Shannan Gilbert went missing after running from a client’s residence and making an emergency 911 call reporting someone was trying to kill her. Her body was found 19 months later, but the cause of her death remains disputed

Shannan Gilbert, "Lost Girls"

On March 13, 2020, Netflix released “Lost Girls,” a movie centered on Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance and death. The movie focuses on Shannan’s mother’s efforts to uncover the truth about her daughter’s fate, all while raising her other children as a single mother.

The investigation into Shannan’s disappearance and death in 2010 was plagued by neglect and prejudice, as authorities often disregarded missing sex workers in the area. The Gilbert family’s claims of receiving suspicious phone calls from a man claiming to have information on Shannan were also dismissed by investigators. The man even questioned the accidental nature of Shannan’s death.”

Throughout the investigation, Mari’s unwavering focus was finding justice for her daughter and the other women whose lives were tragically cut short, even if it came too late to save them.

Who was Shanna Gilbert?

Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker from New Jersey, went missing in May 2010 after making a 911 call claiming someone was trying to kill her. The call was made from a client’s home in Oak Beach, Long Island. According to former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone, Shannan was heard saying “There’s someone after me; there’s someone after me,” indicating she was in fear for her life.

Shanna Gilbert Shannan Gilbert disappeared after making a call to 911.
Shannan Gilbert disappeared after making a call to 911.

Shannan is believed to have left the house after the call and hasn’t been seen since. Varrone claims that other voices, including those of her driver Michael Pak and client Joseph Brewer, could be heard in the background of the 911 call. Shannan’s crying during the call suggests she was either unwilling or unable to give her location.”

Varrone described Shannan’s behavior during the 911 call as “not very coherent, not very reasonable,” and speculated that she was under the influence of controlled narcotics

Where was Shannon Gilbert’s body found?

Shannan’s body was found in a marsh near Oak Beach on December 13, 2011, 19 months after her disappearance. Her purse and phone were recovered a few days prior, just a quarter mile from where her body was found.

Shannan Gilbert  and her sister

She’s saying, “There’s someone after me; there’s someone after me.” It’s a girl who clearly believes… she’s in harm’s way.

One of Shannan’s neighbors, Gustav Coletti, claimed she knocked on his door at 5 a.m. begging for help before running from an SUV. Gustav informed police about the SUV driver, Michael Pak, and pursued the vehicle. Another neighbor, Barbara, also answered the door when Shannan knocked, but as she opened the door, Shannan fled and disappeared by the time police arrived. Police suspected she may have fled with Pak.”

No one was suspected

The last client’s home Shannan visited was investigated, but he passed a lie detector test about her disappearance and his suspected involvement, leading authorities to rule him out as a suspect.

After being interviewed by police, Shannan’s driver Pak, who was present when she knocked on Gustav Coletti’s door, was also cleared as a suspect.”

Shannan Gilbert’s family drove 140 miles to look for her

After being informed by Shannan’s boyfriend that she hadn’t returned home, the Gilbert family contacted the police to report her missing. However, when they received no updates on her whereabouts, they traveled to Oak Beach, Long Island to search for her.

Screegrab from the netflix movie "Lost Girls"
Screengrab from the netflix movie “Lost Girls”

The family went door-to-door seeking information, distributed posters, and questioned potential witnesses to piece together Shannan’s final moments before her disappearance.

Gilbert’s phone call wasn’t connected to her missing report for a month

The response to Gilbert’s emergency call was complicated by the involvement of both the New York State Police and local authorities. Since Gilbert was unable to provide her location, her call was directed to the state police. However, other calls regarding her disappearance made by neighbors of her client, Joseph Brewer, were handled by local authorities in Oak Beach.

The investigation was further hindered by the switch from local to state police, and it took a month for the state police to connect Gilbert’s missing person report with her disappearance

Two days after Gilbert’s disappearance, a call came about her whereabouts

Two days after Shannan’s disappearance, her mother received a call from Dr. Peter Hackett. He claimed to be running a halfway home where Shannan was staying and that he was providing her with medication. Despite Peter’s denial, phone records confirmed the call. Despite the phone call, Hackett denied running the halfway home and providing medication to Shannan.

Detective Chief Varrone stated that the Gilbert family did not report the call from Hackett, but phone records showed otherwise. In response to Hackett’s involvement, Mari, Shannan’s mother, filed a lawsuit against him for her daughter’s death, but it was dismissed by the judge in 2018.

