MILLER PLACE, NY -- Following a judge’s ruling, the longstanding mystery of the Long Island Serial Killer may be closer to being solved, according to a lawyer who’s worked intensely on the case for years.
However, the ruling, which ordered the release of the long-sealed recording of the 911 call made by murder victim Shannan Gilbert before she disappeared, may not be carried out for months or years — if at all — due to legal appeals.
The recording is a vital piece of evidence in the investigation into the disappearance of Gilbert, and perhaps other victims, from the areas of Oak Beach and Gilgo Beach, along the Atlantic coast in western Suffolk County.
Gilbert’s remains were found buried beneath thick beach scrub and thorn bushes on Dec. 13, 2011. Hers was one of ten bodies that were ultimately found in the area by police search crews.
Their search for bodies began after Gilbert, a sex worker, made the 911 call after she’d run out of a nearby home on that fateful night of May 1, 2010.
She disappeared, and the call led police to search for her. They ended up finding four other corpses instead, before eventually finding Gilbert’s remains. They also ultimately found the remains of five other people, mostly female sex workers.
However, Suffolk County Police never released the 911 recording, and resisted any requests for them to do so. On Tuesday, however, a New York State Supreme Court judge ordered the release to John Ray, the attorney representing Gilbert’s family. On Thursday, Ray spoke about the decision for the first time.
“I think the judge was convinced of the rightness of our cause,” Ray told PIX11 News.
He, and Gilbert’s family, are convinced that Dr. Peter Hackett, possibly the last person to have seen Gilbert alive, was involved in her disappearance and death. They also suspect that former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, who's in prison now on an unrelated charge, may have also been involved.
“Police initially quashed this entire investigation, after Chief Jim Burke became chief of police,” Ray said.
He also pointed out that Burke’s promotion to chief occurred just days after Gilbert’s disappearance.
“From that time on, Burke stonewalled this investigation," Ray said.
The attorney said that the 911 tapes have either been altered or, alternatively, they may provide significant clues about Gilbert’s disappearance and death. Either way, Gilbert’s family may still not get to hear the 23-minute recording of the last moments of their loved one’s life, even though the judge's order calls for the recording to be released within 20 days.
Police still insist they should not release the tapes while the Gilgo investigation remains open.
“We are in the process of reviewing [the judge’s order] and we plan to appeal to ensure the integrity of the investigation," said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart at a news conference on Thursday.
That appeals process, through the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, followed by the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, could take years. It could also result in an order that would allow the SCPD to keep the 911 recording under seal.
Even if a court ultimately rules that the recording must be released to Ray, he said, "I can't release them to the public, without a court order."
He encouraged media outlets to also make a request to the court for the recording's release.