When the beheaded remains of a woman were found in a wooded area near Halsey Manor Road and the Long Island Expressway in Manorville in November 2000, the investigative technique that would make it possible for a family member’s DNA to identify her two decades later hadn’t yet come into fruition.
On Thursday, in a first for New York State, Suffolk County police announced that this modern science was used to give a name to the woman previously identified only as Jane Doe #6 in the famed Gilgo Beach serial killer investigation.
Valerie Mack, also known as Melissa Taylor, was a 24-year-old sex worker in northern Pennsylvania and South Jersey when she disappeared in 2000, Suffolk Police said in a press release identifying her as the last unidentified adult in their Long Island Serial Killer investigation. Family members last saw her in the area of Port Republic, New Jersey in the spring or summer of 2000, police said Thursday.
“For two decades, Valerie Mack’s family and friends were left searching for answers and while this is not the outcome they wanted, we hope this brings some sense of peace and closure,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.
Ms. Mack’s remains were first discovered by a trio of hunters in Manorville on Nov. 19, 2000. She was described at the time as a white woman between 30 and 40 years old, with brown hair and a possible tattoo or other marking on her right leg. Officials believed her body had been there since the end of September 2000.
According to a Newsday report from 2000, the hunters’ dogs found the woman’s partially decomposed body, placed in several garbage bags.
A detective told Newsday that both hands and the head of the victim were missing from the set of remains.
“It’s presumed that (cutting off the hands and head) is done in an effort to thwart identification of the victim,” Det. Lt. John Gierasch told Newsday at the time.
Ms. Mack’s head, hands and right foot were discovered along Ocean Parkway near Oak Beach 11 years later as police launched an investigation into missing woman Shannan Gilbert.
Ms. Gilbert, who also worked as an escort, went missing from a client’s home in Oak Beach on May 1, 2010. In the months that followed, police discovered several sets of remains in the area, including Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello who all reportedly worked as escorts. All four women were reported missing between July 2007 and September 2010; their remains were found in December 2010.
While police continued their investigation into 2011, another set of partial skeletal remains belonging to Jessica Taylor, another known escort, were located March 29, 2011. According to police, portions of Ms. Taylor’s remains had been previously discovered on July 26, 2003, near the same spot in Manorville as Jane Doe #6.
More remains of Jane Doe #6 were found near Oak Beach on April 4, 2011, along with an unidentified female toddler and unidentified Asian male.
The following week, police discovered two additional sets of remains seven miles away from the April 4 scene, believed to be the mother of the toddler and another unidentified person linked to human remains found in Davis Park on Fire island in 1996.
Earlier this year, police announced the use of DNA techniques and a partnership with the FBI to advance the investigation. The county also approved searching public genealogy databases to identify unknown victims.
On Thursday, the police commissioner said that technology led to this recent breakthrough in the case.
“I would like to thank the FBI for its continued support and partnership in the Gilgo Beach homicide investigation and for their assistance utilizing scientific techniques that has moved this case forward,” Ms. Hart said in a statement. “We will continue to use every investigative tool available to aggressively investigate these murders.”