LONG ISLAND - Shannan Gilbert, a woman who disappeared in a beach community on Long Island more than a decade ago, sparking an investigation into a possible serial killer, said "there's somebody after me" in a newly released 911 tape.
Gilbert’s call was one of three released by the Suffolk County Police Department on Friday. Officials hope it will spark new leads in an old case.
Suffolk County police said Friday they still believe Shannan Gilbert's death near Gilgo Beach was a "tragic accident" unconnected to the slayings of multiple other women whose remains were found in the same area in 2010 and 2011.
"Based on the evidence, the facts, and the totality of the circumstances, the prevailing opinion in Shannan’s death, while tragic, was not a murder and was most likely noncriminal," Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said. "I believe we need to get as much information out as possible to help the public better understand the circumstances surrounding her disappearance."
After years of fighting against the release of the more than 20 minute 911 audio - Suffolk County Police ultimately decided it wouldn’t compromise the investigation.
Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker, vanished on May 1, 2010 after dialing 911 from the Oak Beach home of a client. She fled the house, banged on the door of a neighbor and was last seen by witnesses running down the street in the remote community.
Her disappearance prompted a search that turned up remains from 10 other people, buried along a nearby roadway, leading to suspicion that a serial killer was involved.
Gilbert’s remains were found in December 2011 in marsh about a half-mile (0.8 km) from where she was last seen. Officials at the time said evidence suggested she got lost in the tall reeds and accidentally drowned.
On the 911 recording released Friday, Gilbert sounds severely disoriented and is barely able to communicate with police dispatchers.
She says several times that someone is after her, but can't say where she is calling from. When the driver who brought her to the client's home tries to coax her back into his car, she says, "You are a part of this all along." Later she's heard screaming.
Dispatchers struggled for more than 20 minutes to get her to respond to questions or give clues as to her whereabouts. Gilbert can be heard panting and running.
Suffolk County police also released recordings of two 911 calls made by residents who saw Gilbert after she ran from the house.
The two men who were with Gilbert that night told largely the same story to investigators: Gilbert had arrived at the client's home, but then refused to leave. She appeared to be in the grip of a paranoid episode, hid behind a couch, and then bolted into the early morning darkness.
Her driver said he tried following her, but lost her in the darkness and eventually gave up and drove home. Both men have cooperated with investigators and police have said neither is a suspect.
Gilbert's family has been skeptical of the police account. An independent autopsy performed for Gilbert’s family in 2016 concluded her death was "consistent with homicidal strangulation," family lawyer John Ray said.
"The narrative that the Suffolk County Police Department spun is the one they told from the beginning," Ray said. "It’s fraudulent, false, and not at all consistent with the facts."
Harrison vowed transparency as investigators seek to solve the enduring Gilgo Beach mystery.
FOX 5 NY spoke to the co-hosts of the podcast Unraveled: Long Island Serial Killer about the newly released tapes.
"Saying she’s not under duress is false, she’s calling 911 which means she’s under duress," said Alexis Linkletter.
"They lost a lot of time with utilizing the public in order to get answers," said Billy Jensen.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers 800-220-TIPS.
With the Associated Press.