Every Known Victim Of The Long Island Serial Killer

The story of the Gilgo Beach murders started to unfold in 2010, when law enforcement searching for a missing woman named Shannan Gilbert discovered the remains of another woman, Melissa Barthelemy. The remains of three more women were found pretty quickly, and it wasn't over yet: More were found in 2011. New York architect Rex Heuermann wasn't arrested until July of 2023, and although he was initially charged with three murders, sources hinted that more charges would follow.

For years, the victims' families have dealt not only with grief and a lack of closure, but they've also spoken out about the stigma. Maureen Brainard-Barnes's sister, Melissa Cann, told The New York Times that even getting law enforcement to pay attention to her sister's disappearance had been nearly impossible. News reports reduced them to one dimension — they were sex workers — and the Suffolk County Police Department even went as far as to issue a public statement saying that most people had nothing to fear: This was a killer targeting sex workers.

Their families have fought to make sure they were recognized as so much more. Cann explained, "I understand they only know what she was doing down there, and that's what they look at her as. But it doesn't matter what she did. She was still a mother. She still meant the world to her daughter, she meant the world to me." With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the women irreparably linked to the Long Island Serial Killer.

Melissa Barthelemy

The remains of 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy were the first to be found on Gilgo Beach, the year after her disappearance. One of the Gilgo Four, she was also one of the three women that Rex Heuermann was initially charged with killing. A native of Buffalo, New York, she had been living in New York City for about three and a half years before she vanished, and according to what her uncle, Jim Martina, told The Wall Street Journal, her family had believed she was working in cosmetology. It was only when they reported her missing that they learned that not only was she a sex worker and an exotic dancer, but because of the industry she was in, it would be a full 10 days before law enforcement took her disappearance seriously.

A grim confirmation that something terrible had happened to their beloved daughter came quickly: According to The New York Times, the killer phoned Melissa's younger sister, Amanda, six times in the weeks following her disappearance. The content of the messages wasn't made public, but the Barthelemy family reported that each time, a calm voice mocked them — and Melissa.

Melissa's landlady described her as a kind, quiet girl who loved her cats. Her uncle described her similarly, saying, "She had the most wonderful personality I've ever seen. She was just so full of life. ... She loved New York City. She loved the excitement of the city. She loved to shop." 

Maureen Brainard-Barnes

Maureen Brainard-Barnes is one of the women known as the Gilgo Four. Her remains were discovered in December of 2010, wrapped in burlap and scattered over a stretch of beach about half a mile long. Her friend, Sarah Marquis, spoke with The Bulletin not long after the discovery of her body, and called her a loving mother and a trusting soul who "thought everyone was her friend."

The Connecticut native was reported missing in July of 2007, after vanishing while on a trip to Manhattan. Marquis and Brainard-Barnes's sister, Melissa Cann, said that they knew that something was wrong when no one could get in touch with her. After speaking with police during the investigation, Cann became very outspoken on the respect she felt her sister wasn't getting because she was a sex worker.

"The language [police] were using made the public think the victims were not relatable," Cann told CrimeOnline, but nothing was farther from the truth. Brainard-Barnes had a son and a daughter, worked as a blackjack dealer and a store clerk, was artistic, free-spirited, and incredibly devoted to her friends and family. Police Commissioner Richard Dormer later clarified their position, saying (via the Norwich Bulletin): "What activities these victims may have engaged in prior to their murders does not matter. They were young women whose lives were tragically cut short." Although suspect Rex Heuermann wasn't initially charged with her murder, authorities made it clear that those charges were likely imminent. On January 16, 2023, Heuermann was charged with the second-degree murder of Brainard-Barnes; he has pleaded not guilty.

Megan Waterman

In 2022, police released a video of Megan Waterman (pictured), thought to have been taken shortly before she was killed. She appeared on the security footage of a Hauppauge Holiday Inn Express, and authorities were hoping that someone would remember seeing her and — more importantly — anyone who met or approached her. 

