In parts one and two of what ended up becoming a trilogy, we examined the five identified victims in this case. Though many debate on whether Shannan Gilbert is connected to the Gilgo Four or the others, what's for sure is that without her, they may have never been found. In our examination of the women's lives, we learned what unique circumstances drove each one to the adult pages on Craigslist. We also learned about their families and the struggles they faced after their loved ones went missing. Of course, even in the darkest of hours, light can still manage to find its way in. Members of the Gilgo Four families found one another and leaned on each other for support. As the investigation continues still, that support has been paramount, if at times faltering.
The discovery of the four women on Ocean Parkway didn't halt or slow the search for Shannan. As time went on, attempts to find her became more and more difficult and treacherous in the terrain they were dealing with. Robert Kolker describes the marsh surrounding Oak Island Beach as a "Frankenstein" of plant life overgrowing from the lack of maintenance over decades. Locals avoid the marsh at all cost due to the poison ivy and hoards of mosquitoes. The last time the town had done anything with the mess encompassing the small gated community of Oak Beach was in 1989. In the 22 years since, a mistake made when replacing the main pipeline led to the Franken-marsh investigators now needed to wade through.
The main pipeline was replaced with a pipe that had no flapper valve to keep saltwater from drifting into the freshwater marsh around the community. More than a decade of ocean water mingling with the marsh and its plant life created something only Poison Ivy could've created in a Batman comic. The mixture produced a tangle of salt meadow cordgrass, salt grass, seaside lavender, black grass, marsh elder, groundsel bush, poison ivy, and common reed. Investigators had to get creative if they were going to find Shannan in the middle of this botanical nightmare. Authorities may not have taken the case seriously in the beginning, but now that the body count was expanding, things were changing. The only halt that Shannan's search saw was after the first snow of winter. Once the ground had frozen there would be no excavating until the spring thaw.
On March 29, 2011, police picked up where they left off on their search of the seven and a half mile stretch of highway along Ocean Parkway. Their focus was the stretch between Oak Beach and the Nassau County line. The first day of the search unearthed nothing new, but the following day was another story altogether. An officer driving slowly as he carefully scanned the dunes flanking Cedar Beach had something catch his eye. Though cadaver dogs had already searched that area several times, they had apparently missed something. Among the bramble, a fifth victim had authorities wondering if their efforts had succeeded. The lack of a titanium plate in the jaw quickly dashed those hopes. This was not Shannan Gilbert.
The fifth set of remains was very different in a few ways. They were found a full mile away from the first four as well as being found further back in the bramble than the others. While the other women had been found closer to the edge of the highway, the fifth victim was found about 30 feet back from the roadside. It was at that point that it was decided that the entire swath of bramble needed to be searched further. They wouldn't stop at the hard-to-reach areas, either. Even the portions of vegetation too thick to penetrate would be broken through for the sake of the search effort. The 15 mile stretch of Ocean Parkway would also need to be explored more thoroughly.
To complete such a daunting task, 150 police officers were sent to the site. Along with a busload of recruits, officers were on loan from the state police, the state park police, and Nassau County. Fire trucks extended long ladders over the bramble for an overhead view. Others looked over the mess of vegetation from inside elevated buckets. The bravest of the searchers were those tearing their way through the plant life, wearing gardening gloves and high boots for protection. Using shovels, tree clippers, and chain saws, they forced their way through the toughest task of their careers. There were others, still that were diving underwater to search back off the dunes to the south and along Oak Beach. In pairs, the divers would take turns searching Hemlock Bay.
When the FBI sent a Black Hawk helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft with high-resolution cameras to aid in the effort, the search was stepped up to a whole new level. As the first four bodies discovered had been found wrapped in burlap, investigators were looking for any scraps of burlap they could see sticking up from the ground. They were also looking for more bones and signs of digging in the area. Aside from the large force of officers on site, workers from the city's medical examiner's office were also present to examine any bones found. It was their job while on the site to determine if what bones found were human or animal.
On April 4, just five days after finding the fifth victim, three more bodies were found. None of the three discovered that day were Shannan. They didn't fit the initial pattern seen with the Gilgo Four, either. These remains were found much deeper in the underbrush and were not wrapped in burlap. They had also been dumped there earlier than the others.
Those that were discovered the day after the search was reinstated were linked to a torso that had been found in Manorville, Long Island a few years earlier. The victim was identified as 20-year-old Jessica Taylor. She had been working as a prostitute before being murdered in 2003. Of those found on April 4, one set of remains was determined to be that of an Asian male. He appeared to be wearing women's clothing at the time of his death. Another of the victims was no larger than a toddler, wrapped in a blanket. Everything was sent off to New York City for further examination.
DNA analysis was much more difficult this time than it had been before. The first four found had each been wrapped in their own bundles of burlap. These had been left scattered all over the place. Multiple samples were taken from each of the loose bones so comparisons could be made among those discovered. They also cross-checked any matches against the FBI's DNA database. This kind of work can take months to complete, but those tasked with the job were more than capable. As the experts were working hard to figure out who these poor, lost souls were, Police Commissioner Richard Dormer was struggling to keep the public's expectations in line with reality. He needed to remind those watching their every move that this was not an episode of CSI, where the culprit would be caught in 30 minutes or less.
All while one of the biggest investigations Long Island has ever seen was ramping up, reports began swirling around the Commissioner. Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, had apparently asked him to pack up his desk and leave after sharing too many details about the bodies. Dormer would only be the first of the Suffolk County Department to be fired in the middle of this investigation.
The community of Oak Island Beach bristled at the continuation of the search around their gated little haven. They had already gotten a taste of the media exposure and impromptu searches before winter had set in. Now that the ground was thawed and the water was no longer freezing, authorities were back at it in force, and the residents weren't happy about the intrusion. As we saw in part one, Shannan Gilbert's mother, Mari Gilbert, found her own ways to frustrate the neighborhood in her fight to find her daughter. There were other factors that came into play when it came to the community's disdain and their divide.
