Shannan Gilbert was running frantically down Anchor Way in Oak Beach the last time she was seen alive exactly three years ago today.
In the darkness, Suffolk County detectives believe that in the early hours of May 1, 2010, the 24-year-old ran into the towering reeds bordering the road, not realizing she was entering flooded marsh that, at times, can be filled waist-deep with water and quicksand-like mud.
Investigators said her death was likely an accidental drowning, although the medical examiner could not determine an actual cause of death from Shannan’s hair and bones, the only pieces that remained of her body when it was found one year later.
But there are certain facts that, at least publicly, have yet to be reconciled by police.
Shannan’s pocketbook, jeans, shoes and lip gloss were found in the marsh near Anchor Way, near the area residents of Oak Beach reported last seeing her. If Shannan’s remains were found with these items, the accidental drowning theory would make sense. But they weren’t.
Shannan’s body was found on the other side of the marsh, which means she would have had to travel a quarter of a mile by foot, wading through areas of waist-high water, through the quicksand-like areas and towering reeds of the marsh. She would also have had to unbuckle her sandals and maneuver out of her tight-fitting jeans near the beginning of this journey.
If this did happen, and Shannan traveled a quarter of a mile through the marsh half naked, why did she accidentally drown only 100 feet away from the safety of Ocean Parkway in shallow water?
It’s a question police have yet to address. Since Shannan’s remains were found, investigators have remained mum about new developments on Shannan’s case and the other victims—eight women, a man and a female toddler, only half of whom have been identified—found along Ocean Parkway.
“We are not commenting further at this time on the Gilgo investigation until/unless we have some additional information pertaining to the investigation that serves the investigation or the public by its release,” Suffolk County police have repeatedly told the Press in statements over the past year.
Investigators have said they don’t believe Shannan’s death is related to the victims of a suspected serial killer, whose remains were found several miles away. But it is because of Shannan that those victims were found at all.
Police were searching for Shannan when they discovered other bodies in the brush, including those of Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Amber Lynn Costello.
Last November, Shannan’s mother Mari and her attorney, John Ray, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Oak Beach resident Dr. Charles Peter Hackett for Shannan’s disappearance and death.
“We allege that Dr. Peter Hackett has told others that he encountered Shannan knocking on his door on May 1, that he let her into his home and that he administered narcotics,” said Ray outside of the Suffolk County Supreme Court Complex in Riverhead. “He used the phrase that it was ‘too late’ to help her and that he then released her.”
The suit’s allegations—that Hackett gave Shannan drugs and then let her go, thereby causing her death, and that he misrepresented the facts to both the public and the police—are based on Ray’s own investigation of Shannan’s disappearance and of Hackett, as well as conversations he says he’s had with the doctor’s neighbors in the Oak Beach community.
“There’s no direct evidence as to who killed this lady,” he continued. “But circumstantial evidence can be very strong. And the circumstantial evidence right now is very strong to support what we’re doing here with this lawsuit.”
That circumstantial evidence all stems from a phone call Mari says she received from Hackett during the mid-afternoon hours of May 1, 2010.
“[Hackett] did say that he had Shannan, that we was taking care of Shannan, and he was running a halfway house for girls,” Mari said, adding that Hackett seemed “very distant” and worried about himself more than about the well-being of her daughter when asking whether Shannan had come home.
Hackett, who now resides in Florida, could not be reached for comment. Police have stated in the past that Hackett is not considered a suspect.
Officially, Shannan’s death has been ruled “undetermined.” Her remains are still in the custody of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office and her family is hoping to save enough money to pay for a private exam by another medical examiner.
In December, Megan Waterman’s mother, Lorraine Ela and Amber Lynn Costello’s sister, Kimberly Overstreet marked the anniversary of the discovery of the bodies of their loved ones near Gilgo Beach.
Lorraine told the Press says she had little communication from authorities and is looking to hire a private investigator.
“Honestly, the Suffolk County Police Department have not talked to me,” said Ela, adding that she’d like the FBI to take over the Gilgo case. “It’s a cold case. They’re not out there looking for anybody. It’s sitting on their back burner because of the lifestyle that the girls were living.”
Kimberly wondered why there wasn’t a bigger deal made about the other women’s disappearances before her sister and the other women, who were working as prostitutes, went missing.
“It’s just a shame, I never even heard of Shannan Gilbert or any of them,” she said. “Me or my sister, we never heard anything. We didn’t even know girls were missing.”
As far as the lawsuit goes, Mari said she didn’t care if she got $1 or $1 million, she just wanted justice for her daughter.
And with no new information released by police, the wait for that justice, and for any answers, continues.
Those with information on Shannan’s disappearance or any information on the victims found on Ocean Parkway can call Homicide Squad detectives at 631-852-6396, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-220-8477, text tips anonymously by texting “SCPD” to “CRIMES” (274637) or email information via www.tipsubmit.com
There is a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, the highest sum ever offered in Suffolk County history for an unsolved homicide.