News & Opinion


Fear stalks the quiet beaches as police seek more victims of the Craigslist killer

The Times

April 7, 2011


Walter Arnold looks at the massive police crane at the end of his garden in the small, bucolic community of West Gilgo Beach, Long Island, combing the area of scrub and pine beyond and says: “This country’s broke and all these resources for a wacko. People come here for sanctuary, to escape all the bad stuff. It’s shocking and frightening.”

Mr Arnold, a 65-year-old carpet salesman and father of five, who has lived there for 32 years, turned to the two policeman scouring the area from the crane, saying: “You find anything over here?”

“Nothing yet,” one of the men called back.

A 7½-mile (12km) stretch of the coastline, popular as a secondhome destination with the middle and upper middle classes, is now the site of a massive police hunt for a serial killer after the remains of eight people, four of them confirmed as young female prostitutes, were found in the area. The four victims who have been identified were all white and about 5ft tall.

The investigation began in December after the bodies of the prostitutes were found near one another close to the Ocean Parkway highway on Gilgo Beach. Last Tuesday another set of remains were found at Oak Beach, about a mile east of Gilgo Beach. On Monday three further sets of human remains were discovered in undergrowth between the two beaches. Only the December victims have been named: Melissa Barthelmy, 24, Megan Waterman, 25, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, and Amber Costello, 27.

Lynn Barthelmy, Melissa’s mother, told the New York Post: “These are poor girls who unfortunately got into this escort business to keep a roof over their head and feed themselves.”

At least four of the women used the website Craigslist to meet clients, leading the press to dub the supposed perpetrator the “Craigslist killer”.

The investigation is centred on the community of Oak Beach, where another prostitute, Shannan Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City, went missing after meeting a client for sex. She was last seen in May 2010 in Oak Beach crying out: “They’re trying to kill me.”

John Devereux, a 54-year-old surveyor, said: “People are scared. This is a nice area. Now it’s going to be known for this.”

Yesterday The Times observed as a huge stretch of the highway, 45 miles east of New York City, was cordoned off with rows of uniformed officers searching the 4ft sea grass, pine trees and undergrowth. “Everyone’s worried they’re going to find more bodies,” Mr Arnold said. “Women in particular — my wife, for example — are frightened.”

At least 30 police officers were searching the south side of the highway for the first time. The bodies were found on the north side. The area is dotted with beautiful beaches, idyllic properties and sandy boardwalks. Most residents do not live there year-round; they are citydwellers with second homes.

Tunnels under the road link the upscale homes with the Atlanticside beaches. Mr Devereux said that he had cautioned his 18 and 21-old year- old daughters to be careful. “I told them to stay aware and keep their eyes open.”