Suffolk County police shared a previously undisclosed piece of evidence in the unsolved Gilgo Beach murder investigation Thursday, nine years after the evidence was found and shortly before a movie about the case debuts.
The evidence was a black leather belt embossed with the half-inch initials “HM” or “WH” in light blue lettering found at an unspecified victim’s dump site, police said. Investigators believe the belt was handled by the killer and didn’t belong to any of the victims, but they declined to release the belt size.
“We are hopeful this photo will bring someone forward with information about its origin,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart told reporters during a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank.
In addition, Hart said police are launching a new website dedicated to the case, gilgonews.com, where the public can read up on the investigation, submit tips, and police may release new details down the line.
And Hart announced that the New York State Department of Health has approved investigators’ request to provide DNA samples from the unidentified victims to the FBI, which will conduct genetic genealogy in an attempt to identify them.
”The process includes uploading DNA to public genealogy databases in an effort to identify possible relatives of each unidentified victim,” Hart said. “It is not clear how long the process will take.”
The announcement comes before the upcoming 10th anniversary of the first discovery in the case this December and shortly before Lost Girls, a Netflix movie about the probe that is set to premier Jan. 28 at the Sundance Film Festival. Shortly before the news conference, Netflix released the trailer and announced the movie will debut March 13 on the streaming service.
Police were searching for Shannan Gilbert, a New Jersey woman reported missing in May 2010 from Oak Beach, when they discovered 10 sets of human remains—half of whom were also identified as escorts—along Ocean Parkway between December 2010 and April 2011. Gilbert was later found dead, but police and medical examiners have suggested she may have drown in a marsh—although her family insists she was murdered.
John Ray, Miller Place-based attorney for Gilbert’s family, repeated his demand Thursday that Suffolk police release to the public the four 911 tapes made when Gilbert disappeared.
“I have fought alone, in court for nearly four years to compel SCPD to release the 911 tapes,” Ray said. “SCPD has relentlessly stonewalled against me and the public, and refused to release them … They should release the 911 tapes.”
Next week, the New York State Appellate Division Court is scheduled to decide the police department’s appeal of a court order requiring it to release the 911 tapes. Hart said the department will be “guided by the verdict” in that case and declined to speculate on whether she believes Gilbert was killed or died accidentally.
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.
Authorities have previously said they suspect three or more killers used the desolate stretch of road as a dumping ground. Hart would not specify which theory the believes, maintaining that she will let the evidence dictate the outcome of the case.
“We keep our minds open as investigators and go where the facts take us,” she said.
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