Suffolk County police have found the purse belonging to the missing New Jersey prostitute whose disappearance from Oak Beach last year prompted the discovery of 10 victims of a serial killer in nearby communities on the barrier island.
The purse had a picture ID of Shannan Gilbert but investigators have not yet gone through the rest of its contents, Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said Wednesday at a news conference near where searchers were combing the marshy area with heavy equipment. He also said police found jeans, shoes and a cell phone that may belong to Gilbert—and that they will continue searching until they find her.
“We believe that Shannan Gilbert ran into that area the night that she disappeared,” Dormer said. “We do expect to find the body in the area.”
Dormer reiterated that investigators do not believe Gilbert was murdered by the serial killer who is suspected of dumping 10 victims along Ocean Parkway over the past 15 years, although they can’t be sure until they find her. But he acknowledged that the other victims likely would not have been found if police had not been searching for Gilbert, who was last seen running from a client’s home May 1, 2010.
“The big mystery since her disappearance is what exactly happened to Shannan Gilbert,” said Chief of Detectives Dominic Varrone. “What we found yesterday was very significant.”
Police were aided by county Department of Public Works crews in their searches Tuesday and Wednesday of the Oak Beach marsh following wider police searches of the entire island Monday. County workers used an amphibious tracked vehicle to get into areas where searchers have fallen waist-deep in muck—even after DPW crews drained the oft-watery marsh by cutting ditches into the area.
“You can go into that weeded area and very easily lose your direction,” said Deputy Inspector Stuart Cameron, the commanding officer of the Special Control Bureau, describing how prior searches of the bog proved difficult.
Pelkofsky and Dormer speculated that the jeans and shoes could have been dragged away from Gilbert’s body by wildlife. With higher-than-usual tides expected during the full moon cycle this weekend, the area could become flooded again in the coming days, frustrating search efforts. But searchers are expected to continue combing the area for the foreseeable future.
“Looking at the terrain it’s very easy to get engulfed in water and muck, fall down and not be able to get out of there,” Dormer said. “We believe that’s what happened to her.”