To believe every single theory regarding the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) would be folly. There are compelling ideas as to who the killer(s) may be, with John Bittrolff appearing as the chief suspect, due to his Manorville connection. Manorville, you'll remember, is where the torso of Jessica Taylor and "Jane Doe no. 6" were found, which is around 45 miles east of Gilgo Beach.
Today, we'll be looking at one of those theories.
Peter Brendt, German amateur profiler and author, discussed his theory about LISK on the documentary The Killing Season, which examines not only the Gilgo Beach murders, but also cases of missing and murdered women all over the country. Brendt essentially highlights the idea that what the police believe to be one serial killer is actually two competing serial killers working in the same general region. The idea here is that the Manorville Ripper would be using LISK's "trophy garden" of Gilgo Beach and the surrounding area as a dump site to establish dominance and his/her presence.
In 2015, Radford University professor M. G. Aamodt published a white paper postulating that there were 30 active serial killers in the United States at that time. To think that two of those would be active in one location at the same time isn't completely out of the question, however; when one takes into consideration the population of the United States, placing two competing killers in one county, let alone one state, seems outside the realm of possibility.
Brendt also mentioned at one point in his theorizing that the killer was African-American, due to apparent references to Al Sharpton in phone calls made from the killer to family members after the disappearance of Melissa Barthelemy in 2009. In an interview with a true crime blog/podcast, Brendt offered up the following:
"He is probably African-American.
The victimology consists of four petite to average Caucasian women without too many other visual similarities. He went through way too much effort to convince everybody he is a “drunk white dude.” His dump site is way too unusable for extended revisits with necrophilia or other kind of sexual activities. This is not primarily sex-motivated behavior but trophy behavior. He is mission-oriented, sex serves merely as means to establish domination and humiliate the victim. He a misogynist or a prostitute-hater or a racist, but his play with clichés in the phone calls to Amanda and especially what he left out, points to racist. Which means, he is non-Caucasian and probably, since Hispanic racists hate equally Caucasians and African-Americans and there is no African-American victim, an African-American himself. Aside of that, he used enough Al Sharpton references in the phone calls."
The problem here is that one of the victims was, in fact, African-American. "Peaches," whose torso was found in Hempstead Lake Park, also had pieces discovered at Gilgo. So, while Brendt's theory is certainly different than what is conventionally believed to be true about LISK, his basis of "no African-American victims" collapses it completely. While there have certainly been African-American serial killers (the Atlanta Monster, Wayne Williams, comes to mind), using race as the basis of entire theory is flimsy at best.
It's also important to note that in my research, I haven't discovered any references to Al Sharpton during those phone calls to Amanda, Melissa's sister, or anyone else, so, I'm not entirely sure where Brendt is getting this information. The only recurring bits of information during these phone calls mention that the killer is "watching her (Melissa) rot" and that she was in a "whorehouse in Queens." The individual also asked Melissa's sister if she, too, was a "whore."
So, to that end, the killer (if that is, in fact, who called Melissa's contacts) is contradicting themselves. I know this is an obvious thing here, with the whole "watching her rot" and "whorehouse in Queens" bits, but it's worth mentioning because folks tend to get hung up on the very idea of these calls. Personally, I believe this obsession with the phone calls intersects directly with why humans are obsessed with true crime podcasts, television shows and films. As an educator obsessed with this stuff myself, I totally get it. Time Magazine wrote a great article about the rise of true crime's popularity, in which author Scott Bonn writes "the actions of a serial killer may be horrible to behold but much of the public simply cannot look away due to the spectacle."
The flashy serial killers, your Zodiac, Son of Sam, LISK, the individuals who go out of their way to make themselves known to the world not only through their actions, but also through other methods (letters to news media, the police, or phone calls to victims' families) draw us in because it isn't just their deeds that are such a deviation from the norm, it's their use of media or technology to "taunt" others. It's like a supervillain in a comic book rubbing his or her crimes in the face of the hero. It sets the tone. It creates drama. That's why we get sucked in.
But also, it's window dressing. The phone calls, the taunts to Amanda, the contradictory statements, the mysterious information about Al Sharpton, it's all sexy stuff. At the same time, it's important to not get bogged down in the eye-catching material. The parts of a theory that hold water are the patterns, the locations, the victimology.
While Peter Brendt and his theories make for some very interesting listening, he ignored a major fact about the LISK case and it led to faulty framework.
The wind bites at my face while I’m standing on the shore, watching waves crash and listening for ... something. It’s nine at night and it’s dark and I’m thinking about all the time I’ve spent in the area over the past few weeks, and before that, the past few years and I’m worried. Worried about a feeling I have.
Ever since the bodies of multiple individuals was found scattered along the south shore of Long Island, I, along with many others, have been obsessed with the idea of a serial killer in our own back yards. The Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) have yet to formally name someone, though there are suspects, some publicly-known, others, not so much. In my spare time, my quiet moments, I find myself thinking about the “where,” the “why,” and perhaps most importantly, the “who.”
Maybe that last one, the “who,” doesn’t really matter? Maybe this is one of those cases where it’ll never be solved, like Zodiac or Jack the Ripper. Maybe it’s destined to remain unsolved. But that doesn’t seem right. There are actual victims at the hearts of this story, same with Zodiac and Jack the Ripper, but at the end of the day, let justice be done, right?
What happens if the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) is already dead? What if there were more than one killer? What if he or she or they have moved on? What if LISK is killing in entirely new territory? Maybe Long Island just got too expensive for LISK to stay and keep up their fun? LISK then becomes a victim too, only of the economic absurdity that is Long Island, New York.
As of this writing, there have been no new killings, at least, none directly connected to LISK. There are multiple theories surrounding a variety of missing persons cases on Long Island, and while it would be silly to say that they’re all connected to LISK, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that at least a few are directly connected.
After all, wouldn’t it stand to reason that for an individual with a ruined “trophy garden” for his or her victims be anxious to find another? I know “trophy garden” is a weird term for those not familiar with this kind of research, but it basically means “the place where a serial killer likes to keep their bodies or pieces of victims.” Gruesome, sure, but real. For LISK, the area of Gilgo Beach and the surrounding area was his trophy garden.
The SCPD refuse to comment on an ongoing investigation. That makes sense, you can’t give up information that you need to make a case. That said, a lot of the theories surrounding LISK include law enforcement and political figures, so, while those may not be my personal beliefs, over the course of this series, we will certainly be looking at whatever kind of police involvement or political connections that may exist in the LISK case. Many could chalk these theories up to paranoia, but that’s for you to decide.
While I stand at the edge of the sand, close enough to the water that my boots are getting wet, I listen. Theories surmise that LISK is still in the area. Some say he’s within two miles of the trophy garden. I have my own thoughts, my own theories, but it’s important to see all sides of this narrative, however gruesome as they may be.