Suffolk County Police released three 911 calls Friday from the moments leading up to the mysterious 2010 death of Shannon Gilbert — a Craigslist escort whose body was found on Oak Beach.
Her disappearance more than a decade ago touched off an area-wide manhunt that eventually led to an unexpected and grisly discovery: human remains of another ten people spread out across a swath of reedy shoreline — the likely dumping ground for a what police believe is a serial killer who has evaded authorities for decades.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, police officials said they don’t believe Gilbert herself was murdered, despite some similarities with other victims, an autopsy report that indicated she may have been stranged, and disturbing audio in the newly-released 911 call.
They suggest instead she ran off into the marshy wetlands near Oak Beach, where she’d been visiting a client who got lost and never made it out alive — a position disputed by lawyers for Gilbert’s family.
“Shannon Gilbert’s death is not consistent with Shannon being the victim of violence or a violence offender,” said Lieutenant Detective Kevin Beyrer, in a pre-recorded message also released Friday explaining the 911 calls. “The prevailing opinion is that Shannon’s death, while tragic, was not a murder and is most likely an accident.”
But the newly-released 22-minute-long phone call Gilbert herself made to a 911 operator on the night of her disappearance offers chilling details of the last minutes the young woman was seen or heard from alive.
“They’re going to kill me,” Gilbert says 14 minutes into the recording, where the operator was repeatedly trying to get more information on the 23-year-old’s whereabouts. At times Gilbert’s voice is clear and close to the microphone, but at others her voice is muffled, or disappears entirely, overtaken by rustling wind. Another time she lets out a piercing scream.
“Somebody’s after me,” she says. “Why are you guys doing this to me…Mike stop, stop.”
Investigators determined that on May 1, 2010, Gilbert, a Jersey City sex worker, was driven by Michael Pak from Manhattan to meet a client, Joseph Brewer, at his home at the Oak Beach Association on the Long Island Coast. Officials said Gilbert started acting “irrational” and Brewer called Pak to come pick her up, but she soon fled the home on foot.
Two other Oak Beach residents called the police in the moments that followed, describing the frantic young woman and asking for police to come help, according to audio recordings also released Friday. Caller Gus Coletti, who lived five houses away from Brewer, reported a “young girl running around screaming and there’s some guy trying to follow her.”
Soon after, Barbara Brennan, whose home was around the bend several houses away, called 911 to say Gilbert was at her door.
“Some woman is knocking at my door,” she said. “She says she’s in danger. I’m not letting her in.”
Officials said Gilbert disappeared soon after that. Both Pak and Brewer cooperated with investigators and were determined not to have been involved in Gilbert’s death, officials said. Her remains were found in the marshy field adjacent to Brennan’s home in 2011 — a year and a half after she disappeared.
John Ray, an attorney for Gilbert’s family, sued the Suffolk county police to release the 911 calls and a judge ordered they be turned over to her family in 2020. Earlier this year, Suffolk County Police Chief Rodney Harrison, who stepped down from the NYPD last year, had said he was considering releasing the calls to the public at large.
Ray and Gilbert’s family maintain Gilbert was murdered and point to a 2016 autopsy report the family commissioned, among other evidence.
“The press conference was an attempt by police to spin the same false story as to Shannon’s death,” Ray told Gothamist. “This is a prostitute who shouts several times that she’s about to be murdered, ends up in two struggles and screams blood-curdling screams and then ends up dead in a marsh. You might say that perhaps the police have the wrong story.”
While Gilbert’s whereabouts remained unknown for months, investigators turned their focus to Gilgo Beach just west of Oak Beach. In December of 2010, a canine unit found the remains of 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy and within days they’d found the bodies of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, Amber Lynn Costello, 27, and Megan Waterman, 22. All four women, like Gilbert, had worked as escorts and listed their services on Craigslist, officials said.
The search of the area continued for months, leading investigators to six additional victims. They found partial remains of four other women whose dismembered bodies had initially been discovered in other parts of Long Island, as well as two new victims who have yet to be identified, including an Asian man and a toddler. Authorities estimate their deaths spanned from 1996 to 2010.
The Gilgo case remained inactive for years, but former Police Chief Geraldine Hart, who took over in 2020, and then Harrison who followed her, put a new emphasis on the killings, starting up a website to release new evidence in the case and solicit tips .
Suffolk County is offering promising rewards of between $25,000 to $50,000 for information on the killings. You can call in tips at 1-800-220-TIPS or report them online.