After a dozen years, police on Long Island Friday released 911 audio of a New Jersey woman whose mysterious disappearance in 2010 led authorities to discover 10 other bodies.
Shannan Gilbert, of Jersey City, was a sex worker on Craigslist when she vanished during the early morning of May 1, 2010.
Suffolk County police, which has fought against releasing more than 21 minutes of 911 audio from Gilbert on the day of her disappearance, said Friday it was releasing 911 calls linked to her disappearance because they would not compromise ongoing investigations.
Suffolk Homicide Section Commanding Officer Kevin Beyrer said in a recorded video played during a press conference, Gilbert traveled from Manhattan to visit a client, Joseph Brewer. She was driven by her driver, Michael Pak, who was also her security.
Gilbert's emotions on the released audio bounce from calm, scared to hysterical, at times.
She initially called 911 from inside Brewer's home in Oak Beach, shortly before 5 a.m., Beyrer said.
"There is somebody after me," she tells the dispatcher multiple times. "Somebody's after me — please," Gilbert said.
When asked by the dispatcher where she is, Gilbert couldn't specify, but said she is on Long Island.
At times during the 911 call, you can hear Brewer and Pak speaking, they are trying to get her out of Brewer's home.
"Come on, let's go. We'll all go outside," Brewer is heard saying.
Gilbert said, "Please, get me out of here, Mike."
Brewer then runs from the home and begins screaming and reaches a neighbor, Gus Coletti, police said.
"Is somebody after you? Don't get yourself hurt. Where are you going?" Coletti is heard saying.
He called 911 and said, "There is a young girl about 14 years old running around screaming."
Gilbert then ran from Coletti's home and tried to get help from another neighbor, Barbara Brennan, who called 911, police said.
"Some woman is knocking on my door ... She says she's in danger. ... I'm not letting her in," Brennan says.
Beyrer said although Gilbert's exact cause of death is undetermined, investigators have consulted with the FBI, and the FBI consulted with psychiatrists who have reviewed Gilbert's 911 calls.
“Based on the evidence, the facts, and the totality of the circumstances, the prevailing opinion is that Shannan Gilbert’s death, while tragic, was not a murder and is most likely an accident,” he said.
An autopsy conducted by a private pathologist who was hired by Gilbert's family concluded there was insufficient evidence to determine her cause of death, Beyrer said, but the pathologist's findings were consistent with homicide and strangulation.
In the video, Beyrer explains that Gilbert apparently wandered into a brushy marshland in which reeds can grow up to 12-feet high.
"One can not tell where the highway is or where the bay is," he said. Some of the brush is impenetrable. Gilbert's body was discovered north of a trench, about 3/4 of a mile from where she was last seen, Beyrer said.
The search for Gilbert in 2010, led to the discovery of the remains of 10 other people, most of them sex workers like Gilbert.
Suffolk County, New York, police fought a judge’s order to turn over the 22-minute 911 call she made.
Department lawyers argued that releasing the tape would jeopardize an ongoing investigation. John Ray, the attorney for Gilbert’s estate, has said police’s refusal to release the audio was suspicious.
“The public really has a right to know to what is on those tapes as well as Shannan’s family,” Ray said in 2019. “It will generate witnesses who are in the public who know what happened and perhaps will come forward.”
Suffolk County Police launched a search, and in Dec. 2010, a K-9 unit found the first of 10 bodies buried near Gilgo and Oak beaches. The dead included eight women and a man wearing women’s clothing — all suspected prostitutes, according to police — as well as a female infant.
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It wasn’t until December 2011 that investigators discovered Gilbert’s remains in a remote marsh near Oak Beach, about a half-mile from where she was last seen.
A medical examiner’s autopsy proved inconclusive. Then-Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said at the time that investigators believe she drowned or succumbed to the elements.
“She traveled at least half a mile, three-quarters of a mile, on foot through that muck,” Dormer said at a news conference. “It would be very easy to get exhausted and fall down and not be able to move any further.”
Gilbert’s family later released the results of an independent autopsy that determined injuries to her neck were “consistent with homicidal strangulation.”
The lead detective in the case has argued in court filings that the department is still in the midst of an “open, active and ongoing” criminal investigation in the death of Gilbert. The detective, Patrick Portela, noted similarities in the sets of bodies that were found in the course of the search for Gilbert and that four of the dead women were escorts who, like Gilbert, used Craigslist and Backpage to advertise their services.
The disclosure of the recordings, Portela said in court papers, would “compromise confidential information and interfere with and frustrate the Suffolk County Police Department’s efforts” in the investigation.
The police were forced to make the case for withholding a recording of Gilbert’s 911 call after her family filed a lawsuit against a Long Island doctor claiming he had opened his home to Gilbert but failed to keep her safe. The doctor has denied the allegations, and much of the lawsuit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations.
A judge had ordered Suffolk County police to turn over the tape of the call, as well as others made by neighbors around the time of Gilbert’s disappearance. In an October 2018 ruling, Judge Sanford Berland said the police department failed to provide “the slightest intimation” of how or why giving Gilbert’s family access to the tapes would “compromise any aspect of their protracted investigation.”
Six years after Gilbert’s disappearance, a new tragedy befell her family. Gilbert’s younger sister, Sarra, fatally stabbed their mother, Mari Gilbert, in July 2016. Sarra was convicted of murder in April 2017 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.