Down By The Bay
Here at the spot of the former Oak Beach Inn, just steps away from where Gilbert was last seen, the smell of salty air has been smothered by diesel fumes coming from dozens of media and police vehicles. Nearly a year later, there is still no sign of Gilbert, and Coletti recalls the night the frantic woman came to his home.
“She knocked on my door screaming, ‘Help me! Help me!’” says Coletti, looking into the distance. “She wasn’t making any sense, she was totally spaced out.”
After opening the door Coletti says he immediately called the police, but Gilbert, who has a tattoo of cherries on her left wrist and a scorpion on her back, had run away. He saw her hiding under a nearby boat and then running into the brush and toward a jetty. Coletti says a man in an SUV told him, “You shouldn’t have done that, she’s gonna get in a lot of trouble,” and drove away.
Police have already impounded the vehicle of the neighbor who hired Gilbert that night, 46-year-old Joseph Brewer. They say he has been cooperative and is not a suspect at this time. The area around his home continues to be searched by investigators.
“If you were a murderer and you killed someone, would you put them on your front lawn?” Coletti asks. Coletti believes there is a good chance Gilbert could have drowned and not been murdered at all, if she climbed onto that jetty and slipped into the ocean, not only in the darkness, but in the state she was in at the time. When asked about being a key witness in such a high-profile case, Coletti says, “She picked my house to knock on the door. She could have picked anyone.”
Coletti says he wishes there were more he could have done.
“That bothers me,” he says. “I never expected this, never.”
The part of the search that involved closing Ocean Parkway in order to make way for a portable crime-lab trailer, helicopters, fire trucks and police caravans has ended for now, but the search is far from over. Cadaver-sniffing dogs, police divers and FBI aircraft equipped with special cameras will comb the area through the weekend.
“We are confident we will bring this to a conclusion,” says Richard Dormer, Suffolk County Police Commissioner, stressing that the search at the beach will continue uninterrupted, even if not on such a grand scale. “It is possible that we missed something. Detectives will be back here.”
Dormer describes the terrain as “miserable” and “rough,” which has made finding the remains extremely difficult for both investigators and the police dogs.
“Dogs are getting hurt, guys are getting hurt, their clothes getting ripped,” one K-9 unit officer, who asked not to be named, tells the Press. “It doesn’t look like much from the road, but once you’re in there, it’s harsh having that stuff scratching against you.”
Investigators have so far had to contend not only with injuries, but with poison ivy, which is rampant in the area, and they have to wear full body suits—some hazmat—to avoid coming in contact with ticks, also prevalent in the thick grassy brush.
And after the bodies are retrieved, there comes the difficult task of finding their identities. The most recent six sets of remains to be discovered still do not have names—some don’t even have genders.
“A visual look at the bodies is not that helpful,” says Dormer. “We are awaiting forensic analysis.”
Meanwhile, Nassau and Suffolk police departments are working alongside New York State Police and the FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit—the so-called profilers. Suffolk medical examiners are working with anthropological experts from the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office. Forensic scientists are working to identify the six latest sets of remains found.
Dive teams comb Hemlock Cove near Oak Beach as they continue the search for Gilbert or more remains. And investigators are turning to four eerily similar homicides 160 miles away that remain unsolved, in the chance that a serial killer targeting prostitutes in Atlantic City is the same murderer targeting prostitutes in New York.