updated 1/24/2011 2:27:18 PM ET 2011-01-24T19:27:18

All four bodies found near a desolate stretch of barrier island have been identified as prostitutes who advertised online, and county officials have returned to their theory that the deaths were the work of a serial killer.

Officials on New York's Long Island, where the bodies were found strewn along a quarter-mile (400-meter) stretch of marshy grasslands, overgrown shrubbery and sea grass, would not say Monday whether they had identified any suspects.

On Monday, police and prosecutors identified three women as Maureen Brainard-Barnes, of Connecticut, Melissa Barthelmey, of New York's Bronx section, and Amber Lynn Costello, of Long Island, New York.

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Authorities last week identified the first of the four women as that of Megan Waterman, a 22-year-old escort who advertised herself on the website Craigslist and disappeared June 6.

District Attorney Thomas Spota said that he believes they are victims of a serial killer, and that the women were killed elsewhere and dumped at the site. The bodies "probably were in that location for some period of time," he said.

Police Commissioner Richard Dormer had initially said a serial killer may be to blame, but authorities later backed away from that assertion, saying all possibilities were being investigated.

"These were very young women whose lives were cut tragically short," Dormer said.

Brainard-Barnes was 25 when last seen July 9, 2007; Barthelemey was 24 when she disappeared July 12, 2009; and Costello was 27 when last seen Sept. 2, 2010.

Waterman was last seen at a Holiday Inn Express on Long Island. She disappeared after traveling to New York last May with Akeem Cruz, a 21-year-old Brooklyn man described as her boyfriend. Cruz is now serving a 20-month sentence at the Maine Correctional Center for drug trafficking.

Police found the first body Dec. 11 just steps from Ocean Parkway, which leads to the popular Jones Beach State Park. The other three bodies, including that of the missing Maine woman, were found two days later during a follow-up investigation.

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