The Killing Season is a 2016 documentary by Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills told in 8 one-hour episodes.
10 out of 10 stars. One of the most informative documentaries I’ve ever watched. Bravo.
Gilgo Beach Murders
This begins in December 2010 on Gilgo Beach, Long Island when police find 10 bodies and it becomes apparent this is the dumping ground of a serial killer. He is dubbed LISK, the Long Island Serial Killer. The reason they came across these bodies was because of Shannan Gilbert. On April 30, 2010, 23 year old Shannan Gilbert went on an outcall to Long Beach for a john named Joseph Brewer. Two hours later, she runs from Brewer’s house screaming that someone is trying to kill her and calls 9-1-1 with the same claim. They leave her on hold for 20+ minutes until the line goes dead.
After five of the Gilgo Beach bodies are identified and five are not, the police continue to search for Shannan and find her purse in a marsh near Brewer’s home. Then they find her body. Police quickly assume she wandered away from the house high on drugs and died from the cold. Because she was a sex worker, they dig no further.
Josh and Rachel turn to Websleuths.com, a website where people contribute to the clues and theories regarding true crime cases. There they find contributions by a German profiler named Peter Brendt, who turns out to be the German equivalent of John Douglas with all the gifts of finding serial killers but not the attachment to law enforcement. They discover that the FBI has only eight profilers and they are now working on terrorism, not serial murders like they used to. That’s terrifying. Who’s hunting serial killers? No one. Peter creates serial killer profiles and claims there are 476 active serial killers in the United States.
On December 2010, the first four women are found on Gilgo Beach, all wrapped in burlap which is difficult to find in the area. The last woman found was Amber Lynn Costello. She was a prostitute who posted on backpage.com, following in her older sister’s footsteps. On December 11, 2010 Melissa Barthelemy was the first body found. She disappeared on July 12, 2009 after a $1,000 outcall from Craigslist on Long Island. A man using her phone called her sister for three one-minute phone calls made from places related to the crimes.
Josh and Rachel turn to the wikipedia page for the Long Island Gilgo Beach killings and find under the community edits an edit adding the name Joe Foti, a Suffolk County cop, to the page as the killer. The IP address of the editor is traced to the Suffolk County Police Department. Foti had raped five women in custody while he was a cop. So Josh and Rachel go to speak with Foti and record him then play his voice for Melissa’s sister Amanda who the killer called. She can’t identify him.
These were not the first serial killings in Long Island. On March 5, 1989, the mangled head of a woman was found on a Hopewell, New Jersey golf course belonging to 25 year old Heidi Balch. Her murder would be traced to Long Island serial killer Joel Rifkin. From 1989 to 1993 he killed 17 prostitutes.
On June 5, 2010, Megan Waterman disappeared. The Long Island Press wrote a story about her, but the Suffolk County Police ignored it and the leads it provided. On July 9, 2007, Maureen Brainard-Barnes disappeared. She was the first victim that disappeared (different from the first victim found). She was a Madison Garden escort who disappeared outside Penn Station and her phone last pinged on Gilgo Beach. Two weeks after she went missing, someone called her friend, described Maureen, and said she was in a whorehouse in Queens.
On April 11, 2011, they find the skull of Fire Island Jane Doe six miles west. Her severed legs were found on Gilgo Beach back in 1996. She was between 35 and 50 years old. They also find bones in a bag belonging to Jane Doe #3 along with 2 gold bracelets. On April 4, a week earlier, they found a female toddler dubbed Baby Doe with similar jewelry to Jane Doe #3. It is believed that she was the daughter of Jane Doe #3 and her mother brought her along on a trick and they both were murdered.
When they ask Peter Brendt what he thinks about the Gilgo Beach murders, he tells them there are two serial killers here, a torso killer and LISK. LISK had dumped the first four bodies intact and wrapped in burlap. Upon learning this, the torso killer, who was also operating in the area, got mad and dumped some of the body parts of his previous victims on the beach, claiming his territory. Which means he was keeping the body parts or had them nearby. Brendt also says torso killers are brutally sadistic and cut their victims before they killer them. :0
On July 26, 2003, eight years earlier, a decapitated woman’s body was found. She was also missing her hands. It belonged to Jessica Taylor. In 2000, Jane Doe #6‘s torso was found less than a quarter mile away from Jessica. Jessica and Jane Doe #6’s killer was dubbed the Butcher of Manorville. On March 29, 2011 Taylor’s head and forearm were found. Khalil White was Taylor’s pimp. He makes a comment on an article about Taylor that she was loved, so they track him down. In 2003, Taylor was arrested in Washington, DC where they lived so she moved to Queens and worked there. Police told him her body was wrapped in burlap. This is the second link to Queens.
