Team 12 Investigates the untold story of father's search for recently identified 'Fire Island Jane Doe'

Team 12 Investigates obtained 2017 court filings from Dominic Vergata, Karen’s father. He was petitioning the courts to declare her deceased after countless unsuccessful searches.

Rachel Yonkunas

Aug 7, 2023, 10:09 PM

Updated 251 days ago


Years before Karen Vergata was identified as “Fire Island Jane Doe” in the Gilgo Beach murders investigation, her father led his own desperate search for her.
On April 20, 1996, Suffolk County police recovered partial human remains on the Bayside shore of Fire Island. In 2011, a skull was found near Tobay Beach around the same time that investigators discovered the remains of 10 other people along the South Shore near Gilgo Beach.
On Aug. 4, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney announced the remains belonged to Karen Vergata, but that “there was no missing persons complaint filed” at the time of her disappearance.
However, miles away on the North Shore of Long Island, a father had spent years desperately searching for his only biological daughter.
Team 12 Investigates obtained 2017 court filings from Dominic Vergata, Karen Vergata’s father. He was petitioning the courts to declare her deceased after countless unsuccessful searches.
According to the court filings, Dominic Vergata said he used to have regular contact with his daughter. He said she would frequently visit home in Glen Head and always called him on holidays or special occasions, like birthdays.
The last time he heard from her was on Valentine’s Day in 1996, the same day as his birthday. Dominic Vergata said she made a collect call from prison and “seemed very troubled.” Her remains were discovered on Fire Island two months later, but neither police nor Vergata’s family knew they belonged to her at the time.
When Dominic Vergata hadn’t heard from his daughter later that year, he became “increasingly worried.” He said he contacted several police departments. Dominic Vergata tried to file a missing person’s report with the New York City Police Department, but was told he couldn’t because of Karen’s age.
In 1997, a Suffolk County homicide detective contacted Dominic Vergata about an unidentified female body they discovered. He provided a blood sample for DNA testing, but later learned his DNA was not a match.
The father continued his search in 1998. He contacted multiple agencies across the tri-state area including correctional facilities, sheriff’s offices, police departments and social service agencies. He even hired a private investigator to search for Karen Vergata in 2012 and 2015. She found nothing.
A breakthrough came in 2022 after the creation of the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation Task Force. The FBI did a genetic genealogy review of Karen Vergata and confirmed she was their “Fire Island Jane Doe.” Investigators notified her family in October of that year.
It was the closure Dominic Vergata had been searching for—and perhaps the closure he needed to finally let go. Two months later, in December 2022, he passed away.
Karen Vergata had two sons, but they did not have any contact with their biological mother since they entered foster care in 1992. One of the sons said he had not seen or heard from his mother since he was two years old. The children were adopted by their foster parent in 1994.
Karen Vergata’s death is still under investigation. Police have not said if Rex Heuermann, who was arrested for the murders of three Gilgo Beach victims, is a suspect in Karen Vergata’s death.

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