The full history of the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation
Years before the 2010 discovery of one set of human remains at Oak Beach in Suffolk County, 10 people fell victim to suspected homicide. Multiple females, one male, and a toddler were robbed of their lives between 1996 and 2010. The pursuit of a 2010 missing persons search unveiled their remains across Long Island; and, one of the most consequential homicide investigations in the history of Long Island began.
Part I. The Search for Shannan Gilbert & the Discovery of the Gilgo Four
On the evening of May 1, 2010, 23-year-old Shannan Gilbert disappeared, reportedly running through the gated community of Oak Beach after leaving the home of a client. Gilbert was driven to Oak Beach by a driver, who later received a call from the client to take Gilbert home after she reportedly became irrational and erratic. Although multiple searches were conducted in the vicinity of where Gilbert was last seen, her body was not discovered until 18 months after she was first reported missing.
On December 11, 2010, eight months after the search for Gilbert began, a Suffolk County Police Department Canine Unit continued the searched for Gilbert near her last known whereabouts. Instead of Gilbert, however, they uncovered human remains (Jane Doe Number one) that were later identified as 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy.
Two days after the discovery of Barthelemy, three additional victims (initially designated as Jane Does Number two, three and four) were located along Ocean Parkway. The remains were later identified as Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, Amber Lynn Costello, 27, and Megan Waterman, 22. All four women worked as Craigslist escorts and were last seen between July 2007 and September 2010.
Part II. The Discovery of Jessica Taylor in Gilgo Beach & First Connection to Manorville
The investigation into Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance continued. Several months later, the remains of another woman who worked as an escort were discovered several miles east of where the Gilgo Beach Four were found. This set of partial skeletal remains, unearthed on March 29, 2011, was known as Jane Doe Number five.
The discovery of these remains led to the first connection between the Gilgo homicides and Manorville. The investigation matched the remains of Jane Doe Number five to identified partial remains of Jessica Taylor, previously discovered in Manorville on July 26, 2003. She also worked as an escort.
Part III. Discoveries in Nassau County and the Second Link to Manorville
Following the connection between Gilgo Beach and Manorville through the discovery of Jessica Taylor’s remains, the investigation into Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance expanded yet again.
On April 4, 2011, three more sets of remains were found on Ocean Parkway in Suffolk County.
One set was that of a female toddler, another was a yet-to-be-identified Asian male, the third was initially referred to as Jane Doe Number six.
A week later, the investigation uncovered two additional sets of remains along Ocean Parkway in Nassau County. One set, through DNA analysis, was confirmed to be the mother of the female toddler. The mother’s partial remains were first discovered in Hempstead Lake State Park in 1997 and she has become known as “Peaches” due to a bitten heart-shaped tattoo of a peach on her body.
The other set discovered in Nassau County was genetically matched with remains discovered in 1996 in Davis Park on Fire Island, significantly expanding the timeline and geographic reach of the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation.
Part IV. A Turn in The Investigation: Jane Doe Number six is identified
Originally known as Manorville Jane Doe, Jane Doe Number six, found on April 4, 2011, was confirmed by the Suffolk County Police Department’s Homicide Unit to match with remains discovered in Manorville on November 19, 2000. Recreational hunters came across these remains, a white female with brown hair, located off of Halsey Manor Road in a wooded area.
The investigation determined that these remains had been in this location since the end of 2000.
Most significantly, in May 2020, Jane Doe Number six was identified as Valerie Mark. Mack’s remains were identified with the assistance of the F.B.I., using advanced forensic DNA technology.
Valerie Mack, who disappeared at the age of 24 while living in Philadelphia, worked as an escort, but is confirmed to have worked in Philadelphia and not New York. Mack also used the alias of ‘Melissa Taylor’ (no relationship with Jessica Taylor).
Mack’s family members provided additional DNA samples, and confirmed that they last saw Mack in the spring and summer of 2000 in Port Republic in New Jersey. While she was not reported missing, this information aligned with the previous determination that Mack’s remains were dumped in Manorville in 2000.
Part V. Shannan Gilbert Found and the Investigation Continues
In early December 2011, Suffolk County Police found Shannan Gilbert’s purse and mobile phone in Oak Beach marshland. Two days later, a quarter-mile east of her belongings, Gilbert’s remains were located.
In 2020, former Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart released previously undisclosed evidence to the public in an effort to advance the investigation. Police released photos of a belt believed to be handled by the suspect, not belonging to any of the victims.
In 2022, current Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison established a multi-agency task force that includes representatives from the F.B.I., New York State Police, Suffolk County District Attorney’s office and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office to reinvigorate the investigation and bring the person or persons responsible for these crimes to justice.