Missy Cann can’t forget the late-night phone call she received from her sister Maureen Brainard Barnes in the summer of 2007. “She called … at a train station in New York … From Penn Station. I could hear the commotion from the train station. I could hear the commotion from the trains,” says Cann.
“… from the time that she called me, it was poof. She was gone,” Cann tells “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty.
Investigators tracked Maureen’s phone to a cell tower in Long Island. “They knew that there was something very, very wrong here,” says Cann.
Three years later, in December 2010, human remains were found along Ocean Parkway, near Gilgo Beach on Long Island. Dominick Varrone, then chief of detectives, was struck by an odd detail. “It seemed to be wrapped in burlap, which, you know, didn’t make any sense,” says Varrone.
And the surprises kept coming. “I’m called and ‘chief we found another set of remains.’ They find another one and another one,” Varrone tells Moriarty. “We were dealing with a serial killer.”
Investigators found three other bodies in the area near Megan Waterman’s remains and were stunned they’d stumbled onto the victims of a serial killer. They dubbed the four sets of remains the Gilgo Four.The killer had left puzzling clues: all the bodies had been discarded in a similar fashion, roughly 500 feet apart, each of them swathed in burlap.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Eventually, 10 sets of remains were recovered. Missy’s sister Maureen and three others were found first and dubbed the Gilgo Four. Discarded in a similar fashion, they were placed roughly 500 feet apart, each wrapped in burlap.
The women also shared other striking similarities. “They’re all 4′ 11, very petite …hazel green eyes,” says Varrone.
Today, former FBI agent Geraldine Hart — now police commissioner — is breathing new life in the case. “It’s extraordinarily complex” says Hart. “We’re really aggressively pursuing this case.
Missy Cann wants are answers and justice. “… and I also want that the world to know like my sister mattered. ”
BODIES SWATHED IN BURLAP
Missy Cann will never forget that wintry day 10 years ago when she got the devastating news.
Missy Cann: [in tears] It’s really, really hard. I miss her so much.
Missy Cann: I want answers. I just want answers.
The remains of her older sister Maureen Brainard-Barnes—missing for more than three years—had been discovered on Long Island.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, was the first of the Gilgo Four to disappear. She had been working as an escort in New York City when she vanished in June 2007.
Erin Moriarty: Was there any relief in at least knowing what happened to your sister? Or was it worse?
Missy Cann: It’s worse. You’re waiting. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m waiting on. … She’ll never come back.
Former Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer was stunned to have found the remains of four young women on an isolated stretch of Long Island’s Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach.
RICHARD DORMER [to reporters]: … it looks like a car pulled up and opened the door and the bodies were dumped into the bushes.
Eventually, police would find 10 sets of remains in the area. Maureen and three others were found first and dubbed the Gilgo Four. Discarded in a similar fashion, roughly 500 feet apart, each of them swathed in burlap.
Dominick Varrone: I think burlap was selected because of its ability to take dampness, moisture and breathe, which would promote decay as well as act as camouflage.
Dominick Varrone was chief of the Suffolk County Detectives in 2010. He is retired from the police force but is still haunted by the man who got away: the Long Island serial killer.
Dominick Varrone: … it was probably the biggest case we ever had, and we put a tremendous amount of effort into that case.
Maureen was the first of the Gilgo Four to disappear that summer night in 2007. Her sister Missy believed Maureen had gone to Manhattan for a modeling shoot, and when she was on her way home, made that call from Penn Station.
Missy Cann: “I’ll see you in the morning … I love you.” That was last time I talked to her.
RICHARD DORMER [to reporters]: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that four bodies ended up in this area.
“48 Hours” has reported on the Long Island serial killer from the beginning.
Missy Cann: My sister was a wonderful person.
And over the years, Missy talked to us about Maureen.
Missy Cann: She was very smart, very creative.
Erin Moriarty: She liked being a mom?
Missy Cann: She loved being a mom.
But she faced obstacles as a single mom of two with no driver’s license nor college degree.
Missy Cann: Maureen would come and use my laptop and she would go and look for the help wanted ads. She was looking for fast food jobs, grocery store jobs, telemarketer jobs. I mean, over and over and over again.
By early 2007, things seemed to be looking up for Maureen.
Missy Cann: She had got a job at a telemarketing place and she was doing really well. And she got her own apartment and she was really proud.
Sara Karnes: She was a very giving person, and very loyal.
