SMITHTOWN, N.Y. – A missing New Jersey prostitute was not among the four women whose bodies were found over the past week on a deserted beach highway in New York, detectives said Thursday.
Investigators believe a serial killer could be responsible for the deaths. None of the remains, however, are that of Shannon Gilbert, who was reported missing in May, Suffolk County Police said in a statement.
Police on Long Island discovered the first of the four bodies on Saturday while investigating Gilbert's disappearance. The other three were found within a quarter mile of each other on Monday.
Suspicions that the 24-year-old might be among the victims were sparked by revelations that Gilbert was last seen in a private community about three miles from where the bodies were found.
A man believed to be among the last people to see Gilbert voluntarily surrendered his SUV to detectives as part of their investigation. Police never identified the man, nor anyone else, as a suspect in either Gilbert's disappearance or the four deaths.
The man, Joseph Brewer, owns a house in Oak Beach, near where the bodies were found. He said Thursday that officers had asked him not to comment on whether his SUV had been returned.
"They have been very generous. And I have been cooperative, too," he said, adding that he'd been drawn into the whole affair by "rumor."
"There's four families missing their four young girls; those are the true victims. I feel sorry for them," he said, adding that he was praying for them and the family of Shannon Gilbert.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer has said it could be days or weeks before the bodies are identified. The New York City medical examiner's office is assisting with identification.
He sought to calm community fears at a briefing Thursday.
"I don't want anybody to think we have a Jack the Ripper running around Suffolk County with blood dripping from a knife," Dormer said. "I would say to people, go about your business."
Detectives believe the four women were killed elsewhere and then taken to the site, a narrow strip of land that divides the Great South Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. A parkway runs through the middle, connecting Jones Beach State Park with several state- and town-run beaches to its east.
Authorities have obtained a DNA sample from the mother of a missing Maine woman last seen working as an escort on Long Island. Megan Waterman, who advertised her escort services on the online classifieds site Craigslist, was last seen in June at a Hauppauge, N.Y., hotel. The hotel is about 15 miles from where the bodies were found this week.
Also Thursday, officers and 10 state police dogs expanded their search of more than 10 miles of Ocean Parkway, where the bodies were found.
"We want to make sure that we didn't miss anything," Dormer said.
Meanwhile, Gilbert's disappearance after a bizarre early morning encounter in Oak Beach remains a mystery.
Brewer told Newsday earlier this week that Gilbert had spent an hour at his home in the early morning hours of May 1. A neighbor said the woman appeared at his door at around 4:45 a.m., apparently after having left Brewer's home.
"I heard screaming at my front door," said Gustav Coletti. "She was saying, 'I need help, I need help, they're after me,'" Coletti told The Associated Press. He told the woman he was calling the police, but she immediately turned around and fled, he said.
A few moments later, a man in an SUV drove past the house and told Coletti he was looking for the woman. Coletti said the driver told him they had been at a party and the woman had become upset.
A Jersey City, N.J., Police Department missing persons flier noted Gilbert is bipolar and is known to use cocaine and marijuana, as well as prescription drugs. She has a small scar under her right eye, tattoo of cherries on her right wrist and a scorpion on her back. Police have spelled her first name as both Shannon and Shannan.
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio told The Associated Press Thursday that Gilbert had been arrested in Hoboken, N.J., in 2009 on a charge of promoting prostitution, a case that is still pending.
Associated Press writers Samantha Gross in New York and Samantha Henry in Jersey City, N.J., contributed to this report.