April 12, 2011 — -- The serial killer who dumped his victim's bodies in the thick brush along several miles of New York's breathtaking beachfront may have dismembered several of them, law enforcement authorities have told ABC News.
The grisly twist was the latest revelation as police continued to uncover the murderous path carved along Long Island beaches by at least one killer.
Investigators have determined that bones found Monday were human, bringing the body count to nine and possibly 10 victims. It's still not clear whether a skull found alone Monday was part of victim number 9 or would be victim number 10.
The bodies were strung out over a 3.5 mile stretch of beach with five of the bodies spaced out about 500 feet apart, police said.
The possibility that some of the skeletal remains were dismembered came as police were considering clear cutting the thick brush that has made seaching the area difficult. Police fear that when the brush starts blooming in the coming weeks the search would become even more difficult. Police divers are also preparing to dive in order to search bay waters for more bodies.
Searchers have used cadaver dogs, horses and fire truck aerial ladders to scour the thick vegetation for victims. Faced today with slashing rains and swampy ground, a helicopter was used for today's dragnet.
While at least several of the victims appear to have been killed and dumped by a serial killer, authorities had not yet ruled out the possibility that more than one killer was responsible for the growing pile of human remains, which included those of a child.
At Least One Victim Was Asphyxiated
Suffolk County police, who are being assisted by Nassau County cops as well as state police and the FBI, have been tight lipped about the investigation. ABC News has learned that at least one of the victims died by "homicidal asphyxiation," which could mean strangulation or being smothered.
Sources also downplayed the possibility that the serial killer may be in law enforcement or is a former law enforcement official, although several persons of interest also have been described to ABC News as having links to law enforcement or emergency services.
The increasingly gruesome news from the Long Island beaches has been difficult for the families of the four victims who have been identified so far. With each new corpse uncovered they are struck by fresh grief and reach out to each other for solace.
"Every time they find more, it's like it starts the whole tragedy all over again. It's like we find out it's our own child that they found over again," said Lorraine Ela, the mother of murder victim Megan Waterman.
Ela's 22-year-old daughter disappeared last June and her body was discovered in December. As the investigation continues, Ela said that she sends Facebook messages to other victims' relatives daily and has developed a strong bond with them.
"They're like family. We're like one big family," she said.
Still Hunting For Bodies Along New York's Beaches
As a sign of solidarity, several of the relatives have used the photos of the four victims identified so far -- Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amanda Costello and Melissa Barthelemy -- as their profile pictures on Facebook.
Ela will meet the sister of victim Maureen Brainard-Barnes tonight. "I'm very emotional, but I'm also excited," she said.
All of the families will gather in June when Ela has organized a memorial for the victims on the same Long Island beaches that investigators are now scouring for more bodies and clues. The memorial will be held on the day her daughter disappeared, June 11. Her daughter left behind a 4-year-old daughter.
"I wanted to go where they found my daughter to pay my respects and say my final goodbye to her. Part of me doesn't feel closure until I can go down there and say my goodbye down there. I owe that to my daughter and all the other women," Ela said.
She said that unlike the family of victim Melissa Barthelemy, she and the other families did not receive cell phone calls from the killer. Barthelemy's teenage sister told "Good Morning America" Monday that she has received taunting phone calls from a man who is believed to have killed her sister.
"She was the only one. It boggles my mind that someone would do that to a 16 year old child," Ela said.
Serial Killer Knew Area Well
Experts say that the hidden bodies show the killer knows the neighborhood well.
"It's very easy to dispose of a body, either under the brush, or dig it up," said Wally Zeins, a former NYPD homicide detective. "It tells me that he [the killer] knew the area, knew this was an area where not many people are going to go."
In addition to the bodies discovered so far, police continue their search for missing prostitute Shannan Gilbert. Gilbert, a 24 year old sex worker who advertised on Craigslist, was last seen near the beach area shouting, "He is trying to kill me."
According to ABC News sources the first four bodies discovered, now badly decomposed, were wrapped in burlap and were prostitutes who advertised on Craigslist.
"Apparently the first four were found in burlap bags, that could be a possible lead. The connection between how the victim met the bad guy is extremely important. In other words, did he call them all to a particular hotel in Long Island?" said Brad Garrett, an ABC News consultant and former FBI investigator.
The next four sets of remains, discovered over the past two weeks, were not wrapped in burlap and one was a toddler. Authorities have not said whether the toddler's remains were linked to one of the adult remains, or is unrelated.
"It's not uncommon that these women have children. Did he get into a situation with one of them that her child was and so he just disposed of the child as another witness," Garrett said.
Experts say that the killer is of high intelligence and not a loner.
"He could be a copycat of the BTK killer. He was an animal control officer, and he killed 10 bodies from 1991 to 2005. He knew everybody, had roots in the community, pillar of the community, churchgoer," said Zeins.
ABC News' Emily Friedman contributed to this report