Over the past decade, there have been a number of different theories about who the Long Island serial killer is. Criminologists, former FBI agents and amateur detectives have all published their own criminal profiles of “LISK”.
Unfortunately, profiles can be misleading. This is because they tend to rely on probability.
According to the “Coals to Newcastle” study by policing strategist and former Detective Chief Inspector Gary Copson, offender profiling is roughly 66% accurate.
As a result, we must never take a profile as fact. Instead, we should view it as a useful guide.
We can use a criminal profile to help us narrow in on a suspect. However, we should never use it to rule someone out.
In this article, we will scrutinize some of the most common theories about the Long Island serial killer. We will also offer some of our own insights and theories.
Our goal here is to try and stick to the facts, weed out any assumptions and present a grounded and peeled-back “pseudo-profile” of who the killer is without making any large leaps of logic.
Is the Long Island serial killer a member of law enforcement?
The theory that the Long Island serial killer might be a member of law enforcement is based on three key facts.
- He attempted to conceal some of his victims’ identities by dismembering their bodies.
- Investigators seemingly failed to find any DNA evidence on his victim’s remains.
- He is aware that the police have the ability to track cellphones and phone calls.
Although this shows us that he understands how the police are able to narrow in on suspects, it does not prove that he is a member of law enforcement.
Detective magazines, documentaries, true crime books, movies and TV shows have all touched on these subjects in the past.
For example, the documentary series “Forensic Files” aired between 1996 and 2011. The “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” franchise also exploded in popularity during the noughties.
The general public is well aware that the police can trace phone calls and match DNA evidence against bodily fluids and hair. Furthermore, there are plenty of examples where murderers decided to dismember their victims’ bodies.
For example, Ted Bundy decapitated some of his victims in a deliberate attempt to impede any future investigation into his crimes.
All in all, we cannot stubbornly cling to the theory that LISK is a police officer. We must remain open-minded and accept the fact that a member of the public is capable of learning about these things.
The killer knows Gilgo Beach and Manorville.
Serial killers tend to operate in comfort zones. Therefore, there is a very good possibility that the Long Island serial killer is familiar with both Gilgo Beach and Manorville.
These are two areas where the authorities discovered more than one victim.
Operating in an unknown area is risky if you are committing a serious crime. From the offender’s perspective, there are far too many unknown variables.
Who will be there? How busy is it at certain times? How likely is it that someone will immediately stumble across the body? If someone does show up while I’m there, what should I do? Is there an alternative exit? If I park my car by that entrance, will someone see it? If a local does see it, will they become suspicious?
These are just some of the questions that will be going through the offender’s mind. An unknown area is risky because he might not have enough local knowledge to answer those questions.
As a result, he will feel pressured into sticking to areas that he is somewhat familiar with.
Remember that committing a serious crime is a stressful act, even if you are a remorseless serial killer. The stakes are extremely high. One false step and you might spend the rest of your life behind bars.
A group of hunters discovered the torso of suspected LISK victim Valerie Mack at a site in Manorville in November of 2000.
Newspaper articles reported that Valerie Mack’s killer dumped her remains close to the intersection between Mill Road and Halsey Manor Road.
However, this is slightly misleading. Crime scene photographs show that the dump site was actually much further away from the main road.
In other words, he didn’t just dump her torso at an intersection and then drive away.
In this case, the killer had to drive through a forested access road for 0.5 miles. Furthermore, the entrance to this powerline access road is relatively obscure.
This does not seem like the type of place that a stranger to the area would choose to drive through. Especially if it was late at night. Google Street Map images show that there are no street lights in the area.
This suggests that the killer has visited this particular location in the past. For example, he might be a hunter, a hiker, a utility worker, a wildlife enthusiast or an environmentalist.
In any case, it seems as though this person is familiar with the area and is no stranger to the great outdoors.
He targets sex workers because they are accessible and vulnerable.
Like many serial killers, LISK targets sex workers because they are often more vulnerable and easier to access than the average woman.
Furthermore, they tend to move around a lot. When a sex worker goes missing, people will often presume that they have gone elsewhere.
