Craigslist escort Shannan Gilbert may have been tortured before death: autopsy

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MILLER PLACE, New York – An independent autopsy commissioned by the family of Craigslist escort Shannan Gilbert revealed that a hole may have been drilled in the hyoid bone near her throat, according to lawyer John Ray.

"The autopsy findings are consistent with homicidal strangulation," said Ray, "just like the other women."

Ray is talking about four victims of a serial killer, found wrapped in burlap off Ocean Parkway, in December 2010 in Gilgo Beach. They were discovered during a police search for Gilbert, who had vanished in May 2010, after making a desperate 911 call, screaming "They're trying to kill me." 

That call has never been released publicly.  Gilbert was last seen by residents of Oak Beach, a community east of Gilgo.  She had been hired as an escort by one of their neighbors, Joseph Brewer. Her body was found a year after the other women in a marsh inside Oak Beach. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner ruled she had drowned, but the family did not believe those findings.

This recent, independent autopsy was performed by former New York City Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Baden. Baden noted:

"Almost all of the skeletal bones were recovered and appeared normal. There was no evidence of trauma. However, the larynx was missing and only the body of the hyoid bone was found; the two greater horns of that neck bone were missing. These structures, the larynx and the hyoid bone, are often fractured during homicidal manual strangulation. My examination of the recovered body of the hyoid bone, after it had been anthropologically de-fleshed, showed a roughness at the margins where the separated bones had been attached."

Baden found no evidence to support the theory that drugs might have caused her to fall into the water.

Baden concluded, "There is insufficient information to determine a definite cause of death, but the autopsy findings are consistent with strangulation."

The Gilbert family has filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. C. Peter Hackett, a former Suffolk County Police Department surgeon who owned a home in Oak Beach. Gilbert's mother said Dr. Hackett had called her shortly after Gilbert went missing and said he had medicated Shannan to calm her down.

Dr. Hackett has been deposed three times in the civil case. After the most recent deposition--in the fall of 2015 -- Hackett collapsed and crawled on the ground when a TV crew approached him from "Crime Watch Daily" and said the crew affected his heart defibrillator.  He had never been criminally charged in connection with the Gilbert case or the larger serial killer investigation. He is now living in Florida.

One of Shannan's sisters, Stevie Smith, sobbed at the press conference that she remains angry by the slow, police response to Gilbert's 911 call.

For years, the former Suffolk County Chief of Department, James Burke, resisted FBI involvement in the serial killer investigation, which has tallied 10 victims--perhaps as many as 17. Burke was arrested on federal civil rights charges in December, accused of assaulting a suspect in police custody. He remains in federal detention, pending trial, as former associates from the Suffolk County District Attorney's office are being investigated by a grand jury.

Shannan Gilbert's mother, Mari, also appeared at Friday's press conference, showing a photo of her daughter, who was 24 when she died. "This is my daughter, Shannan," Mari Gilbert said. "She was not perfect but she was loved."