In the new Netflix feature film “Lost Girls,” Dean Winters plays a brash cop quick to dismiss the concerns of a distraught mom whose daughter, a sex worker, disappeared after making a frantic call to 911.
With eyebrow-raising one-liners such as “Why don’t you let the police men do the police work, huh, honey?” and “I mean, honestly, who spends this much time looking for a missing hooker?” Winters embodies the role of a chauvinistic cop seemingly unbothered by the disappearance of 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert.
But was Winters' character based on a real person in the new film?
“Lost Girls” is indeed inspired by true events and tells the story of Mari Gilbert, Shannan’s mother, who stops at nothing to bring attention to her daughter’s case, whether she's calling police dozens of times, driving to the private Oak Beach community where her daughter was last seen alive to interrogate residents, or speaking out about her daughter’s case to the media.
But while many aspects of the film mirror the real-life drama that began in 2010 when Shannan first disappeared, Winters' character is not based on any one police officer.
Instead, his character is a composite character, Winters explained at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The charcater is named Dean Bostick who is quick to dismiss Shannan’s case and the subsequent investigation into a string of other women’s deaths.
Shortly after Shannan disappeared in May 2010, authorities discovered the bodies of four other women along Ocean Parkway. By 2011, as many as 10 human remains, many of whom were believed to be sex workers, had been discovered in the area — launching the still-unsolved search for what some have dubbed the Long Island Serial Killer.
While Winters played a composite character in the new film premiering Friday, March 13, there was one real-life cop on the case who would later come under scrutiny, though.
In December 2016, a 30-year-old escort identified as Leanne came forward in a news conference to say that former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke had paid her for sex during a house party in the same area where Shannan Gilbert had disappeared, according to the Long Island Press.
Leanne said she saw Burke at a cocaine-filled party in Oak Beach in June 2011, claiming in a sworn statement that she “observed [Burke] pull a woman by her hair to the ground.” She saw him again, she said, two months later at a party at the same house.
“We attempted to have sex together in the bathroom there, but Jimmy Burke was unable to consummate the sex act,” she said in the statement, according to the paper. “This made him extremely angry. He insisted upon oral sex, which was given. He then called me a whore.”
John Ray, an attorney who represented Shannan Gilbert’s family, was also present at the press conference and said it was the “first time” Burke had been connected to the area and prostitution.
However, Burke’s attorney Joseph Conway called the allegations “more tabloid journalism than credible news” and said that any credible information about the case should be turned over to law enforcement rather than be shared in a news conference.
“Any claims or allegations that James Burke had any involvement in the Gilgo Beach murders is completely outrageous,” the statement said. “Mr. Burke was not only the highest ranking Suffolk County Police Officer but also one of the most decorated officers in the history of the department.”
He called the claims made by Leanne false and slanderous.
A spokesperson for the Suffolk County Police Department told Oxygen.com that they do not comment on suspects and did not confirm or deny whether Burke had been looked at in the case.
At the time the allegations were made, Burke was serving a 46-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to beating up a handcuffed suspect who had stolen a gym bag from his SUV.
The suspect, Christopher Loeb, had reportedly taken the bag — which contained Burke’s gun, sex toys, cigars and porn —from Burke’s vehicle, according to The New York Post. Loeb was arrested at his home in Dec. 2012 with the bag and other stolen property from “numerous vehicles.”
After learning of the bust, federal authorities said Burke went to the police station where he found Loeb “handcuffed, hunched over and manacled to the floor” and began beating him.
“Burke shook Loeb’s head violently, punched him in the head and body and attempted to knee Loeb,” according to court papers obtained by the news outlet.
Loeb was unable to fight back but had allegedly called Burke a “pervert,” only angering Burke further, The Post reports. “Burke then went out of control, screaming and cursing at Loeb and assaulting him until a detective finally said, ‘Boss, that’s enough, that’s enough,’” the court papers said.
Burke finished his federal prison sentence in 2019, according to Newsday.
Robert Kolker, who wrote the book “Lost Girls” which served as inspiration for the new feature film, told Oxygen.com that Leanne’s claims against Burke have not been able to be verified.
“Nothing happened after that press conference and it’s not clear how credible that person was,” he said.
Even if her claims were true, Kolker said it would still be “several steps away” from linking Burke to the case.
Kolker believes Winters’ character in the feature film was designed to “channel” cops like Burke to “bring that flavor to his character.”
The Suffolk County Police Department — who handled the search for Shannan Gilbert — has also been plagued in the past by corruption scandals, Kolker said.
When Burke was arrested, the then-District Attorney Tom Spota and another fellow prosecutor were indicted of federal charges of obstruction of justice and witness tampering after federal prosecutors said the pair had “numerous meetings and telephone conversations” where they “agreed to conceal Burke’s role in the assault,” according to The Washington Post.
Spota was found guilty of the charges in 2019, according to The New York Times.
Richard Donoghue, the United States attorney in the Eastern District of New York, said the convictions of Spota and fellow prosecutor Christopher McPartland “make it clear that the days of Long Island’s good old boy networks combining politics, power and policing to benefit a select few, at the expense of the taxpaying public, are dead and gone.”
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