The skeletal remains of Shannan Gilbert are believed to have been found in an impassable tangle of swamp and thick brush, police said today.
"After an exhaustive, methodical, massive search, we have this day at approximately 9:14 a.m. located a set of skeletal remains we believe at this time to be the missing Shannan Gilbert," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said at a news conference.
Dormer said that while authorities believe the remains to be Gilbert's, they will not know for sure until the medical examiner completes an autopsy. Dormer said the cause of death is currently unknown.
The body was found about a quarter of a mile from where Gilbert's purse, identification and shoes were located last week.
"[The homicide squad] were on an amphibious machine edging forward into thick brush when the homicide squad detective spotted the skeletal remains lying on the surface of the ground," Dormer said.
Dormer called the area where the body was found a "very tough, desolate, tangled mess." He said that Gilbert could have likely been able to see the lights on a nearby parkway and attempted to go in that direction, but that she did not get very far in the marshy, tough ramble.
"If it is Shannan Gilbert, then her location is indicative of her trying to make it to the causeway, which is northeast of where her remains were found," Dormer said.
"There's no way Shannan Gilbert could have gotten through that brush to make it to the parkway," Dormer said. "If somebody is disoriented and anxious and running, it certainly would take a toll on you."
Gilbert, 24, was last seen in May 2010 apparently running from someone near today's search area. On the night of her disappearance, witnesses told police Gilbert did not appear to be acting rationally.
"It appeared at first when they searched that there's no way anyone could get in there," Dormer said. "We went in with the idea that we were going to do this one last time to see if we can find anything and we did."
"It is certainly a sad day for the Gilbert family and our condolences go out to that family on the death of their daughter," Dormer said.
The search for Gilbert led to the discovery of 10 sets of dismembered bodies that are believed to have been the victims of a serial killer, but Gilbert's death is not believed to be linked to the other 10 deaths.
Detectives believe a single killer is responsible for the dismembered bodies of young women, a male transvestite and a toddler found dumped along a pristine stretch of Long Island's south shore from 1996 to 2010.
Police believe that all 10 of the victims were linked to the sex trade, with DNA indicating that the toddler was the likely daughter of one of the victims.
It was the search for Craiglist escort Gilbert that yielded the grisly discoveries. Gilbert disappeared the previous May after meeting a client in nearby Oak Beach.
"Our theory is that this is a coincidence. She went missing in Oak Beach and this has nothing to do with the serial killer," Dormer has said.