Prostitutes and Serial Killers: Cases of Shannon Gilbert and Mark Profit of Minneapolis

Shannon Gilbert


When an iced-over creek thawed in the spring of 1996, police were summoned to the discovery of a hand protruding from the shallow water; the mystery regarding Renee Bell’s disappearance had been solved— her body, mostly intact, was found. She was one of the four prostitutes believed raped and murdered by a convicted serial killer, Mark Antonio Profit of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Three other bodies would be found in the secluded and dense area known as “Theodore Wirth Park”- some of the women were found charred and burned in the vaginal area; police believed the killer wanted to burn away the evidence. The state surmised that the women worked as street prostitutes in a nearby area known for drug trafficking and prostitution. Profit was accused of luring the woman with the promise of cocaine, then raping and strangling them in the park. Fiber evidence found in the defendant’s car was tied to the ligatures found on the woman, and Profit was convicted of the one murder charged (and an attempted rape count on a surviving victim) and sentenced to two life sentences; he has since died in prison. Profit’s attorney, Robert D. Miller of Minneapolis, said the Minnesota Supreme Court nearly ordered a new trial for Profit by a 4/3 vote to affirm the convictions.

In mid-December 2010, Suffolk County Police (New York) found four bodies wrapped in burlap discarded on a desolate and bramble-infested stretch called “Gilgo Beach.” The bodies were matched to 4 missing prostitutes. Their names were Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman; Maureen Brainard-Barnes; and Amber Lynn Overstreet- Costello. Later, another body was found in the area and matched to Shannon Gilbert- all of the women were prostitutes. Their murders are widely believed to be a serial killer’s work, although the cases remain unsolved. The girls advertised online for their services.

Shannon Gilbert


 Statistics support the premise that prostitutes’ (aka “Sex Workers”) are at greater risk for violence; the type of prostitute- “street-walker,” “online ads,” and “managed” seems to matter when it comes to violence, including homicide. These risk factors are not novel to history– prostitutes during the Eighteenth-Century in Paris who became part of the “demimonde” (a managed and elite system of prostitution) operated in much safer environments than the woman who worked the streets. Legal brothels in the United States report next to no violent crime. Even on the street, the prostitute’s with “pimps” report less violence from their customers. Many of the statistics about prostitutes, in general, are skewed owing to the reliance, in some circumstances, on “self-reporting,” the transient nature of the business, and fear from the law.

Moreover, acts of violence tend to depend heavily on drug and alcohol use and addiction. But it seems clear that when prostitutes operate without “back-up,” they are at the greatest risk for violence and murder. Prostitutes are not likely to go away soon- many think they need more protection and fewer sanctions, so they are not left to be isolated in dangerous spots. The homicide rate in the United States for female sex workers in 2012 was reported at 204 per 100,000.

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  1. UPDATE: A number of developments have arisen in the “Long Island Serial Killing” cases. John Bittrolff was indicted in July of 2014 for the murders of Rita Tangredi (31) and Colleen McNamee (20). The victims were brutally murdered in January of 1994 He is also a suspect in the murder of Sandra Castilla. All of these women were beaten badly and strangled to death and were found nearby the defendant’s home at the time. Bittrolff worked as a carpenter and wood chips or shavings were preserved from the original crime scene and recently produced DNA evidence that has been matched to the defendant. Since the murders occurred in 1994, sentencing laws at that time must be used (50 years to life)- today’s penalties would call for life without the possibility of parole. Although two of the victims were known sex-workers, the police are not linking Bittrolff to the “Gilgo Beach” murders. Ten bodies, including those of six known prostitutes, were found along the South shore of Long Island, New York between December, 2010 and April, 2011. The area has been a common dumping ground for serial killers. Serial Killers Joe Rifkin and Robert Shulman were convicted of killing 14 prostitutes in the 1990’s and they had dumped victims in this area. Nearby Amityville has been considered an ideal spot to commit murder because of it’s remoteness and isolation. The movie, “The Amityville Horror” depicted the true story of Robert DeFeo’s murder of six family members in 1974. The murders of Maureen Brainard-Barnes (25), Megan Waterman (22), Melissa Barthelemy (24), Amber Lynn Costello (27) and Shannan Gilbert (24) have not been resolved. The police are not providing any other information other than that no arrests have been made.

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