For example, she might be in and out of rehab due to a drug addiction. She might regularly switch between living with her parents and couch-surfing. There might also be other “push factors”, such as an abusive relationship with a boyfriend and/or pimp.
The Long Island serial killer might be a sadist.
A week after LISK victim Melissa Barthelemy went missing, an unidentified man started to make a series of calls to her younger sister Amanda. According to various news reports, the man in question made these calls from Melissa’s phone.
During these conversations, the man toyed with Amanda and taunted her about Melissa’s disappearance. Then, in the final phone call, he stated that Melissa was dead and that he was going to “watch her rot”.
Unfortunately, the authorities were unable to trace these calls.
Not only did he keep the calls relatively short, he purposely made them in crowded areas such as the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Penn Station.
If this was indeed the killer, then it is possible that he is a sadist. In other words, he gets gratification by inflicting pain on others.
In this case, he went out of his way and risked exposing himself just so he could psychologically torture the sister of one of his victims.
He did this over a series of seven phone calls.
If this individual is a sadist, then it is likely that those who know him will find him to be cruel, short-tempered, intimidating and demeaning at times. He might also exhibit harmful behavior toward living creatures.
This is the kind of man who enjoys seeing other people being hurt. For example, if someone has a bad fall, he might laugh or smirk instead of expressing any immediate concern for their well-being.
Friends, family and coworkers might notice that he has a fascination with weapons and violence.
Furthermore, he might come across as cold-hearted and hostile towards people he deems to be inferior.
He is able to manipulate others.
In the case of Amber Lynn Costello, he was seemingly able to manipulate his victim into leaving her phone behind.
According to her roommate, she seemed “familiar” with him. So much so, in fact, that she was willing to suspend her normal rules of operation.
Notably, he offered Amber $1,500 for an overnight stay – a rate that was much higher than usual.
Another victim named Megan Waterman also seemingly disregarded her usual precautions when meeting LISK.
This raises the possibility that he put time and effort into disarming his victims and gaining their trust in the lead-up to the crime. For example, he may have discreetly availed of their services in the past.
Regardless of what the ruse was, it seems as though his victims did not consider him to be a threat.
He seems to strike during the summer months.
Most of the Long Island serial killer’s victims went missing between June and the start of September.
- Maureen Brainard-Barnes: July, 2007.
- Melissa Barthelemy: July, 2009.
- Megan Waterman: June, 2010.
- Amber Lynn Costello: September 2nd, 2010 – before Labour Day.
- Jessica Taylor: July, 2003.
- Valerie Mack: Last seen in the spring or summer of 2000.
- “Peaches” / Jane Doe No. 3: Murdered in June of 1997.
- Jane Doe No. 7: March or April of 1996.
As you can see, his first known victim “Jane Doe No. 7” is the only woman who disappeared outside of the summer period.
Why does he only seem to strike during the summer?
There are a number of possible reasons for this.
- He is a seasonal visitor to the area. For example, he owns a holiday home in the area.
- He lives in the area. However, his family is away during the summer.
- The brighter evenings provide him with an excuse to stay out later than usual without raising any suspicions. For example, he might be an outdoor worker.
- During the summer months, the roadside bushes where he likes to dump his victim’s remains are thick with leaves. In other words, he knows that months will pass before the branches become bare.
- He works in an occupation that gives him a lot of free time during the summer. For example, he might have a job at a university or a school. He might also work as a bus driver.
- There is a seasonal aspect to his sexual fantasy.
- He might have a designated “kill site” that is “exposed” or inaccessible in winter. That or the ruse he employs is not as believable during the colder months.
- He has an alibi for being in Gilgo Beach during the summer. For instance, he might work there during those months.
As you can see, there are a number of possible reasons why the Long Island serial killer only seems to strike during the summer.
Does LISK have access to burlap?
The “Gilgo Four” victims were reportedly wrapped in burlap.
This has led to the theory that LISK works in an occupation that provides him with easy access to burlap. That or he has a hobby that puts him in regular contact with the material.
Although this is possible, it is important to point out that he only needed to have access to it at one singular point in time.