Sara Karnes: We were office besties. … you could never ever, ever be bored around her.
When Maureen went missing in 2007, her sister was filled with dread.
Missy Cann: I had a drive in me to be like, oh, I’m going to find my sister. Like, I’m not going to stop until I find my sister.
Missy called the police and reported Maureen missing in her hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, and also in New York City.
Missy Cann: She didn’t run away. Someone has her … this isn’t normal. My sister is gone.
Missy logged into Maureen’s email accounts and got a shock. In the days before Maureen disappeared, she was under enormous financial pressure. Maureen was about to be evicted from her apartment, and was facing an ugly, expensive court battle for custody of one of her young children.
Missy Cann: From her emails … I could see how desperate she was … to get money, to be able to save herself from being evicted.
Erin Moriarty: And save her son? Save custody of her son?
Missy Cann: Yeah.
Sara Karnes: She was terrified because her baby … was going to be taken away from her forever.
Erin Moriarty: But she’s working.
Sara Karnes: Yeah. … It wasn’t enough. Working that stupid telemarketing job was not enough.
Maureen’s emails revealed another secret: she was a sex worker. It wasn’t modeling that brought her to New York. Instead, she and Sara had gone to earn extra money as sex workers, advertising on Craigslist.
Maureen’s sister Melissa Cann says Maureen’s death is always in the back of her mind. “It’s really really hard… I miss her so much.”
Missy Cann: It was kind of devastating to learn. … But my main focus was to find my sister. … I didn’t care what she was doing.
Sara helped Missy reconstruct Maureen’s last weekend. Sara described how they learned they had been banned from Craigslist for a few days and couldn’t post ads for clients. So, they decided to update their photos instead – and hired a photographer.
Sara Karnes: … she picked … old ’40s Hollywood glamour … the way her curls fell that day just looked so ’40s with the makeup and everything like that. She was just so beautiful.
All dressed up, the two young women wandered around Times Square like carefree tourists.
Sara Karnes: It was just awesome. We were untouchable.
But the next day, Sara returned to Norwich, and says Maureen remained to make more money.
Erin Moriarty: … you’ve been flagged by Craigslist. You’re not able to put your ad on Craigslist. So how would Maureen meet anybody on that Sunday?
Sara Karnes: She had regulars.
Erin Moriarty: So, does that mean whoever took her and killed her was someone she had seen before?
Sara Karnes: Most likely.
But Missy had no luck in her search. Months became years. All she knew was that someone had taken her sister.
Missy Cann: How old was this person? … how did this person look? How did he break through her guard?
DID THE KILLER HAVE A TYPE?
Miles away in Maine, a 14-year-old girl struggles with what happened to her mother, who vanished when she was just 3 years old.
Lily Waterman: I want them to find out who did it. … Part of you is like missing. It’s just like something is always off.
Not a day goes by that Lily Waterman doesn’t miss her mom, Megan.
In her first TV interview, Lily Waterman tells “48 Hours” that if she could talk to her mom, she would tell her how much she loves her. “I never got to really say those words.”
Lily Waterman: It’s never going to be over. She’s always going to be gone. I can’t bring her back. … I would do anything to bring her back, but I can’t. And it just, like, frustrates me so bad.
Sharing her story for the first time on television. Lily was just 3 years old when Megan vanished.
NEWS REPORT: Waterman was last seen in Hauppauge, NY on Long Island at a Holiday Inn Express.
Megan’s family says the 22-year-old from Scarborough, Maine, was a spunky but troubled kid who loved fashion. The family said in a video at the time of her disappearance she would never have willingly left her daughter.
LORRAINE ELA | Megan’s mother[on video]: This little girl was her life.
Erin Moriarty: Lily, do you remember when your mom disappeared?
Lily Waterman: Yeah. It’s very, like, blurry because it was so long ago. … I was just very, like, confused on why she, like, wasn’t around. … That’s all I can like remember, really.
Lily says her memories of her mother’s boyfriend Akeem Cruz are clear.
Lily Waterman, 14, was just 3 years old when her mother vanished.
Lily Waterman: All things I do, like, remember of her are bad times when Akeem was hitting her, was hitting me, was just being, like, rude. … It was scary. You were scared for your life.
Erin Moriarty: Why did she stay with him?
Elizabeth Meserve: Fear.
Megan’s aunt Elizabeth Meserve says the family encouraged Megan to leave Cruz.
