Since late 2010, the famous Long Island Beach became the dumping ground of a serial killer. His victims were all prostitutes, in their 20’s and murdered and wrapped in burlap.This woman, also a prostitute , was found dead on the same beach not far from some of the shallow graves. She was not considered a victim of the serial killer. Her death was mysterious and the manner in which she died remained questionable for days after she was found – not the signature of this serial killer.
Long Island – New York – Some time after midnight on May 1, 2010, Shannan Gilbert, an online escort on her way to a job, drove past the place where the bones of four of the Long Island serial killer’s victims lay hidden in the brush. She had no idea what she drove past and no idea that soon her own death would be forever tied to the notorious case.
Gilbert was attractive with chestnut-coloured hair with blonde streaks. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and struggled with depression and mood swings. Perhaps this was why she had turned to selling her services online as an escort. Respectable employment may have been difficult. Then again, sex with multiple partners can also be a symptom of the mental illness. Gilbert’s family insisted she was trying to make a better life for herself. “She wanted to be a singer, an actress. She was pursuing that. And she was also goin’ to school to be a writer.” The latter was what Gilbert told her family. It’s unlikely the woman was attending school. When her sister Sherre Gilbert asked Gilbert if she was afraid of meeting with strangers, Gilbert indicated she wasn’t afraid anything bad would happen to her. A vain hope, it would seem.
Former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone, spoke about the sole 911 23-minute call Gilbert made to local police. “She’s saying, ‘There’s someone after me; there’s someone after me,'” he said. “It’s a girl who clearly believes … she’s in harm’s way.” She didn’t state who she was afraid of or where she had been. One thing was for certain: Gilbert was utterly terrified. And with good reason.
Another Craigslist Killer
Two male voices were heard in the background: Gilbert’s driver and the man who hired her, Joseph Brewer. Gilbert had met Brewer through Craigslist. As Brewer is heard trying to get her to leave his house, Varrone stated, “He either approaches her or touches her and … you hear her scream out….It almost seems like she’s in some type of psychotic state or in some type of drug-induced stupor.” Still on the 911 call, Gilbert fled the house and ran towards the nearby home of 86-year-old Gus Colletti, a retired insurance fraud investigator and resident of Oak Beach.
“It was like 5:00 in the morning,” Colletti recalled. “I was in the bathroom shaving. … All of a sudden, I heard screaming out here and banging on that door. Yelling, ‘Help me, help me, help me….And I said to her … ‘What’s the matter?’ She wouldn’t answer me. She just kept staring at me and going, ‘Help me, help me, help me….I reached over and grabbed that phone, dialed 911….When I said to her, ‘I called the police. Sit down in that chair. They’re on their way,’ She just looked at me and she ran right out the door.”
Varrone later stated, “she’s just staring at him and not acting rationally.” So would anyone who was in a dreadful state of panic – or who was under the influence of drugs or was psychotic and any of these could have been true about Gilbert.
After she reached Colletti’s, an Asian man named Michael Pak drove a black SUV around the corner seemingly towards Colletti’s house and stopped. Pak, Gilbert’s driver, was a middle-aged man with a pot belly and a wavy mess of dark hair. Colletti saw Gilbert hiding underneath the boat in his yard. “All of a sudden, she took off, out from under the boat … and he took off after her. And I yelled to him to stop. And he didn’t and he followed her around that way.” It was now 5:21 am. Gilbert ran frantically towards the home of another Oak Beach resident, Barbara Brennan. Gilbert ignored Brennan when she called out to her and instead struggled to dial a number on her cell phone. When police arrived at Brennan’s home at 5:40 a.m., Shannan Gilbert had vanished. Colletti stressed it was when he mentioned police to Gilbert that she bolted from his house and tripped down his stairs. Police assumed she had left the area with her driver, Michael Pak. In other words, they figured Gilbert was fine. They figured quite incorrectly.
So far, let’s analyze what we know about these bizarre facts. Shannan Gilbert, prostitute, went to the home of one Joseph Brewer for a paid sexual service. Her Asian driver, Michael Pak, drove her to the residence where Gilbert placed a frantic 911 call pleading that “they’re trying to kill me.” The woman ran from the residence and managed to reach the home of Gus Colletti who told her he would call police. Gilbert then ran from his house and hid under his boat on his property. On seeing Pak driving down the road, Gilbert left her hiding place and ran to the residence of Barbara Brennan who also called 911. Once again , Gilbert must have run from Brennan’s residence.
