Shannan Gilbert disappeared under mysterious circumstances after a peculiar night in May 2010. Witnessed by her driver and a client, as she was engaged in sex work, she was seen running into the street in a distressed state and was never spotted again. Her sudden vanishing act left no clues, leading to profound devastation for her family upon learning of her disappearance. ‘Truth and Lies: The Hunted’ explores the details surrounding her vanishing and what transpired after.
How Did Shannan Gilbert Die?
Born on October 24, 1986, Shannan Gilbert was raised with three sisters, holding the position of the eldest among Mari Gilbert’s daughters. Described as a diligent and intelligent young girl, she excelled in her studies and completed high school at the age of 16 at New Paltz High School. Reports do indicate that she had received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but she was reluctant to take her prescribed medications due to their side effects. So, following her education, she took on various odd jobs, including working at a hotel and an Applebee’s before turning to escorting and relocating to New Jersey in 2007.
Shannan then joined an escort agency, aiming to support herself financially while pursuing online courses. That’s when she came across her future live-in boyfriend Alex Diaz. This agency later closed down, yet she continued working independently. To facilitate her work and ensure her safety, She hired Michael Pak as her driver. His role involved transporting her to clients’ homes. In the early hours of May 1, 2010, around 2 a.m., Shannan and Michael arrived at the residence of a man named Joseph Brewer in Oak Beach, Long Island. Joseph had responded to an advertisement she’d posted on Craigslist, leading to the arranged meeting.
Shannan and Joseph entered the house, with Michael remaining outside. According to the latter, around 5 a.m., this client approached him and requested assistance inside. Upon entering, Michael encountered Shannan in a highly distressed state, clutching her phone. She’d dialed 911 and kept the line open while the two men attempted to soothe her. Despite their efforts to persuade her to leave safely with Michael, she declined, and so he eventually left her behind, returning to wait in the car outside.
Within a few minutes, though, Michael saw Shannan running from the house and into the street, still connected to the 911 call. She could be heard running through the neighborhood, knocking on doors for assistance. He trailed behind, but she remained agitated. Gus Coletti, one of the residents who opened his door to Shannan, also called 911 for help. Despite their attempts to calm her down, she fled again. The commotion aroused many neighbors, prompting additional calls to 911. Michael later revealed that he’d followed her for a while but then let her go, thinking she’d return to New Jersey on her own upon calming down.
However, that never happened. When the police arrived from the 911 calls, the only trace of her was a set of footprints leading toward Gilgo Beach. Witnesses mentioned seeing an SUV following her, but that was only Michael. She was not seen again after that incident. Alex Diaz, Shannan’s boyfriend, thus reported her missing around two days later.
Nevertheless, it was in December 2011 that the police made a significant discovery when they found several items belonging to Shannan scattered across Gilgo Beach. Her pair of jeans, shoes, and pocketbook were arranged in a linear pattern, suggesting that she may have discarded them while running to the water. About a week later, on December 13, her nearly intact remains were located a quarter of a mile away in a marshland. Her body was found in a hunched-over position, face down, and officials ruled her cause of death as accidental drowning.
Was Shannan Gilbert Killed?
Upon hearing of Shannan’s disappearance through Alex, her family also filed a missing person’s report. Frustrated with the lack of action, though, they took matters into their own hands and conducted several inquiries in Oak Beach. Simultaneously, the police had already questioned Shannan’s client, Joseph Brewer, and her driver, Michael Pak, removing them from the list of suspects. Despite multiple searches of the area and interviews with individuals like Gus Coletti, no trace of Shannan was found, leaving her mysterious disappearance unsolved.
As the case grew colder, investigative leads dwindled. On December 11, 2010, during a cadaver dog training exercise in the vicinity of Gilgo Beach, a Suffolk County detective discovered a set of human bones. The location was three miles from Joseph Brewer’s residence. Initially, the hope was that Shannan had been found, yet the discovery turned out to be someone else entirely. Shannan had a distinctive titanium plate in her jaw from a past injury, and the bones found did not exhibit such a feature. It was hence ruled out that the body did not belong to her.
On December 13, 2010, just two days after the initial discovery, the police uncovered three more bodies within a 500-foot radius of the first site. All of them were petite women, found naked and arranged in the same manner within burlap sacks. Authorities swiftly declared this grim pattern was the work of a serial killer. These victims were identified as Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, and Amber Costello. As investigations continued, the remains of at least five other women were unearthed on the South Shore of Long Island, New York.
Shannan’s profile aligned with that of the other women whose bodies were discovered on the beach. She shared similar physical characteristics, was petite, and was also engaged in sex work like others. However, the police eventually revealed that they believed her death was unrelated to the other women found in the area. According to their conclusion, it’s possible Shannan might have overdosed on a substance and subsequently, accidentally drowned. Her family, however, vehemently rejected this explanation, accusing the police of botching this investigation. They also hired a private pathologist to conduct another autopsy, and they reportedly could not find definitive evidence to determine the nature of her death. The pathologist did note, however, that her remains exhibited some signs consistent with manual asphyxiation/strangulation, although it could not be conclusively established.