Waterman's remains were discovered in December 2010 alongside the three other women of the Gilgo Four, and her murder is only part of her tragic story. In 2012, her boyfriend, Akeem Cruz, pleaded guilty to charges of transporting a woman across state lines for purposes of prostitution. Waterman was reportedly just one of several women Cruz advertised on Craigslist, but he was quickly eliminated as a suspect in her murder. 

Waterman left behind a 3-year-old daughter, and in 2020, the 13-year-old spoke to the Portland Herald Press on the 10th anniversary of her mother's disappearance. She wanted to make it clear that Waterman was much more than a victim of sex trafficking, but at the same time, lamented her own scarce memories: "I'm always going to be sad about not getting to know her." Rex Heuermann was arrested and charged with her death, and her sister spoke with ABC's WMTW8 when the news broke: "It's bittersweet, because I know the details of her death, so now I put a face to the details of the death. I don't necessarily like having that closure, but it is such a relief..."

Amber Lynn Costello

The remains of 27-year-old Amber Lynn Costello were also discovered on Gilgo Beach in 2010, and in 2023, Rex Heuermann was charged with her murder. Costello hadn't been missing for long before the discovery: She vanished in early September. According to what her roommate, Dave Schaller, told Newsweek, the events leading up to her disappearance had been perfectly ordinary. She had been using sex work to support her heroin addiction for a decade, and he recalled the final phone call she received: "She felt comfortable with him," Schaller said, and she headed out alone.

Costello was originally from North Carolina, and in 2011, her cousin's wife, Cherie Malpass, spoke with the Tampa Bay Times to share some fond memories of her. "She was hyper, happy, and energetic. She never did cause trouble or anything like that ... She just got mixed up with the wrong people." In 2006, she had made a move to overhaul her life: She got involved with her local church, sang in the choir, and after she moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, to be closer to her sister, she quickly became known as the first one to lend a hand to anyone who needed it.

By 2009, though, Costello had been arrested for shoplifting, and left Florida for New York. NBC News says that a missing person's report was never filed.

Valerie Mack (aka Melissa Taylor, Manorville Jane Doe, and Jane Doe No. 6)

It was immediately unclear just how many charges would be ultimately filed against Rex Heuermann, but it's still worth talking about the other sets of remains that were uncovered alongside the so-called Gilgo Four. In 2011, law enforcement searching Gilgo Beach discovered remains — a head, hands, and one foot — of an unidentified woman who became known only as Jane Doe No. 6. Those remains were eventually matched to a torso that had been discovered 11 years prior, in the Long Island woods about 181 miles away.

It wasn't until 2020 that the Suffolk County Police Department was able to use an online genealogy site to get a match to the unidentified woman's DNA. That led them to an aunt of the victim, which in turn led to Valerie Mack. In a heartbreaking addition to the story, authorities also found her son.

Once the identification was made, authorities quickly reported similarities between Mack and the other victims. She was 24 years old when she disappeared, she was known as a sex worker, and she was small, only five feet tall. The identification of her remains led police to issue another plea for any information regarding the serial killer, with Commissioner Geraldine Hart adding (via the Philly Voice), "For two decades, Valerie Mack's family and friends were left searching for answers. And while this is not the outcome they wanted, we hope this brings some sense of peace and closure."

Jessica Taylor

In 2011, authorities announced that they had identified the remains of another woman found on Gilgo Beach. Her name was Jessica Taylor, and she had vanished in 2003. Partial remains had been discovered in the same year, found in a wooded area about 45 miles away from the infamous beach, but it wasn't until 2011 that a Gilgo Beach search turned up additional remains, with a disposal method that authorities compared to what had happened to Valerie Mack (then called Jane Doe No. 6).

Law enforcement suggested that the two women had been dismembered in an attempt to prevent them from being identified, and they also noted that along with the dismemberment, there had been an attempt to remove Taylor's back tattoo. Since that kind of desecration hadn't been seen with the disposal of the Gilgo Four, that led authorities to put forward a terrifying possibility: There could be two Long Island Serial Killers. At a press conference, Suffolk County district attorney Thomas Spota confirmed (via The New York Times), "It is now very clear that the area in and around Gilgo Beach has been used to discard human remains for some period of time."

