The Serial Killer Victim's Secret Life
Eerie links are beginning to crop up between the Long Island serial killer's victims. Last week, we reported on the events that led to the tragic death of Amber Lynn Costello. Now, Christine Pelisek and Roja Heydarpour talk to the family and boyfriend of Melissa Barthelemy about her final hours, uncover the escort agency she worked for, and reveal what she had in common with another victim, Megan Waterman.
Melissa Barthelemy was last seen on July 12, 2009, sitting on a curb outside the Bronx basement apartment she shared with her five cats. The 24-year-old Buffalo native had a "date" that night, but she wouldn't tell her on-again, off-again boyfriend with whom.
Had she done so, it might have provided a critical clue to her murder.
Barthelemy, who moved to New York from Buffalo in 2007 to work as a hairstylist, kept lots of secrets. She told her family she was stripping at a club, but business was slow. Her goal was to make enough money to return to Buffalo and open a hair salon. Along the way, she had her boyfriend's nickname "Blaze" tattooed on her upper back.
"She was pretty fearless," said her mother, Lynn Barthelemy. "She moved to New York all by herself."
Her mother had no idea Melissa was advertising on Craigslist, selling her body on the streets of New York City, and working, on occasion, for an escort agency called James Bond Entertainment under the pseudonym Chloe. She also didn't know that on the night her daughter disappeared, she had lined up a date to the tune of $1,000.
“I think he wines and dines them and brings them back to his house,” said a law-enforcement source.
Earlier that evening, the blond beauty told her boyfriend that she might be going to Long Island, a frequent haunt of hers. She regularly hung out there with a girlfriend who also worked as an online escort, as well as at the home of a regular client. Her boyfriend said he would oftentimes pick her up from the john's house.
"She would go to Long Island a lot," said her boyfriend Johnny Terry, who spoke exclusively with The Daily Beast. "She had some older man she was chummy with."
Terry, who law-enforcement sources say was Barthelemy's pimp, said she was very secretive about her plans that night and declined an offer for a ride. "This time she said no," said Terry, who denies that he was her pimp. "I woke up in the morning and she wasn't there."
Last December, the bodies of Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, Amber Costello, and Maureen Brainard-Barnes were discovered along Ocean Parkway, a four-lane road that runs along the southern part of Long Island, about 45 miles from New York City. The bodies, which were found within 500 feet of each other, were all in various states of decomposition. It appeared that they had been killed elsewhere, robbing detectives of valuable clues.
Police soon suspected the slayings were the work of an active serial killer. There is also some suggestion that some of the women veered from their usual routines when they fell prey to the murderer. Three of the women seem to have left on their dates alone, and both Barthelemy and Costello appear to have been enticed by the promise of big money the nights they disappeared.
Interestingly, two of the women had a connection to the same Holiday Inn Express, located just off the Long Island Expressway in Hauppage, New York. According to Costello's roommate Dave Schaller, the pint-size escort received a call from a john who wanted her to meet him at the hotel at 1 a.m. a few weeks before she disappeared in September 2010. And Megan Waterman was staying at the same hotel with her boyfriend when she vanished without a trace three months earlier. Lorraine Ela, Megan's mother, said her daughter had logged onto Craigslist just after midnight on the night she went missing, and that videocameras showed her leaving the hotel at 1:30 a.m.
"I think he wines and dines them and brings them back to his house," said a Long Island law-enforcement source who didn't want to be identified. "They were all on their own. Maybe he dates them several times. Maybe he makes them feel comfortable."
"It's sad [Melissa] went down that path," said Brittany Johnson, Barthelemy's half sister. "She was really nice and always happy. She used to do my hair. She can't do it now."
Barthelemy's last apartment was in the basement of a Bangladeshi family's home on Underhill Avenue in the Bronx. It was one of many two-story homes on that block, with trees and minimally manicured lawns. Down the street, the barbershop, hair salon, and corner stores are mostly a mix of Dominican and Bangladeshi businesses clustered near a large Christian church and a mosque.
