For 4, Life Of Prostitution And Death By 1 Killer

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (AP) — The four women were prostitutes in their 20s, advertising their services online, living on the margins of society and not likely to be immediately missed. They appeared to share similar middle-class childhoods, but it is the way they lived their adult lives that has authorities chasing a serial killer.

The bodies were found in mid-December, strewn 500 yards apart along a deserted barrier island highway off New York’s Long Island. Suffolk County police have classified their deaths as homicides, but no suspects have been publicly identified and officials have refused to reveal how they were killed.

Once investigators determined they were all sex workers, though, it wasn’t a leap to say they had a killer in common.

Prostitutes are in many ways the perfect victims for a serial killer — and have been throughout history. Gary Ridgway, the Seattle-area “Green River Killer” of the 1980s and ’90s, preyed on prostitutes. So have many other notable serial killers, including Jack the Ripper, who terrorized London in the 1880s.

“The abduction is very easy. It’s not like breaking into a house and kidnapping someone,” said Louis B. Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “And in many instances, police don’t know the person is missing for a very long time afterward.”

In Atlantic City, detectives have yet to capture the person responsible for the deaths of four prostitutes found in shallow graves near the beach in 2006. And in Daytona Beach, Fla., police have been investigating the deaths of four women found slain in 2005 and 2006. Those women led “high-risk lifestyles” — they were prostitutes or used drugs, and were likely felled by a serial killer, police said.

The women found dead on Long Island grew up in Maine, Connecticut, North Carolina and upstate New York. One was a promising hairstylist. Two others were described as loving mothers; one called home three times a day to speak to her 4-year-old daughter.

An ex-husband of 27-year-old Amber Lynn Costello, originally of Wilmington, N.C., said their marriage ended when they argued over her heroin use.

“I just don’t put up with that,” said Michael W. Wilhelm, 41, of Kannapolis, N.C. “I told her to hit the road.”

Costello was the most recent victim to be seen alive; police say she was last seen in September living in North Babylon, several miles north of where her body was found.

Relatives knew that 22-year-old Megan Waterman of Scarborough, Maine, was advertising her escort services online, but said she was an adult who made her own choices.

Waterman, mother of the 4-year-old, was last seen at a Hauppauge, N.Y., hotel in June 2010. She had apparently traveled to New York on Memorial Day weekend with Akeem Cruz, a 21-year-old Brooklyn man described as her boyfriend. He is serving 20 months in a Maine prison for drug trafficking.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes, also a mother, was the first of the four women to disappear. She left Norwich, Conn., on July 9, 2007, and headed for New York City, planning to return the following day. A Norwich Police Department missing-persons flier notes there are few details about her disappearance.

“When she stopped calling people, everybody knew something was wrong,” said Sarah Marquis of Groton, Conn., who described herself as a close friend.

Melissa Barthelemy grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and trained as a hair stylist. After moving to New York in 2007, she turned to prostitution. Barthelemey family attorney Steven Cohen said she worked as an escort to supplement her income.

“Nobody goes down to New York City to become a prostitute, an escort,” he said. “She did this because she was behind on rent from time to time.”

Barthelemy’s mother thought she was working as an exotic dancer.

“I had spoke to her a few times and told her I wasn’t too happy about it,” Lynn Barthelemy said. “But I told her to be careful. She said, `Mom, I’m never alone, I always have a friend and it’s just dancing.”‘

Police said all four advertised on Craigslist or other online services. Craigslist, which is largely free, has been under prosecutors’ scrutiny for years and last month it said it had removed its “adult services” section from both its domestic and its international sites.

Prostitutes who troll the streets for business are the most vulnerable to violence, but “indoor sex workers,” including call girls and so-called Craigslist escorts, also contend with dangers, said Sienna Baskin, co-director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center.

“The sex workers are aware of the risks, and there’s a lot of shared knowledge on how to reduce the risks,” Baskin said. “It can be anything from using condoms to screening clients, asking for references, and choosing where they work, where they feel safest.”

Kirsten Davis, the former “Manhattan madam” who ran for governor in 2010 on a platform that included legalizing prostitution, said that when she ran an escort agency, there was some level of screening for the women’s protection.

“We wouldn’t send a woman someplace where her safety would be jeopardized; we wouldn’t send them to skeevy hotels, for instance,” she said.

According to the FBI, serial murder is relatively rare; estimates are they account for less than 1 percent of all murders annually. Still, the four deaths have striking similarities to other recent cases, including two on Long Island.

Joel Rifkin, a former landscaper, admitted to committing 17 killings of women between 1991 and 1993 — the most killings attributed to a serial killer in New York history. Most victims were prostitutes. Rifkin, 52, is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Robert Shulman was convicted in March 1999 by a Suffolk County jury of first-degree murder in the deaths of three women. The following year he was convicted in Westchester County of murdering two other victims. Some of those killed were believed to be prostitutes. He was 52 when he died in prison in 2006.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

  • Sophie

    Only 1 of these girls was desperate for money with a drug addiction to “finance”. The others were from middle class families and “made their choices” or “loved the lifestyle”. They WANTED the independence. I am not saying they deserved it by any means – I firmly believe no one does – but this is an illustration of what’s happening in this society: women want independence from men more & more, financially (nothing wrong with that); girls want independence from their families early, and women who are used to easy money want it to continue coming their way no matter what: an article in the New York Times a couple of years ago talked about a new phenomenon; women who were used to high salaries or came from well-to-do families are now turning to prostitution to maintain their lifestyles! It mentioned several corporate executives who were let go and subsequently turned to offering themselves to married male executives they had worked with for a few thousand dollars each, saying “you can finally have me”… Draw your own conclusions about their less than respectable motivations.