For example, a gardener or a contractor may have left them behind after doing work at his home. Or he could have happened across them somewhere else.
Manorville and surrounding areas have a well-known illegal dumping problem. Therefore, it is within the realms of possibility that he discovered the material out in the open and decided to keep it.
Furthermore, burlap is a common sight on Gilgo Beach, as the fabric is used to combat beach erosion.
To make a long story short: It would be foolish to rule out suspects based on whether they had regular access to burlap or not.
This is a common material that has a wide range of uses.
He does not have to be well educated.
A criminal profile in the New York Times opined that the Long Island serial killer is well educated. However, this seems like a leap of logic.
A person does not need to have a high level of education in order to learn about forensic science and police investigative techniques.
All they need is access to information and the motivation to absorb it.
In this case, it is likely that the killer has an interest in true crime material. For example, he might watch detective documentaries or read books about serial killers.
It is important to note that he does not need to have a deep knowledge about these subjects in order to thwart the investigation.
For example, he does not need to know about the intricacies of DNA profiling. All he needs to know is that the authorities can trace hairs, bodily fluids and fingerprints back to him.
Similarly, he does not need to be tech savvy in order to understand that investigators can track cellphones.
There is no evidence to suggest that the Long Island serial killer is “high-up”.
A sizable number of people who follow this case seem to be convinced that the Long Island serial killer is some sort of powerful authority figure. That or he is a rich person from the upper echelons of society.
However, there is no solid evidence to back this up.
All in all, it seems as though people want to believe this because it makes the case seem more “exciting” or “dramatic”.
Until there is solid evidence to state otherwise, we must presume that he could be from any social class.
He does not have to be intelligent.
There have been a number of cases where serial killers with average or below-average IQs have successfully evaded law enforcement for lengthy periods of time.
For example, Gary Ridgway’s IQ was in the “low eighties” and he managed to escape justice for 19 years.
In the case of LISK, we should not interpret his cautious nature as evidence that he is more intelligent than the average person.
In reality, he may just have better impulse control than other serial killers. This would explain why he is seemingly able to go for lengthy periods of time without killing anyone.
The assumption that serial killers are unable to stop themselves from killing is a myth. In reality, they can find another outlet for their sexual fantasies. For example, the BTK killer, Dennis Rader, was able to substitute the act of killing with various autoerotic activities.
LISK might be a regular “john”.
Due to his familiarity with prostitution and his ability to remain dormant for lengthy periods of time, it is plausible that this man is a regular “john” who pays sex workers to engage in “abnormal” activities that act as a substitute.
If this is the case, then there is probably at least one sex worker in the Long Island area who remembers a “reliable” and seemingly-nonthreatening “john” who paid extra money for consensual BDSM activities.
For example, he might have asked her to act out certain violent scenarios. Or he may have been into bondage.
Amber Lynn Costello’s roommate pointed out that she felt comfortable with her “john” and that they eventually settled on an “unusually high price” after several phone calls.
The fact that she was comfortable with him raises the possibility that she had met him before. The haggling and the higher price suggest that his requests were unusual and that she wasn’t willing to meet them unless he paid a lot extra.
It is very possible that the Long Island serial killer is a regular “customer” who only kills when he feels that it is safe to do so. If he is unable to pick them up without being seen, then he probably uses their services as normal.
The Long Island serial killer changed his M.O.
The Long Island serial killer went from dismembering his victims and dumping their remains at separate locations to dumping their entire bodies in burlap at one location on Gilgo Beach.
He also started to target sex workers who were advertising their services on Craigslist instead of women who engaged in street prostitution.
This change in M.O. occurred during the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes in July of 2007.
Maureen was the first victim who LISK did not dismember. She was also the first victim that he targeted via the Internet.
There are a number of possible reasons why he decided to change his M.O.
In 2003, the authorities were able to identify the torso of a sex worker called Jessica Taylor. This was despite the fact that he had gone through the effort of mutilating an identifying tattoo on her body.
Jessica Taylor was the first victim who the authorities were able to identify.
The discovery of Jessica Taylor’s identity would have undoubtedly filled him with worry.