The 2023 arrest of Rex Heuermann brought hope to Taylor's cousin, Jasmine Robinson. She told News 12 that she hoped an arrest in Taylor's murder would be made, whoever it was: "I'm grateful that today is happening," she said. "I'm fighting for her because she can't fight for herself."

John Doe and Baby Doe

After their discovery in 2011, Suffolk County Police appealed for any information that might help them identify two sets of remains found along Ocean Parkway, and as of 2023, they remain unidentified. One of those sets of remains belongs to the only man found among the deceased: Discovered in April of 2011, it was estimated that he had been killed somewhere between 5 and 10 years prior, and had been in his late teens or early 20s. Authorities say he was of Asian descent, and noted that when his remains were recovered, they had been dressed in women's clothing. 

Also remaining unidentified is a girl between 16 and 32 months old, found not far from the remains that would later be identified as Valerie Mack. At the time of the appeal, authorities already suspected that she was related to a woman whose remains had been found a few miles away, way back in 1997.

The woman — whose torso was found in a plastic tub dumped in Hempstead Lake State Park — was given the nickname "Peaches" as a reference to a distinctive peach tattoo. She was only connected to the Gilgo Beach killings with the discovery of the skeletal remains of the toddler: The two were initially linked as they were found wearing similar jewelry, and the connection was confirmed by later DNA analysis. The Long Island Press reported that it was unclear whether or not they were being linked to the same killer.

Shannan Gilbert

As with several of the other victims discovered along that lonely stretch of windswept beach, it's unclear whether or not Shannan Gilbert was killed by the same person who took the lives of the so-called Gilgo Four. However, her May 2010 disappearance is credited with kicking off the investigation into Gilgo Beach. 

Shannan — who was also a sex worker — called 911 after meeting with a client for an appointment. The audio of that call was released to the public (via CBS News), and she can be heard telling the operator repeatedly that someone was after her. Authorities, however, maintain that she had been under the influence of some unnamed substance when she ran into the marshy area where her remains were found in December of 2011. Shannan's sister, Sherre, has condemned that whole theory as ludicrous, and says that she believes her sister was the victim of foul play. "It's disgusting," she told NBC News. "... She was in fear for her life. She called 911. ... why would she then go into the marsh? That to me just doesn't make any sense."

Shannan's story has an even more tragic footnote. Her mother, Mari, was one of the most outspoken champions of Shannan and the other women found along Gilgo Beach, and never ceased in her fight for justice. In 2016, Mari was killed by one of her other daughters, Sarra. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Sarra would later be diagnosed as schizophrenic, and stabbed her mother 227 times.

Karen Vergata

By the time Rex Heuermann was arrested in 2023 in connection with the murders of the Gilgo Four, the Gilgo Beach area had been a killer's dumping ground for almost 20 years. The first remains were found on the nearby Fire Island, and after a pair of legs turned up there in 1996, the victim was christened "Fire Island Jane Doe." More than a decade later, her skull was found on Gilgo Beach during the search that turned up more bodies, and it wasn't until 2023 that she was positively identified as Karen Vergata. Vergata was last heard from in February of 1996: According to The New York Times, she had called her father, Dominic Vergata, to wish him a happy birthday. When she vanished, private investigators he hired turned up no traces of her.

Like the other victims recovered from the area, Vergata had been living in New York City at the time of her disappearance and was working as an escort. Heuermann was not immediately linked to her death, and law enforcement stressed (via CNN) that it was a "confidential investigation."

At the press conference announcing Vergata's identity, law enforcement said that her family had already been notified. However, The New York Post reported speaking to one of her sons, Eric, and he and his girlfriend said they had not been told. Eric and his brother Gary (who was born with cerebral palsy after a pregnant Vergata was hit by a truck) were adopted in 1992.