Netflix takes on the Long Island killer case, also known as the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation, with a film that doesn’t follow the usual route for an account of a serial killer.
It’s been a decade since Shannan Gilbert went missing from Oak Beach on Long Island, New York. Gilbert’s killer either remains at large or resides with Mother Nature, depending on whose investigation you believe. What we do know is that the search for Gilbert led to a gruesome discovery, and if her mother who was eventually murdered hadn’t persisted, we might never have known eight more investigations would follow as bodies continued to turn up.
One set of remains in particular was horrific—the skeletal remains of a baby girl believed to be at the toddler stage when she died.
Gilbert’s mother, eventually killed by one of her own daughters, spearheaded the search for her missing daughter and inspired mothers and relatives of other missing girls to come forward. A number of the victims worked through Craig’s List, offering services as escorts. In a singular twist, remains of one male believed to be Asian also surfaced. Some believe the young man was also in the escort business, but I wondered if he didn’t work as a driver for one of the escorts.
The film doesn’t attempt to recreate bloody scenes or to dehumanize these girls as “sex workers”, a term often used for people in that business. Instead, the film tells the story of Shannan Gilbert’s mother, and it is a troubling look at dysfunction in a family stricken by mental illness. The mother, whose name was Mari, was obsessed with convincing police to responsibly investigate her daughter’s disappearance. There was even a 911 call from Shannan the night she disappeared, but no law enforcement got there in time.
Now Shannan’s case is considered a more or less accidental death by police because the marsh she fled to when she was allegedly under the influence of an unknown substance, was thick and nearly impenetrable. Officials believe Shannan drowned, but an autopsy done by an outside expert leaned to death by strangulation. Whoever did kill these people had to be able to navigate the thick brush skillfully, and must have had knowledge of the environment there.
As the film progresses, we see Mari interact with officials, and we sympathize at the lack of interest largely because of what these victims did for a living. The narrative does cast suspicion on one particular suspect, but other developments suggest he may not be the killer. The case remains open, with the Suffolk County Police Dept. releasing an image of a new piece of evidence, a belt with initials inscribed, presumably belonging to the killer.
Had Shannan Gilbert not disappeared, we’d probably never have known the marsh in that area and other nearby areas served the purpose of killing fields.
Amy Ryan took on the role of Mari Gilbert, and Ryan does a sensational job of playing a mother tortured by the loss of a daughter she knows she failed unintentionally. The viewer learns a lot more about the families and the investigations, and in the process, the dehumanized remains become flesh and blood people whose families still hope for answers.
Talented actor Gabriel Byrne stars as the police commissioner, and the ‘Mayhem Guy’ Dean Gerard Winters capably takes on the role of investigator Dean Bostick.
It’s well worth a watch; I found the film of interest because I remember the discovery of those bodies and I thought to myself how sad it was to see so many bodies scattered in the area with complete callousness from the murderer(s) toward the families who lost these individuals.
I’d give Netflix’s Lost Girls film four out of five stars.
*Images are from gilgonews.com, the official site established to track news and developments in the case.
(Kay B. Day/March 17, 2020)
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