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Fundraiser to boost reward in Long Island serial killer case

Norwich - Some friendships are born through shared hobbies, mutual friends or professions. For Missy Cann and Lorraine Ela, it was a tragic loss that brought them together.

Cann's sister, 25-year-old Maureen Brainard-Barnes, of Norwich, and Ela's daughter, 22-year-old Megan Waterman, of Scarborough, Maine, are believed to be victims of a killer dubbed the "Long Island serial killer," or "Gilgo killer."

The skeletal remains of Brainard-Barnes, Waterman and two other women, Melissa Barthelemey of the Bronx and Amber Lynn Costello of North Babylon, Long Island, were discovered in December 2010 in thick brush along Ocean Parkway in the Gilgo Beach area.

After the victims were identified, their family members found one another through Facebook. At first, they offered one another support. But over time, it became something more like a mother/daughter relationship.

"The bond we have can't be explained," Cann said. "You have to go through something like this to understand it."

Ela said no one can replace her daughter, but she does find comfort in the relationship she has with Cann.

"I encouraged her to be Maureen's voice until they find this person," Ela said. "She needed to stand up for Maureen."

Ela is traveling from South Portland, Maine, to Norwich and will stay with Cann to attend a fundraiser Saturday in Colchester. The event will feature stunt motorcycle riding, a magician, live music and other entertainment, with the goal of boosting the $25,000 reward that Suffolk County Crime Stoppers is offering.

Police have not provided the women with any information about the crime other than that the victims were asphyxiated and wrapped in burlap bags.

"I'm hoping that the extra money will provide an incentive to come forward," Cann said. "I believe the person who will come forward will be in the same business as the girls. This person is afraid and will probably need money to start over."

The four women were working as escorts and had advertised their services on Craigslist when they went missing. Ten sets of human remains have been found in connection with the Gilgo investigation.

Cann said her sister, who was attempting to launch a modeling career and even had professional photographs, went to New York City on July 6, 2007.

"I didn't think much of it because she went to New York all the time," Cann said.

Brainard-Barnes was supposed to return three days later, but she never did.

Cann said she knew then something was wrong. Her sister would never leave her two children, and she always stayed in contact with her siblings.

Cann said she had access to her sister's passwords, so she looked at her sister's email. Through the emails, she discovered that Brainard-Barnes was working as an escort. She was desperately trying to find a job and was facing eviction, Cann said.

Cann said she believed Brainard-Barnes was in a dire financial situation and probably thought she had no choice other than to sell herself.

"When I learned she was working as an escort, I didn't judge her," Cann said. "If you love someone unconditionally, you love them no matter what. My concern was to find her."

Their brother, William Vieu, and Cann's husband, Chris, traveled on their motorcycles to 42nd Street in New York after they learned she had headed to a hotel in Times Square.

They showed Brainard-Barnes' photo to countless passersby, but no one had seen her.

Cann reported her sister missing to Norwich police and to the New York Police Department.

Cann said her brother was devastated about their sister and even got her name tattooed on his chest. In August 2009, he died in a motorcycle accident. A little more than a year later, Maureen's remains were found. The siblings are buried together.

"When my brother died, it was the only time that I talked to God and asked him what I did wrong in my life to deserve this," Cann said. "We were all so close, and now I was alone."

Cann, who has four children and one on the way, said she still has tough days dealing with her sister's murder. One way she copes is by scouring the Internet in hopes of finding information that could help police find the killer.

Her computer has pictures of all the victims, a detailed site map of where the bodies were found and an archive of stories of other similar cases.

"No girl dreams of growing up and wanting to be a sex worker," she said. "These girls meant something to someone. They deserve justice. I really do believe police will find the killer. It just takes time."

i.larraneta@theday.com

If you go

What: Stunts "4" Justice
When: 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Truck Toyz, 365 Lebanon Ave., Colchester
Donations: Visit www.everribbon.com/stunts4justice.

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