The suspect pool for the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) aka The Craigslist Killer, is a fairly deep one, depending on who you talk to. While there are certainly suspects who seem like a complete impossibility (Joel Rifkin, David Berkowitz), there are others who seem like possibilities. That said, there are still others, those with means and those without, who may have had a hand in the demise of the Gilgo Beach 4 (Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Amber Lynn-Costello), as well as Shannan Gilbert, Jessica Taylor, “Peaches,” and the others.
This week, we’ll be taking a look at one such suspect. He has a name, he’s referenced on the LISK boards from time to time, and he was a favorite suspect for a long time, but has since seen his name taper off quite a bit since the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) started looking harder at John Bittrolff as the prime suspect in the case, whether officially or unofficially. For our purposes, this former-favorite suspect will be referred to as The Banker.
The Banker functions as a primary funding source for parties, gatherings and has extensive connections across Long Island. In a sense, this individual is very similar to The Well-Spoken Man, however; he’s nowhere near as educated. The Banker is a businessman, a mover and shaker in the Long Island political scene, and in every sense of the word - a phony.
Having had discussions with individuals who were close to The Banker’s family, they presented him in varying ways - some describe him as a doting father and husband, one who would do anything for his family, putting a sense of moral value above anything else, while others describe The Banker as a degenerate gambler and frequent flyer when it comes to sex workers. Like everything else in this case, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the reality while ignoring the smokescreen.
Hiding one’s nocturnal proclivities while in the public eye proclaiming to be a family man and supporter of traditional, moral values isn’t a new concept, but The Banker takes this notion further. In regards to the gambling aspect, The Banker is noted to have frequented Atlantic City quite regularly, and unsurprisingly, bodies of various sex workers had been found there, as well. Some arranged in such a way that they pointed toward Long Island.
Hervey Cleckley’s book Mask of Sanity first posited the notion of an individual, or psychopath, appearing at first to be a perfectly average, even charming human being. This is done both to present themselves in a way that allows them to function in society, but also to perhaps stem the tide of their internal mayhem. While The Banker may exhibit some of the aspects of Cleckley’s clinical profile, it isn’t complete. Poor reactions to external influencers is one that makes sense, along with the rumored impersonal sex life, however; there are others that just don’t click.
In my research, Cleckley points to “lack of remorse or shame” as one the indicators of a psychopath. The Banker doesn’t exhibit this. In my interviews and discussions with folks who are close to the family of The Banker, at some point, there seemed to be a remarkable amount of remorse over some event that occurred.
The notion of being a public family man and private deviant seems like a lot for one individual to shoulder. Whether The Banker struggles with maintaining their mask of sanity or not remains a mystery.
In my time researching this case, I found that the perceptions regarding prostitution vary wildly. While many hold the belief that the oldest profession is a serious crime, others have softened on the notion, citing that, essentially, prostitution is a victimless crime. There’s a transaction, if things go smoothly, everything is fine. While there are certainly outliers when it comes to individuals taking advantage of men and women engaged in selling sex, I’d like to discuss less about the legal side of the coin and more about the societal aspect.
Conversations with those in law enforcement have been varied. Some older, retired officers view the sex trade as just a way of life. Women and men engaged in an activity to pay the bills, to survive, to feed their habits, whatever the case. Other officers, still on the job, discuss how prostitution is very much so a crime and are quick to cite the issues with its existence, yet acknowledge that when a sex worker goes missing, there isn’t a huge drive to find this person, because the general idea is that they were involved in a risky endeavor that resulted in them going missing and that because other crimes are more important, a missing sex worker isn’t at the top of the list of importance.
Of course, these are human beings like anyone else. There are numerous groups dedicated to the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) that have threads about the case. Typically, when someone refers to the girls who went missing as a “prostitute” or “hooker,” the thread quickly dissolves into a flame war of posters taking the high road in an effort to put a human face on the victims. While this is obviously important to do, it also takes the focus on the questions and inquiry.
