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A Serial Killer in Common

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“I’m assuming,” Gilbert says tensely, “that when she went back to the driver and the driver said, ‘Give me the money,’ she said, ‘No, I need the money for my mom’s birthday.’” She pauses and locks eyes with Overstreet. “Because she told me, ‘I’m doing a job so I’ll have some money to buy you something for your birthday.’”

Overstreet has a wealth of information about what it’s like to be a Craigslist escort—the money, how calls are arranged, the risks, the drugs. To a point, she presents an alternative image of all the girls—a less innocent one than some at the table would care to think about. Like Cann, she knew right away that her sister was one of the Gilgo Beach bodies. But unlike any of the others, Overstreet sees in all these murders an alternate ending to her own life that she somehow escaped. “I was thinking, God, did I run across this person?” she tells me later. “And maybe I wasn’t his type?

Overstreet almost says something else to Gilbert but then stops herself. “I’m telling you, I feel for you more than I feel for myself or any other lady here,” she says. “Because Shannan is still missing, you know? At least I know where my sister is. And if I don’t know nothing else, I have that closure.”

Jeff Marina, Lynn Barthelemy’s fiancé, seems to want to break the tension and bring everyone back together. “I just think all these girls, all our daughters, our sisters, whoever they are, I think they all met the same nut.”

But later, Overstreet presses her view again. “The connection between these four women is cocaine,” she says when we’re alone. “That wasn’t my sister’s drug of choice, but she had access to it. And if it was gonna make her money, she would do it. Shannan had a history of coke. Even though people won’t admit it in public, just do your research and you’ll see. So I think the killer likes to get high.”

“We argued about what she was doing, but I gave in. I didn’t want to push her away.”

If the police have a suspect or even a working theory of who the Long Island serial killer is, they aren’t saying. They seemed as surprised as anyone when a fifth victim was found on March 29, and three more on April 4, and two more on April 11. But the new discoveries didn’t fit the pattern. The bodies were discovered a significant distance from the original four sets of remains, and without burlap. One was identified as a prostitute killed back in 2003; another was a man; another a child. If nothing else, it’s now clear that Gilgo Beach has served as a dumping ground for corpses for years. While the victims’ families and others accuse the Suffolk County police of moving too slowly, officials are pleading for patience. “Please keep in mind this is not an episode of CSI,” Police Commissioner Richard Dormer has said.

In the absence of any leads, a number of theories have been floated in the press. The killer must know the area well, perhaps even be a local (how else would he be able to spend so much time there without being noticed?). He gets off on power, not sex (this would explain the phone calls to Amanda). He must have a background in law enforcement to have been able to evade detection (he was clever enough to use untraceable disposable cell phones to call his victims, proponents of this theory note, and his calls to Amanda were brief, all under three minutes, and from densely populated areas). The cop idea briefly gained momentum when the Post reported that two members of the NYPD, one active and one retired, were under suspicion, but the NYPD immediately denied it. For a while, reports spread that the case may be linked to an older mass-murder case of prostitutes in Atlantic City; the idea was that the killer might live elsewhere and summer on Long Island, which would explain why all five women disappeared roughly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But that connection was eventually dismissed by police as well. The victims’ remains are another source of speculation. Why were the bodies so thoroughly decomposed? Did the killer mutilate the women for pleasure? Was he seeking to cover his tracks? Or did the bodies simply deteriorate in the salt air?

From time to time, law-enforcement officials have returned to Gilgo Beach to search for Shannan, fanning out across the bramble, sending cadaver dogs into the brush, and even using FBI Black Hawk helicopters equipped with high-resolution cameras to scan the area. They insist they continue to pursue all leads. But by all appearances, none of it has worked. The police seem no closer to catching anybody than they were the night Shannan Gilbert vanished.


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