When I was researching cases for this series, I couldn’t not feature this one. I have family who live in Long Island so it is a place that is dear to my heart. I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks, despite researching these murders haha – I’m not put off. It is also an unsolved case, so even though it is under “Murderer Monday”, the actual murderer is still unknown.
This killer has been at large in New York since the mid-1990’s. The string of murders was only uncovered in 2010 when human remains were found on a beach. Police soon uncovered a string of remains that stretched right back to 1996. Since this killer has eluded capture for so many years, police strongly believe that they are a member of law enforcement themselves.
In 2010 police were looking for 24 year old Shannan Gilbert. An escort who had gone missing in May, and was last seen running from the client’s house that she had asked her driver to collect her from. He was the last person to see her alive. During the search months later, remains were found in a burlap sack-style bag. 3 more bodies were found over the next couple of days in the same area which was quickly viewed as more than a coincidence.
In March-April of next year, 4 more bodies were found. Police decided to open up the search to a wider area, the whole Nassau County. A partial set of remains as well as a single human skull were also found. 2 teeth were found about a foot from the skull. The total bodycount was at 10. In June of 2010 police increased the reward for information from $5,000 to $25,000 – the largest reward offered at this time.
Police released composite sketches of 2 victims to the public, as well as photos of jewellery found on the remains of a mother and toddler. In September, police publicised that the second set of remains they found matched a set of leg bones that washed up in a bag on Fire Island in 1996- miles away. As of September 2011, police have received over 1,200 tips. Nearly every body found was of a young, petite sex worker who had been strangled and placed into a burlap sack. Several were also found dismembered. Could these even be 2 separate killers? Some online sleuths believe so, yet I think the FBI statement that they are looking for one person is probably more accurate.
Who is the Killer?:
On November 19th 2011 police announced that they were only looking for one person who was responsible. They believed that the person was almost definitely from Long Island, not exactly helpful since it is such a huge place. In December, the remains of Shannan Gilbert were finally found about half a mile from where she disappeared. Police initially believed that she drowned after stumbling into a swamp, however her mother strongly contested this. I mean it’s hard to believe when she was last seen screaming and running away. A 911 call from her was uncovered where she screamed that someone was trying to kill her.
In December 2015 the FBI joined the case. There is obviously so much speculation surrounding the killer’s identity. He is most likely a white male in his 20-40’s, but that’s not much to go on. There are a few suspects that I will run through to see what you guys think.
In September 2017 the police announced that John Bittrolff was their main suspect. John was a carpenter, Long Island resident and also a convicted murderer. He murdered 2 prostitutes in 1993 and 1994 after his DNA was found on their bodies in 2013. He also lived in the exact area where 3 of the bodies were found, and there were a few similarities between this case and his previous murders. His favourite hobby was hunting and he often mutilated the animals he caught, and neighbours claimed he killed animals when he was a child. He also had a connection to one of the victims, as a prostitute he killed was best friends with Melissa Barthelemy – a Long Island Killer victim. Melissa’s family had received taunting calls from an unknown male after her disappearance.
My initial questions were about the house Shannan was seen running away from. It belonged to Joseph Brewer who hired Shannan after seeing her advert on Craigslist. He alleged that she began acting erratically not long after she arrived, then fled his house. Her call to 911 claimed that “they” were trying to kill her, not “him”, however she made the call from his house. Police were able to clear him as a suspect, despite how sketchy this sounds.
2 days after Shannan’s disappearance, her mother received a call from Joseph Brewer’s neighbour Peter Hackett. He told her that he was taking care of Shannan and that he “ran a home for wayward girls”. A few days later he called again, claiming he had never come into contact with Shannan. The marsh area in which Shannan was found was also close to his back garden. Eventually, Shannan’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him claiming that he gave Shannan drugs that led to her death. However it was revealed that Peter had a history of getting himself involved and embellishing his role in major events. His wife and children were also home the night of her disappearance and claimed he was with them the whole time. Police eventually also ruled him out.
To this day there remains 3 Jane Doe’s, a John Doe and saddest of all – a Baby Doe, who all remain unidentified. The killer has also been linked to 10 other unsolved deaths, but these have not been officially confirmed. Shannan Gilbert had a very tragic life that continued like that after her death. Her mother was found murdered in her home in 2016, and her little sister was arrested for it. She was bipolar yet had aspired to be a singer and was planning on using the money she earned from Joseph Brewer to pay for her mother’s birthday present.
This source is so shocking considering how peaceful and friendly residents of Long Island are. It is also such a beautiful place. The area the majority of bodies were found in was also rather secluded and within a small community. The killer was clever, the bodies were split up in a way that involved the police forces of 2 separate counties. This allowed their serial killer status to go undiscovered for so long, as they were all initially looked at as individual cases. Even the mother and child were separated over the state line.
Sex workers also often used burner phones, which the killer used to their advantage. These phones made it hard to track the women’s movements before their death. I hope that the National Missing and Unidentified Person’s System can discover who these women are. I also deeply hope that the killer is caught one day. Until then, there is still the possibility that the police will eventually uncover yet more remains.
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