Elizabeth Meserve: She was afraid he would hurt her family; he would hurt Lilliana.
Megan Waterman, 22, was the youngest of the four victims whose bodies were discovered near Gilgo Beach. Megan was last seen on June 6, 2010, leaving a Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge, N.Y.
Cruz began taking Megan to Long Island, where he pushed her into prostitution. When she was away, Megan called Lily every night.
Elizabeth Meserve: And when she didn’t call, then I know that was her last day.
On June 6, 2010, Megan was seen exiting a Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge at 1:30 a.m.
Elizabeth Meserve: There’s footage of her walking down a little side path I guess … that’s along the back or the side of the hotel. … She never returned.
Back in Scarborough, the family heard from Cruz that Megan was missing. They reported her disappearance to the police. Chief Dom Varrone says Akeem Cruz was already on his radar.
Dominick Varrone: We knew his background and we knew at that time that they had crossed state lines coming from Maine to … Long Island. So, we actually had the FBI unit involved in that case in June of 2010.
Erin Moriarty: He set up all her dates. Wouldn’t he know the last person she saw?
Dominick Varrone: You would think. That was a very, very heavy part of the investigation.
Varrone concluded Cruz didn’t know who Megan’s client was that night and had nothing to do with her disappearance. Detectives continued their search for her and in December 2010 found her as one of the Gilgo Four.
Elizabeth Meserve: The police found her, and so Lily said, “they found my mum. … So why didn’t they bring her home?”
But when Lily grew older and more tech savvy, she typed her mom’s name into the internet search bar.
Erin Moriarty: Was that tough?
Lily Waterman: Yeah, for sure. … I couldn’t process it because my whole life, I thought that she just got, like, stolen, and she never came back. I didn’t realize how, like, the line of work she was doing, how like brutal it was. I didn’t realize that part of it.
NEWS REPORT:Police say the remains of Melissa Barthelemy and three other victims were found along this beach in December.
Erin Moriarty: How often do you think about Melissa?
Lynn Barthelemy: Every single minute of the day.
Lynn Barthelemy’s 24- year-old daughter Melissa had been missing a year-and-a-half when her remains turned up on Gilgo Beach.
Lynn Barthelemy: It just didn’t happen to the girls. It destroyed all of our families.
Melissa Barthelemy, 24, went missing in July 2009. In the weeks following her disappearance, her 15-year-old sister was terrorized by a series of frightening phone calls made by a man calling from Melissa’s cell phone. Police believe the man who made these phone calls is, in fact, Melissa’s killer.
Melissa moved from her home in Buffalo to New York City to work as a hairdresser. At some point she turned to sex work. When she stopped calling home in July of 2009, her mother panicked.
Lynn Barthelemy: We get on the internet. We start callin’ hospitals. I didn’t know what, but I know something had to be wrong.
About a week later, her then 15-year-old sister got a call – from Melissa’s phone.
Lynn Barthelemy: She was so excited. “Oh my God, Melissa’s finally calling me.” And then, there’s a guy on the other end.
Suffolk County Police told “48 Hours” that they believe the caller was in fact Melissa’s killer. He called seven times, threatening her younger sister, and torturing her with details of Melissa’s murder.
The last of the Gilgo Four to disappear was Amber Costello, a sex worker who vanished from her home on Long Island in September of 2010.
Amber Costello, 27, disappeared in September 2010, after she left her home on Long Island to meet a client. In 2011, her roommate Dave Schaller told “48 Hours,” “she was an amazing person, she really was.”
Amber’s friend and former roommate Dave Schaller says she was a drug addict who used sex work to support her habit.
Dave Schaller [2011 interview]: She was an amazing person, she really was. As amazing as she was, was as tormented as she was.
Varrone says Amber, Megan, Melissa and Maureen were all asphyxiated. There were other striking similarities.
Dominick Varrone: Very petite. 5 foot or under, 100 pounds. Hazel green eyes.
Erin Moriarty: You believe this killer has a specific type of woman that he was choosing to kill?
Dominick Varrone: Right.
Varrone worked with the FBI to come up with a profile of the killer. He says the fact the women posted ads online allowed the killer to scroll through photos in search of his ideal victim.
Dominick Varrone: … if he desires a particular height and weight and eye color, he can do that.
The Gilgo Four had another thing in common … families who love them.
In December of 2011, they gathered at Gilgo Beach.On the spot where each woman was found, they erected a cross. And as the sun went down, they held a vigil in their honor.
