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Lost Girls: History vs. Hollywood

Amy Ryan
Born: May 3, 1968
Queens, New York City, New York, USA
Mari Gilbert
Born: June 22, 1964
Death: July 23, 2016, Ellenville, New York, USA (stabbing)
Gabriel Byrne
Born: May 12, 1950
Dublin, Ireland
Police Commissioner Richard Dormer
Sarah Wisser
Shannan Gilbert
Born: October 24, 1986
Birthplace: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA
Death: 2010, Near Oak Beach, Babylon, Suffolk County, USA
Thomasin McKenzie
Born: July, 2000
Wellington, New Zealand
Sherre Gilbert
Oona Laurence
Born: August 1, 2002
New York City, New York, USA
Sarra Gilbert
Born: January 17, 1989
Birthplace: USA

Sentenced to 25 years for murdering her mother in 2016.
Reed Birney
Born: September 11, 1954
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Dr. Peter Hackett
Born: January 24, 1956

Mari Gilbert filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him in 2012.
Lola Kirke
Born: September 27, 1990
Westminster, London, England, UK
Kimberly Overstreet

Sister of victim Amber Costello
James Hiroyuki Liao
Born: February 6, 1976
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Michael Pak

Shannan Gilbert's Driver

Questioning the Story:

Was Mari Gilbert's daughter Shannan an escort worker?

Yes. Her life, along with the lives of four other sex workers murdered by the Long Island serial killer (LISK), is recounted in Robert Kolker's New York Times Bestseller Lost Girls, on which the Netflix movie is based. The Lost Girls true story reveals that, like in the movie, the real Shannan Gilbert was an escort who advertised through Craigslist and had been meeting with a client in the gated community of Oak Beach prior to her death.

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker was the basis for the movie.

Did Shannan Gilbert call 911 prior to her death?

Yes. The call seems to be portrayed accurately in the movie. According to the police, Shannan told 911 dispatchers, "They are trying to kill me." Despite this, the police ultimately believed that she accidentally fell and drowned in the marshland, a theory that seemed less likely after an independent autopsy suggested strangulation as a possible cause of death. Even ten years after her death, the police have refused to release the audio or the transcript of Shannan Gilbert's 911 call, stating that it is part of an ongoing investigation.

In 2018, a judge ruled that the Suffolk County Police Department must produce the recording or the transcript, giving them 20 days to do so. The police appealed the ruling, maintaining that it could jeopardize an ongoing investigation. This makes little sense given that the Suffolk police had already maintained that Shannan Gilbert's death was accidental and not related to the Long Island serial killer's murders.

Did it really take police almost an hour to respond to Shannan Gilbert's 911 call?

Yes. Shannan (pictured below) made the 911 call from inside the house of the man who hired her, Joseph Brewer, at 4:51 a.m., but police didn't arrive in the community of Oak Beach until 5:40 a.m., almost an hour later. Amy Ryan's character blames the Suffolk County Police Department for this, as did the real Mari Gilbert. However, the police department said that it couldn't respond because Shannan wouldn't tell the 911 dispatchers where she was when they asked her. In fact, because they didn't have a location, the dispatchers supposedly transferred the 23-minute call to the New York State Police. According to the former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone, they knew nothing about Shannon's call for almost a month. It was then that Shannan's call was connected to the missing persons report that her family had filed in New Jersey.

The police have not yet released the real Shannan Gilbert's 911 call.

The 911 call that brought police to the Oak Beach community was made by Gus Colletti at 5:21 a.m. after Shannan had banged on his door screaming for help. When Colletti sat her down and told her that he called the police, Shannan got up and fled. She then ended up at Barbara Brennan's house, banging on her door. Mrs. Brennan also called 911. If what the Chief of Detectives is saying is true, it took police about 20 minutes to respond to Colletti's call. They arrived more than 45 minutes after Shannan Gilbert made her 911 call.

Did a police officer accidentally stumble upon the first set of remains after pulling over to let his dog out to go the bathroom?