My initial suspicion was that Pak and Brewer were indeed trying to kill Gilbert, perhaps as part of a sexual act for Brewer. These two were the “they” who were trying to kill Gilbert. My guess is that Brewer probably convinced Pak to kill Gilbert for a good sum of money and when Pak turned on her, Gilbert was shocked and terrified. She believed she couldn’t trust anyone that evening, Colletti and Brennan included. What if they turned against her too? I turned out to be completely wrong.
Joseph Brewer’s version of the evening made little sense. He admitted that he solicited Shannan online, but not for sex. The Gilberts’ attorney, John Ray, disagreed. “So why did he pick, you know, a sex worker if he didn’t want sex?” Ray asked. Brewer claimed he doesn’t know what set Gilbert off or why she made that call to 911. He stated adamantly that her fears were imagined. Brewer insisted he never harmed Shannan. He wanted her out of his house and brought the driver in to get her to leave. The last time he saw Gilbert, she ran out of his house toward his neighbor’s. Brewer and Pak both agreed to take a polygraph and both passed. Who knew?
Dr. C. Peter Hackett
“There’s nothing I can add that the police don’t already know,” said Dr. C. Peter Hackett, an Oak Beach resident and retired emergency services doctor. He became involved by calling Gilbert’s mother, Mari, on May 3, 2010, two days after Gilbert went missing. Hackett ran a halfway house for people who wanted to get off the streets. Later he denied that he had made the phone call. Dr. Hackett steadfastly denied to the media that he ever saw Gilbert.
Actually the oddball named Hackett was one of many kooks who come forward with supposed information when a tragedy is released by the press. Varrone stated Hackett was not a suspect in Shannan’s death because the calls he made to the Gilbert family were not out of character. “He’s an individual who likes to get involved,” Varrone “Some call him a storyteller and an exaggerator. We certainly believe that he may have called to offer his assistance.”
Gilbert’s remains weren’t found for seven months in a marsh. Most likely Pak intercepted Gilbert, or made a good effort at trying. Perhaps she simply escaped or he might have caught and killed her. They ruled nothing out. The pathologists’ report was also odd. He stated that she had tripped and, unable to become mobile again, succumbed “to the elements.” That meant she may have dry drowned, or drowned, in the marsh. Her hyoid bone, located in the neck, was slightly damaged. However in the case of manual strangulation, the pathologist explained the damage would have been more obvious. The only definite information police could offer about Gilbert’s death was that it was not linked to the murdered women who were found in the marsh where Gilbert had expired.“He’s not going to drown this woman then kill the others so differently. It makes no sense.”
Purely by coincidence, at the same time that Gilbert’s remains were discovered in the marsh, the bodies of 4 other women in their 20’s, all wrapped in burlap, were found as well. Their murders however were distinctly removed from Gilbert’s. The first body police discovered was thought to belong to Gilbert but the pathologist informed authorities this wasn’t the case. That was a shock. The search team had stumbled over the bodies of Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Costello, Megan Waterman and Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Gilbert.All of the women were online escorts and none of their families were aware of it.
Waterman graduated from beauty school and moved to New York City to work as a hairdresser. Police brushed off Lynne’s mother when she couldn’t contact her daughter. They told her “she’s a hooker, she’s a prostitute, she’s an escort.” It would be 18 months before Waterman’s decomposed remains would be found on Gilgo Beach.
Costello was 27 years old when she met her killer. In a foreshadowing of her own death, she told her roommate “I’d be better off dead.” Costello was a drug addict her sold her body for money. Costello’s family was unconcerned and didn’t file a missing person’s report.
Waterman was only 22 and had a 4-year-old daughter when she was murdered. She went to a Holiday Inn to meet a client and was never seen alive again.
Barnes, 25, was a desperate single mother of two children. She was the first of the four missing women to disappear in 2007. She badly needed money to feed and care for her children and she turned to prostitution to get it. The little family was being evicted because Barnes couldn’t pay the rent. Her sister, Melissa Cann, wasn’t taken seriously by police. They told her Barnes might have wanted to leave and didn’t care about her kids.
After finding the remains of these 4 women, police found the remains of 6 more. The body count of the killer continues to rise. 11 bodies were found within the same area of Long Island Beach and only one victim, being Gilbert, was believed not to have been a victim of the serial killer.
Ultimately, Gilbert’s death hasn’t been solved. Her manner of death remains a curiosity. And the Long Island serial killer is still on the loose. It is all a frightening mystery that is ongoing to this day.
Journalist Bob Kolker wrote a book about the murdered women entitled” Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.”