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A Serial Killer in Common

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The Night Shannan Gilbert Vanished: She was last seen headed toward Gilgo Beach.  

In the past year, Mari has developed a theory of what happened that night that implicates Joseph Brewer, Michael Pak, and possibly a man named Peter Hackett. Hackett is a neighbor of Brewer’s at Oak Beach. The day after Shannan went missing, Mari says, she received a phone call from a man claiming to be Hackett. The man said he ran a home for wayward girls where Shannan had been staying and was calling because she had left unexpectedly. He asked Mari if she knew where Shannan was. It was the first time Mari had heard Shannan was missing.

Mari didn’t know what to make of the call. Looking back, she can’t even be sure it was Hackett on the phone. If it was him, was he fishing to see if Shannan was all right? Was someone else doing that, using his name? What seems clear is that whoever was calling had reason to be concerned about Shannan. Mari became suspicious of Hackett. She says she came upon information suggesting that he plays some sort of security role at Oak Beach. New York has not been able to confirm this; Hackett, who has done police and EMS work in the past, has denied ever calling or meeting Gilbert.

Mari now thinks Brewer frequently brought girls to Oak Beach for parties and that Hackett knew. She suspects that Pak drove girls to other parties there as well. Even if Brewer, Hackett, or Pak didn’t kill the four girls who are confirmed dead, and even if they don’t know who did, Gilbert thinks they’ve been less than forthcoming about the murders and Shannan’s disappearance and could potentially provide useful information if they were more cooperative. The police have said repeatedly that Hackett, like Brewer and Pak, is not a suspect in the case. If Brewer, Hackett, and Pak were involved, I ask Mari, why would they leave the bodies so close to home? That’s the point, she replies. Who would ever think?

Shannan was in line to become their next victim, Mari believes. But Shannan, she insists, wasn’t like the other girls. She would not go quietly. I think they underestimated her, Gilbert says. She knew, This is not what I want to do.’ And without her running and screaming, none of these other bodies would have been found.

The appeal of this theory is obvious; any mother would want to think her daughter stood up for herself. But Overstreet doesn’t think it happened quite that way. Drawing from her own experience as an escort, her theory is slightly less flattering to Shannan. She says she thinks Shannan got high with Brewer that nighteven though he’s denied it. He got this girl probably so blown out of her mind, because that’s how they are. They’ve got the drugs and they’ve got the money, and you’re there for the hour. Then, for whatever reason, he did something to spook this girl. That girl was scared for her life. Something made her think that somebody’s going to kill her.

She was hiding behind his couch, right? Cann asks.

She wouldn’t leave, Overstreet says. She’s scared. So Brewer calls the driver and says, Shannan won’t leave.’

But one detail still confuses Overstreet. Why didn’t she run to the driver? she asks. The driver’s my safety. I don’t give a damn how fucked-up I was, my ass is going to the driver because that’s my way outwhether it’s the police coming or somebody trying to kill me.

Gilbert offers an explanation. Because when she was done with Brewer, she went back to the car to go home, and the driver’s like, Where’s my money?’ And she says, I don’t have any money.’ So he brought her back to Brewer’s, and Brewer said, What are you talking about? I paid her.’ She said she’s tired of the driver taking all her money. I’ve given you money every time, I want this money now.’ And that’s when they started arguing, and she hid in Brewer’s house. Maybe Shannan ran off to safety, Gilbert believes, or maybe that’s when the killer got her.

The others want to know why Mari thinks Shannan suddenly wouldn’t share her fee with the driver. I was the last one Shannan talked to that night, six hours before she was missing, Mari says. We had planned for her to come home for my birthday and for Mother’s Day. Gilbert thinks Shannan didn’t want to give the driver his cut that night so that she could have enough money to buy her a present. She said, I have to work tonight, Mommy.’

Everyone is quiet for a moment. The guilt permeating that theory is so overpowering no one wants to acknowledge it. Finally, Overstreet says something. Okay. So you don’t know that conversation went on between her and that driver at that point? You’re just guessing?


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