Remains of Shannan Gilbert identified

Shannan Gilbert

December 17, 2011 6:50:14 PM PST
Remains found on Gilgo Beach earlier this week have been formally identified as Shannan Gilbert, Suffolk County police said Saturday.

The skeletal remains were found on Tuesday after a yearlong search.

Gilbert was a New Jersey prostitute whose disappearance sparked an investigation into a possible serial killing spree.

Searchers found the bones in a dense wetland thicket, about a half mile from where 24-year-old Gilbert disappeared after meeting a client for an early-morning sexual encounter.

The medical examiner's office confirmed her identity on Saturday. The cause of death had not been determined, although investigators believe her death was an accident.

Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner Richard Dormer issued a statement saying, "I think it is obvious to all that the Suffolk County Police Department has expended an extraordinary amount of time and resources over the past year and a half to locate Shannan Gilbert. Difficult terrain was searched and re-searched. The last leg involved amphibious vehicles and divers in wet suits who searched over a hundred acres of marshland. Our condolences to the Gilbert family and her friends. We hope this brings them closure and peace."

The remnants were found by homicide detectives about a quarter mile from where authorities discovered Gilbert's pants, shoes, pocketbook with ID and other personal items last week, also in the thicket.

The search for the Jersey City, N.J., woman began last December and led police to discover the first of what would become 10 homicide victims. They were strewn along several miles of thicket and bramble along a parkway leading to Jones Beach.

While police believe at least one serial killer is responsible for the deaths of the 10, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Police Commissioner Richard Dormer reiterated Tuesday that police think Gilbert likely drowned accidentally after fleeing the client's home for an unclear reason. Dormer said the location of the skeleton suggests that Gilbert may have been trying to run through the wetlands to a nearby causeway because it was illuminated by street lights.

She was last seen shortly after 5 a.m. on May 1, 2010. Dormer suggested that she had become hopelessly entangled in the brush, which he called a "tough, desolate, tangled mess."

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