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The upcoming Netflix film "Lost Girls” depicts the tragic death of Shannan Gilbert and her mother Mari Gilbert's subsequent quest for the truth.
Shannan was a 24-year-old sex worker who was vanished on May 1, 2010 while seeing a client out on Oak Beach, Long Island. Before she disappeared, multiple panicked calls were made to 911. Gilbert estate lawyer John Ray told Oxygen.com one call was from Gilbert's client Joseph Brewer, two were from neighbors and one – which is believed to be over twenty minutes long – was from Shannan herself. In that call, she allegedly screamed “They’re trying to kill me!” according to PIX11. It's not clear who she was referring to.
As investigators struggled to locate Shannan for over a year, authorities made a number of other grim discoveries. The remains of 10 other people were found along Gilgo Beach. Four of the victims, who were strangled before their bodies were wrapped up in burlap sacks, were later identified as sex workers.
As the number of bodies piled up, officials speculated that they may have a serial killer at large, ABC News reported. The unidentified killer is often referred to by the monikers The Long Island Serial Killer (or LISK) and the Gilgo Beach Killer.
Several other bodies found around Oak Beach and Ocean Parkway have not officially been linked to the string of murders now known as the Gilgo Beach murders. Oak Beach and Gilgo Beach are located just miles apart on a thin peninsula strip, connected by Ocean Parkway.
Shannan's body was ultimately discovered on Dec. 13, 2011 when her remains were found in an Oak Beach marsh half a mile from where she disappeared. Her clothing, cellphone and purse were found a quarter a mile away just a few days earlier. Police have claimed she died of natural causes and officials had theorized at the time that Shannan may have been the victim of an accidental drowning, according to NBC New York. However a medical examiner ruled the cause of death inconclusive.
Ray told Oxygen.com he disputes the natural cause claim and believes that the 911 calls could potentially hold evidence which points to foul play. He said Mari wanted to hear the recordings but she will never get that chance, as she was attacked and killed in 2016 by her daughter Sarra Gilbert.
Ray has been trying to obtain the 911 audio for years. It began with a Freedom of Information Act request to investigators in 2012, which was denied. He told Oxygen.com that the Suffolk Police Department has put in sworn statements saying they can’t give up the audio because the clips are subject to an active criminal investigation.
“Police maintained that Shannan was not a homicide victim and therefore there was no need to investigate further,” Ray told Oxygen.com. “No active investigation.”
A judge initially sided with investigators but State Supreme Court Justice Sanford Neil Berland backed Ray in 2018, and gave the Suffolk County Police Department 20 days to hand over both the recordings and transcripts of the 911 calls.
However, Suffolk police have since appealed that ruling. When questioned by a reporter at a recent press conference on the case, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the 911 calls are part of an ongoing investigation and noted that it’s unclear if Gilbert died of natural causes or if she was killed in a criminal act. However, Hart went on to say Gilbert does not match the pattern of the other homicides. Ray argued at his own presser, held earlier that day, that the 911 calls should be released if Gilbert is not considered a victim of foul play.
“There is an automatic injunction against enforcing the [court order] decision until the appeal is over so they knew that,” Ray told Oxygen.com.
Ray said the courts have until late March to decide if they side with the appeal or with the order to give over the tapes.
Ray went on to say, “If there’s nothing of significance criminally, on the tapes, we have a family that wants to hear her voice and we have a civil reason to have the tape. There’s no reason to not give them up unless they are important criminally. If they are, then there’s either something on the tape they don’t want us to hear, maybe evidence or they erased the tape or doctored it. Otherwise, there can’t be a reason to hold them back.”
The Suffolk Police Department has not responded to the specific allegations made by Ray which Oxygen.com has brought to them. Officials did tell Oxygen.com, "as we previously stated, the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner ruled Shannan Gilbert’s cause of death as inconclusive. We continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding her death and will abide by the court’s decision regarding the release of the 911 recordings."
“Lost Girls” will begin streaming on Netflix on March 13.
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