What to Know
- Police released two new photographs that appear to be of a black leather belt, which is seemingly inscribed with the initials HM or WH
- Investigators previously said they believe the belt was used by the suspect responsible for the killings
- Both at the time of the announcement and on Monday, Suffolk County Police refused to elaborate any more on the belt, including its size
Police on Monday released two new photographs of articles recovered in relation to the investigation into the bodies of 10 victims found near a stretch of highway near Gilgo Beach.
The photos appear to be of a black leather belt, which is seemingly inscribed with the initials HM or WH, that investigators believe was used by the suspect responsible for the killings.
Suffolk County Police did not share where exactly the belt was located, or when it was found. Investigators previously said they believe the belt was handled by the killer and did not belong to any of the women whose bodies were found mutilated along the stretch of highway off the south shore of Long Island.
Police refused to elaborate any more on the belt at the time of their initial announcement, declining to answer a question about the size of it.
The investigation had been dormant for years, at least publicly. It wasn't until January of this year, nearly a decade after the bodies were found, that Suffolk County police launched a website dedicated to the ongoing investigation. Soon after, they held a press conference to share what they described at the time as a "previously undisclosed piece of evidence" (referring to the belt, and releasing photos showing the initials) in their quest for answers. Officers also offered a new commitment to share information with the public on their continuing investigation into the years-long mystery of those finds on Ocean Parkway.
The latest photos of the belt come months after Suffolk County police released the name of a previously unidentified victim linked to the notorious killings. After announcing they had unearthed the identity of the woman previously referred to as "Jane Doe #6," cops revealed her to the public as Valerie Mack in late May.
Mack was 24 when she was last seen; she was working as an escort in the Philadelphia area at the time of her disappearance. Family members last saw her in the spring/summer of 2000 near Port Republic, New Jersey. Mack, who also used the name Melissa Taylor, was never reported missing. She is survived by family members, whose identity will be kept confidential, officials said.
Mack's dismembered remains were located in separate locations over an 11-year span. Her torso was found in Manorville in 2000, not long after she was last seen. In 2011, her head, hands and right foot were found by Gilgo Beach.
"Valerie Mack’s identification is a giant leap forward in the investigation," Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a statement at the time. "As detectives relentlessly pursue leads related to her murder, we ask members of the public, friends, family, and associates of Valerie Mack to provide whatever information they have about her and the circumstances leading to her death."
Mack's Gilgo remains were discovered by authorities investigating a separate case, the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert, a sex worker from New Jersey.
Gilbert vanished after going to meet a client on Long Island's Oak Beach in 2010. The search for her would yield the grisly discoveries of 10 bodies along a stretch of highway near Gilgo Beach; four of them were sex workers who were found strangled and dumped in burlap sacks less than a mile apart.
No arrests were made in any of their deaths. Gilbert was later found dead in a swampy marsh not far from where she had last been seen. The autopsy results were inconclusive, and Suffolk County officials maintain she drowned or succumbed to the elements. They have consistently refused to link her death to the other women, despite independent autopsy results commissioned by Gilbert's mother that experts said indicated she too may have been strangled.
Search for Missing Woman Leads to Hunt for a Possible Serial Killer
Gilbert's body was found in a swampy marsh about a year and a half after she disappeared. She had called 911 from Oak Beach and said someone was trying to kill her; that call lasted about 22 minutes. There were three other calls. Despite efforts from the attorney of her now-deceased mother Mari Gilbert to have the calls released -- and a court order to do so -- they have never been made public.
The search for the missing 24-year-old sex worker led law enforcement to the grisly discoveries of 10 separate sets of remains, most of whom were also believed to be sex workers.
On Dec. 11, 2010, an officer found the body of Melissa Barthelemy, a call girl who had vanished in 2007. Two days later, officers discovered the remains of three other missing prostitutes -- Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello and Maureen Brainard-Barnes, all of whom advertised their sex services on Craigslist. Those four bodies had been dumped within a quarter-mile span, about 500 feet apart. All of the victims were in their 20s -- Brainard-Barnes from Connecticut, Waterman of Maine, Costello of North Babylon.
The following April, authorities found a partially dismembered woman, later identified as another prostitute, Jessica Taylor (no relation to the alias used by Valerie Mack), an unidentified Asian man, two unidentified women and an unidentified female toddler. The toddler was determined, through DNA testing, to be the daughter of the woman discovered about 7 miles away (see map above). They have not been identified.
Authorities said they were the victims of homicides -- and of a possible serial killer. No suspects have ever been publicly named in any of the cases.
On Dec. 13, 2011, investigators eventually discovered Gilbert's body about a half-mile from where she was last seen. She was found in a swamp rampant with thorny brush and police said they believed Gilbert drowned by accident.
Later, an independent autopsy by the renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden found Gilbert had suffered injuries “consistent with homicidal strangulation.” Police have said consistently they do not believe her death is linked to the others.
Gilbert's mother, Mari, refused to let the case drop out of the public eye and pressed law enforcement for a homicide investigation that never matured. Mari Gilbert died in July 2016, allegedly stabbed to death by her other daughter, Sarra, who suffers from schizophrenia.