It didn't take long for the case to become national news. Any and everyone following the case took to the internet with the ideas, opinions, or theories. This led to numerous conspiracies being pushed that many wanted to latch onto due to their sensationalism. Rumors were also being printed in the press, published online, and aired on television. There was no shortage of people in the area that began to wonder if someone they knew could've been involved. Nowhere else was this more true than within the Oak Beach community. Women began to accuse their husbands. Rumors circulated that a police officer was responsible for killing escorts, either retired or not.
Clammers likely became nervous when rumors spread that a local clammer must have been involved as he would have access to burlap. Stories abound that it had to have been the same person that killed four victims during a spree in Atlantic City several years earlier. Commissioner Dormer denied that any connection existed there. Law enforcement also had to squash a rumor that two New York City police officers, one active and the other not, were suspects. Though Missy confirmed that her sister had a regular client that worked as a police officer, it's not clear if the officer was male. Talk of the FBI wanting to access Vybe's laptop for information on Megan's disappearance was also quickly revealed to be merely speculation.
Many thought that the killer was out for revenge after hearing about the angry reviews left on Amber and Kim on sites like Longislanderotic.com. Plenty speculated that he had to either be from the area or very familiar with it, like he had grown up there. Everyone had the same thought about a bloodthirsty serial killer running loose in the city. This revelation made women still working in the sex trade put their guard up even further. At any given moment, this unidentified killer could decide to strike again.
When it started to seem as though the rumor mill had been pumped dry, reporters returned to Melissa Barthelemy's sister, Amanda. They wanted to know more about the phone calls she received after Melissa had gone missing. One reporter even reached out to Melissa's ex-boyfriend/pimp, Blaze, who also claimed to receive calls from the same person. Just as Amanda had, Blaze said that it sounded like a white man on the phone. He said that this man threatened and taunted him, telling him that he knew Blaze liked to do some crazy things with her. The mysterious caller made the interactions that much more disturbing when he informed Blaze that he knew where he was at. Police traced the caller's number to a disposable phone registered under the name Mickey Mouse.
Authorities continued to search for whatever else they may find in hopes of locating Shannan. They began to fan out westward, toward Fire Island to see what other horrors may have been hidden among the bramble. Like any parent, Mari was going out of her mind with worry and dread. Every time the police called with information, her heart sank to the pit of her stomach. Then, the police stopped calling altogether. It began to seem as though the press was calling with more information than the investigators working on her case. When a lead detective on the case, Richard Higgins, asked that she not speak with the press, Mari responded by informing him that Channel 7 always called before they did. She told the man outright that if they weren't going to do anything, she was going to talk.
On April 6, Mari Gilbert was standing on her front porch in Ellenville with Channel 2 watching and filming her every word. She proclaimed for the world to hear that had it not been for her persistence, authorities would not have been searching for Shannan months after her disappearance. With fire in her belly, she told everyone listening that it had been her daughter that brought the searchers out to find the other girls in the first place. When asked if she thought that Shannan would be found with the others, Mari said that she was not there. When she was asked where she thought her daughter may be, she couldn't answer.
During the chaos of the large scale search, Kim decided to make a trip out to Oak Beach. She wanted to see the place where her sister had been found. She needed to stand on the spot where Amber's killer had dumped her body. Curiosity about the area she'd seen so much of on television also led her there. Kim happened to arrive on a day when the police were ferrying photographers out to the parkway to take pictures of the ongoing search. She was disappointed and disgusted by what she saw when she got off the bus. The search that was being photographed was clearly staged for the cameras, while the real search was happening elsewhere. The two dozen or so officers she witnessed almost seemed to be on cue as they moved across the beach.
Her frustrations were only made worse when police learned that she had made her way out onto the parkway with the photographers. Apparently, she should've never been allowed on the bus to start with, but none of the reporters that recognized her were willing to speak up. They came for a story, and who better to give it to them than one of the victim's sisters? Of course, they only flocked around her for so long before they got all they felt they needed and then they flocked elsewhere. They flocked right back when officers asked her to leave, though. Video from that day shows Kim crying as she leaves the site. She commented on how sad it was because she had only wanted to see where they had found her sister's body.
Of course, every single one of the stories published or aired described the girls as being escorts, prostitutes, working girls, or sex workers. While these were the precarious circumstances that eventually led them to be targeted, it wasn't all of who they were in life. As discussed in part two, it was known among girls with experience in the sex trade that breaks were needed to not become too jaded by the work. During these sometimes long stints without working, they had families, friends, hobbies, goals, and responsibilities. Entire lives that were being overlooked because of the profession that led them to Long Island. Mari was incensed by the articles calling her daughter and the other girls prostitutes. She informed the media that while her family was aware of what Shanna did for a living, it did not affect the way they looked at her. She was loved deeply, nonetheless.
When reporters started knocking on doors throughout the Oak Island community in the wake of Shannan's disappearance, they found nothing but salacious rumors. They printed them, regardless as they waited for positive identification on the Gilgo Four. It seemed that for the press, it was nothing more than a game to find the next printable piece of information the fastest. Fact-checking, it would seem, had all but been abandoned. It comes as no surprise that Joe Brewer was at the center of many rumors. It had been his Oak Beach home that Shannan fled from when she disappeared.
The Post published an article about an unnamed man that they described as a "48-year-old drifter with a penchant for strippers." This man was said to have been at Joe Brewer's house the night that she went missing. The story even included a quote from the drifter's mother, stating that she thought him to be in Georgia.
