Illustration of Dan Denney, by Ricardo Gimenes

Visiting Gilgo Beach

“It gets pitch black out here at night, and drivers get confused or lost, so keep that in mind when you’re getting picked up.” If only my Lyft driver knew how relevant that advice was as she was almost ready to drop me off at the Gilgo Beach entrance.

I had chosen the drop-off point as the Gilgo Beach Inn because it was the only commercial spot in the area, and I didn’t want to explain the significance of being dropped off at a specific latitude and longitude. (The Inn is closed this time of year, so my ruse was pretty weak.) There’s a u-turn that has to be made to get back to the parking lot, and I chickened out on asking her to just drop me there. It would’ve saved me some walking, but in hindsight, walking the distance was important.

With “Voices of Gilgo” playing in my headphones, I started the trek east, along the north edge of Ocean Parkway. At first, there was just unease, and I was a little on edge. It’s silly, as it was the middle of the afternoon, and it’s been over eight years since the bodies were discovered. Yet, I couldn’t help wondering if people knew why I was the only person out there walking the stretch of road.

Any personal angst went out when the houses stopped, replaced with intrigue. Checking the map, I was thinking, “Holy shit, they went just past the last set of houses.” Then came the fork, which sends opposing traffic in a small arc away from my side of the road. In the median, starting at the fork is a significant amount of brush. Google Maps confirmed that this was the spot, and it made so much sense. Once you’re past the houses, there’s very little reason to be out on this road late at night. As podcasters have stated, you’d be able to see headlights coming for miles, but what I didn’t fully understand is that only headlights from one direction would even matter. Anyone else is already arcing away from you and divided by brush.

While I was looking for the white cross with “Melissa” on it, I didn’t see any physical indications that this was the spot. I confirmed it about ten times, though, based on the maps and coordinates from forums. It just made so much sense, too.

While waiting in the parking lot for my Lyft, some local teens decided to have some fun with me. I had seen them come up from the docks and get in a car, which was then headed directly at me as I looked up from my phone. They turned off about ten feet away, in a light game of “chicken” with the weirdo in the hoodie who’s here to see where the bodies were. That last part was my take; they were just kids being kids, toying with a rare other human outside in their area of the world. At least I know where I could’ve buried them.

This was my first trip to a scene, and I enjoyed it. The angst and the intrigue of getting a feel for the area is something that I want to do again. I’ll likely walk the neighborhood where all Hell broke loose with Shannan Gilbert next and look for opportunities to do this with other cases as well.