© The Jersey JournalFamily photo of Shannan Gilbert
Missing for 18 months from Jersey City, Shannan M. Gilbert may soon rest in peace.

Suffolk County police announced today that they believe they found the skeletal remains of the 24-year-old woman who went missing May 1, 2010 in marshland near Oak Beach, a gated community in Long Island where Gilbert, a prostitute, was visiting a client.

Last Wednesday police announced a major breakthrough in the search for Gilbert after finding her pocketbook with an ID, a pair of jeans, shoes and a cellphone in a swampy area northeast of the gated community.

Today, Suffolk County police detectives and Department of Public Works employees spotted the corpse from an amphibious vehicle one quarter-mile northeast of the belongings found last week, in an area of marshland that had been drained last Thursday to enable the search.

Police had resumed their search last week after studying images of clothing taken by an FBI plane that flew over and photographed the area, police said.

Gilbert's driver, who was one of the last people to see her alive, told The Journal that the morning she disappeared, he had driven Gilbert to the gated community at about 2 a.m. and then waited until 5 a.m., when he received a call from her.

He then went to the john's apartment where Gilbert -- who is bipolar, and has a history of cocaine abuse -- was on the phone making a 23-minute 911 call, "acting "delirious" and "irrational" before fleeing the house, said the driver, who did not want to be identified.

Gilbert, who police say went one-half to three-quarters of a mile through bramble and brush, may have died in the marsh while trying to reach a nearby causeway.

The search for Gilbert began in May after her New York family reported her missing to the Jersey City Police Department, and it prompted a search on Long Island that has led to the discovery of human remains of 10 decomposed bodies along a desolate stretch of Ocean Parkway between Cedar Beach and West Gilgo Beach in Babylon.

While police believe the others were victims of a single serial killer, they believe -- based on her 911 call -- that a "disorientated" and "paranoid" Gilbert may have run, fallen and drowned in the marsh by accident.

"It is ironic ... the missing person case of Shannan Gilbert led to the discovery of the homicide victims," Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said. "It is a disturbing turn of events when think you have all these young women murdered and disposed of in one area."

He added: "At least the remains of unfortunate victims were finally discovered."

The body still has go to the Medical Examiner's office for a positive identification and to determine the cause of death.

Despite confidence among the police that they found Gilbert's body, the anxiety of not knowing continues to haunt friends who still hope that the latest body to be discovered may not be her.

"Until they confirm it, I am going to stay hopeful and stay strong for family ... we need concrete proof," said Anthony Sims, a childhood friend who met Gilbert when they were 9 years old. "Regardless of what happens, Shannon is a bright light in our lives and will continue shine no matter what."

Gilbert's boyfriend, Alex Diaz, 29, of Jersey City, who lived with her after she was drawn to Jersey City with dreams of becoming an R&B/pop singer, said he is waiting to see the outcome of the autopsy.

"They have not identified the body, but for the moment there is a limited hope it might not be her," Diaz said. "I don't know if she was murdered or accidentally drowned. I don't even know it's her."

DeFazio said that while the Suffolk County police's theories on her death "are logical," answers to how she died may be elusive.

"At this point I don't know the condition of remains," DeFazio said. "Sometimes skeletal remains can reveal trauma, such as a gunshot or other blunt force injury, but the passage of this much time will make it difficult."

Gilbert's hair stylist, Amina Msaymi at Samia's Beauty Salon, 2801 Kennedy Blvd., said she last saw Gilbert, a customer for about year, one afternoon around the time she disappeared.

"She was in a rush. She wanted me to do (her) hair and she had to go," Msaymi said. "She didn't say why.

"She was a quiet person, very nice. She didn't talk too much," Msaymi added. "I feel sorry for her because she was a nice person."

Neighbors at the Christopher Columbus Drive apartment where Gilbert lived with Diaz also said that she was very quiet.

"I would only see her come in and go out in the mornings," said Ruby Aparicio, 25. "It sucks to know that she was found like that."

Gilbert has a standing indictment in Hudson County as a co-defendant in a case concerning First Professional Referral Services, the escort service where she was allegedly employed, on charges of conspiracy and promoting prostitution, DeFazio said.

The main defendant, Joseph Ruis, was convicted of money laundering and sent to state prison on a five-year sentence, DeFazio said. Ruis has since been paroled.

DeFazio said if the remains are identified as hers the case will be dismissed against Gilbert, who was out on her own custody at the time she disappeared. DeFazio said that despite the indictment Gilbert was considered missing rather than a fugitive.

A missing person report filed by the Jersey City Department will also be withdrawn.

Source: The Jersey Journal