Four escort’s remains were found, but not Gilbert’s

During the search for Gilbert’s suspected location, four bodies of escorts were found along a stretch of Ocean Parkway. All of the women had been wrapped in burlap and died from asphyxiation. These women were all escorts who, like Gilbert, advertised their services on Craigslist.

The discovery of the bodies led to a wider investigation, known as the Gilgo Beach Murders, which eventually connected Gilbert’s case to the other four women. The case remains unsolved and has become one of Long Island’s most high-profile murder cases. Despite the efforts of law enforcement and the Gilbert family, justice for Shannan and the other victims has yet to be served.

Local newspaper reports about Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance and the bodies discovered on Gilgo Beach.
Local newspaper reports about Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance and the bodies discovered on Gilgo Beach.

The Gilbert family felt a sense of relief knowing their daughter was still alive, and they hoped that the killer of these women might have a connection to Shannan.

The Long Island Serial Killer

In their search for Gilbert, authorities discovered the remains of six more victims, including a child, after uncovering the bodies of four escorts. The discovery of half of the remains belonging to people working in the sex industry led to the theory that a serial killer was using the area as a hunting ground for escorts.

The Long Island Serial Killer is believed to be a male suspect, as suggested by threatening calls received by one victim’s sister from an unknown individual. The killer’s method of operation appears to be asphyxiation, and he boasts knowledge of police procedures. However, despite investigations, no substantial leads have been discovered.”

“The Long Island Serial Killer” is still an unidentified suspected serial killer who is thought to have murdered between 10 and 16 individuals over a period of nearly 20 years and disposed of their dismembered bodies in parts of Long Island’s South Shore, New York. The majority of the documented victims were sex workers who posted ads on Craigslist.

Long Island Serial Killer

Gilbert’s belonging and remains were found in December 2011

Police discovered Gilbert’s remains in a marsh after searching for over a year. Along with her handbag, mobile phone, and other belongings, the remains were found near Gilgo Beach. Despite this, the police considered Gilbert’s death to be accidental and unrelated to the suspected murders committed by the Long Island Serial Killer.

Gilbert’s remains were found near Gilgo Beach, but police saw her death as accidental and unrelated to the suspected victims of the Long Island Serial Killer.

Four women’s bodies, including Melissa Barthelemy who went missing in 2009, were recovered in December 2010. Although some of the other victims, including a 2-year-old girl, remain unidentified, the remaining eight victims were escorts who advertised their services on Craigslist. This led to criticism that the police showed “diminished” efforts in the investigation of their deaths.

Barthelemy’s family reported her missing in 2009 but faced challenges in their efforts to find her. According to one officer, the family was told:

She’s a hooker. She’s a prostitute. She was – she’s an escort… We’re not going to assign a detective to this.

Gilbert’s family believes she was murdered

The police’s official theory on Gilbert’s death is that she walked for nearly a mile, reached the marsh, and accidentally drowned. However, the family’s lawyer, Ray, disputed these findings and hired Dr. Michael Baden, a former chief medical examiner, to conduct an autopsy in 2016. The autopsy showed that Gilbert died of strangling as her hyoid bone was shattered, a common occurrence in violent asphyxia cases.

Shannan Gilbert's family thought she was murdered

To put the police’s theory to the test, Ray sought the assistance of colleagues who questioned Gilbert’s ability to walk to Jones Beach Island, given the absence of injuries on her feet.

Gilbert’s mother was killed by her other daughter, Sarra, in 2016

Sarra Gilbert, Shannan Gilbert’s sister, fatally stabbed her mother, Mari, on the morning of July 23, 2013, at Sarra’s New York home five years after Shannan’s remains were discovered. Sarra suffered from a mental disorder and was addicted to drugs.

Mari Gilbert and Sarra Gilbert
Mari Gilbert and Sarra Gilbert

On the morning of the incident, Sarra summoned Mari to her house as she was hearing voices. The tension between the two had been building as Sarra held a grudge against Mari, who was caring for Sarra’s son, Hayden, after officials deemed Sarra unable to care for him.

Represented by the family’s lawyer, John Ray, Sarra pleaded insanity but was found guilty. She is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a state jail, and Ray is pursuing an appeal of her case as of December 2021.

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