Police were insistent that Joe was not a suspect. Cocky and overly confident as he typically was, he had no problem talking to the media about the many reasons that he couldn't be responsible. In an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger, he claims to have been turned off by Shannan when she asked him if he'd ever "come across any transvestites" in his time hiring escorts. He took this to mean that she was trans and says it was at this point that she began to behave erratically. Joe figured this was purely her reaction to the fact that things wouldn't be going her way that night.
The body count increased to ten on April 11, when two more bodies were discovered along the parkway to the west behind the Nassau County line. They were located only a mile and a half from Jones Beach. Human bones were found inside a plastic bag. Four hours after that grim discovery, a Suffolk County officer and his cadaver dog located a human skull thought to most likely be that of a woman. The skull was inside the boundaries of a wildlife sanctuary west of Tobay Beach, just a mile from the literal bag of bones.
Remains uncovered that day found a link to another unsolved case farther out on Long Island. The head, hands, and right foot of a Jane Doe linked to the torso of an unidentified female found in Manorville in 2000. The signature of these bones didn't match the original four at all. For the first time, District Attorney Thomas Spota declared that while the Gilgo Four were most definitely linked, the others had been the work of other killers. He acknowledged that the area around Gilgo Beach had been a dumping ground for Long Island's darkest secrets for quite some time.
While ten sets of remains had been found, the woman they had set out to find was still out there somewhere. Wearing protective gear, officers from the state department cut through the bramble around Tobay and Jones Beaches. As they cleared greenery, helicopters performed flyovers of the area. Suffolk County also sent more divers to search around the docks and jetties on the bay and south sides of Oak Beach.
Mari was becoming increasingly frustrated by the reports in the media of hookers being killed and tossed out. She told the Times that she thought Shannan and the other girls were just being looked at as throwaways. If anyone was in doubt about her opinions, Dormer's chief of detectives, Dominick Varrone, was there to confirm that she wasn't entirely wrong. He called it a "conselation" that the killer wasn't "selecting citizens at large." Varrone went on to say that these women were more vulnerable due to their willingness to get into a stranger's vehicle. The message was clear, especially to Mari. If these had been working-class women from well-to-do backgrounds, this wouldn't have happened to them.
On April 12, WCBS 880, a 24-hour local news radio station, introduced a new character in this story when they latched onto a new angle for what may have happened to Shannan. It didn't take long for the station's competitors to pick the story up and run with it. Though many may have come after, it was Sophia Hall that first broke the story about the phone call Mari received from a man named Peter Hackett the morning of her disappearance. According to the segment, Hackett had called Mari to inform her that Shannan had been incoherent that night, leading him to take her into his rehab. This supposed rehab was said to be located inside his home on Oak Island Beach. In this phone call, Hackett tells Mari that she stayed there until a driver came to pick her up in the morning. This would be the first time the public would hear Peter Hackett's name, but it wouldn't be the last. As the public was just starting to look at him suspiciously, one man had already been suspicious of him for quite some time.
Hackett didn't confirm or deny seeing Shannan on May 1, 2010. He simply told reporters that he spoke with the police before giving a speech about the importance of closure. Almost seeming to insert himself, he made the point of saying, "we need to find this girl alive," as he spoke of Shannan Gilbert. To those in the Oak Beach community, this wasn't much of a surprise. He seemed to like to insert himself anywhere he could. In a crisis, a conversation, a gathering, he was an ever-present pillar in the neighborhood. The very same day he made his public speech, Hackett told ABC News that the notion of him having seen her that night was ridiculous. As the story was already spreading beyond anyone's control, it was too late for Hackett to dodge the damage.
As major news outlets were picking up on the story, reporters flocked to the Hackett residence with their cameramen in tow. If the Oak Beach residents weren't already frustrated by the commotion from the search, this was more than they could bear. For two days after the breaking of the story, the only questions that circulated concerned Hackett. He and his wife, Barbara, repeatedly denied seeing Shannan. Their lives suddenly turned into a three-ring circus, and it seemed as though Mari was the ringmaster.
The devious light in which Sophia Hall's segment showed him made everyone in the country turn their heads collectively and look. While walking with his wife, Hackett was cornered by a camera crew from the CBS Early Show. They once again denied ever seeing Shannan. That same day, Barbara exited her Oak Beach cottage to speak with Good Morning America. As the Gilbert family watched from home, she denied that her husband ever treated her, or anyone else in their home. There was no rehab inside their house to treat any patients from. When the reporter mentioned Hackett being interviewed by police three times, this was news to the Gilbert family. Barbara's answer for why Mari would have her husband's name was simply that she had gone door-to-door speaking to neighbors.
Barbara was asked about her husband identifying himself as a police officer in the phone call. Rather than insisting he hadn't called Mari, she told the reporter to do some research on Hackett to find that he had been the Suffolk County EMS director for years. This an odd answer since Hackett denied making the call. Also, how would a position as the EMS director have anything to do with the police department? It definitely wouldn't give him the right to identify himself as an officer. All around, Barbara's answer made no sense. Still, she doubled down, saying that he had also been a police surgeon.
While the rest of America was seeing Peter Hackett as a villain for the first time, Joe Scalise Jr. was only having his oldest suspicions confirmed. He had always seen Hackett as what he called a psychopath. A wolf in sheep's clothing that had everyone in their humble little beach community fooled, except for him and his family. If you read Lost Girls, you will get a much more detailed version of the discord among neighbors in Oak Island Beach. The abridged version is that neighbor began turning against neighbor years ago over something as stupid as a swimming pool. When a resident named Frank Solina wanted to put in a pool without the proper permits, the trouble began. Gus Coletti, the first resident to have contact with Shannan Gilbert on May 1, 2010, was the president of the board at the time. He was also a friend of Frank's and had no initial problems with his pool.