On April 4, 2011, more of Jane Doe #6’s remains were found 40 miles from Gilgo Beach. Also on April 4, 2011, John Doe was found, an Asian male body, on Gilgo Beach, possibly a cross dressing prostitute.
So the 10 bodies found on Gilgo Beach are:
- Melissa Barthelemy
- Amber Lynn Costello
- Megan Waterman
- Maureen Brainard-Barnes
- Fire Island Jane Doe
- Jane Doe #3
- Baby Doe
- Jessica Taylor
- Jane Doe #6
- John Doe
What they have in common is that they all posted on backpage.com, so the serial killer was believed to be stalking the pages of backpage daily for his victims.
In Shannan’s case, Dr. Peter Hackett, former head of Suffolk County emergency medical services and closely tied to the Suffolk County Police Department, lived right next to Joseph Brewer. He called Shannan’s mom days after her disappearance and told her that she was injured, he treated her, and then sent her home with her driver. This is the Oak Beach community, known for parties with drugs and strippers frequented by local politicians and cops. In neighbor Bruce Anderson’s statement, Hackett told him the same thing–that Hackett claimed to have treated her for injuries then someone drove her home.
James Bissett, owner of Atlantis Marine in nearby Riverhead, killed himself after he became the number one suspect because he owned a nursery that used burlap sacks. But the cops say there is no evidence he killed them.
Atlantic City Murders
During the Gilgo Beach investigation, they discover another string if similar murders that took place in nearby Atlantic City, New Jersey. On November 20, 2006, four bodies were found eerily similar to LISK’s murders. They were Kim Raffo, Tracy Ann Roberts, and Barbara Breidor, and Molly Dilts. All four victims were found behind Golden Key Motel. Tracy was asphyxiated and Kim was strangled. A couple of prostitutes said Room 101 of the Golden Key Motel is where the four women died and they point to a former employee of the hotel, Terry Olesen. Prosecutor Jeff Blitz thwarted all attempts to investigate the case.
In 2006, Terry Olesen’s girlfriend reported him to police and said he was the killer. They found a hidden camera in his home with videos of her naked teenage daughter. Her name was Melissa Bishop. All four women were mothers like Melissa.
From 2000-2009, 70% of female serial killer victims were sex workers.
Denise HIll, a sex worker in Atlantic City, was told by one of her johns that he had murdered four women. He was obsessed with her shoes and all four women were missing their shoes. This conversation she had with him was the night before they found the four bodies. In 2008, this man (who called himself Riverman) returned to Atlantic City and his picture was taken by journalist Peter Gillespie who worked on America’s Most Wanted for 16 years. He gave this photo to the cops, but they refused to accept it. Riverman’s police record has him in multiple states where serial killings have taken place.
On February 14, 2014, 25 year old Joyce Vanderhoff was found dead on a deserted road near Atlantic City.
Daytona Beach Murders
When they begin linking the Gilgo Beach and Atlantic City murders to Daytona Beach, Peter Brendt suggests this could be a snowbird killer, someone who travels from New Jersey to Florida in the cold winter months. They find a series of murders in Daytona Beach with the same hallmarks that occurred in December 2005, January 2006, and February 2006.
On December 26, 2005, the body of LaQuetta Mae Gunther, age 45, was found shot in the head. On January 14, 2006, the body of Julie Ann Greene, age 34, was found shot in the head. On February 24, 2006, the body of Iwana Patton, age 35, was found shot in the head. They were all naked except for their socks. Two years later, they discover the body of Stacey Gage shot in the head. Stacey had disappeared on December 7, 2007, but the police refused to list her as missing because she had a history of drug use.
Cops told Stacey’s mom that there were two brothers from DeLand who killed Stacey and one of them was in jail. This led Josh and Rachel to the tire tracks police recovered from Stacey’s crime scene that they traced to a junkyard in DeLand, Florida. The suspect’s name was Gary who owned the junkyard and worked it with his wife and kids.
This leads them to the Weekiwatchee, Florida serial killings. In 1981, four bodies were found in a five acre junkyard belonging to brothers Billy and Gary Mansfield. Billy was 25 and Gary was 23. Gary testified against his brother for five murders, the four bodies plus one other. One victim was a 15 year old girl kidnapped from a local campground. Two others were teenage girls. One was a 22 year old strangled to death. Police believe there are two other dead bodies in that junkyard. Gary still lives there with his family. He’s the Gary the Daytona Beach cops believe is the killer. They interview Gary. He claims he had alibis for the murders and the tires were not his but transferred from another junkyard.
