After nearly a decade of digging, New York authorities probing the murders of at least eight women whose remains were dumped along a deserted stretch of highway near Long Island’s Gilgo Beach shared a single piece of evidence: a photo of a belt that may have belonged to the killer.
That belt, embossed with the letters HM or WH, has been in police hands since the “initial stages of the investigation,” according to Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who spoke at a much-hyped press conference in Yaphank Thursday.
But even as she was peppered with questions about the belt and the timing of the photo’s release, which came the same day that Netflix announced a film on the saga, Lost Girls, will debut March 13, Hart took pains to pitch a new crowd-sourcing website to solicit tips from the public in the case, Gilgonews.com. Reporters in the room noted almost immediately that this attempt at engagement with the public did not appear to be loading in their browsers.
Authorities had better luck showcasing a picture of what Hart described as a “black leather belt found at one of the crime scenes along Ocean Parkway” that police believe was handled by a suspect in the long-unsolved case.
She said it was either “embossed” or “stamped” with the letters HM or WH, and expressed hope that its release might assist in the investigation.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to deliver justice and in doing so give a sense of closure,” she added.
Despite previous indications that the evidence was discovered after a new “scientific technique” was employed in the case long believed to be the work of one or more serial killers, any link between those techniques and the photo of the belt was left unclear Thursday.
The saga of the “Gilgo Beach Killer” or “Long Island Serial Killer” has consumed residents, the public, and investigators for the better part of a decade. On Dec. 11, 2010, a Suffolk police officer and cadaver dog were conducting a routine search for a missing New Jersey prostitute, Shannan Gilbert, who had gone missing after fleeing the home of a client—and instead found the body of a different woman in Gilgo Beach.
Authorities eventually discovered 10 bodies—including eight women—in the same area between December 2010 and April 2011. At the time, police said the first four bodies were women in their 20s who worked as prostitutes. Six of the women who were later identified had been reported missing between 2007 and September 2010.
Not all the bodies fit the same profile, however. The remains also included those of a young Asian male and an infant who have yet to be identified. Gilbert’s body was later found in December 2011, but police could not determine her cause of death or whether she was the victim of the same suspected serial killer.
Among the women identified were Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Lynn Costello, and Melissa Barthelemy—who had all advertised themselves as escorts on Craigslist. All four women had been found wrapped in burlap.
Authorities were also able to identify body parts belonging to Jessica Taylor, whose mutilated body was found in Manorville in 2003.
The legs of an unnamed woman described as “Fire Island Jane Doe” were found in 1996 on Blue Point Beach. Her skull was later discovered on Ocean Parkway. Body parts of another woman, described as Jane Doe 6, were later matched with another torso found in Manorville in 2000.
No arrests have been made in the investigation.
The unsolved crimes have been the subject of a novel, a true-crime thriller, several television specials, and the upcoming Netflix movie. In September, state officials revived the case after determining Suffolk investigators could ask the FBI to deploy “genetic” technology to run through genealogical databases to find potential relatives.