Suffolk police on Friday released the chaotic 911 call of Shannan Gilbert, whose disappearance in Oak Beach more than 11 years ago sparked the Gilgo Beach serial killer investigation.
During the call, the sometimes frantic woman expressed repeated concern that her life was in danger, while other times she seemed confused and disoriented.
Efforts by law enforcement to locate Gilbert's body in late 2010 and early 2011 ultimately led authorities to the remains of 10 other victims in what has become one of the country's most notorious serial killer cases.
Despite Gilbert's contention in the 21-minute 911 call with State Police during the early morning of May 1, 2010, that "there's somebody after" her, Suffolk police Friday reiterated their belief that the death of the Jersey City sex worker was likely accidental. The cause of death after an official autopsy was "undetermined," officials said.
"Based on the evidence, the facts and the totality of circumstances, the prevailing opinion is Shannan's death, while tragic, was not a murder and was most likely noncriminal," said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison, who called her death a "tragic accident."
John Ray, an attorney for the Gilbert family estate, disagreed and said the evidence shows Gilbert was strangled to death.
"There was no accident," Ray said Friday.
Suffolk police released Gilbert's 911 call, along with two others made by neighbors after determining that the audio would not impede the criminal investigation. Police said they remain hopeful the release of the tapes could spark new information in the case.
In a video released by police, Homicide Section Commanding Officer Det. Lt. Kevin Beyrer provided new details and a timeline for the chain of events leading to Gilbert's disappearance.
Here is a video produced by the Suffolk County Police Department explaining the circumstances surrounding the three 911 calls. Beneath it is the full 911 call from Shannan Gilbert. Warning: The 911 call includes graphic language.
Gilbert, a Craigslist sex worker, had traveled with her driver, Michael Pak, from Manhattan to meet a client, Joseph Brewer, in the Oak Beach Association community. Pak waited outside while Gilbert met with Brewer, police said. Brewer later told police Gilbert started acting irrationally.
She called 911 from inside the house as both Brewer and Pak were urging her to leave.
During Gilbert's 911 call, she is at times calm and controlled but at other times slurs her words, screams uncontrollably without explanation and is unresponsive to the operator's questions.
Gilbert tells the operator four consecutive times early in the call that "there's somebody after me" but does not elaborate.
When the operator asks Gilbert what is wrong, she responds, "these people are trying to kill me."
She is later heard speaking with Pak, first asking "what are you going to do to me?" and later asks if he is "going to kill me."
"Are you crazy?" he responds, adding that Gilbert is "freaking me out. Come on. Let's go."
The cross conversation between Gilbert and Pak becomes increasingly confusing, with Gilbert saying "you are a part of this all along."
Both Brewer and Pak cooperated with the investigation and were cleared of any criminal involvement in Gilbert’s death, police said.
Gilbert fled on foot into the Oak Beach community, interacting with Gus Coletti and Barbara Brennan, two other homeowners in the gated community, who each called 911.
Gilbert tells Coletti at one point "I need help" and he responds, "don't get yourself hurt. Where are you going?"
She then flees to Brennan's nearby home, where she is heard knocking on her door, the police timeline shows. Brennan tells the 911 operator that Gilbert says she is "in danger" but that she does not want to let her inside the home.
By the time police arrived on the scene, Pak and Gilbert were gone.
Beyrer said Gilbert left Brennan's home and likely became disoriented in the area's thick marshland.
Gilbert’s remains were finally discovered in December 2011 north of a trench meant for mosquito control, about 158 feet south of Ocean Parkway and about three quarters of a mile from where she was last seen, Beyrer said.
Suffolk police said they provided the 911 calls to the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, which hired a psychiatrist to review Gilbert's words and actions during the call. After reviewing the case, Beyrer said, the BAU determined Gilbert’s death was not consistent with a homicide.
"During the investigation it was learned from people closest to Shannan … that unfortunately Shannan suffered from a mental illness and had issues with substance abuse," said Beyrer, adding that it's possible she suffered an overdose. "This reported illness and substance abuse, at times, manifested itself in episodes of confusion, getting lost, violent outbursts and irrational behavior."
Gilbert's death, Beyrer said, is significantly different from the other Gilgo victims.
For example, Gilbert was found on the south side of the parkway, while the other victims were on the north side, he said. Gilbert was the only victim who called 911 or who was found with identification, cash and with no efforts to conceal her body.
While police said her death was noncriminal, a pathologist hired by the Gilbert family conducted a second autopsy and determined Gilbert's cause of death was "consistent with homicidal strangulation."
"The breaking of Shannan's neck is consistent with the four girls found along Ocean Parkway and the unidentified John Doe," said Ray, who will hold a news conference Monday to discuss the case. "They died by strangulation or asphyxiation. They're all consistent."
The public release of the 911 calls represents a marked reversal for the department, which has engaged in a yearslong legal battle to prevent the release of the calls, arguing they would impede the ongoing investigation.
Harrison, who became commissioner in late December, has said the Gilgo Beach investigation was a top priority and moved to release more information in the cold case.
Last month, Suffolk police released video that showed Gilgo Beach homicide victim Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine, in a Hauppauge hotel just before she went missing nearly 12 years ago.
Harrison also recently announced a task force involving the FBI, Suffolk County sheriff and other law enforcement agencies to assist with the probe while announcing that Crime Stoppers doubled the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the Gilgo Beach investigation, from $25,000 to $50,000.
The remains of Waterman; Maureen Brainard Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Connecticut; Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of the Bronx; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of West Babylon, also known as the "Gilgo Four,” were located within a quarter mile of one another near Gilgo Beach in December 2010. The other victims, many of them sex workers, were found the following year.
Three sets of remains, including that of a toddler, a woman believed to be the child’s mother and an Asian man remain unidentified. Investigators have said that those remains contain DNA that is more degraded and proving to be a challenge to analyze with genetic technology.
The 911 calls
Excerpts from the 911 calls to police on May 1, 2010.
Gilbert: “There’s somebody after me.”
NYS 911 operator: “Where are you ma’am?”
Gilbert: “I don’t know.”
Gilbert: “You going to kill me?”
Driver Michael Pak: “No”
Gilbert: “Why are you going to kill me?”
Pak: “Come on, you’re freaking me out. Come on. Let’s go.”
Neighbor Gus Coletti: “Are you alright?”
Gilbert: “I need help.”
Coletti: “Don’t get yourself hurt. Where are you going?”
Neighbor Barbara Brennan: “She says she’s in danger”
911 operator: “Do you know her or not?”
Brennan: “No I don’t. I’m not letting her in.”