Now that investigators had a name, there was a chance that they would be able to trace her last known movements and identify him.
If someone saw her talking to him or a CCTV camera captured his vehicle registration number, he was in trouble.
Between 2004 and 2005, he probably spent a lot of time worrying if the police were going to show up at his door.
All of this served as a wake-up call. He now knew that law enforcement had the ability to identify his victim’s remains without dental records or fingerprints.
At the same time, he may have also started to realize that picking up prostitutes off the street was a risky move. All it would take was one eagle-eyed bystander to turn his entire world upside down.
LISK’s Gilgo Beach dumpsites remained undiscovered.
Back in 2007, his dumpsites on Gilgo Beach remained undiscovered.
As a result, he grew increasingly confident in the area.
At some point in the mid-late 2000s, it seems as though he arrived at the conclusion that he no longer needed to dismember his victims and dump their remains at different locations. Instead, he decided to wrap their bodies in burlap and dump them at the roadside by Ocean Parkway.
In his mind, dismemberment was no longer worth the hassle.
If the police were capable of identifying torsos, then he might as well just dump their bodies whole.
LISK had far less exposure with the Gilgo Four.
Two of Long Island serial killer’s earlier victims (Mack and Taylor) were street prostitutes. As a result, he probably had to approach them in public.
This left him somewhat exposed. Although he was probably as discreet as he could be, there was always the lingering possibility that someone would remember seeing the victim getting into his vehicle.
This why he went through great efforts to hide their identities.
If the police do not know a victim’s identity, then they can’t track their last known movements.
However, with the Gilgo Four, it was different. In the lead-up to their murders, he was able to keep a safe distance by finding them on Craigslist and then contacting them using burner phones. At that point, he was able to lure them to places where he could pick them up unnoticed.
This gave LISK far more control over the situation.
As a result, he no longer felt the need to obscure their identities. In his mind, it didn’t matter because the authorities had no way of connecting him to them.
He pays attention to news coverage of his crimes and adapts his M.O. accordingly.
In 1996, he put Fire Island Jane Doe’s legs into a plastic bag and threw them into the bay. A couple of weeks later, two men spotted the bag after it washed up on a beach on Fire Island.
After this discovery, it seems as though he stopped using the bay to dump identifiable remains.
In 1997, he dumped the torso of an unidentified woman (Peaches) in Hempstead Lake State Park. In an effort to identify the woman, the authorities published a photograph of her tattoo in local newspapers.
From that point onward, he started to mutilate his victims’ tattoos.
In 2003, the torso of Jessica Taylor was found in Manorville. In Jessica’s case, LISK attempted to hide a tattoo on her body by cutting it with a knife. Fortunately, the medical examiner’s office was able to piece it back together. This eventually led to her identification.
After Taylor was identified, he finally decided to stop dumping his victims’ remains out in the open. He also stopped approaching “streetwalkers”.
As you can see, he seemingly adapted his M.O. with each development in the case. This shows us that he pays attention to the news coverage about his crimes.
The Long Island serial killer wanted his victims’ torsos to be found.
In the cases of “Peaches”, Valerie Mack and Jessica Taylor, it seems as though the Long Island serial killer strategically placed their torsos in areas where he knew someone would find them.
Although he dumped Valerie Mack’s remains “off the beaten track”, it was beside a pathway that hunters use on a daily basis.
- Peaches (1997): A local man finds her torso just a few feet inside the treeline at Hempstead Lake State Park, close to a main road.
- Valerie Mack (2000): Three pheasant hunters discover her torso near a powerline access road.
- Jessica Taylor (2003): A dog walker discovered her remains on top of a pile of branches at the end of an access road.
It is telling that he went to great lengths to dismember their bodies and hide their identifiable remains, yet seemingly did the opposite when it came to disposing of their torsos.
This suggests that he wanted infamy.
For example, he may have enjoyed seeing his crimes on the news or hearing people talking about them. He might have even wanted people to connect the dots between his crimes and realize that a serial killer was among them.
He may have started conversations about his crimes.
