SMITHTOWN, N.Y. – A man believed to be the last person to see a missing New Jersey prostitute voluntarily surrendered his SUV to detectives investigating the deaths of four women whose bodies were found on a deserted beach highway, police said Thursday.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said authorities confiscated the vehicle as part of their ongoing investigation into a possible serial killer. He said there are no suspects in the deaths of the four women, who have yet to be identified, nor were there any updates on the disappearance of the New Jersey woman or a Maine woman who also worked as a Craigslist escort and was last seen on Long Island in June.
Meanwhile, state police provided local investigators with 10 police dogs as they expanded their search for additional bodies.
The four bodies were discovered within the past week scattered along a quarter-mile section of the highway. Police believe the corpses had been systematically dumped there at different times over at least 18 months.
The first body was located Saturday as police were searching for clues into the disappearance of Shannon Gilbert, a 24-year-old prostitute last seen in Oak Beach, a gated community of million-dollar waterfront homes. The other three bodies were found Monday.
Dormer had said earlier in the week that Gilbert was headed to Fire Island, but corrected himself Thursday and said she went to Oak Beach, which is on Jones Island just to the west of Fire Island. The bodies were also found on Jones Island, about three miles west of Oak Beach.
An Oak Beach resident, Joe Brewer, told Newsday earlier this week that Gilbert had spent an hour at his home in the early morning hours of May 1, the day she went missing.
A neighbor said the woman appeared at his door at around 4:45 a.m.
“I heard screaming at my front door,” said Gustav Coletti. “She was saying, ‘I need help, I need help, they’re after me,’” Coletti told The Associated Press. He told the woman he was calling the police, but she immediately turned around and fled, he said.
A few moments later, a man in an SUV drove past the house and told Coletti he was looking for the woman. Coletti said the driver, whom he could only describe as Asian, told him they had been at a party and the woman had become upset.
“He took off after and I waited for the police,” he said. That was the last he saw of either that morning.
Several weeks later, the same man and some of the missing woman’s relatives canvassed the neighborhood, seeking any help in locating her, Coletti said.
Dormer said police were investigating at the home of a person he would describe only as “the john.” He said it was routine.
Brewer, who is not Asian and who also owns a home in West Islip, N.Y., declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press on Thursday. “No comment. I will let the truth be my reporter,” he said.
A Jersey City, N.J, Police Department missing persons flier noted Gilbert is bipolar and is known to use cocaine and marijuana, as well as prescription drugs. She has a small scar under her right eye, tattoo of cherries on her right wrist and a scorpion on her back. Police have spelled her first name as both Shannon and Shannan.
Dormer has said it could days or weeks before any of the four bodies are identified. The New York City medical examiner’s office is assisting with the identification process.
Detectives believe the four women were killed elsewhere and then taken to the site, 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 State Park with several state- and town-run beaches to its east.
Authorities also have obtained a DNA sample from the mother of a missing Maine woman last seen working as an escort on Long Island. Megan Waterman, who advertised her escort services on the online classifieds site Craigslist, was last seen in June at a Hauppauge, N.Y., hotel. The hotel is about 15 miles from where the bodies were found this week.
Dormer said the return of officers to a 10-mile stretch of Ocean Parkway, where the bodies were found, was a function of being thorough. “We want to make sure that we didn’t miss anything,” he said.