Hair and bones. That was all that was left of Shannan Gilbert when investigators found her in the marsh bordering the Oak Beach community on Dec. 14, 2011. Now, nearly a year after that gruesome discovery, Gilbert’s mother Mari and her attorney, John Ray, blame Oak Beach resident Dr. Charles Peter Hackett for her disappearance and death.
They made their charges public Thursday morning outside the Suffolk County Supreme Court Complex in Riverhead.
“We allege that Dr. Peter Hackett has told others that he encountered Shannan knocking on his door on May 1, that he let her into his home and that he administered narcotics,” said Ray, announcing a wrongful death lawsuit he and Mari have filed against Hackett. “He used the phrase that it was ‘too late’ to help her and that he then released her.”
The suit’s allegations—that Hackett gave Shannan drugs and then let her go, thereby causing her death, and that he misrepresented the facts to both the public and the police—are based on Ray’s own investigation of Shannan’s disappearance and of Hackett, as well as conversations he says he’s had with the doctor’s neighbors in the Oak Beach community. She had been reported missing by her family since May 2010.
“We don’t know the details of what he claims he administered to her,“ said Ray, explaining that any drugs in Shannan’s body at the time of her death could no longer be determined, since there wasn’t enough time for them to be deposited into her bones or hair.
Through the lawsuit, Ray hopes to find out more information on what happened the night Shannan disappeared.
“Our intent is to uncover what really happened in every detail,” he said. “We are just going forward with every legal means we can find to accomplish that.
“There’s no direct evidence as to who killed this lady,” he continued. “But circumstantial evidence can be very strong. And the circumstantial evidence right now is very strong to support what we’re doing here with this lawsuit.”
That circumstantial evidence all stems from a phone call Mari Gilbert allegedly received from Hackett during the mid-afternoon hours of May 1, 2010.
“[Hackett] did say that he had Shannan, that we was taking care of Shannan, and he was running a halfway house for girls,” she said.
Mari added that Hackett seemed “very distant” and worried about himself more than about the well-being of her daughter when asking whether Shannan had come home.
“These representations to Mari Gilbert were demonstratively false and there can be only nefarious reasons for Dr. Hackett to have done that,” said Ray. “We want to know what really happened. We know something of what happened from the mouth of Dr. Hackett—that’s what triggered this lawsuit.
“We know that he claimed he gave her drugs to calm her down and this was after she was already in great anguish for fear that she was about to be killed,” continued Ray. “So here he is with a strange woman who knocks on his door and he immediately administers drugs, that’s medical malpractice if that happened, and he says it did.“
Ray also alleges Hackett told bizarre stories to neighbors, including that he would perform operations on people’s fingers and reattach them on his kitchen table in Oak Beach.
“He apparently thinks that he can perform these kinds of amazing services in his home,” said Ray. “So we’re not surprised at all that he made the claims he did about Shannan.”
Hackett, whose home is currently up for sale in Oak Beach and now resides in Florida, could not be reached for comment. Police have stated in the past that Hackett is not considered a suspect.
Officially, Shannan’s death has been ruled “undetermined.” Her remains are still in the custody of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office. Ray said the office offered the remains to the family over the summer, but they did not take them.
“We have asked them not to deliver the bones at this point because we want to have an independent medical examiner look at them,” said Ray.
Ray said the only reason that hasn’t happened yet is because Mari doesn’t have the money to pay for a private examination by another medical examiner. When asked by reporters if money was the drive behind the lawsuit, Mari said she didn’t care if she got $1 or $1 million, she just wanted justice for her daughter.
“I really believe in my heart that [Hackett] played a major role in my daughter’s death,” said Mari. “He denied he called me for over a year. The phone records proved that he did call me, so we proved that he lied to me. And if he could lie about something like that imagine what else he’s capable of.”
When detectives found Shannan’s remains last December about 1/4 mile northeast from where Gilbert’s pocketbook, jeans, shoes and lip gloss were found the week prior, they said Shannan most likely accidentally drowned while in a frantic state, running away in the darkness after fighting with Joseph Brewer, a client Shannan, who was working as a prostitute, had met with that night in Oak Beach.
Police have said that Brewer is not a suspect.
At the time of her disappearance, 24-year-old Gilbert, unfamiliar with the area, was running alongside the tall reeds that line Anchor Way. In the darkness, detectives speculate that she would not have been able to see that those reeds were hiding flooded marsh that, at times, can be filled waist-deep with water. Yet Shannan’s remains were found only 100 feet from the roadway, in shallow water, leaving many, including her family, to believe that her death was no accident.
Investigators have said they don’t believe Gilbert’s death is related to the victims of a suspected serial killer. Those remains were found several miles away along Ocean Parkway. Police were searching for Gilbert when they discovered other bodies in the brush, including those of Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Amber Lynn Costello, all believed to be victims of the same killer.
Lorraine Ela, mother of Megan Waterman, and Melissa Cann, sister of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, don’t believe that Shannan’s death was an accidental drowning.
Those with information on Shannan’s disappearance or any information on the victims found on Ocean Parkway can call Homicide Squad detectives at 631-852-6396, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-220-8477, text tips anonymously by texting “SCPD” to “CRIMES” (274637) or email information via www.tipsubmit.com
There is a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, the highest sum ever offered in Suffolk County history for an unsolved homicide.