The Scalises also had no issues, but issues arose when Frank bulldozed a sand dune that Joe Sr. happened to like. Since Frank's friend was the president of the board, he demanded that he start eviction proceedings on the Scalises immediately. Accused of trimming trees on association property, all 72 residents of the gated community were due to gather to vote on the Scalises fate. A 21-19 vote in their favor allowed them to stay, but things would never be the same again. They had every right to be distrustful considering the board had tried to claim a victory on their behalf by counting votes for people that weren't present to vote that day. The family hired a lawyer to halt the proceedings. They won on the grounds that residents needed to be present to cast their votes.
After this incident, the Scalise family stayed in their cottage. Joe Jr. and his sister even moved into homes of their own within the gated community in adulthood. They never trusted their neighbors again, though. Over the decades, their long-held grudge against the board members hardened into an all out hatred. Cheif among them, Peter Hackett. Not only had he been a member of the board that tried to wrongfully evict them, but there had always been something off about that guy.
By the time the search for Shannan was underway, the Scalises were all living close by to one another on the same street at the far end of the bayou. Their road connects directly with Larboard Court, where the Hackett residence is located. It would seem that the family had stayed for so long to spite the board members that had tried to throw them out. Joe Scalise Sr. had bought his bungalow in 1971, and wasn't about to give it up. Even if he couldn't be friendly with his neighbors, he wouldn't let them take his family's home.
Though the family had ostracized themselves from their neighborhood, that didn't mean they were out on the scuttlebutt spreading behind the gate. They had heard the rumors that Hackett knew more than he was telling. They had also heard about their neighbor's inaction that night and were disgusted by it. The community's attitude towards the camera crews and backed up traffic from the search effort was even more appalling to them. A human being had just gone missing. Her family was sick with worry and grief. How could these people treat her search like it was nothing more than an inconvenience to them?
As soon as Joe Sr. heard the reports of Hackett's call to Mari, he began creating dots and connecting them. Hackett was such a pillar in the community. So many people in the neighborhood loved him and would likely do anything for them as far as Joe Sr. could see it. Maybe someone had helped him cover up the accidental death, or even the murder of a young woman. Of course, there was no proof whatsoever of his assumptions, but that didn't stop his mind from wandering.
Joe Sr. wasn't the only family member that was hateful and suspicious of Hackett. His son, Joe Jr., believed his father wasn't far off base at all about the shady man down the street. Just two months after the story of the phone call broke, in late June, he took to his computer to voice his accusations. Robert Kolker refers to him as the Deep Throat of this investigation. Under the pseudonym Flukeyou, he began posting everything he thought about Hackett and everything he thought he knew about him on Longislandserialkiller.com. Over the next several months, Flukeyou would post nearly 100 times. He even alluded to him having a "pack of loyal followers" like he was some kind of cult leader.
Hackett only proved to the world exactly how shady he is when he reversed his story about calling Mari. On July 11, CBS aired a one-hour report of 48 Hours Mystery, which featured a section on Hackett. In this section, he explained that he had called the Gilbert family twice on May 6, 2010, a few days after she had gone missing. He refused to be interviewed on camera, opting to send in two written responses to be read on air instead. He stated that he called Mari at the request of Shannan's boyfriend, Alex Diaz, to offer his help in her search. While he claims to not remember exactly what he said, he recalled the phone call was under four minutes. He also made sure to mention that he had never seen Shannan the night of her disappearance and he had no rehab in his home for wayward girls as had been stated in the many rumors circulating him.
The target on Hackett's back only got bigger after he reversed his story. Everyone following the case had the same question. If he had only called for a noble purpose, why lie about it? Mari got her chance to confront him face-to-face on August 19. Accompanied by her friend, Johanna Gonzalez, some new Facebook followers, and the British camera crew from the A&E documentary, Mari returned to Oak Beach. As we saw in part one, Mari would make many trips to the gated community to question neighbors, hand out flyers, and drag cameramen through the streets in search of her daughter. This day, she asked Hackett flat-out on camera if he had seen Shannan or heard anything the night she went missing. He denied ever seeing or hearing anything beyond the rumors that spread afterward.
The most pervasive theory to spread about Hackett in the middle of all this uproar was one started by Joe Scalise Jr. Writing as Flukeyou, he spread a rumor that he was storing bodies in the shed by his cottage. He further theorized that when Shannan got away, he acted quickly, dumping bodies and clearing evidence away. For this to be true, several people would have had to be involved. It would've been a huge undertaking. There's no way several people helped with this and managed to stay quiet for years. As they say, two can keep a secret as long as one is dead.
Hackett does seem to be an odd character. He was known for being an overly helpful guy in their neighborhood. Any time someone in the community was hurt or experiencing a medical emergency of some kind, they typically called on him. Sometimes, he would just show up without being asked directly by the family and try to help. This wasn't always received well. Hackett was even reportedly a little miffed that he wasn't called when Shannan took off running through the streets from Joe's house. He was actually offended that his neighbors chose to call the police rather than him. Since he saw himself as experienced in both medicine and law, he thought he should've been called first.
While the media ran wild with every theory that came up and Hackett buried his head in the sand, police were still looking for Shannan. Flukeyou had posted an interesting theory that her remains would be found in the ribs of the marsh that connect directly to Oak Beach. Specifically, he thought her body would be found in the ribs that connected to Hackett's own cottage. As authorities fanned out further into the marsh, they drew closer and closer to those ribs. By this point in the investigation, repairs that drained the marsh for the first time in decades allowed officers to enter much more easily.
First, a purse was found with Shannan's identification inside. Next, a phone, some shoes, and a torn piece of jeans were found. With only belongings and no body to go off of, Dormer was trying to make what little evidence he had fit his theory. Shannan was clearly high and paranoid when she entered the marsh, seeing headlights on Ocean Parkway and thinking they were closer than they were. He thought that she had tripped and fallen into a drainage ditch, where she would've drowned.