On Dec. 13, 2011, Mari Gilbert, left, the mother of Shannan Gilbert, Melissa Cann, center, the sister of Maureen Brainerd-Barnes, and Lorraine Ela, the mother of Megan Waterman, joined each other on Long Island for a long-planned vigil. That morning police revealed for the first time that they believed they found the remains of Shannon Gilbert.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
It was the search for Shannan Gilbert that led to the discovery of the Gilgo Four.
MISSY CANN [at candlelight vigil]: We remember Shannan for the loving daughter… Remember her also as our girls’ angel and remember Shannan for Shannan.
And their families embraced Shannan’s mother Mari as one of their own. But where was Shannan?
WHAT HAPPENED TO SHANNAN?
When the police found the Gilgo Four, Sherre Gilbert, 22 at the time, was certain her missing sister Shannan would be among them.
Erin Moriarty: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Shannan?
Sherre Gilbert: Her singing. The jokes that we would tell.
The woman whose disappearance set off the search that led to the discovery of the Gilgo Four was Shannan Gilbert. Shannan, 23, was visiting a client in Oak Beach, Long Island, in May 2010 when she made a 23-minute frantic phone call to 911 … and then vanished.
Like Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy, and Amber Costello, Shannan was working as an escort the night she vanished. She was a talented young woman from a troubled family dreaming of a singing and acting career.
Sherre Gilbert: … at the age of 16, she graduated from high school. She skipped a grade.
Erin Moriarty: Smart then. Really smart.
Sherre Gilbert: Yeah, she had a lot of potential.
Shannan was visiting a client in the gated community of Oak Beach, Long Island, eight miles from Gilgo Beach when she vanished on May 1, 2010. Her family filed missing person’s reports and drove from home in upstate New York to Oak Beach, desperate to find her.
Sherre Gilbert: Oak Beach is a very eerie place to me. It seems very desolate, very … isolated, cold.
The family learned that Shannan’s driver dropped her off at her client’s house at 2 a.m. Nearly 3 hours later, Shannan made a panicked 23-minute call to 911.
Still on the phone, she fled the client’s home, and ran to a neighbor’s door– and then another’s — begging for help. And then she disappeared.
Weeks, and then months, passed with no word from Shannan. Former Chief of Detectives Dom Varrone says the police questioned her client and dismissed him as a suspect … but took her disappearance seriously.
Dominick Varrone: The canines searched the area in Oak Beach exhaustively for Shannan Gilbert.
By May 2011, police had discovered six more sets of remains in the area, bringing the total to 10 sets of remains — including the Gilgo Four. Investigators were not sure the same killer was responsible for all the murders.
Suffolk County Police Department
It was while searching for Shannan that they made that stunning discovery of the Gilgo Four, and in the spring of 2011, six more sets of remains:
Victim No. 5: Jessica Taylor, an escort missing since 2003
Victim No. 6: Another set of remains police called Jane Doe number 6
Victim No. 7: A toddler girl
Victim No. 8: An Asian man
Victims 9 and 10: A female skull and a bag of female bones, both found in nearby Nassau County.
Police weren’t sure if these newly discovered bodies were victims of the same killer. They kept looking for Shannan, and in December 2011, a year-and-a-half after she disappeared …
RICHARD DORMER | Former Suffolk County Police Commissioner [to reporters in 2011]: We found the pocketbook belonging to Shannan Gilbert.
Shannan’s purse, shoes, cell phone — even her jeans were found in the marsh.
DOMINICK VARRONE [to reporters in 2011]: The items were found a distance apart …
A week later, a quarter of a mile from her belongings, they finally found Shannan.
Sherre Gilbert: To get that phone call when I was in school, it was just devastating.
And then to Sherre’s shock, investigators said they didn’t think Shannan was murdered. Instead, based on her frantic 911 call, they theorized she might have been high on drugs and had run into the marsh, where she died of hypothermia or possible drowning.
Dominick Varrone: She’s running … running down the street, pounding on doors, runs into this marsh.
The Gilbert family didn’t believe her death was accidental and retained Long Island attorney John Ray.
John Ray: She was put there …
He decided to retrace the path authorities believe Shannan travelled.
Varrone says her skeletal remains were found collapsed in thick brush.
JOHN RAY [in the marsh]: To say that she drowned, as was theorized, is on its face an absurdity.
