One of the big mysteries of Netflix’s new Lost Girls documentary is exactly what happened to Shannan Gilbert. Her mother Mari Gilbert was still advocating for her daughter until the day she died, just months after an independent autopsy reported that Shannan might have been killed. Here’s a look at what we know about Shannan Gilbert’s cause of death.
Shannan Gilbert went missing after a terrifying 911 call in May 2010. In 2011, her body was found. But before her body was found, multiple other women’s bodies were found on Ocean Parkway between Gilgo and Oak Beach and authorities began to suspect a serial killer had been at work in the area. Many of the women, including Shannan Gilbert, had worked as prostitutes.
At First, Authorities Thought Shannan Gilbert Had Drowned
Shannan Gilbert’s story is terrifying. Gilbert, 24, had struggled with depression after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, CBS News reported. The day she went missing, she called 911 from inside the client’s home around 4:51 a.m. She said someone was after her. “They’re trying to kill me,” she said on the call. Her driver, Michael Pak, and the man who hired her, Joseph Brewer, could be heard talking in the background of her call, CBS noted. Brewer was telling her to leave his home.
She didn’t say where she was. In fact, Dominick Varrone, the former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives, told CBS News that she didn’t sound coherent but she did sound scared. She went to a neighbor’s home, Gus Colletti, at 5 a.m. He heard someone yelling “help me!” and opened the door. He said she just kept saying “help me” but wouldn’t answer his questions. He call 911 and told her to come inside and sit and wait. But she ran away instead and hid under his boat outside, while her driver Pak drove slowly outside.
Later, she went to another neighbor’s home. Barbara Brennan said she was there about 5:21 a.m. and knocked on her door. Brennan called 911 but she ran away again. After that, no one heard from her again.
In fact, it was a year later in 2011 when her body was found, The New York Times reported. She was found on Jones Beach Island in December 2011, near where her jeans, purse, shoes, and phone had been found days before.
Officials at first believed she had tried to walk through marshland and had drowned. The county medical examiner said her cause of death was undetermined, The New York Times reported. Police did not believe her death was connected to the possible serial killer in the area, CBS New York reported.
A Private Autopsy Suggested She Might Have Been Murdered & the Cause of Death Is Now ‘Inconclusive’
Then in 2016, a private, independent autopsy reported a different finding, The New York Times reported. Dr. Michael M. Baden conducted the autopsy and said she might have been murdered. He said the cause of death could not be determined, in agreement with an earlier finding. However, he also said that the autopsy showed some findings that were consistent with strangulation.
He said other things could also have caused her death, but homicide could not be ruled out. He said the larynx was missing and a hyoid bone was missing “horns,” which might happen in the case of strangulation.
On January 2020, the Suffolk police commissioner said authorities still did not believe that Shannan’s death was connected to the other deaths in the area, NBC New York reported. But police did change Gilbert’s cause of death to inconclusive rather than accidental in January, Daily Freeman reported. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said investigators were “not necessarily certain” if Shannan was killed.