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Murder victim was native of Buffalo ; Police identify body found in December

A Buffalo native whose remains were identified Monday one month after they were found on a Long Island beach and 18 months after she went missing -- likely was slain by a serial killer, officials said.

The body of 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy was one of four discovered in December in the Gilgo Beach area of Suffolk County, police said Monday.

The four women were prostitutes who advertised their services online, and Suffolk County police say the causes of death for the four women were substantially similar.

"It appears Melissa was the victim of a serial killer," said Steven M. Cohen, a lawyer retained in 2009 when Barthelemy's family felt the New York Police Department wasn't taking her disappearance seriously.

Barthelemy left Buffalo about five years ago to move to New York City to work as an exotic dancer, according to the New York Daily News.

She was last seen in July 2009 leaving her Bronx apartment, Cohen said, and her mother tried in vain to file a missing-persons report with police in Western New York and, later, the New York Police Department.

Finally, after 10 days, thanks to a nudge from Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard and then-Undersheriff Richard T. Donovan, the New York Police Department assigned two detectives to her case, Cohen said.

Those detectives conducted a thorough investigation, the lawyer said, and her family held out hope that she would be found alive.

"They feared the worst, and now the worst has been confirmed," said Cohen, whose clients include the family of Amanda L. Wienckowski, whose frozen, naked body was found in a plastic garbage tote in January 2009, and Lynn M. DeJac Peters, who spent 14 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing her daughter.

The first of the four bodies was found Dec. 11 by a K-9 officer and his dog at Gilgo Beach, on the Suffolk County side of the border between Suffolk and Nassau counties.

Three more bodies were found nearby Dec. 13, according to Suffolk County police.

Police said all were homicide victims and added they believe all were killed elsewhere and later dumped, in burlap sacks, on the beach.

Based on the similar cause of death, which police have declined to release, it's likely the same person, or people, killed all four women.

The victims all had advertised as prostitutes on Craigslist and other websites, police said, and they met their prearranged client or clients shortly before their deaths.

The body of one woman, Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine, was identified last week.

The bodies of Barthelemy and the two other women -- Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of North Babylon, and Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Conn. -- were identified Monday.

Lynn Barthelemy, Melissa's mother, was notified over the weekend that one of the bodies found on the beach was that of her daughter.

"The family is deeply grateful that Suffolk County police flew out here to deliver the news in person," Cohen said.

Barthelemy's relatives still were absorbing the news Monday, and Lynn Barthelemy and other relatives did not return messages from a reporter.

Barthelemy's aunt, Dawn, said in a Facebook message that the family did not want to say anything that would jeopardize the police investigation.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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