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Police: Norwich woman may have been victim of serial killer

The body of a Norwich woman missing since July 2007 was identified Monday along with three others found Dec. 13 near a parkway leading to Jones Beach on Long Island. Officials say the four women may be the victims of a serial killer.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes of 180 Prospect St. was 25 when she was reported missing to Norwich police on July 14, 2007. Police said the investigation at the time revealed Brainard-Barnes had gone to New York City on July 9, 2007, and was expected to return the next day. When she did not return and could not be reached on her cell phone, family members and friends contacted police in Norwich and New York City.

Suffolk County, Long Island, authorities Monday identified three bodies as women who worked as prostitutes or escorts and advertised their services online: Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemey of the Bronx and Amber Lynn Costello of North Babylon, Long Island.

Last week authorities identified the first of the four women as Megan Waterman, a missing Craigslist escort from Maine.

When reached Monday evening, Marie Ducharme of Groton, the mother of Brainard-Barnes, said the family would have no comment.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Jason Brainard-Barnes had a daughter in 1999. Marueen Brainard-Barnes also had a son. In August 2009, Brainard-Barnes' brother, William Vieu Jr., died in a motorcycle accident in Montville.

Since Brainard-Barnes' disappearance, family and friends have posted missing-person notices on several websites describing her and asking anyone with information to contact authorities.

"She is a loving mother, daughter, sister, cousin and friend to many," one posting said.

Suffolk County police had wavered over whether a serial killer was involved in the deaths; Police Commissioner Richard Dormer initially suggested that scenario when the bodies were found in December, but detectives later became tight-lipped about a cause.

But on Monday, District Attorney Thomas Spota said that "the actual cause of deaths appear to be substantially similar" and that "it appears the same person or persons are responsible."

Police found the first body in mid-December just steps from a 15-mile stretch of beachfront highway that leads to the popular Jones Beach State Park. The other three women were found two days later during a follow-up investigation.

The victims "were probably in that location for some period of time," Spota said. But investigators believe they were killed elsewhere and their bodies dumped along the beach highway.

Suffolk County police also announced Monday that a reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest in the case. Detectives are asking anyone with information to contact the Homicide Squad at (631) 852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

Norwich police referred calls to the Suffolk County police department, where a spokesman said there was no further information on how long the women have been dead or how they died.

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