Mari looked at the items recovered and confirmed that they had belonged to her daughter. She wasn't happy to hear that the finding hadn't changed Dormer's theory. She rejected it in the beginning, and she was rejecting it again. Her daughter was smarter than that. Mari knew that Shannan would've never walked into that marsh, if for no other reason than not to mess up her clothes and shoes. There wouldn't be much time for arguments, though. Mari's nighmarish fight to find her firstborn child was drawing to a disheartening close.
On December 13, 2011, a fully intact skeleton was found about a quarter mile away from the area where Shannan's things had been discovered. There was no need for DNA analysis. The titanium plate grafted to her jaw after being punched by her boyfriend identified her. Mari was notified in the early morning hours before the announcement was made publicly at 11:30 AM. They stated that her remains had been located close to the southern edge of Ocean Parkway. As it turned out, Joe Jr had been right all along about where they would find the body. He let everyone know about it online, too.
Though there were glaring inconsistencies with Dormer's theory, that didn't stop him from doubling down. Even the former chief medical examiner thought it held no water. No way could a woman weighing barely 100 pounds tear her way through that Franken-marsh when 150 officers needed chain saws, weed whackers, and amphibious vehicles to get through it. I suppose it can be hard to admit to being wrong. When posed with the question of her belongings being found so far from her, he had an answer. She hysterically flung her things as she ran through the marsh. He also claimed that her jeans were not on her body because they could've just come off in that environment.
Of course, Mari had one very good point to make in her opposition to Dormer's theory. She had listened to Shannan's 911 call, which has recently been made public. While Shannan comes off as disoriented in portions of the call, she is also very lucid in others. She most definitely wasn't in the kind of state that would lead her into a wildly overgrown marsh in the dark. While Dormer was claiming it must have been a psychotic break, Mari again points to the call and the fact that Shannan kept them on the line for 22 minutes before calling back twice. She didn't sound delusional, or even really hysterical. She sounded scared.
Mari had one other issue with the discovery. The FBI's Black Hawk helicopter flew over that area more than once earlier that year. How had they not found her already if she was already there? She just knew that her daughter's body had been placed there more recently. She also found the timing of the discovery a little too convenient. She was found the very same day all the families were returning to Oak Beach for the first anniversary vigil of the Gilgo Four's discovery.
That day, Missy and Lorraine arrived at the site where the girls had been found two days before police made their discovery. Kritzia had also made it out to show support for her friend and place her cross for her family. The girls' biggest Facebook supporter, Michele Kutner, came out to help as well. A few days were spent determining the exact site of each victim so crosses could be erected in their names. Each family made their own cross, except for Amber Costello's. Her friend, Melissa Wright, made one in Wilmington and sent it up for the occasion. Kim did manage to make it for the vigil, bringing a friend to help keep her sober.
When the news spread that Shannan had been found at last, those there for the vigil waited for Mari to give their support and condolences. It was a sobering moment for all that came to remember their loved ones. Michele could see Gus Coletti in the middle of the chaos and asked him where Hackett was. He was hiding out in Coletti's living room. He eventually came out and was quickly approached by Michele. As she thanked God for Shannan's discovery, she asked him if he was happy about it. He said "yeah" before commenting, "You guys thought I did it."
As expected, the reporters that flocked to the scene baited Mari to speak out against the police. She grabbed the bait and ran, telling the press that if the police had started searching earlier, they would've found her sooner. When asked if she believed the same person was responsible for all of this, her response was yes. She believed the man was sitting at home, watching all of the coverage and loving every minute of the pain and suffering he'd caused. Mari was asked if she felt that Shannan's purpose had been to find these girls. She believed so. If it hadn't been for Shannan's search, none of these other bodies would've been found. She brought closure to a lot of grieving, suffering family members that needed it the most, while also bringing them all together.
This wouldn't be the last the Suffolk County police would hear from Mari Gilbert. A week after Shannan's body was found, she convened another press conference near Oak Beach. At this point, Dormer was only days away from retirement. Mari asked that all her friends wear Shannan's favorite color, blue, in honor of her. It was here that Mari unveiled her new attorney, John Ray, a Long Island plaintiff's attorney. He ripped into the investigation and tore apart the police department, while also biting into the 911 call. Ray asked that if the medical examiner determined her to have been drowned, then who drowned her? He called Suffolk County's investigation "botched" and closed by stating that if the department refused to turn the case over to the FBI, then Mari was going to sue.
As though the press conference hadn't been a big enough spectacle, Gus Coletti pulled up in his car, ready to speak with the press as always. The ever-suspicious Joe Scalise Jr. was present, and saw Coletti immediately. He ran up to the car, screaming at him before he even had a chance to get out. He yelled for all to hear that Coletti was the mayor of Oak Island Beach. Why hadn't he saved the security footage from that night? This was a question that had been on the minds of many since Shannan had gone missing. Joe Jr. pulled no punches when he put the Oak Beach mayor on the spot in front of the world. Before his failed attempt at a dramatic exit, Coletti yelled out his window that Scalise was the problem with Oak Beach.
By this point, the reporters and cameramen had flocked around the scene between Scalise and Coletti. Though Coletti tried to dramatically drive off, the throng of media blocked his way out. Joe Jr. continued to yell about the security footage, asking flat-out if he was covering for Hackett. The cameras ate up every salacious moment like children devouring candy. As the other family members watched the coverage from their own living rooms, they were shocked. It wasn't the outburst between Coletti and Scalise that caught them off guard, though. Mari's new lawyer and his announcement came as an unpleasant surprise that left them feeling backhanded.
Though the letter John Ray had written stated that it was on behalf of all of the family members, they had no prior knowledge of this at all. Mari had gone off, half-cocked on her own. Missy was particularly thrown by her demand that the FBI take over since they had already stepped in to help before the body was even found. In her opinion, the whole thing seemed premature. They hadn't even received the autopsy results yet. She was especially frustrated when a copy of the letter was passed along to her. It read, "'On behalf of the sex worker murder victims.'"
