Netflix’s new film Lost Girls is the story of a mother’s quest to find the truth about what happened to her missing daughter. Based on the book by journalist Robert Kolker, and directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus, it sheds light on the ways women are morally judged by law enforcement and the media when they become victims of violent crime. In real life, Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan in the film), the woman seeking answers about her daughter Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance, tragically became a victim of a violent act herself, something only revealed in a title card at the end of Lost Girls.
In the film, Mari ensures that Shannan’s case is taken seriously, despite her worry that law enforcement would dismiss Shannan as a “high-risk” victim due to her sex worker profession.
Mari’s fight to make sure the police do right by Shannan ultimately leads to a disturbing discovery: During the search for Shannan, 10 other bodies, seemingly victims of homocide, are also uncovered. Shannan’s body was later discovered in December of 2011, 19 months after her disappearance. It is not clear if her death was a homicide or a tragic accident.
Then, five years after the discovery of Shannan’s body, the Gilbert family once again made headlines when Mari was killed by her daughter Sarra on July 23, 2016.
Sarra, Mari’s third of her four daughters, was reportedly a survivor of sexual abuse by Mari’s boyfriend as a child, according to Kolker’s March 2020 article for The Cut, and allegedly suffered a “mental collapse” following the discovery of Shannan’s remains in 2011. She reportedly believed she was a god capable of detecting if others were possessed and that she and Shannan had written songs for Jay-Z and Beyoncé. During one episode in February 2016, Sarra drowned her family dog.
As Sarra dealt with mental health issues, going in and out of psychiatric facilities, Mari was the primary caregiver of Sarra’s son Hayden. When Sarra returned home from the hospital in 2016, Hayden was put in Mari’s care, and Sarra no longer received government assistance checks. She became increasingly isolated and was no longer taking her antipsychotic medication.
In July 2016, Sarra called her sister Sheree and told her she was hearing voices. Sherre told Mari, who came over to Sarra’s home to help. There, Sarra stabbed her mother 227 times, as well as hit her with a fire extinguisher.
Mari did not give up on finding out what really happened to Shannan, and now, her daughter Sheree runs a Facebook page dedicated to Shannan and breaks in the case. Recently, a press conference held in January of 2020 revealed that a belt was discovered in the marsh where Shannan’s body was uncovered. Though Mari is gone, answers about Shannan’s death may still be found.