No. At least not according to the Suffolk County Police Department, who said that they incorporated canine training exercises into their search of the area around Shannan Gilbert's last known location. During one such canine exercise carried out on December 11, 2010, a set of skeletal remains was found in the vicinity of Gilgo Beach off Ocean Parkway. They were the remains of Melissa Barthelemy, the first of the Gilgo Beach Killer's victims to be discovered. This differs from the film, which finds a canine officer who appears to be on routine patrol pulling over unexpectedly after he realizes his dog needs to go to the bathroom. The dog runs into the bushes and by chance discovers Barthelemy's remains.

How many daughters did the real Mari Gilbert have?

In researching the Lost Girls true story, we learned that in addition to Shannan, Mari had three other daughters, Sherre, Sarra and Stevie, though only Sherre and Sarra are depicted in the Netflix movie. The real Mari Gilbert and her daughter Shannan are pictured below.

Mari Gilbert (left) and her daughter Shannan Gilbert (right)

When did the Long Island serial killer murders take place in real life?

The real-life killings took place over a span of roughly 15 years, from approximately 1996 to 2010, but possibly as late as 2013.

How many people did the Long Island serial killer murder?

The unidentified killer is believed to have murdered 10 to 16 people, mainly prostitutes. By April 2011, police had discovered the remains of 10 victims in the vicinity of Gilgo Beach, covering a distance of about seven miles along Ocean Parkway. The victims included eight women, an Asian man dressed in female clothes, and a toddler (the mother of the toddler was one of the women). Five of the bodies were identified, including Megan Waterman, Jessica Taylor, Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, and Amber Lynn Costello. Due to the location of the remains, the killer was also dubbed the Gilgo Beach Killer.

The Long Island serial killer's victims who were identified, including Shannan Gilbert, who may or may not have been one of the serial killer's victims.

Did Mari Gilbert really join forces with the mothers and sisters of the other victims?

Yes. Like the character portrayed by Amy Ryan, Mari got to know the family members of the other victims. She indeed participated in a vigil at Oak Beach with them. It's also true that she at first felt superior to them, mostly because she believed that Shannan was still alive and wasn't like the other girls. She believed that Shannan would have fought back and shouldn't be labeled a victim. It seems that Mari's relationship with the women was a little more unstable at times in real life. However, she did start a Facebook page for them to communicate and support one another. Several of the family members of the victims are depicted in the movie, including Lorraine, Missy, Lynn, and Kim.

Did Oak Beach resident Dr. Peter Hackett call Shannan's mother two days after she went missing?

Yes. Despite Dr. Charles Peter Hackett's initial denial of making the call, phone records later proved it happened. Shannan Gilbert's mother, Mari, said that during the call Hackett, a former police doctor, told her that he ran a halfway house for people who wanted to get off the street and that Shannan was there but had left with her driver. Mari says that Hackett claimed he was worried about Shannan and said that he had given her medication to calm her down. When Mari asked him how he got her number, Hackett told her that he required anyone who came to his house to give him emergency contact information. However, when Shannan's sisters traveled to Oak Beach, Hackett told them a different story. Not only did he deny ever seeing Shannan, he denied calling Mari. Three days after his first call, he made a second call to Mari, this time telling her he had never encountered Shannan and that he didn't make the earlier call.

Dr. Peter Hackett in real life and Reed Birney as Hackett in Lost Girls

After the phone records were made public, Hackett did finally admit to calling Shannan Gilbert's mother but claims he did so later in the week at the request of friends who were looking for her. When confronted by Mari, Hackett denied ever meeting Shannan and claimed he never told Mari he had a rehab. Up until her own death, Mari believed Hackett was the prime suspect in her daughter's death. In fact, she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hackett in November 2012, which asserted that he had brought a frightened Shannan into his home and administered drugs to calm her, which ultimately were the catalyst for her death. The Suffolk police claimed that Hackett was an individual who liked to get involved and insert himself into events, but they didn't consider him a suspect. In addition, they noted that his wife and two kids were home at the time. The marshy area where Shannan Gilbert's body was found was indeed not far from Hackett's backyard.

Had Mari Gilbert really placed her daughter Shannan in foster care?

Yes. The Lost Girls Netflix true story confirms that Mari had put Shannan in foster care when Shannan was younger.

The real Mari Gilbert (left) and actress Amy Ryan (right) as Gilbert in the Netflix movie.

Were Shannan Gilbert's remains found more than a year after she went missing?

Yes. In real life, Shannan went missing on May 1, 2010. Her remains weren't found until December 13, 2011, roughly a year-and-a-half later.

Did Mari Gilbert support the book on which the movie is based?

No. Robert Kolker, author of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, says that he received a scathing email from Mari Gilbert regarding his bestselling book. "I cannot believe all the LIES you wrote about my family, and I. You should be ashamed at yourself," Gilbert stated in a 2013 email. "How dare you write such trash!! May karma slam you when you least expect it!!" Kolker had interviewed Mari for the book and doesn't know why she became so opposed to it. -The Cut

Is Dean Winters' sexist character based on a real detective?

No. Dean Winters' character, Dean Bostick, who says things like, "Why don't you let the police men do the police work, huh, honey?" and "I mean, honestly, who spends this much time looking for a missing hooker?", is not based on a real detective. The chauvinistic cop was created to embody the attitudes of some in law enforcement who dragged their feet when it came to solving the case.

Dean Winters' character, Detective Dean Bostick, is entirely fictional.

Was Mari Gilbert's daughter Sarra in an unstable mental state at the time her sister Shannan went missing?

The movie only lightly touches on Sarra Gilbert's mental instability, showing her mother giving her medication. Author Robert Kolker, who wrote the book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery on which the movie is based, explained that Sarra had been coping with her own issues for some time. According to Kolker, Sarra had been molested by her mother's boyfriend, later had an abortion when she was 14, dropped out of school at age 16, and then had a baby with a drug-dealing boyfriend who was older. Her boyfriend was abusive and Sarra at least once ended up in a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She counted heavily on Mari for help, both for emotional support and to help take care of the baby. When police discovered Shannan's body in 2011, Sarra was unable to handle it and started to behave erratically.

Did Shannan's sister, Sarra Gilbert, kill their mother, Mari Gilbert?

Yes. This is what is stated in the Lost Girls Netflix movie's epilogue, but little detail is given regarding the true story of Mari Gilbert's death. Author Robert Kolker explained that Sarra began having delusions. She became convinced that her mother and sisters were possessed by demons. In 2014, she attacked her mother and sister Sherre. She was subsequently in and out of hospitals and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her child was taken from her and instead of staying on her medication, Sarra turned to street drugs instead.

On July 23, 2016, Mari Gilbert, 52, received a desperate call from her daughter. Sarra claimed to be hearing voices and said she needed help. Mari went to see Sarra, who lived in the same apartment building. Upon arriving, Sarra stabbed her mother 227 times with a 15-inch kitchen knife, bludgeoned her with a fire extinguisher, sprayed her with the foam, removed her clothes, and took her jewelry. Sarra's attorneys tried to plead insanity but Ulster County Judge Donald Williams wasn't buying it, saying that if it was up to him, Sarra would spend the rest of her life in prison and receive the mental health treatment she needs. Neither of her sisters, Sherre or Stevie, appeared as a character witness on her behalf in court. Ultimately, Sarra received a 25-year sentence. -Daily Freeman

Sarra Gilbert (left) fatally stabbed her mother, Mari Gilbert (right), 227 times in this apartment complex.

Was it ever confirmed that Shannan Gilbert's death was connected to the Long Island serial killer?

No. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office classified Shannan's cause of death as "undetermined." The police believed that Shannan had drowned accidentally in a marshy area of Oak Beach shortly after she was last seen running and screaming for help. However, an independent autopsy revealed that she might have been strangled.

Did the killer have connections to police?

This is what is speculated in the movie to some degree, as it was in real life too. It was suggested that the killer might either be schooled in law enforcement or have connections in the police department, helping him avoid detection. This was mainly due to the fact that the killer had used the cell phone of one of his victims, Melissa Barthelemy, to call her family. He spoke with her 15-year-old sister, Amanda, and her mother, Lynn, saying sexually explicit things to Amanda about what he had done to Melissa and what he was going to do to her. He made eight calls in all, getting off the phone each time before he could be identified. He seemed to know what areas would be hard to trace and how long he could stay on the phone. Some of the calls came from busy locations in midtown Manhattan: close to the Port Authority, Times Square, and the Empire State Building.

In 2016, the former chief of the Suffolk County Police Department, James Burke, was convicted and given almost four years in federal prison for beating a suspect who stole his gun belt, a duffel bag full of sex toys and pornographic material, and other items from his SUV. Burke then convinced other officers to lie for him. A woman named Leanne, who said that she had worked as an escort in Suffolk County, then came forward and said that she had encountered James Burke at a party in the same neighborhood where Shannan Gilbert had disappeared, just one year after Shannan had gone missing. Leanne said that Burke made her engage in rough sex prior to throwing $300 toward her. Burke had previously turned down further FBI assistance in the Long Island serial killer (LISK) investigation and it was becoming clear why. Either he didn't want the FBI to uncover his own corruption, or he didn't want them to connect him to the murders. Burke's attorney maintains that he never had any connection to the Gilgo Beach victims.

Corrupt ex-police chief James Burke (right) had turned down further FBI assistance in the investigation. An escort named Leanne (left) later came forward and said she had a rough sexual encounter with Burke in the Oak Beach community where Shannan Gilbert disappeared.

It has been conjectured that Shannan might have been aware of the killer's ties to law enforcement, which is possibly why she fled Gus Colletti's front door after he told her the police were on their way to help her. However, there is no evidence to support this theory, other than the fact the police have never released Shannan Gilbert's full 911 call, which is 23-minutes long. They claim that it's evidence in an active case. However, Shannan's family's lawyer, in addition to many others, believes that Shannan may have said something on the tape that incriminates a member of the police department.

Is it possible that the Long Island murders were carried out by more than one person?

Yes. This is certainly possible, given that in Shannan Gilbert's 911 call she stated, "They are trying to kill me." This is assuming that the 'they' she is referring to were also responsible for the other Long Island murders. It's certainly possible that Gilbert's death was unrelated to the serial killer.

Was the Long Island serial killer ever caught?

The identity of the killer, who is also known as the Craigslist Ripper, the Gilgo Beach Killer, or the Seashore Serial Killer, remains a mystery. Due to the gender of the victims, the nature of the crimes, and the fact that he called the family of one of his victims, we know that the unidentified suspect is male. In 2011, The New York Times reported that the killer was likely a white male between his mid-20s and mid-40s. Like in the movie, it is believed that he knew the South Shore of Long Island and had burlap sacks in his possession that he put the bodies in before disposing of them. It's also possible that he's currently in prison, which is why no more bodies have been found.

Who is the most likely Long Island serial killer suspect?

The most likely suspect is Suffolk County resident John Bittrolff, who is not featured in the Lost Girls movie. Arrested in 2014, Bittrolff was convicted in May 2017 for the deaths of two prostitute homicide victims, Rita Tangredi and Colleen McNamee, whose bodies were discovered in 1993 and 1994, respectively. The remains were discovered in Manorville, Long Island, the town where Bittrolff lived. Manorville is also close to where the torsos of two of the Long Island murder victims were recovered, including that of Jessica Taylor and an unidentified woman. Parts of their bodies were also found years later on Gilgo Beach, linking the two locations. Another detail that ties him to the Gilgo Beach murders is the fact that the daughter of Rita Tangredi, one of the women he murdered, was best friends with Gilgo Beach victim Melissa Barthelemy. Bittrolff worked as a carpenter and was known to have enjoyed hunting and killing animals.

John Bittrolff is the most likely suspect in the Long Island murders.

Mari Gilbert Interview & Related Videos

Unearth more facts from the Lost Girls true story by watching the videos below, including an interview with Shannan's mother, Mari Gilbert. Also view a Dr. Peter Hackett interview.

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