The body of a woman found 27 years ago among the remains of the long-unsolved Gilgo Beach murder victims has finally been identified by police.
The woman, known until now as “Jane Doe No 7”, has been named as Karen Vergatta, officials said in a news conference on Friday.
The 34-year-old last made contact with her family on Valentine’s Day 1996, calling her father to wish him a happy birthday.
She was officially presumed dead in 2017, according to court documents.
The announcement on Friday follows a fresh examination of evidence after the remains of 10 people – eight women, one man and a toddler – were found more than a decade ago along a highway in Gilgo Beach, on Long Island in New York.
The unsolved murders became the subject of 2020 Netflix film Lost Girls – amid fears a serial killer could be responsible.
Architect Rex Heuermann was arrested last month and has since been charged with three of the killings.
He is also the prime suspect over another victim – collectively known as the “Gilgo Four”.
However it is currently unclear whether Ms Vergata’s death will be linked to the case against the 59-year-old, who has pleaded not guilty and denies killing anyone.
Part of Ms Vergata’s remains were found on Fire Island in Suffolk County, New York, in 1996, with more bones found near Gilgo Beach in 2011, more than 20 miles from the original site.
Suffolk County district attorney Ray Tierney said Ms Vergata’s remains on Fire Island were “presumptively identified” after a DNA profile suitable for genealogical comparison was developed in August 2022.
No missing persons report was filed after Ms Vergata disappeared, Mr Tierney said.
She is believed to have been working as an escort – with other Gilgo Beach victims also said to be sex workers, investigators said.
Her late father, Dominic Vergata, said he alerted the authorities and contacted acquaintances in an attempt to track her down.
Mr Tierney said authorities delayed publicly identifying Ms Vergata while contacting her relatives.
What do we know about the Gilgo Beach victims?
Heuermann is alleged to have killed Melissa Barthelemy, who disappeared in 2009, as well as Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello, who both vanished a year later.
Prosecutors say they are working towards charging him with the death of a fourth woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, who went missing in 2007.
The four women, all sex workers, were known as the “Gilgo Four”.
Heuermann’s DNA was linked to a hair found on a restraint used in one of the murders, detectives said.
The architect appeared in court on Wednesday, when his estranged wife, who has filed for divorce, revealed their adult children “cry themselves to sleep”.
The skeletal remains of a fifth victim, Jessica Taylor, were found in 2003 – with more body parts discovered in 2011.
The body of 24-year-old Valerie Mack was found in 2000, the same year she went missing, with additional remains found in 2011 – but it took 20 years to identify her.
Some of the victims have yet to be identified – including a woman nicknamed “Peaches” because of a tattoo on her body, whose remains were found inside a plastic tub in Hempstead Lake State Park, New York, in 1997.
More of Peaches’ remains were found in 2011, including the remains of an unidentified toddler, believed to be her daughter.
The 10 bodies were found while police were searching for a missing woman, Shannan Gilbert, near Gilgo Beach in 2010.
Ms Gilbert’s body was discovered about three miles east in a marsh in Oak Beach.
Investigators believe she drowned – but this is disputed by her family.