If any of the above is true, then it is possible that “the unsub” was eager to initiate conversations about his crimes with others.
Friends and coworkers may have noticed that he was overly enthusiastic about discussing them.
The only anomaly here is his first known victim, Fire Island Jane Doe. Although her legs and skull were eventually found, her torso remains missing to this day.
Judging by his behavior in the other three cases, it is possible that he dumped her torso in a public place and that it was somehow overlooked. For example, someone somewhere may have come across a plastic bag and presumed that it was a dead animal.
It is also possible that he miscalculated and placed it too far out of the way.
Interestingly, in the case of Valerie Mack, it seems as though he was unhappy that it took so long for someone to find her remains. As a result, he made sure to dump his next victim, Jessica Taylor, in a much more public place.
However, Taylor’s identification came as an unwelcome surprise to him. Although he had mutilated an identifiable tattoo on her body, the medical examiner’s office was able to piece it back together.
This development convinced him that he was flying far too close to the sun.
Playing games is fun until you start worrying about police vehicles pulling into your driveway.
The police discovered a belt with initials on it at the Gilgo Four dumpsite. In another article, we opined that LISK purposely placed the belt there as a misdirection.
In other words, this may have been his way of continuing his games with the authorities at a much lower risk.
According to a criminal profile published in the New York Times, LISK may have sought treatment at a hospital for poison ivy.
This is because the dense thicket on the north side of Gilgo Beach is full of poison ivy.
The logic here is that he would have been unable to avoid exposure unless he took certain precautions.
However, it is worth pointing out that poison ivy affects some people more than others. In fact, 25% of people will experience no reaction at all.
For all we know, he experienced mild symptoms that barely phased him.
If he is familiar with the great outdoors, then it stands to reason that he knows the old saying: “Leaves of three, let it be.”
His usage of the Internet to contact the Gilgo Four victims has led some people to posit the theory that he is good at using computers.
However, this theory ignores the wider societal changes that were taking place during the 2000s.
During the noughties, Internet usage in the United States increased rapidly. Furthermore, smartphones with Internet access exploded in popularity in the second-half of the decade.
Websites such as MySpace, YouTube and Craigslist were all gaining millions of new users every year.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of American adults who used the Internet increased from 52% to 76%. This increase was even more pronounced in older age groups.
Basically, this means that the Long Island serial killer does not have to be proficient with computers. For all we know, he is someone who merely followed the wider trend.
Who is the Long Island serial killer?
Unfortunately, his identity is still unknown. If there’s one thing that this “profile” makes very clear, it’s that the Long Island serial killer case is extremely fluid and that there isn’t a lot of publicly-available information about the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, this lack of information has motivated people to try and “fill in the gaps” with baseless assumptions and leaps of logic. Others will then build on these assumptions with theories of their own.
All we know is that he is adaptable, relatively cautious and knowledgeable about investigative techniques. He may also be a sadist who is familiar with the areas around Manorville and Gilgo Beach.
It is likely that this man has used the services of sex workers in the past without causing them any harm. If he is a sadist, then he has probably paid extra for “unusual” requests.
This opens up the possibility that he has a sizable amount of disposable income. However, it does not necessarily mean that he is “rich”. For example, he might own a local business or be employed in a well-paying job.
The location of Valeria Mack’s torso suggests that he is a hunter or someone else who regularly visits the area around the Long Island State Pine Barrens. Judging by the terrain, he might drive a truck or another 4×4 vehicle.
His habit of dumping his victims’ torsos out in the open suggests that he was seeking some form of attention. If this is true, then he probably initiated conversations about the crimes with others.
Judging by the dates that his victims went missing, it seems as though he prefers operating during the summer months. However, we have no idea if this is because of necessity or choice.
Although he did have access to burlap at one point in time, there is no way to tell if he had regular access to it or not.
Is he still around?
The Long Island serial killer’s last confirmed victim went missing in September of 2010.
There are four possibilities here.
- He is in prison for another crime.
- He is dead or seriously ill.
- The find at Gilgo Beach spooked him so much that he decided to go dormant.
- He is now operating elsewhere.
Let’s hope that it is number one or two.