Further investigation reveals that all of the first three victims knew each other and all frequented a biker bar. Biker Week is in the middle of March and all were affiliated with the Outlaws biker gang. LaQuetta’s ex-husband is one of them. A biker from the Outlaws tells them that these three women–LaQuetta, Julie, and Iwana–were murdered by a biker. LaQuetta was dating him and she cheated on him. The other two saw the murder, so he killed them too. The police confirm this is probably what happened. Stacey was killed by someone else.
When they begin looking for Stacey’s killer they find a string of murders off I4 in Florida that connect Tampa and Daytona Beach including Reagan Kendall, Lisa Renee Jarris, Cheryl Elson, Melissa Easterling, Lisa Mawry, Nicole Ross Scott, and Donna Cook. On websleuths.com, a commenter named ScorpiosDaughter had been compiling a list of missing sex workers until she disappeared. In Orlando, a reporter named Walter Pacheco wrote an article about it. Pacheco plotted murders of women along I4 and I95 south of Daytona, eventually reaching a total of 28 women. As they investigate further, that number grows to 60.
Long Haul Highway Murders
In 2010, the FBI released a map of women murdered and dumped along highways across the U.S. They dubbed this the Long Haul Serial Killer map. “Lot lizards” is the term used to describe serial killers masquerading as truck drivers. They frequent truck stops, pick up sex workers, take them in their trucks to secluded spots then rape and murder them, dumping their bodies along the highways of the United States.
In 2012, there was Robert Ben Rhoades who was arrested for killing more than 50 women this way. In 2003 a woman’s body was found off the highway in Oklahoma. They found 4 more victims. Then 7. John Robert Williams was eventually convicted of these murders. He confessed to killing 13 women and then changed it to 30.
In 2009 when the FBI released the Long Haul Serial Killer Map, there were 600 victims and over 275 serial killers operating in the U.S. This information is taken from the only national murder database, VICAP. Since VICAP is administered by the FBI, other jurisdictions do not have to report their murders or missing to VICAP. It is voluntary. So that number is much lower than it should be. With 22,000 law enforcement agencies not required to enter data into VICAP, it has probably grossly underestimated the number of murdered women.
Josh and Rachel talked to John Robert Williams in prison. He knew seven other serial killers who were operating when he was arrested. Two were women. Five were men. They swapped victims with each other too. One of them was Jimmy Allens aka Roadrunner. He also told them that serial killers never kill in their own states.
Neal Falls was a long haul serial killer. He met an escort on backpage.com and showed up at her house. He immediately tried to kill her. She shot him with his own gun after he strangled her almost to death and beat her senseless. This was in Charleston, West Virginia. He had a kill kit and a list of women to kill.
Tom Hargrove is a journalist who has been collecting murder data from more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies and collating murder data across the U.S. He created an algorithm that shows statistical data and charts serial killers and their victims, linking similar deaths together. This is what leads Josh and Rachel to West Mesa, New Mexico where 11 bodies were found.
West Mesa, New Mexico Murders
In 2007, Maggie Shepard, a journalist, wrote an article on sex workers. She was referencing the work of Ida Lopez from the Albuquerque Police Department and asked her why she arrested sex workers who were simply trying to make a living. Ida told her to get their photos and have them for when they turned up dead. On February 2, 2009 in West Mesa, New Mexico, 11 bodies and an unborn child showed up dead. They were all naked young Hispanic women with their breasts cut off and fingers and toes missing. First missing was Monica Candelaria, a 22 year old mother. Next was 15 year old Jamie Barela and her 22 year old cousin Evelyn Salazar. Michelle Valdez was next and she was four months pregnant.
Eight of these victims were in Maggie’s article. The police halted the investigation almost immediately. In fact, the hotline number was disconnected and calls made directly to the main police department number were never forwarded.
On December 17, 2006, Lorenzo Montoya strangled a stripper in her home before her pimp killed him. They think he’s the serial killer until they get the grotesque details of the women’s mutilated bodies and speak with a cop who works with Juarez murder victims. The Juarez drug cartel mutilates their drug mules bodies in the same way–cut off the breasts, toes, and fingers. They torture them while they’re alive to set an example.
Another suspect was Joseph Raymond Blea, a landscaper. Cops found a tag for a tree bought at a local nursery at the crime scene. Brea frequented that nursery. In 1985, Brea’s DNA was found on a dead sex worker. In 2010, his DNA matches to four rapes of young girls in the 1990s. Jeff Proctor, a local journalist, wrote an article about Brea and Blea wrote him a letter. It doesn’t incriminate him in any of the 11 murders.
When Josh and Rachel ask Peter Brendt his opinion, he says neither of them is the killer. Montoya lives less than a mile from the dump site. A serial killer would never dump that close to his home. Blea consistently raped and murdered 13 and 14 year old girls. These women were older.
