An attorney for the family of Shannan Gilbert is asking the federal government to take over the investigation into the Gilgo Beach murders, claiming the Suffolk County police investigation is “devolving into finger-pointing amongst local officials,” in reference to the recent public dispute between Police Commissioner Richard Dormer and District Attorney Thomas Spota.
“There is no doubt from what we know of the evidence that Shannan would still be alive today if Suffolk County police had actually done their job, but instead the commissioner of police in Suffolk County is running an investigation like the Pink Panther,” attorney John Ray told reporters Tuesday near where the 24-year-old New Jersey woman’s remains were found last week in Oak Beach.
Ray said police should have spent more time looking for Gilbert the night she went missing from her last client’s Oak Beach home on May 1, 2010, but didn’t take her disappearance seriously because she was a sex worker. He said police told Mari that a missing persons report could not be filed because Shannan was a prostitute.
A Suffolk police spokeswoman said Dormer had no immediate response to the allegations.
“We believe that the Suffolk County police and the commissioner and the local authorities have blown completely this investigation from the outset, from the time Shannan still lived, only because they have an attitude that treats sex workers and escorts with utter disregard and treats them as if they were some subspecies of humanity,” Ray said. “They are entitled to the same protections of law as any other citizen would have been.”
Shannan’s mother, Mari Gilbert, stood by Ray’s side and asked for help in finding out what happened to her daughter the night she disappeared.
“Think of it as if it were your child—your mother, your father, your sister or your brother,” she said. “How would you feel that someone knew something, someone could help, but didn’t want to and they didn’t care? All that I am asking, for my family and on behalf of the other victims’ families, is please help end my pain and their pain and find this killer before he strikes and hurts and murders someone that you know.”
In a letter dated Tuesday addressed to the U.S. Attorney General, the Department of Justice and the FBI, Ray asked the agencies to intervene in the investigation of Gilbert’s death and the deaths of the 10 other victims found along Ocean Parkway between last December and April. Police made those discoveries, at least four of whom are believed to be victims of a serial killer, while searching for Gilbert.
“While Shannan’s remains have now been identified, only more questions remain,” the letter reads. “These include, among others, why her body was recovered without pants and in an area that investigators say is nearly impossible to traverse.”
James Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI’s New York office, noted that the agency has provided technical assistance in the investigation, including serial killer profilers from the behavioral analysis unit and a flyover this spring that identified 90 “points of interest” for searchers to double check. Suffolk police said nothing was found in follow-up searches of those areas.
“We have provided assistance to the Suffolk County Police Department periodically over the course of the past year and remain available and at the ready to provide whatever assistance is requested going forward,” Margolin told the Press, noting that the FBI can’t unilaterally take over a local police investigation.
He said that federal violations would have to be found for the FBI to take the lead. If evidence showed the victims were made to cross state lines as a part of a murder plot that would trigger a federal investigation, but the victims simply being from out-of-state when they were killed here does not, he said.
Dormer, who has maintained police handled Gilbert’s case the same as any other, said last week at a press conference that he believed Shannan drowned accidentally in a marshland after calling 911 in a hysterical state. The victims’ families maintain that Shannan was murdered.
“How did Shannan get in that brush with only a shirt and bra on?” said Lorraine Ela, mother of Megan Waterman, one of the four women found dead in Gilgo Beach a year ago last week. “Who took her pants off and left her in Oak Beach? She was murdered. She did not accidentally drown. Someone took her out of there and put her on the side of the road.”
Detectives found Shannan’s remains in the marsh just off the Ocean Parkway roadway, about 1/4 mile northeast from where her pocketbook, jeans, shoes, cell phone and lip gloss were found. An autopsy is currently being performed on Shannan’s remains. A cause of death has yet to be determined.
“We are tired of theories,” Mari Gilbert said. “Now, we need the truth.”
-With Timothy Bolger