By Christopher Twarowski and Timothy Bolger
A 30-year-old escort claimed Thursday that disgraced ex-Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke paid her for sex during a cocaine-fueled house party in Oak Beach five years ago.
The brunette woman held a news conference to discuss the allegations along with Miller Place-based attorney John Ray, who represents the family of Shannan Gilbert, whose disappearance from the seaside community in May 2010 led to the discovery of the Long Island Serial Killer’s nearby dumping grounds and 10 sets of human remains. Ray stated that the new information from his client implicates Burke not only in Gilbert’s demise, but also in all those victims’.
“It is the first time that a direct connection between Burke, prostitution and Oak Beach has been made,” said Ray, who represents Gilbert’s family in a lawsuit against Dr. Peter Hackett, a former Oak Beach resident and ex-police surgeon that the family has accused of causing Gilbert’s death. “This is a significant connection.”
“It certainly puts [Burke] right at the center of the pool of suspects for the death of Shannan Gilbert and the other [women],” he continued.
Burke was sentenced last month to 46 months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to beating Christopher Loeb, a handcuffed suspect that stole his gym bag containing his gun, sex toys and porn from the ex-chief’s SUV and ordering subordinates to cover up the station house assault. Burke was documented to have had patronized sex workers, the Press has reported. After the ex-chief was indicted, federal prosecutor James Miskiewicz said in December that Burke’s porn collection was his “motivation for beating the hell out of Loeb.”
Burke’s lawyer, Joseph Conway, issued a statement Thursday deeming Ray’s claims “more as tabloid journalism than credible news. Today’s alleged witness and her attorney know full well that any credible witness and any credible information should be provided to the proper Law Enforcement officials and not done via a press conference. All of the allegations raised today are false and slanderous.
“Any claims or allegations that James Burke had any involvement in the Gilgo Beach murders is completely outrageous,” Conway’s statement continued. “Mr. Burke was not only the highest ranking Suffolk County Police Officer but also one of the most decorated officers in the history of the department. While he has admitted to his crime involving violation of civil rights and governmental obstruction, there is absolutely not one shred of evidence linking him to the Gilgo beach case. To think otherwise is preposterous.”
The female sex worker, who identified herself only as Leanne, said that she first met Burke during an Oak Beach house party in June 2011, where she saw cocaine being passed around and “observed [Burke] pull a woman by her hair to the ground,” she said in a sworn statement. Two months later, she met Burke at another party at the same house.
“We attempted to have sex together in the bathroom there, but Jimmy Burke was unable to consummate the sex act,” she said in the statement. “This made him extremely angry. He insisted upon oral sex, which was given. He then called me a whore.”
During the news conference, she told reporters that she didn’t know Burke’s identity at the parties other than that he was a high-ranking Suffolk County police official, and she went along with him because she’s a forensic science major who hoped he could help advance her career.
When Burke couldn’t perform yet again, she said, he became extremely aggressive.
“It was so aggressive that my eyes teared, not from crying,” she said, but from gag reflexes, describing the experience as dehumanizing. She said Burke then threw $300 at her. Leanne said it was the first time she was paid for sex.
She believes that she saw Joseph Brewer, the last client to hire Gilbert, at one of the parties, too. Brewer has since sold his Oak Beach home and moved away.
Leanne learned Burke’s true identity, she told reporters, from a friend after the second encounter, and again recognized him on TV after his arrest for beating Loeb. She said she later contacted police with a tip about an Oak Beach resident that she said could be a person of interest in the Long Island Serial Killer case, and told reporters that police had informed that man about her tip. That’s when she contacted Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills, filmmakers of The Killing Season, a docu-series about the LISK case that recently aired on A&E. The duo put her in touch with Ray.
Gilbert’s body was found in an Oak Beach marsh in December of 2011, several months after Leanne and Burke’s alleged encounter. County medical examiners ruled Gilbert’s cause of death inconclusive, and police said they suspect that she drowned, but her case remains an open investigation, a police spokesman said Thursday. The family had a second autopsy performed, which suggested that Gilbert may have been strangled.
Police were searching for Gilbert when they found the first of 10 sets of human remains along Ocean Parkway in the LISK case six years ago this week, in December 2010. Among those discovered were Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Lynn Costello, Melissa Barthelemy—who had all advertised themselves as escorts on Craigslist and been found wrapped in burlap—the head, hands and forearm of Jessica Taylor, whose mutilated body was found in Manorville in 2003; an unidentified woman dubbed “Fire Island Jane Doe,” whose legs washed up on Blue Point Beach in 1996 and whose skull was discovered on Ocean Parkway; another unidentified woman dubbed Jane Doe No. 6, whose head, hands and right foot were matched with another torso in Manorville; a young Asian male; and the remains of another unidentified woman nicknamed Jane Doe No. 3 until recently, who was matched through DNA to a young infant, known as “Baby Doe,” also disposed of there.
Investigators have said that the victims may have been killed by two or more assailants.
Asked this month if the police any closer to naming a suspect, they declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Burke, a 30-year police department veteran, was just 14 years old when he was a witness in the murder case of John Pius, Jr., a 13-year-old from Smithtown whom classmates suffocated with rocks in 1979 for stealing a dirt bike. Following a short stint in the New York City Police Department and his time as a patrolman and undercover narcotics officer in the Suffolk County Police Department, he spent a decade as chief investigator under Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, the former chief prosecutor in the Pius case.
Spota’s office is currently under federal investigation for corruption.
Burke was the subject of a 1995 Internal Affairs investigation that concluded allegations he “engaged in a personal, sexual relationship” with “a convicted felon known to be actively engaged in criminal conduct including the possession and sale of illegal drugs, prostitution and larceny,” “engaged in sexual acts in police vehicles while on duty and in uniform,” and “failed to safeguard his service weapon and other departmental property” were “substantiated,” according to its report.
Burke received promotions rather than discipline, however, ascending through SCPD’s ranks until he reached its top uniformed position despite his improprieties—a rise facilitated by Spota and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who appointed Burke police chief in 2012.
Burke has been criticized for stymieing FBI efforts to assist in the Long Island Serial Killer case—and also pulling Suffolk County detectives off the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force in 2012.
Leanne and Ray’s press conference Thursday came just days after another update in the Long Island Serial Killer case: that authorities had linked the torso of an unidentified woman, discovered 19 years ago in Hempstead Lake State Park and dubbed “Peaches” due to a peach tattoo with a bite taken out of it, through DNA, with the skeletal remains of Jane Doe No. 3, thus also identifying Peaches as Baby Doe’s mother.
Ray said that Leanne’s affidavit on Burke’s alleged actions on Oak Beach would enable the attorney eventually to examine Suffolk’s disgraced police chief “under oath.”
When asked why she decided to go public with her allegations now, Leanne told reporters:
“Because that could be my grave—that could have been my grave. This is bigger than me. Yeah, so what, I’m on the news… But if in some way I’m able to identify a child that doesn’t even have a name yet, or give Megan Waterman’s mom some closure, I don’t care about my name.”
Featured Photo: Leanne, an escort (L), tells reporters that ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke hired her in 2011 during a drug-fueled Oak Beach house party, with John Ray (R), a Miller Place-based attorney, during a news conference to discuss the allegations on Dec. 15, 2016. (Long Island Press / Christopher Twarowski)