Sneha Anne Philip’s Mysterious Disappearance On 9/11 Still Haunts The Internet
The last confirmed sighting of Sneha Anne Philip was captured on the evening of September 10, 2001, on CCTV footage from Century 21, a discount department store in downtown Manhattan.
The 31-year-old physician, who’d been in the final year of her residency, left the store having purchased a dress, pantyhose, lingerie, bed linens and three pairs of shoes on her husband’s credit card.
Sneha left the store carrying a couple of sizeable shopping bags, the sort you wouldn’t want to walk around with for too long. However, she never returned home to unpack them at her Battery Park City apartment, which was located a brief 10 to 15-minute walk away.
The sales clerk would later recall that Sneha had been accompanied by a petite woman in her early thirties, however no such person was captured on CCTV, according to the Charly Project. If such a friend ever existed, she has never come forward to shed light on where exactly Sneha went next.
When Sneha’s husband, emergency room intern Ron Lieberman, returned home from his shift at around midnight, there was no sign of Sneha.
Ron assumed at the time she was just out late enjoying herself with friends, something that wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for his gregarious wife. However, when he awoke the next day, Ron found that he was still alone.
Those rising and preparing their breakfasts that bright, clear September day in New York would have had no idea of the horrors that were about to unfold, with the world set to witness one of the most devastating tragedies in human history.
Awaking at 6.30am without his wife, Ron still wasn’t too worried about her absence, figuring that she had simply stayed over either with her cousin Annu or brother John. Mildly irritated, he caught the subway uptown to a meeting, getting out shortly after 9.00am.
It was only then that he learned, along with the rest of the world, that something terrible had happened.
Just after 8.45am, a plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Shortly before 9.05am, the second plane hit, this time striking the South Tower.
It was a catastrophe that would spark a series of far-reaching events, shaping US politics and global affairs for years to come. But at this point, there was only the immediate panic and people like Ron, desperately trying to reach their loved ones as dust and darkness engulfed the city.
This was a time before everyone had a mobile phone, and so Ron rang their home phone over and over, only to get the answering machine every time. After getting in touch with Sneha’s family members, Ron learned that they hadn’t seen her either. The dread began to build.
Getting back to their apartment wasn’t easy. The city was in a state of complete chaos, and it took Ron six hours to hitch an ambulance ride across the city to the cordoned off disaster site where they had lived together, just four blocks away from the remains of the World Trade Center.
Unable to get through the apartment building doors with the electricity out, Ron spent the night on a friend’s couch, and only managed to get back inside on September 12, at which point a grim sight awaited him.
The windows of the couple’s apartment had been left open on the morning of the attacks, and their belongings were coated with grey ash.
Ron’s two kittens had left pawprints in the abundant dust, but there was no sign to suggest that his wife had so much as set foot in the door during the long, painful hours he’d been away.
By this point, many families were distributing posters bearing the faces of those missing in the hope that someone, somewhere, had seen them up and walking after the towers fell. Sneha’s photograph was up there with the others, showing a slim, 5″6′ woman with black hair, brown eyes and olive skin. Sadly, like so many others, she was never seen again.
While handing out leaflets, Ron and other members of Sneha’s family found that people lost interest once they found out that Sneha had been missing since the evening of September 10, being more focused on disappearances directly related to the Twin Towers.
With this in mind, Sneha’s younger brother John lied in a bid to draw media attention to her case, telling reporters that he had in fact spoken with his sister as she rushed towards the towers on the morning of 9/11:
I was on the phone with her, and she told me she couldn’t leave because people were hurt. She said, ‘I have to help this person,’ and that’s the last thing I heard from her.
John later admitted that he had completely fabricated this conversation and withdrew it after realising that, although it boosted coverage, this false tale of heroism could be adversely impacting the investigation.
The nature of the 9/11 attacks made identification difficult, with some of the DNA retrieved from the site being unusable. As of October 2019, the total number of identified remains currently totals 1,645, with 1,108 victims (40%) yet to be unidentified.
Sneha’s remains were never recovered, but her family still believe she was there that morning, her medical calling driving her to the site.
Security footage from Sneha’s apartment lobby shows a woman walking in at 8.43am on September 11 – mere minutes before the first plane hit – waiting near the elevator before suddenly walking straight back out again.
The footage isn’t clear, and this has never been confirmed as an official sighting of Sneha. The woman, who isn’t carrying shopping bags, can only be seen in silhouette form; bright morning sunlight obscuring all identifying features.
However, her family feel that this was indeed Sneha, noting similar mannerisms. They believe she’d been heading home when she heard the commotion outside; her natural instincts to help and heal pulling her towards the scene of tragedy, and into the burning building.
Although certainly plausible, there has never been any solid evidence to place Sneha in the towers, or to suggest that she had even been in the area at the time of the attacks.