Missy took to Facebook to be completely honest about the roller coaster ride of a relationship she and the others had experienced in trying to be Mari's friend. The lawyer she had never met speaking for her was the last straw. Missy and the others were through. This is where the schism formed between Mari and her Facebook supporters, and the other family members and theirs. Never should the two groups meet again.
On January 14, 2012, Mari went back to Oak Beach with her daughter, Sherre, for another press conference. She gave a heartfelt speech about only half of the battle being over, while the tougher half still lay ahead. Reporters listened quietly as she spoke of the faith she refused to relinquish in Shannan's killer being caught. Reading from a piece of paper, Mari opened up to the world about her feelings of emptiness inside, knowing that her oldest daughter would not be home for holidays and birthdays. She described the unimaginable pain of losing a child in such a gruesome way. Pain that no person could understand without walking a mile in those excruciating shoes. When her speech was concluded, Mari erected a cross at the location where Shannan's body had been found and the group placed flowers underneath. She made sure that Shannan's cross was taller than the others.
On February 17, another body was found when a man and his dog ran across skeletal remains in the pine barrens of Manorville. The victim was found only a short distance from where two of the Gilgo Four had been found. Just over a month later, on March 21, a jogger discovered yet another set of remains in Manorville. Both of these victims had been left in densely wooded, remote areas. Police urged the public not to connect these victims to the Gilgo Four.
The discovery of these remains was upstaged in the media by a scandalous story out of Manhattan. A posh Upper East Side brothel had been raided and the madam, Anna Gristina, was threatening to reveal her most powerful johns. News coverage of three high-ranking officials at the Nassau County Police Department being indicted for taking bribes also drove attention away from the new discoveries.
The revelation that corruption was very much present at the Nassau County department gave life to new conspiracy theories concerning the Long Island Serial Killer case. Could it be possible that the Suffolk County police were bribed by powerful interests in Oak Beach to label Shannan's death an accidental drowning? Suddenly, brush fires that had plagued Manorville throughout the spring started to seem rather nefarious. Could it be an attempt at obscuring the investigation?
In the spring, Suffolk County got a new homicide squad chief, Detective Lieutenant Jack Fitzpatrick. He thought that the case needed another look from a fresh perspective. Like everyone else that had looked at this case, he didn't think much of Dormer's one-killer theory. For the first time since the discovery of the first four victims, everyone seemed to be on the same page.
In a stunning turn of events, Mari actually returned to Oak Beach to show support for Fitzpatrick and his work. Seeing that she had made a huge mistake in overplaying her hand before Shannan's autopsy results were shown, she quickly began back-peddling. Lambasting the authorities in the media and threatening to sue wasn't the best idea if she expected them to be forthcoming with her in the future.
After an extended search and a long wait for the results, Mari walked into the Suffolk County headquarters with her three daughters to hear the medical examiner's findings. John Ray accompanied them for their private meeting with Suffolk County's chief medical examiner, Yvonne Milewski. During the two and a half hour long meeting, the new detectives assigned to the case stood back with Milewski while Hajar Sims-Childs did most of the talking. As she had done most of the work, she was the best person to explain everything to the family. She explained that after four months of examination, they knew little more than they did going in. In a sense, they knew even less than they had before.
The cause of death was never determined. Once the bones were laid out, it was found that only a few finger and toe bones were missing, along with two of the three hyoid bones. These are small, fragile bones located in the neck. Broken hyoid bones are a hallmark of strangulation cases. The issue here was that the medical examiner couldn't determine whether the bones had been broken when she died, or if they had simply broken off in the marsh afterward. Sims-Childs explained that it's common for small bones to go missing in these kinds of cases. With the hyoid bones being so easily broken, a rodent could've carried them off for all they knew. In Robert Kolker's book, he highlights that out of 206 bones in the human body, two of the very few missing bones would've determined her death as murder.
The drug analysis was more complicated than it normally would've been. They needed bone marrow to test, but couldn't find any in her femur to extract for reasons that have never been explained. Instead, they used a smattering of tissue from her brain and a small clump of her hair. While bone marrow samples could've yielded more information on drugs such as weed, meth, or psychotropics, they had to work with what they had. They tested only for cocaine and found none in her system. That didn't eliminate the possibility of her having done coke the night of her disappearance, though. After 18 months in a saltwater marsh, deterioration made it hard to determine anything.
Mari and her lawyer were both shocked that Shannan was only tested for cocaine. Furthermore, when marrow couldn't be retrieved from the femur, no other bones were checked for a sample. You would think they would try whatever they could to prove the prevailing theory that Shannan had run into the marsh in a drug-addled state. They never even bothered to test her clothing for blood, semen, or any DNA, either. For five months, police had possession of her clothing without running a single test.
When Mari spoke with reporters after the meeting, she expressed the anger and frustration that she felt walking out. She had hoped for something more, some substantial. As she stated to the press, all she felt walking out that door was "betrayal."
A few days after hearing the autopsy results, John Ray rounded up some members of his practice for a reenactment at Oak Beach. At around the same time of year in roughly the same conditions she would've waded through, the group retraced her steps through the marsh. To ensure their experience mirrored Shannan's as closely as possible, they started through the entanglement of overgrown reeds at 5:00 in the morning. They also took a woman roughly Shannan's size to see how easily she could move through the reeds and how far she could see over them.
They found that it was actually quite easy to move through the marsh despite the dense look of it. Ray's shoes barely even got wet, leaving him to wonder how anyone could've thought she had drowned out there. The theory that she had become lost in the marsh was also squashed. The young woman that accompanied them on their reenactment found it quite easy to see over the reeds. Even from the furthest point, where her body had been found, she could still see headlights from Ocean Parkway and the houses back on Oak Island Beach.
