Milos Balac, a producer with PEN, People Entertainment Network, a new online network and free streaming channel from People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, invited John Jay students to attend the taping of a panel discussion. I got an email for the JJ listserv, and glancing at People Magazine in the virtual invitation’s subject line, I curiously opened it. I wondered, “Why on earth are we getting this?” My excitement grew as I read on. This after-show taping would be following the first episode of People Magazine’s new Investigation Discovery series, “People Magazine Investigates.” What were they investigating…wait for it…the Long Island Serial Killer. I immediately responded, as my penchant for true crime quickly insisted I take action. The new 10-part true crime show, People Magazine Investigates, debuted with the two-hour season premiere “The Long Island Serial Killer” on Monday, November 7, at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.
For those unaware, the Long Island Serial killer became of interest after 24-year-old escort, Shannan Gilbert, went missing in 2010. Her remains were later found. The most interesting part of the overall investigation surfaced when authorities found over 15 bodies at during their search for Gilbert. “People Magazine Investigates” covered the story from the beginning.
I, along with fellow John Jay graduate psychology students, undergraduate students, and professors, attended the taping of the after show panel which discussed the first episode of the show in further detail. The panel featured Donnie Eichar and Alicia Dennis, both head staff at People Magazine. They had pivotal roles in the investigative series, as they had been following the trajectory for years. The panel also included John Ray, the Gilbert family attorney, and Robert Kolker, author of ‘Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery,’ a further discussion and exploration of the many victims involved in the case.
The whole event was quite interesting for me, since I had never been to a live taping at a studio. Naturally, I was pretty ‘psyched’. Lydia and I took an Uber down to the Battery Park City, because we didn’t want to be late. We were among the first to arrive at the Time Inc. building and I genuinely had no idea what to expect. After a security check, my John Jay peers and I were soon taken to a conference room on People Magazine’s floor to wait and schmooze until the taping would begin. We were offered plenty of snacks, coffee, beverages, and so far, I was surely enjoying my time as a guest at People Magazine.
I remember joking with Michelle about wonderful array and assortment of snacks, “Have we gone into the wrong field?” After laughing, we talked about what was actually going to happen. My background is in the Arts, so I had been to many studio tapings: on stage, behind the scenes, and as an audience member. I was in my element.
Soon after, the dozen or so of us were quietly escorted to one of multiple taping rooms where we were told to fill the seats closer to the panel and cameras. To say the least, the John Jay graduate students I was sitting with were quite apprehensive of having to be in plain sight of the cameras, but alas, we were placed in the second row, where the potential for a close-up was imminent. Jess Cagle wonderfully interviewed the panel of experts. I was appreciative they invited the John Jay community to a very convoluted and controversial forensic case.
Seriously, this unsolved case is fascinating. I don’t want to give too much away, but all aspects are truly remarkable: the background of Shannon Gilbert; an unreleased 911 call; the police investigation; the potential suspects; the beach communities involved on Long Island; the tragedy that so many victims with eerie similarities were discovered; the possibility of not one but two or more killers; the shocking details of Gilbert’s family after Shannon’s murder. I could go on, but you should research the case and watch the Investigation Discovery specials and the after the show taping to see for yourself.
We got to watch a screen-er of Part One of the special, so we could formulate questions regarding the case to ask the expert panel. Michelle and I separately brainstormed some ideas, and the morning of the taping, I combined and submitted them together, hoping to better our chances of being selected. We were very lucky and were chosen. Michelle insisted I do the asking. With over twenty years of performance experience, I must admit I was still a little nervous. I had never been on camera in an academic setting, representing my new graduate school and myself in a new light. When it was time, I confidently asked my question.
People Magazine and the panel thanked the John Jay community for our questions and attendance. Afterwards, a few students decided we must discuss the case over a glass of wine and some french fries. It was happy hour after all. Adjacent to the Time Inc. Building, similar to Chelsea Markets, we gabbed about our theories on the case. We were so lucky that Donnie Eichar and John Ray passed by. We briefly talked about our experience and thanked them for their investigative work. We empathized with Mr. Ray about the sad plights of the case.
Michelle and I had a great time representing the John Jay community and thank you PEN for the invitation.
*Click here for more information!
*Check out some potential questions Lydia and I had after watching the special. What do YOU think?
1. How thorough was the investigation into Dr. Hackett: why did it take police two years to pull his phone records and pursue the lead of the taunting call made to Shannan's family right after her disappearance, and what was the reasoning behind ruling him out as a suspect?
2. Dr. Hackett was seen as a charming, prominent figure of the community, similar to John Wayne Gacy. Often narcissistic killers insert themselves into their victims' surrounding circles. Do you think this could be the case here, based on a profiling point of view of Dr. Hackett?
3. Why won't they release Shannan's 911 call? It seems that a lot of miscommunication occurred the evening of her disappearance. Do you think there are certain clues that would be made clearer?
4. Is it possible Sarra's Schizophrenia was activated by the diathesis of her sister's death? Can you speak more to the murder of the mother, Mari Gilbert?
5. Most of the Long Island Serial Killers' victims were involved in promiscuous lifestyles. Do you think the victims' deaths were sexual in nature?
Click Here watch the Part One of the Investigative Discovery Piece: