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On Long Island, Police Search For Missing Woman

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Shannan Gilbert, a prostitute, was last seen in May. Police have found no trace of Gilbert, but they have discovered the remains of eight other people on a quiet stretch of Long Island shore about an hour's drive from Manhattan. The community is on edge.


A murder mystery right out of the most lurid television series is unfolding now on Long Island. It began with the search for a missing prostitute. Now, police have discovered eight other bodies in the marshlands and woods of the Long Island shore about an hour's drive east of New York City.

That has the local community on edge, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: Shannan Gilbert disappeared in May of 2010. Gilbert was a prostitute visiting a client in the seaside community of Oak Beach, New York. And she was last seen running away from someone.

Mr. GUS COLETTI: She came running down this boardwalk and hid right there.

ROSE: Gus Coletti may have been one of the last people to see Gilbert alive. Coletti was up early, shaving in his Oak Beach house around 5 a.m..

Mr. COLETTI: All of a sudden, somebody was screaming at the door and banging on the door, help me, help me, help me. So I came out. I opened the door. She stepped in. And she just kept staring at me. And I kept saying, what's the matter? What's your problem? And all she'd say is, help me, help me.

ROSE: Coletti says he called 911, but Gilbert ran off before the police showed up. Police still haven't been able to find Shannan Gilbert, but Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer says it's not for lack of trying.

Mr. RICHARD DORMER (Police Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department): This has been a very exhaustive, comprehensive search. Having said that, you know this terrain that's behind me, that rugged terrain, very difficult. It is possible that we missed something. And as I said, we're going to be back here again.

ROSE: Dormer says his officers spent the week combing through thorn bushes and shrubs, where they discovered four human bodies. That's in addition to four other bodies police pulled out of the marshland in December.

Dormer says police don't yet know the sex or age of the latest victims, but he did offer this warning to women who work in the sex trade.

Mr. DORMER: They should be very careful with their contacts. You know, the first four bodies have been identified, and they were in the escort business.

ROSE: Dormer declined to say if police think there's a serial killer at work or, indeed, if there's any connection between Gilbert's disappearance and the other bodies that have turned up nearby. But Gus Coletti believes there is.

Mr. COLETTI: In the winter months, there's not a soul out there after seven, 8 o'clock at night. You could go out there, you could build a monument, and nobody would know it. So whoever did or whoever is dumping them is quite familiar with the area.

ROSE: That's exactly what bothers Neal DeMateo(ph). He works as a cook at the Captree Cove Restaurant a few miles down the road from where the bodies were discovered.

Mr. NEAL DeMATEO: I might have even made the guy a burger on his way to the dumpsite. Who knows? You know what I mean? I might even know the guy who's doing it. Maybe he stops in here for lunch, if he's a local guy, you know?

ROSE: DeMateo says he feels bad for the victims and their families, but he cautions against speculating about the motivations of the killer or killers.

Mr. DeMATEO: I mean, everybody's guessing and surmising. Until they have a guy locked in evidence, they're not going to let you know what they're thinking, you know? All I know is there's an awful lot of cops down there, and they know something, that's for sure.

ROSE: Down by the beach, Karen Rivera(ph) of Bay Shore was feeding the pigeons with a friend. Rivera is a retired New York City police officer. She says she's told her son's girlfriend not to go anywhere alone.

Ms. KAREN RIVERA: It could be more than just prostitutes. They haven't even ID'ed the last four bodies. I think that they're going to turn up more bodies, I really do.

ROSE: Police in neighboring Nassau County say they plan to pick up the search for Shannan Gilbert next week.

Joel Rose, NPR News.

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