The medical examiner had mentioned that Shannan's bones had been sun bleached in such a way that suggested she had been lying down for quite some time. Ray asked if that meant she could've possibly been placed there after she died, but Sims-Childs did not concede or deny this. They had no way of knowing if heart failure brought on by drug use had caused her death as she ran through the marsh of her own accord. They also couldn't say if she had been strangled due to the two missing hyoid bones. One could only speculate.
John Ray's walk through the marsh in Oak Beach convinced him more than ever that the original theory posed by police was not only ludicrous, but insulting. Claiming hysteria as her reasoning for running into the marsh seemed like an outdated cop-out. Doctors in Victorian times typically diagnosed women that could not be easily controlled with hysteria. Even then, police didn't use it for a weak theory in a clearly suspicious case.
Until her death, Mari continued to champion Shannan's cause and make things right with her surviving daughters. One by one though, her ever-loyal and faithful Facebook followers began to leave her side. Even Michele Kutner said that she would not stand for the abuse she faced continuing to work with Mari. For a time, Sherre also stopped talking to her mother after her older sister's remains were found.
That summer, the nosy residents of Oak Beach couldn't help but notice the shiny new Florida plates on Hackett's car. During his December 2011 interview with Robert Kolker, Hackett informed him that his plan for quite some time had been to retire to the Keys. Due to the rumors and death threats, he had spent most of that year on Sanibel Island in the Keys. For this same reason, he was putting his four-bedroom, 2-bathroom cottage up for sale, asking $399,000. He had already been turned away from a potential job due to the rumors spreading like the plague across the internet and the media. The entire Hackett family was subject to threats, even over the telephone. He had no choice left at this point. Hackett and his family were being run out of Long Island.
He insisted while speaking with Kolker that he had never seen Shannan Gilbert that night, much less treated her. His wife and daughter had both been home that night and could corroborate that no one was brought into the house. He also expressed his frustration at not being called by his neighbors when Shannan went running through the streets, screaming. Hackett insisted that for "twentysomething years" he'd been called every time a neighbor was hurt or sick. Never mind that Shannan wasn't hurt or sick, she was scared out of her mind. That didn't stop Hackett from feeling dejected for not being the first called. He said that had someone informed him, he could've taken her to the trauma center. He also points out that he was the one to start the county's trauma program.
When asked about the phone calls he denied making to Mari, he said that he had forgotten all about them until he checked his phone records. As for his theory on what happened to Shannan, he agreed with the police's theory. He said that his time as a trauma specialist had taught him that someone doing cocaine may experience an intracranial bleed if they hit their head. A quick look at the Cleveland Clinic's page told me that anyone that hits their head can experience what is also known as a brain bleed. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, confusion, or a sudden tingling, weakness, numbness, or paralysis of the face, arm, or leg. Somehow his training tells him that it's common for someone to take off running in this condition. I would think that any one of these symptoms would make that rather difficult.
As Hackett and his family were preparing to flee the state, Joe Scalise Jr. was continuing his campaign of gossip online. He was now posting theories about the missing hyoid bones. It was his assumption that Hackett had crushed her hyoid bones when he thrust his knee into her throat. If you ask me, that is a very specific theory. He also thought that police had never searched his home because Coletti and others had waved them off, protecting Hackett from arrest.
I will admit that Hackett is a very suspicious character. What makes him all the more suspicious is the revelation that he had in fact lied about calling Mari the morning of Shannan's disappearance. Phone records showed that he had called her that morning. If she hadn't lied about the call being placed, she likely didn't lie about what was said. While Peter Hackett is even more suspicious than the man that hired Shannan that night, Joe Jr.'s theories are absolutely outlandish. Obviously the product of a man that watches way too much television.
On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the South Shore inland towns of Long Island before moving on to ravage the barrier islands as well. Ocean Parkway crumbled underneath the crushing storm. Miraculously, all of the crosses that had been erected for the girls had not been touched by the devastation. They remained standing, though the highway had buckled. Those living at Oak Beach fared much better than many others had. Some flooded houses and power outages were nothing new to the long-time residents. It was just a part of island life.
Two weeks after the hurricane ravaged Long Island, on November 15, Mari filed a wrongful death suit against Hackett. Her suit alleged that he gave Shannan drugs before allowing her to leave his home that morning, demonstrating negligence. During yet another of Mari's press conferences, she and John Ray accused him of controlling the security footage and then tormenting Mari through phone calls. She told reporters that his tone on these calls told her that he was much more concerned for himself than for Shannan. Ray took the liberty of pulling Mari's phone records, which showed a five-minute call from Hackett made to Mari on May 3, 2010. This was just two days after Shannan went missing, and three days before the calls he previously admitted to making. Though Mari's records clearly show that Hackett called her on May 3, he claimed to 48 Hours that his first call to her wasn't placed until May 6.
After Melissa Barthelemy's family had already held her funeral and interred her remains, they received a call from the Suffolk County coroner's office. More remains matching Melissa's DNA had been found along the highway, though her family was never told exactly where. They were never told what this may have meant in terms of case theories, either. No one even had enough decency to tell this poor family if she had been dismembered, or if animals had gotten to her after her death. After the immense torment they had already faced, Melissa's family was left with nothing more than questions.
As though God weren't testing them enough, this poor family that was already struggling to keep their diner above water was faced with paying for another cremation and internment. Thankfully, a NYC detective that had been working on Melissa's missing persons case named Bill McGready decided to help. He helped them get a cheaper rate from a funeral parlor run by a friend.
Meanwhile, Maureen's sister, Missy, was still crusading. Though she was no longer working with Mari, she had not slacked off of her sister's case. The rest of life just fell away for Missy. Nothing mattered more than finding Maureen's killer. Along with her late brother, Will's, motorcycle club, she held her Stunts 4 Justice fundraiser. Unfortunately, they didn't come close to their $5000 goal. The event wasn't a bust, though. Missy was encouraged to be reunited with Megan Waterman's mother, Lorraine. She also got to meet the famous crusader for the families of missing persons, Janice Smolinski.
