One was a published poet with a passion for books. Another was an aspiring singer who idolized Mariah Carey. All of the women whose remains were found along a stretch of Long Island highway were daughters and sisters whose lives were taken by a serial killer still at large.
More than a decade after their remains were discovered, the families of the victims found off Ocean Parkway are renewing their call for police to solve the case that has baffled investigators and unnerved residents of a quiet, oceanfront community.
“My sister deserves to see justice,” said Melissa “Missy” Cann, whose sister, 25-year-old Maureen Brainard-Barnes, was killed and her body dumped in thick bramble at Gilgo Beach along the South Shore of Long Island.
“Her life was cut short because someone thought it wasn’t worth anything to anybody, but they were very wrong,” added Cann.
Brainard-Barnes, like the other victims, worked as an escort to support herself – a secret her sister did not know at the time of her disappearance in July 2007. Cann believed her sister was job hunting after getting laid off from a telemarketing company.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, disappeared in July 2007. Her remains were found in 2010 at Gilgo Beach. Photo courtesy of Missy Cann
“She was just trying to make it, trying to be able to get through the hump,” Cann told Fox News. “Maureen could have been anything.”
The investigation into the Long Island serial killer began with the disappearance of 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, an escort from Jersey City, New Jersey, who was last seen running from a home in Oak Beach, New York, in the pre-dawn hours of May 1, 2010.
The police search for Gilbert lead to the discovery of ten sets of human remains along Ocean Parkway near popular Jones Beach. The remains of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, 24, Megan Waterman, 22, and Amber Lynn Costello, 27, were found in December 2010 at nearby Gilgo Beach. When authorities scoured the area for more victims, they found the partial remains of four more women as well as an unidentified Asian male and a female toddler.
Shannan Gilbert of New Jersey disappeared from Oak Beach in May 2010. The police search to find her led to the discovery of ten sets of humans remains and set off the hunt for a serial killer or killers. Photo courtesy of Sherre Gilbert.
While police believe the women found at Gilgo Beach are victims of the same killer or killers, it’s unknown whether their deaths are connected to the other victims found along Ocean Parkway. The skeletal remains of Gilbert were found in a marsh near Oak Beach in December 2011 – not far from where she was last seen running from the home of a client. Unlike the other victims, the medical examiner ruled Gilbert’s cause of death as “undetermined.”
Elizabeth Meserve, the aunt of Megan Waterman, wants one matter made clear: her niece was not a prostitute but rather “prostituted” by her boyfriend, Akeem Cruz, who manipulated Waterman and threatened both her life and that of her young daughter, according to family members.
“People will say, ‘How can you be a prostitute and love your children?’ But when you have somebody saying, ‘I’m going to hurt your child if you don’t do this,’ you do it,” said Meserve. “So that’s where coercion came in.”
Megan Waterman with her daughter Lily in 2009, the year before Megan disappeared. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Meserve.
Waterman’s daughter, Lily, now 14, has spent much of her life searching for answers in her mother’s death.
“We need to see justice,” she said. “We have to be hopeful that someone’s going to come forth with that right piece of evidence and everything’s just going to fall into place.”
“My mom was a sister, a daughter, a mother, a friend. She was a person with feelings and a life,” said Waterman, who was only three years old when her mother was last seen leaving a Holiday Inn in Hauppauge, New York, on June 6, 2010, to meet an unknown client.
“I don’t remember what her voice sounds like,” said Waterman, “But I do find comfort in knowing she would be proud of me.”
Unlike the families of Brainard-Barnes and Waterman, the Mack family, from Port Republic, New Jersey, did not know what happened to their daughter for 20 years. It was not until 2020 when authorities announced the identity of “Jane Doe No. 6” as 24-year-old Valerie Mack, an escort who was last seen in the spring of 2000.
Using genetic genealogy, the FBI was able to link partial remains found off Ocean Parkway in 2011 with a torso found in Manorville, New York, in 2000. Both sets of remains belonged to Mack, whom authorities identified through a DNA sample collected from her son, Benjamin, when he was incarcerated last year.
“I figured she was gone all these years, but not in the way that they described,” Mack’s adoptive sister, Angela, said in an interview with Fox News.
“It’s just really hard to think that somebody could do that to her,” she said.
How Mack ended up on Long Island – some 180 miles from her hometown – is a mystery to her family.
Valerie Mack, left, is seen in an undated photo with her sister, Angela. For years, Mack was known as “Jane Doe #6.” Her naked torso was found in Manorville, N.Y., in 2000 and the rest of her dismembered remains were found in 2011 along Ocean Parkway in Long Island. In 2020, authorities announced that they had positively identified the remains as Mack through the use of genetic genealogy. Photo courtesy of Angela Mack.
“Nobody, nobody could understand how she got to New York because any time she would disappear, she went to Philadelphia,” she said. “I really don’t think she went to New York willingly at all.”
Mack had begun to turn her life around shortly before her disappearance, according to her family.
“She was working at a dollar store chain, seeing Benjamin again, and she wasn’t doing any drugs,” said her sister, who remains hopeful an arrest will be made someday.
“I know there are cases solved 40, 50 years later. So I guess I can just hope eventually, one day, hopefully there will be justice,” Mack said. “I just really would like to find out who did it. I just want to see their face, to see who could mutilate my sister’s body. And like, to find out a reason.”
Cann, meanwhile, has a direct message for the killer or killers who took her sister’s life.
In an open letter shared with Fox News, Cann called the person responsible a “monster.”
“I often wonder how you can continue on with your life without having to look over your shoulder all the time and to not know if today will be the day that justice will find you,” wrote Cann. “You are a coward.”