Barthelemy moved into her $800-a-month apartment after a Bangladeshi friend saw an ad at the grocer on the corner. Landlord Gafur Mohammad told The Daily Beast that the man called him and referred Barthelemy, who lived in his basement apartment for about eight months. She was a good tenant who kept to herself. He thought she worked in a club in Manhattan because of the late hours she kept.
"She'd come home at 5 in the morning and leave home after midnight," he said. "She would call a cab. Sometimes she walked."
Her Underhill apartment was a huge step up from her last Bronx address on Torry Avenue. There, she lived in a two-family house with chipped green paint and a dilapidated exterior. A metal gate stands in front of its lawn—part-parking space, part yard, with scattered patches of grass where kids play.
"She would dress up nice, wearing party clothes," said her neighbor. "I wish I would have spoken to her more."
The day after Barthelemy vanished, Terry said he called her numerous times on her cellphone but the calls went to voicemail. A few days later, he said he went to the police to report her missing but was told that "they couldn't help me because she wasn't underaged or handicapped."
Terry said his efforts soon made him suspect No. 1. "They were watching me and following me," he said of the cops. "I had nothing to do with nothing." He admits that he and Barthelemy broke up regularly, but "no matter what, she always texted me... That's why I got worried when she didn't answer her phone."
Meanwhile, Barthelemy's sister, Amanda, began to receive calls, about one each week.
The caller ID indicated the call came from Melissa's cellphone. The man who sounded like an "older white guy" wanted to know if the person on the line was Melissa's little sister. "The whole year I continued to pay for the phone bill," Melissa's mother, Lynn, told The Daily Beast. "It was only turned on when the guy would turn it on, when he made the phone calls. He would only keep it on for three minutes."
The police traced the calls to cellular towers in Times Square and Madison Square Garden, but got nowhere. Lynn said they received five more calls, the last one on August 26, 2009. "The last call, he said he killed her," then hung up. Investigators also discovered that a call made to Barthelemy's voicemail the day she vanished came from Massapequa, a Long Island town about 20 miles from where her body was later discovered.
Detectives and family members combed through her phone records. Lynn discovered that a few calls were made to the escort service James Bond Entertainment. Lynn's fiancé Jeff called the number and spoke to a man who told him that Barthelemy had worked with him on a number of occasions. "He was prickly, like Jeff was bothering him," said Lynn.
A few of the numbers belonged to her regular clients, one of whom was a married man who told police that Barthelemy didn't show up for their scheduled date at a motel in Jersey City.
"He was more worried about his wife finding out than being a suspect in a serial killer case," said the Long Island law-enforcement source. "Her clients were regular Joes. She wasn't working for Heidi Fleiss."
Other numbers were traced to throwaway phones purchased in Manhattan. One of the phones was linked to the name Mickey Mouse.
Around the same time, Terry said he began to get his own taunting phone calls. His calls were from a "white guy," he said.
"He was threatening me," recalled Terry. "He said, you like to do some crazy stuff with Melissa, I know where you be at. Most of the time he seemed to be drunk. He knew who I was. He knew I had tattoos on my back. Maybe he felt [Melissa] was doing something he didn't like."
Terry said the anonymous caller called him more than 30 times over a period of eight months. He said he reported the calls to the cops. Months later, Terry said, he was approached by the police again, but this time not as a suspect. They wanted to know about the john on Long Island. They asked if he could describe the house and if he could pick it out if he was taken there. He said he could.
"They already knew about the guy in Long Island," he said. "I said if they come to get me I would go. They didn't come."
Christine Pelisek is staff reporter for The Daily Beast, covering crime. She previously was a reporter at the LA Weekly, where she covered crime for the last five years. In 2008, she won three Los Angeles Press Club awards, one for her investigative story on the Grim Sleeper.
Roja Heydarpour is an editor at The Daily Beast. She has reported for the The New York Times and The Times-Tribune.