Smolinski's son, Billy, had disappeared in 2004. Afterward, she dedicated herself to the creation of Billy's Law, which seeks to expand online information on unidentified remains and missing persons. This was a very influential and inspiring person for Missy and Lorraine to meet.
Over the summer of 2012, Missy began looking into how to go about getting the Gilgo Beach Killer on the FBI's Most Wanted list. If there were other unidentified killers listed with nothing more than details on their cases, why couldn't this guy be listed? Her mission dragged on as she continued to gather everything she could get her hands on. She flagged sketches of unidentified bodies she found on a national database and handed them off to the press. Through a Connecticut victims' advocate attorney, she attempted to set up a meeting with the Norwich police. They had hoped to go over Maureen's missing persons case and possibly even take a look at her file.
Missy really wanted to hold another Stunts 4 Justice fundraiser to get closer to her $5000 goal. She had even thought seriously about moving to Stamford so she could be closer to Long Island if there was an arrest in the case. While crusading for justice that still has yet to be seen, Missy monitored the national discussion about online escorting. She watched as it grew out of control, and then as newer, more interesting headlines were published, she watched the discussion silenced in favor of other hot topics.
Joe Brewer, the john that hired Shannan the night she went missing, gave a very strange and off-putting interview to Robert Kolker for his book. He would elude to knowing much more than he was willing to say, but in the same breath deny knowing anything at all. By the time of the interview, Joe had moved out of his mother's house on Oak Beach and moved into another of his mother's houses in West Islip. After his careless escapades led to a young woman going missing, his mother had to put her Oak Beach home up for sale. Originally, the house went on the market for $439,000. Once the gated community became fodder for headlines in the Long Island Serial Killer case, property values plummeted. The asking price was reduced to $399,999, then again to $375,000.
While speaking with Kolker, Brewer practically bragged about never being a suspect in the case, although he admitted that he was briefly a person of interest. According to his retelling, as soon as he ran to the police himself it was clear that he had nothing to do with it. He seemed to be in very high spirits as he spoke with the author. All smiles and chuckles from the man who was about to drop a bomb in the middle of his interview.
He alleged to know something very big about the case, but would not say exactly what. He remained purposefully vague as he spoke of many people having involvement, some of which were friends of his. He made the comment that by the end of this, they would "have a lot of pie on their face." Even if guilty, he insisted that these people would never tell more than he had.
The biggest laugh of all was elicited from the oddest question. Why did Shannan call 911 that night? He rambled for a minute about the most obvious answer being the easiest. He scared her. As he put it, he must have threatened her. Brewer insisted that if the 911 call was ever released, he would be proven as the voice of reason. While I wouldn't refer to him as a voice of reason, he didn't seem to be concerned that she was clearly on the phone with 911, either. Both Micheal Pak and Joe Brewer could see that she was on the phone and could hear the operator speaking and never tried to end the call.
When asked about Shannan having a bad reaction to drugs, Brewer made it very clear that he had never said anything like that. Trying to make himself seem like the nice guy, he waxed poetic about how he talked to Shannan and got to know her in their short time together that night. He talked about her as though he'd known her for years, calling her a sweet girl and claiming to know her as a person. He made mentions of her rough life and said that he got the feeling she had been thrown into her line of work. Then, he spoke of the compassion he had for her having to take care of so many people.
While there is more of this interview to be read in the book, this is enough to show how he strangely bounces back and forth between knowing something, and nothing at all. He mentions having a theory he doesn't want to share right after claiming to have more pieces of the puzzle than anyone else. Reading his interview almost made my head spin. It also made me wonder if he really knows more, or if he's just playing it up for more interviews. One thing that can be said for sure is that among the cast of Oak Beach characters, Joe Brewer is definitely right up there with Hackett. Equally as strange, albeit in his own way, and just as suspicious.
In the years since the publication of Lost Girls, the entire Suffolk County police department landed right in the middle of an outrageous scandal. Their highest-ranking uniformed officer was brought to his knees by a federal corruption probe. Chief James Burke had long been the subject of scrutiny when he was finally charged with beating up a man who had stolen a duffel bag from his SUV. He took steps to cover up his crime, but clearly he didn't take enough.
It was found that Burke had purposefully kept the FBI from the Long Island Serial Killer investigation for as long as he could. Likely to keep the feds from catching a whiff of what he was up to. Ever since this break, the former chief has become a new favorite suspect for internet sleuths and armchair detectives enthusiastically combing over the case. He's been accused of attending Joe Brewer's parties and many have speculated that he was present the night Shannan Gilbert went missing. Many in the public have outright accused him of being the Long Island Serial Killer. The theory has become so prevalent that Billy Jensen even released his own series in which he dives deep into it. It can be found on Discovery+ under the title Long Island Serial Killer. Through Jensen's investigation, a lot of suspicious information was uncovered about the public's latest suspect.
Robert Kolker does a much better job of covering such a large, unsolved case in his book. I highly recommend reading Lost Girls if this three-part post has sparked any interest in the case. In three parts, I've really only managed to scratch the surface, while still detailing the identified victims' lives as much as possible.
As much as I would love to say there's been an arrest, or at the very least a list of suspects to go through, there is no such information in this case. The investigation is ongoing and the families are still left without answers. Twelve years after Shannan Gilbert went missing and sparked the investigation of the century, the person, or people involved are still walking free. Many may argue that these women brought this terrible fate upon themselves. The fact of the matter is that pure circumstance is the only thing standing between those that are better off, and desperation. Once circumstances become difficult, we find out what lengths we'll really go to in order to see the ones we love taken care of. Until you've been forced to find out what you'll do to pay the bills, you really can't judge the choices of another that's only trying to get by.