Experts will help the public sort fact from fiction in the unsolved Gilgo Beach murders during the inaugural Hamptons Mystery & Crime Festival slated to kick off next month in East Hampton.
The discussion is one of more than three dozen true crime and mystery panels, author book signings and related events to be held at various venues over four days. The Gilgo case panelists — former New York City Police Department cold case investigator Joseph Giacalone, filmmaker Joshua Zeman who investigated the case for a documentary and attorney David Berg, whose brother was killed in an unrelated case — say their leg of the event strives to keep the Long Island Serial Killer case in the spotlight.
“This is an extremely important case for Long Island, so any opportunity that we have to remind the public that this case is yet to be solved and that these victims deserve justice is an important one,” says Zeman, who directed The Killing Season, a docuseries that investigated the case and aired on A&E in 2016. “Having this panel amongst all these other crime experts is also extremely important, because that keeps the conversation going.”
Suffolk County police officers were searching for Shannan Gilbert, a sex worker who was reported missing from Oak Beach, when a cadaver dog sniffed out four sets of human remains in December 2010 on the side of Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach. By the following spring, an expanded search across the rest of the Jones Beach barrier island uncovered another six sets of remains, including parts of two women whose torsos were found years prior in Manorville. Gilbert was later found dead in the area, although authorities have said it’s unclear if she was murdered or accidentally drowned. Four of the victims found remain unidentified.
Together, the cases are the largest unsolved murder investigation in the history of the Suffolk County Police Department, and it continues to draw national attention for being one of the most high-profile ongoing serial killer cases to date. While the case has gotten a great deal of media coverage over the years and authorities have periodically released new details to help generate leads, it has also been rife with online speculation from armchair detectives.
“We’re going to go over the facts, we’re going to try to put some of the conspiracy theories to rest, and we’re gonna try to move forward,” says Giacalone, a former NYPD homicide investigator who is now a professor or criminal justice at John Jay College and is regularly quoted in the media sharing his professional perspective on the case. “Neither of us are really trying to sell anything, we just want to invigorate the conversation.”
He noted that Gilbert’s mother Mari had been a driving force behind helping keep attention on the case by holding annual vigils for the victims and pressing investigators for answers, but she was killed by one of her other daughters, Sarra. Surviving family members of murder victims are often perturbed by their loved ones’ cases being subject of true crime conventions that are increasingly held nationwide. But the panelists hope they can ultimately help fuel more tips to investigators.
“You never know what may come out of these events in terms of moving the case forward,” says Zeman. “This is not a celebration of true crime in any devaluing sense, but an opportunity to look at these cases with a critical eye with an understanding that there are true victims here.”
Berg agrees, adding that he empathizes with the victims’ families.
“I wouldn’t participate if I thought this were in any way anything other than an exploration of the literature, the motivation of killers and anything related to the serious aspects of true crime,” says Berg, who is moderating the discussion. “A violent death obscures much of what was beautiful about a person’s life. The psychological conundrum is that you want to remember, in my case, the life of my brother, and I can’t remember it all because I can’t get the scene of his murder out of my mind.”
The Elusive Long Island Serial Killer: Gilgo will be held 2-3 p.m. Sunday, April 16.Venue details TBA. For tickets and more information visit hamptonswhodunit.com