Long Island beachgoers unfazed by serial killer case

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 02, 2011 10:43 AM

By Aman Ali

BABYLON, New York (Reuters) - At Gilgo Beach on a breezy summer day, Cheryl Mozetti kicks back on a beach chair as she watches her two children shovel piles of sand onto their makeshift castle.

Less than a 100 feet away sits a small memorial reminding people that the area was also a dumping ground for a probable serial killer, still at large, who preyed on prostitutes.

"We come here from Brooklyn every summer," Mozetti, 38, said. "It's a family tradition. Sure everyone is talking about this serial killer, but I think people are making a much bigger deal than what it actually is. I don't feel any different coming here, and I don't think anybody else should."

Up and down the dune-lined Ocean Parkway along a stretch of Long Island beaches, police have found 10 sets of human remains since December. They suspect some are victims of at least one serial killer preying on prostitutes who advertised on the Craigslist website.

But beachgoers, residents and officials say the ongoing case has had little impact on their summer plans.

"I come here all the time to surf and I actually didn't even know about this serial killer until someone told me today," said Jake Oberlin, 23, of Armonk, New York, adding, "It doesn't seem like someone is running around hacking up people on the beach like in some kind of horror movie."

A memorial tucked into the mosquito-riddled brush on Gilgo Beach marks where police found some bodies. A cross bears the name of Megan Waterman, 22, of Maine.

Suffolk County Police said she had advertised her services on Craigslist before her body and others were found in December.

Waterman's mother, Lorraine Ela, came down from Maine in June to visit the spot, yards from the crashing Atlantic Ocean.

"When they (police) pointed it out to me, it was very dramatic," she said. "I lost it. It was so heartbreaking."

Waterman and several of the other victims' kin got together in June for a vigil at the site, which she found comforting.

"We talk almost every day," said Waterman. "We're all one family now."

Local, state and federal authorities have conducted several searches of the area, and Suffolk County Prosecutor Thomas Spota said recently there was likely more than one killer.

Spota said that it was clear that the area had been used to discard human remains "for some period of time," but "as distasteful and disturbing as that is, there is no evidence that all of these remains are the work of a single killer."

Four bodies were found in December as police searched for another Craigslist prostitute, Shannan Gilbert, 23, of New Jersey, who was reported missing in May 2010. But her body has not been found. Police linked her to a client's house at the nearby seaside neighborhood of Oak Beach a few miles away.

Oak Beach resident Gus Colleti told Reuters that Gilbert had banged on his door pleading for help shortly before police believe she disappeared into the night.

"She kept screaming 'Help me, help me, help me,'" he said. "Then she ran off."

The four bodies police found initially were all wrapped in burlap and identified as Craigslist escorts. But since then they have found other victims that do not fit the pattern, including a young Asian man who died a violent death and a child about 18-to-24-months old wrapped in a blanket.

But the grim nature of the case has not altered the mood of the upscale enclave.

"The talk of this has quieted down considerably," Colleti said. "I don't think anyone is really talking about this right now."

The beaches along Ocean Parkway, including famous Jones Beach, serve as a major day trip destination, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer. Parks and tourism officials expect the case to have little or no impact.

"We haven't really discussed it, and there doesn't seem a reason to," said George Gorman, the deputy regional director for Long Island's state parks.

Moke McGowan, president of the Long Island Conventions and Visitors Bureau, said the area saw roughly 6.4 percent more tourists in May compared to last year, and expects that attendance rise to continue throughout the summer.

Noting that New York passed legislation legalizing gay marriage, McGowan said, "We do plan on seeing a nice increase in wedding activity in Long Island, which we're known for. I think it's really shaping up to be a very positive summer vacation season."

(Reporting by Aman Ali; Editing by Chris Michaud and Greg McCune)