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Family recalls victim of serial killings<br> Details travail trying to launch police probe into disappearance

Melissa M. Barthelemy wasn't perfect.

But she was someone's daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece and friend.

That became clear Thursday, as those who knew the 24-year-old Buffalo native and former hairdresser painted a portrait of the woman they knew before she apparently became the victim of a serial killer.

"She was the light of my life," said a choked-up Mark Szpila, the woman's father, who with other family members gathered in the HoganWillig law offices to speak about Barthelemy. "She had a lot of life in her."

The 2003 South Park High School and Continental Beauty School graduate moved to New York City in 2007 to follow her career. Authorities say she might have worked as a stripper and an escort before her death.

"She wasn't a mean person, and she wasn't a bad person," Szpila said of his daughter.

Barthelemy's body, wrapped in a burlap bag, was unearthed, along with those of three other women in their 20s, in the Gilgo Beach area of Suffolk County on Long Island.

The young woman, who had been missing since July 2009, had worked in a Buffalo Supercuts and had traveled to New York City with the dream of someday owning her own hair salon.

Lynn Barthelemy, Melissa's mother, said she first learned of the grisly discoveries weeks ago on CNN's Headline News. She felt a strange suspicion it was her daughter.

"We knew it was her," Lynn Barthelemy said.

The remains officially were identified within the last week.

All four of the slain women advertised themselves as escorts on the popular Internet site craigslist and, according to a New York Post report, were killed shortly after meeting their killer for sex. Melissa Barthelemy was the killer's second victim.

The other victims were:

*Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Conn., who went to Manhattan on July 9, 2007, and never returned.

*Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine, who was the first to be identified. She disappeared last June 6 from a Long Island hotel.

*Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of nearby North Babylon, was last seen last Sept. 2, but details of her disappearance were unknown.

Barthelemy was officially listed as missing from her Bronx apartment on July 12, 2009.

But that was only after pressure from her family.

Steven M. Cohen, the HoganWillig attorney representing the family, questioned the New York City Police Department's policy requiring persons to be "missing for 10 days" before a report could be filed and for initially saying detectives would not be assigned to the case because Barthelemy worked as "a hooker."

"That should anger everyone," Cohen said. "This is someone's little girl."

The family initially attempted to report Barthelemy missing 19 hours after she last text-messaged her sister, Amanda Funderburg, now 16, late on the night of July 9, 2009.

New York City police rebuffed the family's initial attempts to file a report. Days later, a family friend, contacted the Erie County Sheriff's Office, which then contacted detectives in New York City and got the ball rolling.

Amanda -- the last person to hear from Barthelemy -- also was the only person who knew her sister was an escort.

Family members knew Barthelemy was an exotic dancer, but they didn't find out she was selling herself for sex until Amanda told them after the disappearance. Family members said they believed Barthelemy did so to pay her rent and living expenses.

On Thursday family members relayed details from their horrific months of July and August 2009 that began with Barthelemy's disappearance followed by the delay by New York City police and then a series of six calls -- possibly from the killer himself -- taunting the family.

Amanda fielded the first of those calls on her cell phone in late July. Caller ID indicated the call came from her sister's cellular phone, family members confirmed.

"Is this Melissa's little sister?" the male voice on the other end asked Amanda.

When Amanda answered "yes" and asked who it was, the unidentified voice began to say "horrible" things, family members said, without disclosing the content of the dialogue.

Wednesday's New York Daily News, however, stated that the man said: "Do you know what your sister is doing? She's a whore." Whether the call came from the killer remains unknown.

After Aug. 26, 2009, the calls stopped. The trail went cold.

When desperation set in, the family hired a psychic at the advice of "a friend of a friend," according to Lynn Barthelemy. She added, "I personally don't believe in psychics."

The psychic's reading -- from last spring -- now is generating nationwide attention because of claims she "saw" Melissa Barthelemy's body "buried in a shallow grave overlooking a body of water," a police source told the Post. The psychic also predicted "a 'G' on a sign nearby."

Melissa Barthelemy's cremated remains are expected to be returned Saturday to Buffalo. A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for Monday, family members said, but arrangements remained incomplete late Thursday.


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