Ray also commissioned a second autopsy. A private forensic pathologist determined that a damaged hyoid bone in Shannan’s neck suggested she may have been strangled.
John Ray: … he said that that would be consistent with homicide.
Ray soon turned his attention to one Oak Beach resident — a local physician, Dr. Peter Hackett. Shannan had last been seen in the area near his home,and her belongings were found scattered in the marsh behind his house. And two days after Shannan disappeared, Sherre says Hackett made a disturbing phone call to Shannan’s mother, Mari Gilbert.
John Ray: … he identified himself, told Mari that he was running a home for wayward girls and that Shannan wanted to enter the home …
A New Jersey detective told “48 Hours” Hackett told him the same story. But when Mari Gilbert went out to talk to him, Dr. Hackett denied it:
DR. PETER HACKETT to MARI GILBERT : I never saw her. I never met her.
Despite Hackett’s denials, Ray believes the doctor did encounter Shannan early that morning and gave her improper medical treatment. Ray filed a civil suit against Peter Hackett in 2012 for wrongful death and malpractice. The wrongful death claim has been dismissed. Malpractice claims are still pending.
John Ray: It wasn’t an accident … if it were an accident, her belongings wouldn’t have been found behind Peter Hackett’s home, her jeans wouldn’t have been removed.
Dr. Hackett declined “48 Hours”‘ request for an interview. Previously he wrote us, saying, “I never ‘treated’ her… She was never in my home.” He says he only called Shannan’s family to offer support.
Dominick Varrone: We didn’t pay that much attention to him. I don’t think we missed anything.
Chief Varrone says he doesn’t think Hackett is a murderer. He says some call him a storyteller.
John Ray: I do not think Suffolk County put any effort into investigating Peter Hackett to this day.
In 2012, Ray filed a civil case against Peter Hackett. A judge dismissed a wrongful death claim, but other allegations are still pending.
And In 2015, John Ray helped the Gilbert family bury Shannan in a Long Island cemetery not far from Oak Beach.
Sherre Gilbert: It was … emotional, it was sad. … My mom was just really, really emotional, and we all were — it was just basically, like, our final goodbye to Shannan.
JOHN RAY [at burial]: We come to perpetuate Shannan … Are you surprised that she is chosen for this higher purpose of justice? Well, I’m not.
JOHN RAY [at burial]: Shannan, rest now, we all have much to do.
John Ray: The murderer will be outed. … I have to prove it, and I intend to prove it.
A HINDERED INVESTIGATION
In early 2012, weeks after the discovery of Shannan Gilbert’s remains, her family’s attorney John Ray dug in trying to understand what had happened to her.
John Ray: Shannan would still be alive today if Suffolk county police had actually done their job.
John Ray: The Suffolk County Police department failed to protect the lives of these people who are now gone.
Yet, with 11 dead and no killer in custody, the Suffolk County Police Department went through an upheaval that would have a lasting impact on the case.
First, Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone suddenly found himself out of a job.
Dominick Varrone: I get a phone call that I’m being told to retire within 15 days, or I’d be demoted to captain. … I’m yanked off the case. … I was pushed out.
Varrone had been spearheading what would become the largest unsolved murder case in New York’s history.
Dominick Varrone: I had tremendous amount of knowledge on the case.
Dominick Varrone, then chief of detectives of the Suffolk County Police Department, says he hoped to solve what has become the largest unsolved murder case in New York history, and helped organize a task force to investigate. But in January 2012, a new police chief took over the department and Varrone was forced to retire.
And he says he was not allowed to share what he knew about the serial killer with the new investigators.
Erin Moriarty: That had to hurt the credibility of the investigation.
Dominick Varrone: That hurt the investigation … and the public’s perception.
A new regime led by James Burke took over the department. Burke was named the new Suffolk County police chief.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: He was extremely powerful for a police chief.
Longtime newspaper reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts is writing a book about Burke.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: He was charming. … And then … in other situations sort of intimidating and sort of brutish. … more akin to, like, a mob boss than a police chief.
Burke had an unlikely rise up the ranks, in part because he had a powerful backer, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: … they had their own little fiefdom there.
Burke and Spota met in 1979, when the brutal murder of a boy found behind a school rocked the peaceful suburb of Smithtown, Long Island.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: There was a lot of pressure to solve the case.
The victim was 13-year-old John Pius Jr.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: Tom Spota … was a young, sort of ambitious prosecutor whose specialty was … getting that witness who said exactly what the case needed in order to clinch it.
