Overview of Jane Doe #7 / Fire Island Jane Doe
Jane Doe #7 / Fire Island Jane Doe — the earliest recorded victim of the Long Island Serial Killer — finally has her name back.
Meet Karen Vergata, born sometime in 1962.
Karen and her parents had roots in Nassau County, Glen Head, NY. As a little town with a total area of 1.6 square miles, Glen Head was a quaint ideal place for blue-collar families. As a kid, Karen went to St. Mary's Elementary School in Roslyn and later graduated from North Shore High School in Glen Head in 1979.
At some point after high school, Karen moved down south to begin living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
While it's unclear what Karen was doing down south, records indicate that she got into trouble as she got older.
In September of 1983, at 21 years old, Karen was arrested in New Orleans on drug charges. Reports say she may have spent about a year in prison for this offense.
Two months later, in November of 1983, Karen was also indicted by a federal grand jury for selling diet pills in Connecticut with five other individuals.
In June 1987, she also had undisclosed federal charges but dismissed in July 1991. While that was going on in her life, Karen also became pregnant. She had her first son, Eric, in 1988.
Tragedy surmounted in the late 1980s.
While driving with her son, who was just a toddler then, Karen's car was struck by a truck. She was pregnant at the time, and it's thought that the accident contributed to her second son, Gary, being born with cerebral palsy.
At the time, Karen was living on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.
Shortly after Eric was born in 1990, her family says she "took off" while struggling with using drugs.
Before Karen would eventually be murdered in 1996, she was living on West 45th Street in Manhattan and is believed to have been making money as a sex worker.
Her last known contact with anyone was when she called her father, Dominic Vergata, on February 14, 1996. She called to wish her dad a Happy Birthday.
That is the exact date Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney says she disappeared. Police say that no missing person report was filed at the time of her disappearance — but that doesn't mean her absence wasn't felt.
The Murder & Discovery of 'Fire Island Jane Doe'
Two months after the birthday Valentine's Day call, on April 20, 1996, a woman's legs were found in a plastic bag on Fire Island's Blue Point Beach. The remains were given the moniker Fire Island Jane Doe.
Then, almost exactly 15 years later, on April 11, 2011, a woman's skull was found off Ocean Parkway while searching for other Gilgo Beach victims. The remains were given the moniker Jane Doe #7.
For some time, the two sets of remains from Fire Island and Ocean Parkway were assumed to belong to different people — but it wasn't until genetic genealogy confirmed that they were connected back to the same victim.
This means Karen Vergata is the earliest recorded Long Island Serial Killer victim. She was 34 years old.
From their remains, they knew this Jane Doe was a white woman between the ages of 18 and 50, with noticeable scars and evidence of surgery on her left ankle. We know this is evidence related to Karen's car accident in the late 1980s.
Years go by, and the Jane Doe murder investigation goes cold. While detectives were working to find leads on the killer, the Vergata family was still in the dark, believing their loved one was missing.
In July 2017, Karen's father, Dominic, filed a petition to have his daughter declared dead to obtain her unclaimed assets and kick up a missing person investigation. He shared that the last time he heard from her was in 1996 and added that the two had regular contact over the phone.
Her silence was uncharacteristic.
Also, in the 2017 legal filing, Dominic states that he spoke to multiple law enforcement agencies to try to report her missing, hired a private Investigator to determine her whereabouts, and even spoke to several acquaintances.
Hiring a private investigator was the right thing to do. Thanks to that decision, the contributed DNA samples given to law enforcement through the PI eventually led to Karen's positive identification.
Gilgo Task Force Makes Progress
In August of 2022 – around six months after the new Gilgo Beach taskforce was launched – a DNA profile suitable for genealogical comparison was developed from the victim's remains.
That summer, the FBI was able to identify the Jane Doe using genetic genealogy presumptively. Still, they needed to be sure.
In October of 2022, investigators tracked down a relative of Karen and took a buccal swab. Thanks to those cheek cells, investigators could positively identify the remains as belonging to Karen.
But this good news needed to be kept a secret.
At Friday's press conference, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said investigators kept their breakthrough hidden from the public due to the ongoing investigation into Rex Heuermann, and the need to contact all of Karen's family members.
2023: The Year of Answers
On August 4, 2023, Suffolk County Police confirmed to the public that they've identified Jane Doe #7 / Fire Island Jane Doe as Karen Vergata. Now, her murder investigation is underway.