“People Magazine Investigates” is a new true-crime series launching Monday at 9 p.m. on Investigation Discovery, with a simulcast on TLC. And here’s why you might be especially interested: The two-hour, two-part opener focuses on the Long Island serial killer case.
The first hour (“The Lost Girls”) covers the death of Shannan Gilbert — a sex worker who disappeared in Oak Beach early on May 1, 2010; the second hour (“New Revelations”) picks up with the discovery later that year of four sets of human remains off Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach — a number that would eventually swell to ten, along with body parts found that belonged to remains later found in Manorville.
I spoke recently with People senior editor and head crime writer Alicia Dennis — who appears on camera in the new series — about those “revelations.” An edited transcript of our conversation:
Certainly the biggest “revelation” Monday would appear to be the strong implication that James Burke — former Suffolk County police chief, sentenced Wednesday to 46 months in jail for beating a man who stole a duffel bag from his car — may have had something to do with the LI serial killer case. But what exactly is that?
The obvious corruption that was going on as far as Burke was concerned leaves people to wonder if there were delays in the investigation because of him. Certainly his behavior [refusing to allow the FBI into the case] raises questions and the fact that the FBI was not working in an unfettered way, which has changed now.
But is there any “there there” with the Burke speculation?
People have talked about the fact that so little is known, and there have to be people who know more who have not come forward. There have been rumors of this group of wealthy men who had hired escorts for parties. If that is true, then a few people involved in that would have all kinds of reasons not to talk, and there’s always the speculation — did the police know what was going on and are they hiding something so that friends are not found in suspicion of something? . . . I’m just saying there are theories; there isn’t any evidence.
You note — as does the program — that the police have not enlisted the public’s help in the case, but is there a plausible reason why they don’t want to?
I’m not a police investigator, but from the ones I’ve talked to, there’s an element of holding things close to the vest, so there are things only you know and the killer knows. When they’re in the middle of an investigation, they can then clear certain suspects that don’t have information that they would not have been able to clear if the public knew all of it.
The program held an interview with new Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini. What was the take-away there?
He has pulled the FBI very closely into this in a way that Burke had not and put together a Gilgo Beach task force. . . . When we talked to [new Suffolk county police chief] Stuart Cameron. . . . He insists to us they are very dedicated to this case and believe they can solve it.
Does the program contain any dynamite — or something no one else has?
What’s unique about the way People is approaching these stories (there will be nine other editions airing through January, each on another cold case) is that we’re diving into the lives of these victims and their families, as well as developing a profile of who the serial killer would be. . . . And when we talked to Cameron, he very much believed Shannan died of natural causes [which others, notably Gilbert’s mother, Mari — who was killed by another daughter over the summer — have disputed]. That’s another thing: Because there are so many unanswered questions in this case we have an after-show that’ll answer questions from an audience and get into this in a more in-depth way.
(The after-show will stream starting Nov. 7 on People and EW’s new “People Entertainment Network,” or people.com/pen)