Shannan Gilbert case, which led to Gilgo body discoveries, remains a mystery 4 years later

Four years after Shannan Gilbert?s disappearance, which led to the discovery of 10 other victims? remains, the Gilgo Beach killings are still unsolved. (Credit: Newsday Staff)

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The young woman whose disappearance led to the discovery of one of the largest and most baffling homicide cases ever in Suffolk County went missing four years ago Thursday.

The mysteries of Shannan Gilbert's death and who killed 10 others found in the Gilgo Beach area remain unsolved.

Suffolk police have remained silent since 2012 -- when new leadership of the department took over -- on the cases of Gilbert, 24, and the others.

Gilbert, a sex worker, disappeared May 1, 2010, after she was summoned to Oak Beach by client Joseph Brewer. Her body was found Dec. 11, 2011, in a marsh less than a mile from where she was last seen, but not before the search for her led authorities to discover 10 sets of remains off Ocean Parkway. Former Suffolk police Commissioner Richard Dormer has said he believed the 10 killings were the work of one individual.

Former Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone oversaw the investigation until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2011.

Varrone this week provided new details into what happened the night Gilbert went missing and how she was found. He said he does not believe her death was related to the other 10 victims. Months after her body was discovered, a medical examiner classified the cause of Gilbert's death inconclusive.

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"The bottom line is that Shannan, in my opinion, had nothing to do with the serial killer and the other bodies that were found," Varrone said. "Had this not happened, and this has been said before, how much longer would it have taken to discover the four bodies that were all lying together and discovering the serial killer's dumping ground."

The Gilgo killings gained worldwide attention.

"It was a tremendous, massive, unprecedented effort to locate Shannan Gilbert," Varrone said, recalling the search for Gilbert after the discovery of the first four sets of skeletal remains, who were all women. "We had to know if she was a victim of the serial killer and whether her remains would help us in that regard."

 

Gilbert's call for helpVarrone said Suffolk police responded 49 minutes after Gilbert called 911 because the call was rerouted to another department. On May 1, 2010, at 4:51 a.m., he said Gilbert initially connected to a Suffolk police dispatch operator, but because Gilbert had no idea where she was, and said she was near Jones Beach, the dispatcher transferred her to the New York State Police operator because Jones Beach falls in their jurisdiction. This transfer took place at 4:53 a.m., he said.

"She's on the phone with state police for about 20 minutes," Varrone said. "And that whole time that she's with them, this is where she makes the claims 'Somebody is after me.' "

The phone call documents some of her interaction with her driver, Michael Pak, and Brewer, and also documents her running out of Brewer's home and to neighbor Gus Colletti's house, Varrone said. Shortly after, she is heard fleeing from Colletti's home, the call ends.

Varrone said Suffolk police were not aware of Gilbert's call for help at that point, but they responded to Colletti's call to 911 and arrived at 5:40 a.m.

Varrone said police know Gilbert was alive at that point because Gilbert ran to neighbor Barbara Brennan's home, and she called police at 5:30 a.m.

"We know that she is alive, banging on Mrs. Brennan's door at 5:30 a.m. We know Suffolk police are there 10 minutes later. The Suffolk County patrol units at this time have no knowledge of that phone call or anything. All they have is Gus Colletti's call, who says 'There is a young female screaming and there is a man following her in a black suburban near the gatehouse.' "

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Search leads to bodies

Varrone said the officers thought they were responding to a disturbance call and had no knowledge Gilbert had been on the phone with state police. They didn't find out about that call until June, when Gilbert's former boyfriend Alex Diaz saw the 911 call on her phone bill and brought it to their attention, he said.

Varrone said he believes Gilbert may have been running through the swamp, through the marsh in a state of paranoia, possibly induced by drugs, while the officers were at the scene.

He also said he does not think Gilbert drowned. "I feel she succumbs to the elements because her body is found somewhat upright. . . . It's not face down in a puddle."

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Under mounting pressure from Gilbert's family, the search for Gilbert led authorities to find the 10 sets of remains off Ocean Parkway, including that of a toddler, an Asian man dressed in women's clothing, and body parts belonging to remains found in Manorville in 2000 and 2003. Half of the remains found there during the searches have been identified. All five were young women working in the sex trade.

Gilbert's body was the last one found.

Gilbert's body remains at the Suffolk medical examiner's office per her mother's request while she tries to raise $15,000 for an independent autopsy.

 

Anger and grief remain

Gilbert's family could not be reached, but for other families, the grief and anger hasn't faded.

Lorraine Ela of South Portland, Maine, whose daughter Megan Waterman, 22, was among the first four victims found, said the last time she called to check on how the case was going was six months ago. She's stopped her frequent calls because no one updates the families.

When asked how she thought the case is being handled, Ela replied: "It's not being handled at all."

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