Search in serial killer probe to resume Thursday

April 6, 2011 5:40:14 PM PDT
The sister of Amber Costello, one of the victims of the Suffolk County serial killer, managed to sneak past police lines to see for herself.

"It's sad, and I just wanted to get a chance to see where my sister was," Costello said.

Police escorted her away and continued their search for the dead. It is an intense hunt through dense brush, spanning more than seven miles of this normally deserted stretch of Ocean Parkway.

A vast array of resources is being used in a serial killer case that's now gone global, chronicled by news crews from as far away as Germany.

"We are doing as thorough a search as we possibly can - a diligent, systematic and thorough search," Suffolk County Inspector Stuart Cameron said.

It was the hunt for missing prostitute Shannan Gilbert, which first brought police to this barrier island in December. They found the skeletal remains of four women, dumped on the side of the road.

Then came the heavy snowfall, hampering the search until last week when they discovered the first of four more bodies, sparking yet another exhaustive search.

"It's very tough terrain. There's a lot of sticker bushes in there. There's thorns. There's ticks. There's poison ivy," Cameron said.

The brush is so thick, homicide detectives with binoculars are standing in the top of tower ladders that belong to local fire departments so they can peer down and try to find anything that looks suspicious.

Late this afternoon, Nassau County Police confirmed they plan to launch a search of their own on Monday, east of the county line into Jones Beach. They are waiting until Monday because the weather is supposed to be bad until then.

Suffolk police made no new discoveries on Wednesday, but they plan to continue their work on Thursday. Police are searching for any evidence, and specifically for Gilbert. She was ruled out as a match against the four newly discovered bodies, which like the others had been dumped sometime in the past three years.

Forensic pathologists are using DNA to identify them. The process could take weeks.

The first four victims advertised their services on the online bulletin board Craigslist, which assigns unique email addresses to each posting.

When you respond to an ad, you leave an electronic footprint behind, and as officers have scouring the brush, Kobilinsky says it's likely they've been mining Craiglist's weblogs and email records as well.

"The police have some hard evidence to find the killer, provided they can identify the computer, its location and develop some linkage to the suspect," he said.

Detectives believe the crimes happened in the middle of the night and that the killer chose the same, desolate location, pulling-onto the shoulder of the westbound lanes, dragging the body out of his vehicle and dumping it no more than 25 feet off the roadside.

Of the four victims identified so far, Maureen Brainard-Barnes was murdered first. She was last seen on July 9, 2007.

Melissa Barthelemy was next, having disappeared almost exactly two years later, in 2009.

Megan Waterman vanished on June 6 of last year, and Amber Lynn Costello disappeared in early September of 2010.