ELLENVILLE, N.Y. -- The phone rings in a second-floor walk-up. Caller ID again shows the name and number of Suffolk Homicide Squad Det. Richard Higgins.
And Sherre Gilbert, 23, a mother of two young children, picks up the phone to find out whether the latest human remains found along a stretch of Long Island beach include those of her sister, Shannan Gilbert, missing for 11 months.
"Every time I see his name on my caller ID, my heart drops to my stomach," Gilbert said Tuesday after the latest call to her home in this Ulster County village about 90 miles northwest of New York City. "You don't want to think it's your sister or hope it's your sister. But at the same time, she has been missing for so long."
The call from Higgins came in for the fourth time at 3:08 p.m. Tuesday, and he told Gilbert her sister was not among the three sets of remains found Monday in the underbrush near Gilgo Beach.
Shannan Gilbert of Jersey City had worked as a prostitute, police and her family have said. She was last seen May 1, 2010, when she fled from a home in Oak Beach, just east of Gilgo Beach, where she had gone to visit a client.
A police search for Gilbert in December found the first of what turned out to be eight sets of human remains along a stretch of dense underbrush off Ocean Parkway. After the first four remains were found, police said it was likely the work of a serial killer.
Yesterday's call triggered a host of questions for Sherre Gilbert. "What if she is somewhere suffering?" she asked. "What if she is hurting somewhere? You just want her to come home."
She said she still has hope her sister is alive. "I would love for her to walk through the door any second. Is that going to happen? I don't know."
Shannan's other sister, Sarra Gilbert, 22, who has one young child, sat in her apartment a couple of blocks away in downtown Ellenville and said she was glad the search for Shannan at least had led to the discovery of other remains. "I just feel like they're looking for her and they bumped into eight bodies . . . So, I just feel like they're not going to stop looking for her until they find her," Sarra Gilbert said.
With William Murphy