Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Long Island Ripper

Melissa Barthelemy

Melissa Barthelemy
Melissa Barthelemy
Melissa Barthelemy, 24, grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., before moving to New York City and getting a job as a stripper.

She graduated from Buffalo's South Park High School in 2003, then earned her cosmetology license from Continental Beauty School. She worked at a Supercuts in her home town before moving to the city, where she hoped to find a more glamorous job as a stylist and someday to own her own hair salon.

Her parents, Lynn Barthelemy and Mark Szpila, worried when she moved away, but they knew that their petite daughter, just four feet, eleven inches, and 95 pounds, was a spitfire ,and they were confident that she could take care of herself. They told her to be careful, and they hoped for the best.

She rented a $700 basement apartment on Underhill Avenue in Tremont, a Bronx neighborhood. She told her parents that she was working in cosmetology, but her landlady, Bella Miah, knew that her tenant had been forced to take what she hoped would be a temporary job stripping instead. Then Barthelemy began picking up extra work as an escort, often through Craigslist. Miah and her husband recall Barthelemy as a sweet girl and a good tenant, and that say that they never knew her to bring boyfriends or clients to the apartment. In July 2009, Miah was alarmed to hear Melissa's 8 cats meowing inside the apartment and scratching at the young lady's apartment door. She was gone.

On July 9, 2009, Barthelemy had sent a late-night text message to her sister, Amanda Funderburg. Funderburg, 15, was the only family member who knew that Barthelemy was working as an escort, though by then the family knew she was doing exotic dancing rather than haircuts. That text was the last time the family would hear from her. Early the next day, she made a $900 deposit into her bank account, and she seems to have tried to call an ex-boyfriend, who didn't answer. She also checked her voicemail from two motels in Massapequa, a Budget Inn and a Best Western.

Less than 24 hours later, the family already attempted to report her missing, but officers at the New York Police Department precinct they called brushed off their early concerns. A few days later, a family friend convinced the Erie County Sheriff's Office to pressure the NYPD to take the case seriously. The NYPD opened a missing-person file on her, and the work began. They were soon in touch with their Long Island counterparts.

Melissa Barthelemy
Melissa Barthelemy
Then Amanda Funderberg started getting disturbing phone calls. On July 16, 19 and 23, an unknown man called her using her missing sister's phone, and taunted her, telling her that her sister was a prostitute and a terrible person. The NYPD traced the calls to around Madison Square Garden, then to Times Square. Investigators would later suggest that the caller's choice to call from these densely populated locations and to keep the conversation short indicated that he knew not only how difficult it would be for authorites to spot him in such a crowded area, even with surveillance cameras, but that police typically need a three-minute call to pinpoint a cell phone's location. People speculated that the caller—the killer?—may even have a background in law enforcement. NYPD detectives rushed to the scene of the call each time in an effort to identify and confront the caller, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they were unable to locate him.

Investigators were able to locate a second phone belonging to Barthelemey. This cell phone was found in the possession of a convicted felon who told them that he had snatched it during a scuffle between two prostitutes and a pimp. But the second phone was a dead end. Showing Barthelemy's picture at Manhattan and Long Island motels didn't yield any leads either. A psychic the family hired would prove to have marginally better luck: She claimed that Melissa was in a shallow grave near the ocean, in a place beginning with the letter "G."

In December 2010, Suffolk County police found Melissa Barthelemy and the others on Gilgo Beach. DNA from a toothbrush found in her basement apartment helped identify her. Family and friends gathered at the Life Church in West Seneca, N.Y., to remember her while police continued the search for her killer.

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