The remains of a fifth body found along a remote New York beach highway are not those of a missing New Jersey prostitute last seen in the area nearly a year ago, police said Thursday.
Suffolk County Police said in a statement that the family of Shannan Gilbert has been notified that forensic testing determined the remains found Tuesday along Ocean Parkway on a narrow barrier island leading to Jones Beach on New York's Long island were not those of the missing Jersey City, N.J., woman.
They did not say whether they had identified the latest victim, its gender, or whether this death is connected to the deaths of four women found nearby in December.
An aunt of Gilbert's did not immediately respond to an e-mail and telephone message seeking comment. Shannan Gilbert's sister, Sherre, told Newsday the news brought mixed feelings.
"You prepare for the worst, and then you find out it's not her. How do you take it?" said 23-year-old Sherre Gilbert, of upstate Ellenville. "I am just scared that it's going to turn into a cold case and we're never going to find her."
Gilbert, 24, was last seen in Oak Beach, near where the latest remains were discovered, on May 1, 2010, after apparently meeting a client she had booked through Craigslist. The bodies of four other women, all of whom also worked as Craigslist escorts and were in their 20s, were found along the same highway by police searching for Gilbert.
Police suspect a serial killer could be responsible for the deaths, but have not identified any suspects.
The body found Tuesday was about a mile east of where the four bodies were found in December in a marshy, wooded area steps from the parkway.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer told reporters Wednesday that although officers have searched the area several times since December, a widespread search of a 7.5 mile area would resume on Monday. Inclement weather on Thursday and Friday apparently precluded the search from resuming sooner.
"It's a rugged area, thick with brush. It is possible to miss something," he said.
The commissioner also said Wednesday that the discovery of the latest set of remains gives investigators new possible leads into the killings of all the victims.
Identifying the latest victim could take weeks or longer, officials have said. The four women found in December were not identified by officials for more than a month. A spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office confirmed Thursday that it was assisting Suffolk County officials with their investigation.
Gilbert had arranged to meet a client in Oak Beach last May. A resident of the gated seaside enclave has told authorities a woman believed to be Gilbert came to his door around 4:45 a.m. on May 1, pleading for help.
The man said when he attempted to call police, the woman fled.
A few moments later, an unidentified man in a sport utility vehicle drove past the house and said he was looking for the woman, but then took off. Neither the woman nor the man was seen by the neighbor again.
The client Gilbert had arranged to meet was investigated by police but is not believed to be a suspect in her disappearance.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long in New York contributed to this report.