Renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden has agreed to conduct an independent autopsy on the remains of Shannan Gilbert, a New Jersey woman whose body was found almost three years ago near a suspected serial killer's dumping ground.
The police search for Gilbert six months after her May 2010 disappearance led to the discovery of four sets of female remains, each covered in burlap and dumped in thick bramble on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y., along the edge of Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach – the work of a suspected serial killer. The women – all escorts who advertised their services on Craigslist – had been asphyxiated and were found in various stages of decomposition, police said.
While authorities have not linked Gilbert’s death to the four murder victims, Gilbert's family is convinced the 23-year-old woman, also a Craigslist escort, was killed in Oak Beach, near Gilgo, in the early morning hours of May 1, 2010, after visiting a client.
"There are a lot of questions as to the cause of Shannan’s death, given the circumstances of how she died as known at the time of the autopsy," Baden told FoxNews.com Thursday. "There is further forensic testing that can be done."
John Ray, the attorney representing Gilbert’s family, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Charles Peter Hackett, alleging the former Oak Beach resident gave Shannan a drug the night she disappeared that resulted in her death. Hackett, meanwhile, has maintained his innocence, telling investigators he never encountered the woman.
An autopsy report by the Suffolk County Medical Examiner, obtained by FoxNews.com, lists the cause and manner of death as "undetermined," noting an examination of the remains “reveals no evidence of trauma.” The report states that Gilbert’s body was "almost completely recovered," with the exception of small parts of the hyoid bone near the neck and some adjoining cartilage. Gilbert’s skeletal muscle, skull material and hair all tested negative for drugs, according to the report.
Baden, who has the permission of Gilbert's family to conduct a "complete re-examination of the remains," hopes to focus on the neck bones, larynx and windpipe. He also intends to conduct a more thorough test for traces of drugs in Gilbert’s hair and bones, which are still in the custody of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner. The Suffolk coroner, who must agree to release the remains to Baden, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Ray said his own investigation has led him to believe Gilbert was deliberately killed.
"In view of all the new evidence that I have gathered, the case is overwhelming that Shannan was murdered and that the police have overlooked the correct persons of interest," Ray told FoxNews.com. "This cold case has been inflamed."
Gilbert’s skeletal remains were found in December 2011, nearly 19 months after her disappearance, in a marsh, approximately 200 feet off the southbound lane of Ocean Parkway, according to investigators.
At the time Gilbert’s body was found, the Suffolk County Police Department surmised she ran into the marsh, disoriented, toward the lights from the parkway and drowned. Detectives had indicated there was no evidence to link Gilbert to other Craigslist escorts.
Shortly after midnight on May 1, 2010, Gilbert responded to an inquiry from Joseph Brewer, who lived in the isolated, gated-community of Oak Beach, Long Island. Gilbert’s driver, Michael Pak, transported her to Brewer’s home and waited outside.
For reasons that remain unknown, Gilbert fled on foot from Brewer’s home and made a 23-minute 911 call in which she said, “They’re trying to kill me,” according to law enforcement sources. More than four years later, a complete transcript of the tape has yet to be released to the media.
Hackett and Brewer were ruled out as suspects by the Suffolk County Police Department, which did not begin searching for Shannan until six months after she disappeared in December 2010.
On Dec. 11, 2010, Suffolk County Police Officer John Mallia and his dog, Blue, discovered the skeleton of 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy. Over the next few days, law enforcement officials found the remains of 25-year-old Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 22-year-old Megan Waterman and 27-year-old Amber Lynn Costello.
All four women were white, petite, and had worked as escorts, advertising their services on Craigslist. Brainard-Barnes disappeared in 2007, Barthelemy in 2009 and Waterman and Costello in 2010.
Baden, a Fox News contributor, is the former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City and former chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police. He has investigated more than 3,000 homicides, suicides and drug deaths, as well as the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Any new information can provide a more informed determination of cause of death," Baden said of Gilbert. "We’ll see."
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.