Years after her body was discovered in an Oak Beach marsh, Shannan Gilbert’s family has released the results of an independent autopsy, raising new questions about how she may have died. For years, police have insisted that Gilbert drowned after becoming disoriented in a drug-induced panic on that fateful May morning in 2010. But a new autopsy conducted by Dr. Michael Badan released yesterday reveals it’s possible she was murdered, just as her family has always suspected.
Just before 5:00 a.m. on May 1, 2010, Gilbert placed a panicked phone call to 911 dispatchers. Breathless, she told the operator that someone was trying to kill her. The adult escort had been at an Oak Beach residence that night, but neighbors reported seeing her screaming and banging on the doors of several houses in the area before running out of sight. She was never seen alive again. No one imagined that the search for Gilbert would turn up evidence of a serial killer in the area. Over the next nineteen months, investigators found ten other bodies in the Oak Beach marshes and announced they were actively looking for a serial killer lurking in the community. Five of the victims have never been identified. Gilbert’s remains were finally discovered in December of 2011, but authorities were quick to announce that she was not connected to the other victims, despite the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death. Why?
Yesterday, the Gilbert family held a press conference with their attorney, John Ray, to release Dr. Badan’s autopsy results to the public. “There is no evidence whatsoever that Shannan Gilbert died a natural death,” Ray told the media. “There is no evidence whatsoever that Shannan Gilbert died from an overdose of drugs and there is no evidence whatsoever that Shannan Gilbert died by drowning.” Since Gilbert was discovered lying face-up, Dr. Badan concluded it was very unlikely she’d died from drowning in the marshy area. Additionally, it appears Gilbert could have been strangled to death. His report states
“[a]lmost all of the skeletal bones were recovered and appeared normal. There was no evidence of trauma. However, the larynx was missing and only the body of the hyoid bone was found; the two greater horns of that neck bone were missing. These structures, the larynx and the hyoid bone, are often fractured during homicidal manual strangulation. My examination of the recovered body of the hyoid bone, after it had been anthropologically de-fleshed, showed a roughness at the margins where the separated bones had been attached… There is insufficient information to determine a definite cause of death, but the autopsy findings are consistent with strangulation.”
The family is demanding that police treat Shannan’s death as a homicide and include her case in the investigation searching for the serial killer. “If they catch the person who did this to Shannon, they will catch the killer of the other victims and stop a serial killer,” Marci Gilbert, Shannan’s mother, told the media yesterday.
Last month, Suffolk Deputy Police Commissioner Tim Sini announced the FBI would be stepping in to help with the Long Island Serial Killer case. The news came as a relief to many who have been following the case, since it has been reported former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke has tried to keep the FBI away from the case at all costs. But Burke has been in federal prison since December 2015 after assaulting a suspect in 2012 and trying to cover it up.
If additional evidence in the LISK case has been found, police have remained tight-lipped on releasing any new details to the public. There has also been no mention of John Bittrolff since his arrest in 2014 for the brutal murders of three prostitutes in the 1990s. If you recall my blog post from last July, there does seem to be a connection between Bittrolff and the Long Island Serial Killer–torsos from two of the LISK victims were recovered in the Manorville pine barrens, a mere three miles from Bittrolff’s home.
Whatever happens, one thing is clear: the case has not been solved and all of the victims, including Shannan Gilbert, deserve justice. Will Dr. Badan’s autopsy report be the spark needed to reignite the case? Will the FBI’s involvement finally uncover the truth and put the community at ease? Or do we still have many years left of waiting for justice to be served?