On July 10th, 2009, Melissa Barthelemy went missing.
The Buffalo, NY native that had aspirations of someday opening her own hair salon was living in the Bronx and working as a dancer and escort on Craigslist when she disappeared. Starting just after she had gone missing and continuing for several weeks afterwards, her teenage sister began to be terrorized by a series of obscene phone calls originating from Melissa’s cell phone by someone who is believed to have been the person that abducted Melissa. These calls ultimately climaxed with the caller claiming that he had killed Melissa.
Melissa Barthelemy remained missing until December 2010, when her remains and the remains of three other escorts (Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello) were found near the ocean side town of Gilgo Beach on Long Island. Due to the brutal nature of the killings and the proximity of the bodies to one another police were convinced that the murders might be the work of a serial killer.
To date, police have linked approximately ten victims to the Long Island Serial Killer – six more sets of remains that the police believe predate the remains of Melissa Barthelemy and the other girls found in December 2010 have been found, and investigations are ongoing into other murders that may be linked to the case. Authorities now suspect that the killer has been active for fifteen years or more.
When I met Melissa’s mother Lynn Barthelemy, and Lynn’s husband Jeff Martina, it had been two years since Melissa’s initial disappearance, and only a short time since she had even had her daughter’s remains returned. I met them when I was on an assignment for Blast! Films, a UK-based production company that was producing a documentary on the investigation for Channel 4 in the UK and A&E Television in the US – Blast! had sent me to create some portraits of the family to help in promoting the film.
I spent the afternoon with Lynn and Jeff learning about their ongoing search for Melissa’s killer and listening to them speak about their experiences and their daughter in a touching way that the media often did not convey due to Melissa’s profession. The factual and stark basis of news reporting often overlooks and overshadows so many of the stories and emotions that affect the families and friends of the victims in a unforgivingly real way – one that can only really come close to being conveyed by hearing them share their own stories and memories. Lynn shared pictures and stories of Melissa with us while we shot, and also talked to us about the media coverage on the case that she has been involved in as the investigation continues to unfold.
I won’t pretend to try to understand what these people have gone through – it is impossible – the things they have experienced are so unimaginably horrific that there is no way that anyone who has not experienced a situation like this firsthand could ever fathom what it is like. What happened to their daughter is what most parents fear in their worst nightmares, yet Lynn and Jeff were very open about what has happened to their family over the past few years as they strive to raise media awareness and keep the search for this killer in the public eye. We can only hope that the ongoing investigation is successful and that these families someday find justice for their lost loved ones.