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Dr. Charles Peter Hackett was once a “big shot” in his private Oak Beach neighborhood—but after he called the mother of a missing escort, Hackett found himself linked to an unsolved Long Island murder mystery.
Hackett — the former head of the Suffolk County Emergency Medical Services — had become an integral part of the private, secluded Oak Beach community by the time 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, a Craigslist sex worker, disappeared in May 2010 after meeting a client in the community.
“He was sort of the local big shot in Oak Beach,” Robert Kolker, the author of “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery” told Oxygen.com of Hackett. “He raised a family there, was their emergency services guy, their security guy. Anytime there was anything going on he was helpful.”
But he would make a call to Shannan Gilbert's mother that she alleges linked him to the night she vanished.
Shannan was last seen running on the streets of Oak Beach after leaving her client Joseph Brewer’s home. It’s not clear what triggered Gilbert’s fear and a 23-minute call she placed to 911 has never been publicly released. Law enforcement sources have said in the past that Shannan allegedly told the dispatcher “they’re trying to kill me,” during the call, Fox News reports.
Police later responded to the neighborhood after several other residents had called 911 to report the distraught woman, but there was no trace of Shannan when they arrived.
Her disappearance and Mari's efforts to find out what happened to her daughter are the focus of the new Netflix feature film "Lost Girls" starring Amy Ryan as the desperate mother who casts suspicion on Hackett (played by Reed Birney).
When Hackett — who is portrayed in the film by Reed Birney — called Mari just a few days later, she claimed the doctor told her he had interacted with Shannan the night she died.
“Upon information and belief, at all times Defendant Hackett held himself out to the general public, and in particular to Shannan Gilbert and Mari Gilbert, as the owner/operator of a home for wayward females,” the lawsuit, obtained by Oxygen.com, said.
Hackett, who police have said is not a suspect, initially denied ever making the call, but later admitted to calling the Gilbert family after phone records showed he had placed two different calls in the days that followed her disappearance.
In two letters to CBS’s “48 Hours” in 2011 he denied ever seeing Shannan that night but said he had called the family to be “supportive” after getting Mari’s number from Shannan’s boyfriend and driver when the pair came to the neighborhood to look for Shannan in the days after she disappeared.
“During my conversations with them they asked that I call the family,” he wrote.
Hackett denied any contact with Shannan and denied providing any medical treatment.
Hackett said in his response to “48 Hours” that he had been at home sleeping with his wife the night Shannan disappeared.
“There’s no proof that he even saw her that night, but he did call Mari,” Kolker told Oxygen.com.
While investigators were searching for Shannan, they ultimately discovered the bodies of four 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 called the Long Island Serial Killer, according to the Associated Press.
Shannan's body was found about three miles east from the others and detectives have speculated that her death was accidental. However in an update of the case in January, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart called her cause of death "inconclusive."
Police have said that they do not consider Hackett a suspect in the killings, according to The Long Island Press.
However, Shannan’s family, who has maintained the woman's death was not an accident, believes the doctor may have had something to do with the woman's death and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hackett in 2012, which is still active today.
The lawsuit alleged Hackett took Shannan into his home in the early morning hours on the day she disappeared and gave her drugs. Due to the “control exercised” by Hackett, Shannan’s family believes she “experienced pain, suffering, anguish, agony, and knowledge and fear of her imminent death,” according to the lawsuit.
“Upon information and belief, on or about May 1, 2010, at Defendant Hackett’s aforesaid address, Defendant Hackett induced, coerced, overreached, and persuaded Shannan Gilbert to enter his aforesaid premises and to accept the aforesaid treatment and medications he provided and administered to her,” the lawsuit said.
“We allege that Dr. Peter Hackett has told others that he encountered Shannan knocking on his door on May 1, that he let her into his home and that he administered narcotics,” Ray said outside the courthouse after filing the suit according to The Long Island Press. “He used the phrase that it was ‘too late’ to help her and that he then released her.”
Shannan's body was discovered in 2011, partially clothed, in a local marsh. Her belongings — including her pocketbook, lip gloss, jeans and shoes — were discovered in the marsh about a quarter of a mile from her body, according to The Long Island Press
“According to police, she appears to have entered the marsh right behind where Peter Hackett’s house is, and her belongings were found right near his house in the marsh and then her body was found a long distance away,” Kolker told Oxygen.com.
Hackett’s attorney, James O’Rouke, has denied Hackett had anything to do with Shannan’s death and called the allegations against him contained in the lawsuit “categorically false.”
“The tragedy of this young woman’s death is only compounded by the prosecution in this civil litigation,” he told Fox News. “There is not an iota of evidence in any of this litigation.”
Over the years, many of the initial counts in the lawsuit have been removed, including the wrongful death claim that was dismissed in 2013, according to court documents The remaining claims are related to Shannan Gilbert’s pain and suffering before her death and the later emotional distress suffered by Mari Gilbert, according to court documents in the case.
Before Hackett was embroiled in the media coverage of the case, Kolker told Oxygen.com that the doctor had been a respected and active member of the remote Long Island community.
“By all accounts, he really aggressively put himself in the center of things whenever anything was going on there,” he said. “There are stories about him having a police radio and anytime there was any sort of emergency call within reach of where he lived, he would hop in and drive over to see if he could help out.”
Hackett had served as head for the Suffolk County Emergency Medical Services when the TWA Flight 800 burst into flames, killing all 230 passengers on board in 1996.
But Hackett would face criticism after he allegedly embellished his role in the investigation, Vice reports.
Shortly after Gilbert’s body was discovered, Hackett put his Oak Beach house on the market in 2012 and moved away from the area, Newsday reports. He now reportedly lives in Florida. Attempts to find current contact information for Hackett were not immediately successful.
“(The) last time I talked to him, it was seven years ago at least, and he was saying that he was basically unemployable,” Kolker told Oxygen.com.
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