    • ICare

      OMG — you would think these former exec women would have been more savvy and insisted on being paid more than a few thousand dollars to have sex with the married males they once worked with (just kidding :). I know I am worth way more than that! haha

      Anyhoo, what the beep happened to “The Big D” comment — it has disappeared!. “The Big D” comment was noticed by Pamela and Rashid and referred to in their comments (see below). The Big D had posted a comment at the end of January expressing the opinion that these girls would not be missed and had lived as they were found, like trash.

      Any thoughts on how this comment seems to have diisappeared?

  • Elizabeth Meserve

    someone does miss them

    • Pamela

      Only one comment since the end of January. So sad for society and for the children left motherless who now have to deal with all the baggage throughout their lives, knowing that their mothers were prosititutes. Big D — you can be sure that someone does and will miss these women, especially their mothers. Also, these poor, now dead prostitutes aren’t trash and no living thing should ever be killed and treated as such. They just made bad choices about how to live their lives and earn a living.

      “Ladies”, have more self respect and self esteem. Stop allowing men to use you! Love yourselves and stop putting yourselves in the position where others would see you as trash. Have good morals and values, and don’t allow men to use you like this, whether it’s sex for money, or just to “hook up” for a night. Think about the fact that, some day, another woman might just be “hooking up” with your own boyfriend or husband! Regain control of your lives and how you feel about yourselves. Have some respect for the other women whose men you might be cheating with. Having control and self-respect is empowering and the first step to living a great, fulfilling life.

      To all the “gentlemen”, please conrol your urges and stop supporting the market for prostitution and other markets which degrade women by treating them as sex objects (like “Hooters”, strip clubs, etc.). You men who buy into these markets are just as low as the prostitutes themselves. Your $ and time would be better spent on therapy to figure out why you lack the necessary morals and values to control these urges and make better decisions. Life can and should be more fulfilling in your own relationships.

      I really hope the police find this creep.

  • JB Arrington

    Sadly, your comment is correct. The most disappointing and painful part of this news story are the comments from their families. One can only hope that this will resonate with them, helping to shed light on how they created this tragedy. What did they do, how did they treat, and/or how badly did they neglect these women that they ended up prey to this killer?

    Perhaps it will be a wake up call, but most likely it will only reinforce their previous, and unfortunate, lack of caring.

    It is heart whenching that family, for some, is simply an acknowledgement of bloodline or marriage connection, having nothing to do with any sense of responsibility for, love toward, appreciation of, or respect regarding a human life. Don’t like everything someone does, well kick them out, and let them fend for themselves. I cannot have sympathy for the family of these women, you tossed them out, threw them away, and buried them long ago. And any anguish about their death by these families is well deserved, you didn’t operate the mechanism of their death, you just sat by and ignored any opportunity or responsibility to promote their life.

    Prostitution isn’t a desired legacy people have. I have never met someone who said, “gee, I didn’t want to be successful in business, I didn’t want to see the world, I didn’t want to have a nice stable life, no, I always dreamed of being a prostitute, ever since I was a kid.” It’s an unfortunate way of making ends meet when the people who should care about you, don’t, nothing more. It is what people do when the alternatives are so bleak (homelessness, hunger, no future) that selling your body becomes a choice of desperation.

    And who among us, or should I say how many of us, have the commitment to our lives, our survival, our future, our deams, to sell our bodies to make that happen. What if it were a requirement to be a high ranking bank CEO, you know the type taking multi-millon salaries despite businesses that barely tread water, that you be a prostitute first? There would be, as you can imagine, a massive lack of bank CEOs! (Perhaps it SHOULD be a requirement, at prostitutes seem to be able to count and generally avoid major short sighted risks.)

    Yet, I am sure that there are many careers and businesses that were launched this way, quietly. Fearful what that little secret could do for those careers, those businesses.

    But people like prostitutes, deep down at least, they are someone to look down on and a commodity to meet their darkest needs. Now, whether or not that commodity is someone to ridicule or an object of sexual gratification, the collective conscious still gets excited and gratified without having to emotionally engage or care about someone else.

    And that’s a different, much more sordid and steamy, story.

    Or is it just strange that there is never an article, memior, or single piece where someone who had a great family, a wonderful life, a successful career, and an awesome future decided “hey, I’m going to go sell myself on a street corner, online, or get a pimp, it sounds fun!”

    No, welcome to reality, we like our prostitutes, both as a foil to villify, and an object to buy and use without feeling.
    Otherwise, why would there be a life sustaining marktet for prostitutes?

  • tubadrmolly

    Still ” chasing” the killer?
    On yahoo a few weeks ago they reported that they found her, or him, I cant remember exactly.

  • DanTe

    I love the libturd media. They’ll never print a picture of the suspects arrested in a crime because of their rights. But they’ll gladly print pictures of the dead women and label them loudly as wh ores. Victims and their families never have any rights to these brainless libturds.

  • X

    And u should no right?
    Been there done that.

  • vengeance

    You are a heartless fool. Karma will get you. Mark my words!

  • Dumba Merican

    How dare you make a comment like that. I think you said it because you fear that is how people will view your death. At least I will.

  • rashid

    THE BIG D. May be they did. But humans must not blame humans even in death.

  • rashid

    God the Almighty, rest their souls eternally. Amen

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