We spoke with author Robert Kolker about the unsolved case, dubbed the Long Island Serial Killer by the press and public. Here's an abbreviated version of the timeline in Lost Girls of the events surrounding the ongoing investigation. The full story and timeline is discussed in Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.
April 20, 1996: Two female legs, wrapped in a plastic bag, are discovered on Fire Island west of Davis Park Beach.
December 19, 2000: The first of two human torsos is discovered by hikers in the Long Island Pine Barrens in Manorville, off of Halsey Manor Road.
July 26, 2003: The second human torso is discovered in the Pine Barrens, not far from the first. The remains are identified as Jessica Taylor, and twenty-year-old escort from Washington, D.C., last seen days earlier at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.
July 9, 2007: Maureen Brainard-Barnes is last seen in her room at the Super 8 Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Her last known call that night is to her sister, Missy, during which she says she is at Penn Station.
July 12, 2009: Melissa Barthelemy is last seen outside her apartment in the Bronx. In the next month, her sister, Amanda, will receive seven phone calls from a man claiming to be her killer.
May 1, 2010: Shannan Gilbert disappears at sunrise after being seen running out of Joe Brewer’s house in Oak Beach, Long Island. Neighbors Gus Coletti and Barbara Brennan are among the last to see her, in the vicinity of Anchor Way.
June 5, 2010: Megan Waterman disappears from the Hauppauge Holiday Inn Express, last seen heading toward a nearby convenience store on foot.
September 2, 2010: Amber Lynn Costello leaves her home in North Babylon to meet a client, never to be seen alive again.
December 11, 2010: Police discover a full skeleton, wrapped in burlap, in the bramble beside Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, three miles from Oak Beach. The remains are later identified as Melissa Barthelemy.
December 13, 2010: Near where Melissa was found, police find three more sets of remains, also skeletons wrapped in burlap, later identified as Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, and Amber Lynn Costello.
January 25, 2011: Suffolk County Police Commissoner Richard Dormer and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota publicly acknowledge that the police are looking for a serial killer.
March 29, 2011: Police find a skull, hands, and forearm, later verified to be additional remains of Jessica Taylor, the woman whose torso was found in Manorville in 2003. There remains are also found along Ocean Parkway, three quarters of a mile east of where the first four bodies were discovered.
April 4, 2011: Three more sets of remains are found along Ocean Parkway: an unidentified Asian male dressed in women’s clothing; the skull, hands, and foot of the first Manorville Jane Doe; and an unidentified girl between sixteen and thirty-two months old.
April 11, 2011: Police uncover two more sets of remains in two separate locations. The first discovery, female bones and jewelry found near the Jones Beach water tower, is later suggested by DNA to be the likely mother of the girl found eight days earlier along Ocean Parkway. The second, a skull discovered west of Tobay Beach in Nassau County, is later determined to be that of the Jane Doe torso found in 1996 on Fire Island.
May 9, 2011: In light of the six latest discoveries, Spot revises his theory of the case, announcing “There is no evidence that all of these remains are the work of a single killer.”
November 29, 2011: Dormer revises the case theory yet again, announcing he believes a single serial killer is to blame for all ten victims, and that Shannan’s disappearance is a separate case, perhaps not even a murder.
December 13, 2011: Shannan’s remains are found on the far side of the Oak Beach marsh, a quarter mile from where her belongings were found five days earlier. Before an autopsy is performed, Dormer refers to her death as an accident.
December 15, 2011: Spota decries Dormer’s single-killer theory. The same day, County Executive—elect Steve Bellone names Dormer’s replacement as police commissioner, effective January 1.
January 3, 2012: Suffolk County Interim Commissioner Edward Webber announce “There’s no fixed theories at the moment” about the Gilbert case or any of the Ocean Parkway cases.
May 1, 2012: Shannan’s autopsy results are shared with her family. The cause of death is “undetermined.”