James Burke was just 14 at the time.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: Everybody called him Jimmy back then.
Burke and others testified against four teenaged boys.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: Tom Spota by then had taken a shine to the kid and had taken him under his wing to some extent.
The ambitious young Spota later became district attorney of Suffolk County. James Burke became a cop, and by age 27, was already a sergeant in the police department.
John Oliva: One of the highest paid departments in the country.
In early 2012, James Burke became Suffolk County Police Chief. Burke ended cooperation with the FBI on the serial killer case and other major investigations. Losing FBI technology and expertise may have slowed down the serial killer investigation.
Mona Rivera/1010 Wins
Former Suffolk County Detective John Oliva, who investigated gang violence, says Burke’s background set him apart from other cops there.
John Oliva: A lot of professional guys, you know, most guys have a college degree, or they were in the military … I heard that James Burke had none of that.
Burke’s unprofessional behavior set him apart, too.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: … he’s a reckless character … driven by sex.
In the early 1990s, he had sex with a prostitute in his police car, and also failed to safeguard his weapon.
John Oliva: He left his gun behind and she recovered his weapon.
Internal Affairs investigated the incident, but Burke kept his job. Oliva suspects Spota may have protected him.
Erin Moriarty: Wouldn’t something like that end most cop’s careers?
John Oliva: Something like that should end most cop’s careers.
Erin Moriarty: I mean, he became police chief.
John Oliva: The chief of the department, four-star.
And the man tasked with finding the elusive serial killer.
John Ray: We have 11 dead people, and nobody’s found anybody connected to them?
Something that frustrates attorney John Ray.
John Ray: The man who patronized sex workers … is in charge of the investigation of murdered sex workers?
Burke ended cooperation with the FBI on the serial killer case.
Erin Moriarty: Was it because Burke didn’t want to share credit or was it to keep out prying eyes?
John Oliva: It could be a combination of both.
Many believe losing FBI technology and expertise slowed down the investigation.
John Oliva: … if I’m the chief of department and I’ve got … dead bodies on the side of the road, I would take any help I could get.
But James Burke soon had other problems, beginning one night in December 2012 when a petty thief named Christopher Loeb picked the wrong SUV to rob.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: It happened to be James Burke’s police truck. And Loeb didn’t know that.
Loeb stole Burke’s duffle bag – containing his gun belt, porn and sex toys. Loeb was arrested, locked into a room and chained to the floor. According to court testimony, detectives begin to beat him before Burke himself took over.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: He starts slapping Chris Loeb … choking him grabbing him by his ears, yelling at him, threatening him that he is going to give him a hot shot, which is a laced heroin injection which would be fatal.
CHRISTOPHER LOEB [in court]: Every time I asked for a lawyer I got hit again, I got hit again, I got choked, I got slapped, I got kicked.
John Oliva: The rumor mills were running wild. … it was out there that this had occurred.
When the FBI investigated, Burke — with the help of his mentor District Attorney Tom Spota — began a cover-up. Other investigations, including the serial killer case, languished.
Gus Garcia-Roberts: … his first priority clearly wasn’t this serial killing on his turf. … His top priority was staying out of prison.
Spota was eventually convicted of obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and conspiracy in the Chris Loeb case.
In February 2016, James Burke pleaded guilty to violating Loeb’s civil rights and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.
Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images
And in February 2016, James Burke pleaded guilty to violating Loeb’s civil rights and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.
John Oliva: He got what he deserved.
Burke declined “48 Hours”‘ request for an interview.
Gus Garcia Roberts: … there’s always been, throughout his career, this thin line between being a cop and being a criminal.
With the serial killer case seemingly stalled, graffiti appeared accusing the former chief of being the serial killer. Investigators don’t believe Burke had anything to do with the murders, but that hasn’t stopped the gossip.
Gus Garcia Roberts: … it speaks to a complete absence of trust in the law enforcement system in Suffolk County which, regardless of any veracity of that graffiti, I think is completely deserved.
NEW LEADS & EVIDENCE
Erin Moriarty: Why are these serial killer cases harder than regular homicides?
Geraldine Hart: They’re a stranger to the victim which is unusual in homicide cases.
Geraldine Hart was a career FBI agent assigned to the Long Island bureau when the agency was cut out of the serial killer investigation.
Geraldine Hart: Not having the FBI involved consistently from the beginning has definitely hindered this investigation.
