YAPHANK, N.Y. – Four women whose bodies were dumped along a desolate beachfront strip on Long Island were prostitutes who booked their clients online and were probably slain by a serial killer, authorities said Monday.
Investigators did not identify a suspect, or say how the women were killed, but were looking into what clients they might have met shortly before they disappeared. One of the women was reported missing nearly 3½ years ago; another was seen as recently as last September.
"Their deaths are a direct result of their business as prostitutes," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told reporters. "I sincerely hope that people who are engaged in a similar business as these four young women would come forward. They certainly must have some information."
Police had wavered over whether a serial killer was involved; police Commissioner Richard Dormer initially suggested that scenario when the bodies were found in December, but detectives later became tightlipped about a cause.
But on Monday, Spota said that "the actual cause of deaths appear to be substantially similar" and that "it appears the same person or persons are responsible."
Spota and Dormer refused to say how the women died. In December, they had described the remains as skeletal.
The women identified Monday were Maureen Brainard-Barnes, of Norwich, Conn., Melissa Barthelemy, of New York's Erie County, and Amber Lynn Costello, of North Babylon, on Long Island. Brainard-Barnes was last seen in Manhattan on July 9, 2007; Barthelemy was reportedly living in the Bronx when she disappeared on July 12, 2009, police said. Barthelemy's relatives filed a missing-persons report in New York shortly after her disappearance because they had been unable to contact her.
Brainard-Barnes was 25 when she disappeared; Barthelemy was 24 and Costello was 27.
The fourth woman, Megan Waterman, a 22-year-old Craigslist escort from Scarborough, Maine, was last seen in June at a Holiday Inn Express in Hauppauge. Waterman disappeared after traveling to New York on Memorial Day weekend with Akeem Cruz, a 21-year-old Brooklyn man described as her boyfriend. Cruz is now serving a 20-month sentence at the Maine Correctional Center for drug trafficking.
A woman matching Costello's name, birth date and appearance failed to appear in February in court in Pinellas County, Fla., on theft charges and was briefly jailed there twice in 2009 for shoplifting. She was last seen in North Babylon on Sept. 2.
Police found the first body in mid-December just steps from a 15-mile stretch of beachfront highway that leads to the popular Jones Beach State Park. The other three women were found two days later during a follow-up investigation.
The victims "were probably in that location for some period of time," Spota said. But investigators believe they were killed elsewhere and their bodies dumped along the beach highway.
Calls and messages left for family members of Costello, Brainard-Barnes and Barthelemy were not immediately returned Monday. No one answered the door at an Akron, N.Y., address listed for Barthelemy, and a man with the Costello surname in North Babylon said he had no relation to the dead woman.
Police were looking for another missing Craigslist escort when they happened upon the bodies near the beach. They have since said that the person they were originally looking for, a woman from New Jersey, was not among the dead. Authorities said Monday that case is still under investigation.
"What activities these victims may have engaged in prior to their murders does not matter," Dormer said Monday. "They were young women whose lives were cut tragically short."
The case has some similarities to a 2006 New Jersey case, in which four prostitutes' bodies were found in a drainage ditch just outside Atlantic City and about a mile from the beach. Those killings remain unsolved.
Atlantic County Prosecutor's office spokeswoman Madelaine Vitale said Monday that her office had been in contact with Suffolk County investigators from the early stages of their investigation, but she would not comment directly on the news from Long Island. New York law enforcement authorities also declined to comment on any possible connection.
The highway sits on a narrow strip of land that divides the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The four-lane parkway runs through the middle, connecting Jones Beach with several state- and town-run beaches to its east.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long in New York, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo and Bill Newill in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.
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