One of the victims of the Gilgo Beach murders, previously dubbed “Jane Doe Seven,” has finally been identified, 27 years after her partial remains were found, officials announced Friday.
Karen Vergata, 34, was identified using DNA genetic genealogy, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney announced in a news briefing Friday.
The announcement is the latest breakthrough in the infamous Gilgo Beach murders, where eleven sets of human remains have been found in or near Ocean Parkway on Long Island since 2010. While most of the remains have been identified, some have yet to be named.
Human remains of Jane Doe Seven were located in Davis Park on Fire Island in 1996. DNA later linked those remains to another set of remains located April 11, 2011, along Ocean Parkway in Nassau County, according to a Suffolk County Police Timeline of the case.
Tierney said Friday that Vergata disappeared on Feb. 14, 1996. She had been living in Manhattan and was believed to be working as an escort. No missing persons complaint was filed at the time of her disappearance, he said.
How Jane Doe Seven was identified
In April 1996, female remains consisting of legs and feet were found in the Bayside shore of Fire Island, one mile west of Davis Park Beach.
Fifteen years later, on April 11, 2011, additional remains consisting of a skull were discovered at Tobay Beach in Nassau County. In July 2011, the Suffolk County crime lab used DNA analysis to determine that the two sets of remains belonged to the same person, subsequently dubbed “Jane Doe Seven” or “Fire Island Jane Doe.”
In August 2022, six months after the Gilgo Beach task force was formed, a DNA profile “suitable for genealogical comparisons” was developed from the remains, and the FBI completed a genetic genealogical review and was able to “presumably” identify her in September 2022 .A mouth sample from a relative led officials to definitively identify Vergata in October 2022.
However, authorities did not disclose the discovery publicly as the confidential investigation into the murders was ongoing.
Officials said Vergata’s family was notified and the investigation into her disappearance is ongoing. Tierney noted that there are currently no charges.
Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation
For years, the discovery of the remains of several sex workers around Gilgo Beach has put the Long Island community on edge.
After more than a decade of investigation, Rex Heuermann was arrested on July 13, charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of three women – Melissa Barthelemy, 24; Megan Waterman, 22; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27. He is also said to be the prime suspect in the disappearance of a fourth woman: 25-year-old Maureen Brainard-Barnes, who disappeared in 2007. The group of women was known as the “Gilgo Four.”
The victims are all believed to have been sex workers who advertised on online sites, according to police.
Heuermann, a 59-year-old Manhattan architect, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held without bail.
Prosecutors requested in a filing Tuesday that Heuermann provide oral samples that would “provide additional relevant evidence of the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator of the crime” and compare with DNA obtained from the crime scenes.
Investigators have said DNA taken from discarded pizza allegedly tied Heuermann to a male hair found on a sacking material used to wrap Waterman’s body.
Heuermann appeared in court Tuesday in Riverhead, New York. His lawyer, Michael Brown, said: “We will defend this case in court and we will go to trial in this case.”
Brown has previously said that his client is “a man who has never been arrested before. He has maintained his innocence from the beginning of this case.”
The next pretrial hearing will be September 27.