Having had conversations with family members and friends of the girls who were discovered the human face of this profession takes immediate shape. While yes, drugs and other addictions certainly were in play, that doesn’t make a person worth tossing to the side. Where does this stigma of non-interest from law enforcement come from, I started to ask. None of my law enforcement contacts were really able to shed light on the question, so, I had to do my own research.
From what I gathered, part of the problem is the criminalization of the act of hiring a sex worker. When one vanishes, even if a client list is found, who would be willing to share their experience with that individual or to talk about the kind of person they were when the implication is that the person being questioned is a criminal for hiring the sex worker in the first place?
Other aspects highlight that sex workers are in constant conflict with police officers. In 2011, the Suffolk County Police Department asked sex workers to come forward with any and all information regarding the LISK or the victims and their possible movements around the time they disappeared. From what I have heard, the result of this dragnet was minimal. The basic thinking at the time was that why would a sex worker out themselves to the police and face potential scrutiny at the hands of a police force who seemingly disregards them when they need them?
It's hard not to see that side of the argument against coming forward back in 2011.
Sex work and the demand for sex workers isn’t going anywhere. As long as individuals are willing to pay for sex or companionship in some form, there will always be sex workers who are taken advantage of. Whether that means more dead bodies found along beaches on Long Island, or individuals who are abused in some other form, the criminalization of sex work seems absurd. Protecting individuals engaged in sex work, building bridges between law enforcement and sex workers to better protect and crack down on malicious crime seems to be the answer, but who knows if that will ever occur.
A QUICK UPDATE:
After the recent passing of my father, the podcast was put on hold for a bit. However, in the coming weeks, once hosting is resolved, we should be up and running. I appreciate your patience, dear readers, and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out!
In 2011, not long after the bodies of the Gilgo Beach 4 (GB4) were found, news broke that the sister of one of the girls, Amanda Barthelemy, had received around six phone calls believed to be from the killer. Early on, reports painted this individual as “sick,” or “twisted,” but in recent years, there’s been information released that this individual sounded intoxicated, was of Caucasian descent, and spoke pretty well.
For the purposes of this blog series, we’ll refer to him as The Well-Spoken Man to avoid any potential murkiness with naming suspects or individuals. That said, having done a bit of research, and spoken to a few different sources, The Well-Spoken Man’s identity has become a bit more clear to me, and those watching the case closely.
There’s been multiple reports that this individual is well-to-do, has multiple connections with higher-up individuals, as well as those with money, and puts an emphasis on his “s” and “t”-words when speaking. I think this is in part connected to a segment of linguistics dubbed sociolinguistics, in which an individual will alter or assimilate parts of speech or patterns of speech to further entrench themselves into the community or world they’ve found themselves in. This is an individual who has perhaps attended the finest private schools on the east coast, and surrounded himself with powerful individuals.
This is an individual with easy access to Times Square, Madison Square Garden and Massapequa, a fairly affluent area of Long Island not tremendously far from Gilgo Beach. The reason we mention those three places is because police were able to pinpoint his calls from those particular spots, indicating that the individual is smart enough to know how to throw off the police, revealing an intimate working knowledge of police procedure, or at the very least. Or he’s a fan of CSI and knows that a phone can’t be traced in a hugely populated area.
The Well-Spoken Man may have found himself in possession of Melissa’s cell phone through a variety of ways, however; the simplest explanation is best: he was there when she vanished. In his phone calls, he indicated that he was watching Melissa rot, and that she was a “whore,” among other things. The key here is saying he was watching her rot, which, to many researchers indicates that this individual had a storage facility of some kind on his property where he may have kept one or all of the victims before disposing of them in his trophy garden.
This is the first of multiple entries centered around the individual(s) who are believed to have committed these crimes. None of the figures’ real names will be used, other than John Bittrolff, who is currently in jail and awaiting potential additional sentencing for the Gilgo Beach killings. If you have any information related to the events at Gilgo Beach, please reach out here.