Albuquerque cops have taken women up to the mesa, raped them then left them according to several local prostitutes. But when Josh and Rachel speak to the vice cop the prostitutes keep saying is the killer, he tells them that all of the vice cops told the sex workers they were killing them to get them off the streets. As for the stories of rape, he claims sex workers always claim that to try to get their charges reduced or thrown out of court.
Juarez, Mexico and the Juarez drug cartel are four hours due south from Albuquerque. Police believe, and Peter Brendt, that the Juarez drug cartel used the women as drug mules to get a foothold in the Albuquerque drug trade then killed them as an example. There are probably several burial sites across the area. Two women from a site called StreetSmart help Josh and Rachel try to locate any other possible burial grounds. But when they try to give it to the police they refuse to take it since they are not “trained professionals”. So Josh and Rachel bring in two former FBI BAU profilers. They look at the data, high moisture content areas in the local terrain which is usually very dry, and agree this is a possible burial site. But they have no jurisdiction to dig, so Josh and Rachel bring in a scientist from New Mexico’s Bureau of Geology to perform ground penetrating radar. They also find a possible burial site. With this they go to the cops, but they refuse to investigate, saying “it would be too expensive.” They further state the investigation is closed.
Nina Herron was one of the victims found on West Mesa. She was 21 years old. A private investigator named Walker investigating Nina’s murder tells them about a voicemail he received about Nina’s killer being in California. Two men Nina hung out with were unusually violent. One of them was named Sam. Josh and Rachel hunt down the other man and ask him about Sam. He says Sam is now in California. They record this conversation and have it compared with the voicemail. It’s the same man. So they believe Sam killed Nina. Walker believes Sam is the Long Island killer.
Peter Brendt and other profilers tell them that people create patterns in their heads to convince themselves they have a handle on the crime and can allay their fears. The West Mesa murders look like drug cartel hits.
They go back to John Robert Williams who claims he knows who the Gilgo Beach killer is. He gives them a name of a man who wrote to him and confessed and who is now living in Massapequa, New York. They go to see this man. He is the second link to Massapequa. A call to Barthelemy’s phone right before she disappeared came from Massapequa.
Peter Brendt tells them that most serial killers begin as groupies and buy serial killer memorabilia. So that’s what Josh and Rachel look for. They also often live with their parents. Rifkin lived with his parents. This guy does too. He also posted on a blog how to correspond with serial killers. He’s corresponded with more than 300 serial killers. He meets with Josh and Rachel in a basement where he has news clippings, serial killer memorabilia, and dismemberment images, so he looks like a budding serial killer, or an accomplished one. He claims to have 4,786 letters from serial killers. He logs them. He claims he pretends to be a serial killer to get them to write to him about their crimes.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner John Burke and DA Thomas Spota
As Josh and Rachel are in Massapequa, they get news of Suffolk County Police Chief John Burke being arrested by the FBI for torturing a teenage boy who broke into his SUV and stole his duffel bag. That duffel was filled with a kill kit. District Attorney Tom Spota is also under review by the Department of Justice and, after Burke’s arrest, he is compelled to resign by the local mayor. The day after Burke’s arrest, the new Police Commissioner Timothy Sini requests FBI’s help in investigating the Gilgo Beach murders and they send two BAU profilers. This is in December 2012.
A former NYPD detective contacts them and tells them that the police and politicians in Suffolk County frequent the Oak Beach and Gilgo Beach parties where many sex workers are murdered. He says this is common knowledge among law enforcement. John Burke was a nobody until DA Thomas Spota kept getting him promoted. The two were close friends.
Tom Hargrove calls them with the results of the 2013 data he has just finished collating. There are the three clusters of new serial murders. The biggest is in Cleveland, Ohio. Thirty-one women have been murdered and seven were solved. Twenty-four remain unsolved.
On March 26, 2013, Jazmine Trotter, age 20, was attacked around 5 am while walking to work. She was raped and murdered. She was never a sex worker. Two days later, a few blocks away, Christine Malone‘s body is found. She was a grandmother of five and beaten to death around 5 am. Also never a sex worker. Ashley Leszyeski is found next also off 93rd Street a few blocks from the others. They find two more rapes in the same area, all black women.
These are not the only serial murders of black women in the area. In 2009, Anthony Sowell was found with 11 dead black women in his home. In 2013, Michael Madison was found with three dead black women in his home. Madison was a prison groupie and copycat of Sowell’s. Like Suffolk County, the Department of Justice is watching the Cleveland Police Department after several reports of excessive force violations.
10 out of 10 stars. It’s clear this was a labor of love and both Josh and Rachel are in tears at points during the filming. That they spent so much time devoted to trying to find these killers is a testament to their goodwill to these victims and their families. I doubt they envisioned how far this story would take them or how long it would take to complete. And it’s still not finished.
This is free on IMDB, but they also have free viewing on their site.