In 2020, the Suffolk County Police Department released photographs of a belt that they discovered at the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) dumpsite on Gilgo Beach.
Judging by the filenames of the images on the official Gilgo News website, this belt is somehow related to Maureen Brainard-Barnes, who went missing in July of 2007.
Since the release of the photographs, amateur detectives on Reddit and Websleuths have been driving themselves crazy trying to figure out what the initials mean.
Is it a “HM” or a “WH” that is upside down? Is it an acronym? Or have the zodiac symbols for Pisces and Scorpio been placed side-by-side?
Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t matter.
It is likely that this belt is a misdirection that the Long Island serial killer purposely planted at the dumpsite on Gilgo Beach.
In certain cases, offenders will attempt to mislead the investigation by planting fake evidence. This is known as crime scene staging.
In other words, this belt is probably a “red herring.”
Finding a belt is one thing. But finding one that just so happens to have initials written on it?
That does not pass the smell test.
Notably, this would not be the first case where a serial killer planted false evidence. According to former King County detective Robert Keppel, Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway both admitted to “salting” their dump sites.
In Bundy’s case, he picked up empty cans that had been used by other people and then left them near his victims’ bodies. By doing this, he hoped that the blood type found in the saliva might confuse investigators (this was before DNA testing became a thing).
LISK is too cautious to leave behind an important belt.
Although we do not know a lot about LISK, one thing is very clear.
He is a relatively cautious individual.
This is a man who used throwaway burner phones to contact his victims. He also managed to erode their suspicions before strategically luring them to spots where he could pick them up unseen.
This is why we do not have a first name, physical description, or vehicle type.
He put time and effort into making sure that these women vanished into thin air.
Following the murders of “Fire Island Jane Doe”, “Peaches”, Valerie Mack, and Jessica Taylor, the killer hindered their identification by dismembering their bodies.
He then went through the process of dumping their remains in multiple locations that were more than 45 miles apart.
All of the facts indicate that the Long Island serial killer is cautious, prudent, and diligent.
Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that he mistakenly left behind a belt that can be traced back to him or anyone that he knows.
The investigators in the Gilgo case probably already know this, as they have undoubtedly come across crime scene staging in the past.
If you read the SCPD press release about the belt, you will notice that they specifically stated that he handled it. They made no comment about whether it might be his or not.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes went missing three years before he stopped using the Gilgo Beach dumpsite.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes went missing in July of 2007.
The last of the “Gilgo Four” to go missing was Amber Lynn Costello. She disappeared in September of 2010 after leaving her house to meet an unidentified client.
If the belt is related to Barnes’ case, then it means that it was lying at the same dumpsite that he continued to use for the next three years.
According to the police, the victims’ remains were a short distance away from the roadside. They were also located pretty close to one another.
If he did mistakenly leave it behind, then he had a total of 1,251 days in which he could have easily retrieved it.
All of this points to the likelihood that he left it there on purpose.
It is important to point out that this was a very controlled dump site. The killer removed his victims’ clothes, wrapped them in burlap, pulled over to the side of a secluded road, and then placed their bodies in the thicket. He had time, space, and privacy. Therefore, it is difficult to see how he could have carried a belt over to the bushes and accidentally dropped it.
Why would the Long Island serial killer do this?
The motive is pretty simple.
If people are looking for a “HM” or a “WH”, then they are not looking for him.
In the best-case scenario, it leads the investigation down the wrong path. At the very least, it wastes the police’s time and energy for a short while.
For all we know, it was a half-hearted attempt at creating a mystery, much like the Zodiac Killer did by sending cryptograms to newspapers.
If that was his aim, then he would undoubtedly enjoy seeing the debate it has generated.
LISK was seemingly willing to play these kinds of games as long as they didn’t put him in too much danger. In the cases of “Peaches” and Jessica Taylor, he dumped their dismembered torsos in places where he knew someone would quickly find them.
This is why he went through the effort of mutilating a tattoo on Taylor’s body. He was well aware that someone would eventually walk down that access road in Manorville and discover it. He left her remains wide out in the open, lying on top of a pile of branches and wood scraps, just yards away from a treeline.
The Long Island serial killer could have easily placed the torso inside the nearby treeline. However, he deliberately chose not to.
In his mind, he probably reasoned that he could stir up some local media coverage as long as he took extra precautions to obscure his victim’s identity.
That way, he could see his crimes in the news and listen to other people talking about them. It’s even possible that he struck up conversations about the murders himself.
However, all of this eventually backfired on him when the medical examiner’s office was able to put the tattoo on Jessica’s torso back together. Shortly afterwards, a detective in Washington, D.C., saw an image of the tattoo and recognized it.
The identification of Jessica Taylor probably came as a shock to LISK.
Consequently, he realized that he could no longer afford to be so brazen.
This might explain the sudden change in M.O. From that point on, he stopped dumping torsos out in the open.
Despite this switch-up in M.O., it is unlikely that his propensity for toying with the authorities would have completely disappeared.
Therefore, it is possible that this belt was a more subtle continuation of his earlier “games”.