Over the past few weeks, having been in touch with a new source, my personal beliefs and feelings regarding the night Shannan Gilbert “disappeared” have begun to solidify. Listening to interviews with John Ray, the Gilbert family attorney, as well as others, has only helped to crystalize my initial theory regarding the reality of the Gilgo Beach or Long Island Serial Killer (LISK). That said, as I continue working on this theory and talk to more sources, I’ll of course write about them here.
The podcast is coming along nicely, I’m happy to report. Editing isn’t as easy as I initially imagined, however; it’s a work in progress. To get a more minute by minute report of what’s going on, you can follow us @VoicesFromGilgo on Twitter and Instagram, as well as my personal Twitter account, @RobertOttone for more.
Anyway, the purpose of this blog was more to update you, the reader, as to what’s going on, and to that end:
I apologize for not having more information for you, but this week has been slow, I was out of town and am heavily focused on the getting the podcast ready for you all. As always, feel free to email, hit me up on the social media mentioned above with any and all questions, and if you know anything that you think could be pertinent or warrants investigation, contact me.
As news and events happen, it becomes important to reference those events here in the blog. The podcast is coming this month (most likely around Valentine’s Day), which is going to be interesting, but it comes with a few caveats. Also, an interview with a fascinating theorist about what happened at Gilgo Beach the night(s) the girls were murdered will be coming, too.
Anyways, let’s talk about what happened the other day on Ocean Parkway. Now, if you were in the area, you know that this was more than just a car accident. I tried to update as the news unfolded on our Twitter account, but the information I was receiving was pretty contrary. Eventually, the car accident story was what’s become the generally accepted narrative of events. This is fine. That established, I had contacts telling me there were police choppers in the area, as well as search teams combing the brush. Now, a simple car accident, on the surface, doesn’t seem to require a search team and choppers, but I’m not a police officer, so, my threat analysis skills may be low.
That said, something was happening by Ocean Parkway that resulted in the entire stretch of road being closed, surrounded by police and search crews, and swarmed by choppers. Take that for what you will.
The night Shannan Gilbert “disappeared” is a strange one. She was meeting a client, Joseph Brewer, at his home near Oak Beach/Gilgo Beach, when something scared her enough to make her think she was going to die that night. Shannan had been abusing drugs with Brewer that night, and had a history of mental illness (connected to her family), so it stands to reason that, perhaps during a drug-induced daze, she mistook Brewer’s advances for threats and ran off into the night.
There’s an image of Shannan, hiding under neighbor Gus Colletti’s boat in his yard while Michael Pak, Shannan’s driver, as well as Brewer, searched for her. A strung-out, terrified woman, hiding under a boat, waiting for salvation of some kind after pounding on Colletti’s door, desperate for aid. To put yourself in her position sends a shiver up your spine.
At some point after that, Shannan vanished. The police would eventually arrive (hours later, citing that they couldn’t trace where Shannan was, due to her incoherence and inability to tell them) after Shannan made a 23+ minute phone call to 9-1-1. The contents of that phone call remain under wraps, even though they were supposed to be released in November.
The last night of Shannan Gilbert remains a mystery. Many chalk her death up to “death by misadventure,” while others still believe her to be a victim of the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK). It was during the search for her body that the bodies of the other girls were found. Some believe she was chased into the marsh where her remains were eventually discovered, while others believe she was hallucinating when, during her phone call to the police she stated that “they” were trying to kill her.
Then who is the “they?” Brewer and Pak? Brewer was eliminated as a suspect early on in the investigation. Same with Pak. Who else was at Brewer’s? Is it the red herring, Dr. Peter Hackett? I use the term “red herring” loosely, as I believe Hackett to be the ultimate smokescreen to pull attention from where everyone should be looking. Hackett the fame-hound, who fakes heart attacks to avoid questioning and cries about his pacemaker being affected by cameras and cell phones.
Maybe Shannan was luckier than the other girls? Maybe her making that phone call stopped LISK from continuing? Possible, one supposes, but not likely. Bodies with similar M.O.s continue to pop up in Suffolk and Nassau counties.
Whatever happened to Shannan that night was horrific, and resulted in the death of a very disturbed young woman trying to make a living. From that horrific night came the discovery of multiple bodies.
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.