.
Brainard-Barnes was 25 when she was last seen in Manhattan on July 9, 2007, and was a mother of two, friends said. Her friend Sarah Marquis, of Groton, Conn., said she was trusting and was a good mother.
"She had a lot of energy," Marquis said. "She loved people.
She thought everyone was her friend."
She was always on the phone, and when she stopped calling people knew something was wrong, Marquis said.
Costello was last seen in September and was 27. Her former husband, Michael Wilhelm, of Kannapolice, N.C., said the news came as a shock.
"I want to know where I can go see her body," he said. "I just want to know what's going on."
Costello grew up around Wilmington, a booming area along North Carolina's southeast coast, where she and Wilhelm met.
"It's messing with me real bad right now," he said. "She had her bad habits, but I still cared about her."
Waterman, a 22-year-old Craigslist escort from Scarborough, Maine, was last seen in June at a Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge, 20 miles north of where her body was found. She disappeared after traveling to New York on Memorial Day weekend with a 21-year-old Brooklyn man described as her boyfriend. The man is now serving a 20-month sentence in Maine for drug trafficking.
Police found the first body, Barthelemy's, in mid-December just steps from a 15-mile stretch of beachfront highway that leads to the popular Jones Beach State Park. The other three were found days later during a follow-up investigation.
Police had been looking for another missing woman, Shannan Gilbert, who hasn't been found.