And in 2018, Hart became the Suffolk County Police Commissioner.
Geraldine Hart: We are fully committed to this investigation. We are utilizing every technique available, every technology that we can.
GERALDINE HART [to reporters]: Today we are announcing that Jane Doe #6 has been positively identified as Valerie Mack.
Using new genetic genealogy tools, investigators were finally able to identify one of the victims found on Ocean Parkway.
Geraldine Hart: She has a name and she’s a person. And she has a family.
GERALDINE HART [to reporters]: Valerie Mack who was 24 years old in 2000 when she went missing was described as 5 feet tall and approximately 100 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes.
The remains of Jane Doe No. 6 were identified as Valerie Mack, 24, who disappeared in 2000, Her hair, eye color and petite frame are similar to the other victims.
Suffolk County Police Department
Many of these characteristics are shared by the Gilgo Four. Identifying Valerie gave investigators new leads.
Geraldine Hart: It’s …new associates and friends and family to talk to — people who can tell us her whereabouts and her connections.
The department also released images of evidence.
GERALDINE HART [to reporters]: A black leather belt embossed with the letters HM or WH was recovered during the initial stages of this investigation.
In 2018, Geraldine Hart, a career FBI agent, became the new Suffolk County Police Commissioner. “Not having the FBI involved consistently from the beginning has definitely hindered this investigation,” Hart tells “48 Hours.” In January 2020, Hart’s office released images of evidence in the serial killer case.
Hart says the belt belonged to a large male.
Geraldine Hart: It’s an item that we feel was handled by the suspect, did not belong to any of the victims, and was found at one of the crime scenes along Ocean Parkway.
To attorney John Ray it’s too little, too late.
John Ray: Why isn’t there an explanation as to why after 9 years the initials of the belt were finally for the first time revealed?
What’s more, Ray says he has offered Shannan’s computer, papers and cell phones to the department. Hart has declined to look at them, saying there’s no way to know if the evidence has been tampered with. But Hart insists Shannan’s case is still open.
Erin Moriarty: So, you’re saying that … they’re still investigating her death?
Geraldine Hart: Certainly.
Erin Moriarty: As a possible homicide.
Geraldine Hart: As a possible homicide.
Ray fought for and won access to the 911 calls made that night. He is forbidden by court order from sharing the contents, but insists they shed light on Shannan’s disappearance. Ray vows he’ll never stop fighting for Shannan.
Erin Moriarty: John, tell me why you become emotional even talking about this?
John Ray: It’s hard to say. I’ve put a good part of my life devoted to this case. … it just seems to me that this young lady, this human being, this woman, Shannan Gilbert, deserves justice.
That’s what keeps Shannan’s sister Sherre going, too.
Erin Moriarty: Do you think at some point you’re going to know what happened to your sister?
Sherre Gilbert: I hope. I pray, but I don’t know.
It’s the same feeling 14-year-old Lily Waterman is grappling with. She thinks about her mom Megan every day.
Lily Waterman: If I could talk to her, I would just want to tell her that, like, I love her … I never got to really say those words and, like, know what love really was … like understand how much I really care about her. I just want her to know she has a special place in my heart, and no one can ever replace her or come above her.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes was the first of the Gilgo Four to disappear. Maureen’s friend, Sara Karnes, can’t believe they haven’t found her killer in all these years.
Sara Karnes: It’s been 10 years since they found her, and they haven’t found him. And I don’t want to wait for that phone call.
Maureen’s sister Missy Cann will wait as long as it takes.
Missy Cann: Because this person, whoever killed my sister, thought that they were taking away my sister’s voice. … But he didn’t know that my sister had a sister like me. … So, whether he’s caught five months from now, 10 years from now, I just hope he knows that I’ll be sitting in that courtroom and he didn’t weaken me or my family, he just strengthened me.
If you have information on the Long Island serial killer case, visit GilgoNews.com.
Produced by Mary Ann Rotondi and Murray Weiss. Gregory McLaughlin is producer-editor. Doreen Schechter and Gary Winter are the editors. Shaheen Tokhi is the associate producer. Patti Aronofsky is the senior producer.
Missy Cann can’t forget the late-night phone call she received from her sister Maureen Brainard Barnes in the summer of 2007. “She called … at a train station in New York … From Penn Station. I could hear the commotion from the train station. I could hear the commotion from the trains,” says Cann.