New twist in search for serial killer

It was meant to be the week when relatives of the victims of the suspected Long Island serial killer came to the place of their lonely demise privately to pray for their souls and for a breakthrough in the police investigation, which seemed to have gone cold.

Privacy they didn't get, but news from the police they did.

Just hours before the planned candlelit vigil on the stretch of shore road used as a dumping ground by the murderer, police said they had found skeletal remains of another woman, victim No 11.

More importantly, they almost certainly belonged to Shannan Gilbert, a prostitute from New Jersey.

No arrests have been made, but finding Gilbert's remains is a signal step. It was her disappearance in May last year from Oak Beach that led police to discover the first of the bodies.

For the dozen or more family members who came to Oak Beach this week, the sudden turn in the investigation might offer partial closure, even if some are not yet fully sure the body really is Gilbert's.

No one among the relatives or the few residents talking to reporters buys the other police theory - that Gilbert was possibly not killed by anyone.

What we already know is that she visited a man in Oak Beach, then fled the house in panic for unknown reasons and ran into the darkness.

Noting her bones were found in a nearby drained marsh, police say she drowned. They think she was trying to get to a nearby bridge leading to the main shore of Long Island.

Among the sceptical yesterday was Irene Lyons, 45, a resident of nearby Babylon, who said the whole thing had been especially "freaky" for her as Joel Rifkin, another Long Island serial killer jailed two decades ago after killing 17, was at school with her.

"Most people still think [Gilbert's] death and the deaths of all the others are still connected. What are the chances that they are separate?"

As she spoke, Lyons gestured towards Gilgo Beach, 10km to the west, where the first bodies were recovered on December 13 last year.

Those 10 corpses were of eight women, one man dressed in women's clothing, and a baby girl. Police say all the adults were involved in the sex trade, while the toddler was the child of one of the prostitutes.

Drive towards Gilgo Beach from Oak Beach and you begin to see the simple roadside shrines to each of the victims erected by relatives. This week they were decorated afresh with new flowers and red, heart-shaped balloons.

Police had resumed the search for Gilbert after finding various personal items here a week ago, including her shoes, cellphone and some clothing.

"To say she accidentally drowned is ridiculous when she lost her shoes and her pants," said Elizabeth Meserve. "She was running from something."

If it is confirmed to be Gilbert, some sort of peace might be possible for former boyfriend Alex Diaz. "I think it's probably her. Now I know what happened. I can move on now."

But for residents, peace will not come until the killer or killers are found. "It's bad," said Lyons. "Everybody is saying it could be the guy next door."

- Independent

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