Sneha’s name was added to the list of the missing. However, it was removed in 2004, after a Surrogate Court judge ruled that she couldn’t definitively be placed at site, and that she was ‘known to be missing the day before’, as per the medical examiner’s office.
The judge also pointed to ‘personal and professional problems’ Sneha had been facing during this particular period in her life, troubles that included alleged extra-marital affairs, substance abuse and mental health problems.
On the morning of September 10, just hours before she vanished, Sneha had appeared in court after being charged with making a false complaint against a colleague.
Sneha accused this man of groping her while they were out for drinks with a group of co-workers, however her story was not believed by authorities, who charged Sneha with filing a false complaint after she redacted her story.
As per the police report, Sneha and Ron were witnessed arguing outside the courthouse after her appearance, with Ron accusing his wife of ‘abusing drugs and alcohol’ and ‘conducting bisexual acts’. Ron has denied such an altercation ever took place.
Professionally, things were not going well for Sneha, and there are questions about whether she really was committed to a career in medicine. A creative person, some who knew her personally have suggested she would have been more content pursuing her love for art.
Indeed, speaking with journalist Jon Walczak for the excellent true crime podcast Missing on 9/11, one of Sneha’s former bosses – referred to only as ‘Dr. E’ – painted a picture of a troubled genius who was unhappy with her current situation and longed for a different sort of life.
Back in the spring of that final year, the director of residents told Sneha that her contract wasn’t going to be renewed, on account of her tardiness and ‘alcohol-related issues’. Not long afterwards, Sneha ended up spending the night in jail following an altercation at a bar.
Dr. E even went as far as to suggest Sneha could have taken the opportunity to run away and start over, making her escape as chaos unfolded across the city. There was no doubt in her mind that the reluctant young doctor had the formidable intelligence required to pull off such a feat.
Police looking into Sneha’s case at the time also queried whether she had been happy in her marriage, discovering that she had been frequenting lesbian bars and going home with other women. Her brother John told a detective that he’d caught her in bed with his girlfriend mere weeks before her disappearance, although he would later deny this.
Speaking with New York Magazine back in 2006, Ron dismissed such rumours as ‘ridiculous’, claiming, ‘because we don’t live a conservative lifestyle doesn’t mean that anything abnormal is going on’.
With so much turmoil going on beneath the surface, there are those who believe something else happened to complicated, multifaceted Sneha that week, something completely unrelated to the devastation that dominated global headlines.
UNILAD spoke with Todd Matthews, program director at the Doe Network, an organisation that focuses on cold cases and unidentified persons.
Matthews, who has previously managed to successfully identify various missing people – including the mysterious ‘Tent Girl’ – told UNILAD:
My initial thoughts on this is that 9/11 was an incredible opportunity for someone that might have wanted to disappear.
It would take a person of intelligence to think fast and take advantage of an unfolding event. And to stay under the radar for 20 years.
Sneha’s documents, including her passport and bank cards, were left behind in her apartment, suggesting she hadn’t been planning to run. However, this theory has continued to grip true crime buffs for two decades, with many believing Sneha had the capabilities and drive to begin again, away from the life she had apparently felt so trapped in.
Although Ron and her family have insisted that her drinking and depression weren’t serious, long-term issues, there are others who knew her, including her old boss, who feel she would have taken an escape if given a chance.
Some years later, a mysterious postcard was sent into PostSecret, an online community mail art project where contributors send in homemade postcards, sharing their secrets anonymously.
These postcards, which were featured in the 2005 music video for the All American Rejects’ track Dirty Little Secret, range from funny to heart-breaking, flippant to dark. But there is one postcard that haunts site users more than any other.
The postcard in question bears the image of the towers burning against the New York skyline, drawn with a fair bit of artistic talent. The secret simply reads, ‘Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I’m dead’. To this day, many believe this postcard could have been sent in by Sneha.
But this is far from the only theory. Nobody knows where Sneha slept on the night of September 10, if indeed she was even still alive at this point, and this also raises less hopeful theories as to what could have happened to her.
Recalling this traumatic point in history, Matthews told UNILAD:
It’s also an opportunity for mischief. An unfolding event also muddies the water in criminal activities.
It could then also be possible that Sneha sadly died the night before 9/11, murdered by some unknown individual who covered their tracks as the world looked towards the towers.
Lastly it is entirely possible that remains were not found. Some people were known dead based on the circumstantial situation.
We may never know her true fate. Not at all unusual in the world of the lost and found.
In 2008, after years of campaigning on behalf of her family, Sneha was added back to the list of 9/11 victims, named officially as the 2,751st victim.
However, there are still many out there who harbour doubts, wondering whether Sneha could well still be out there, living as the free-spirited, creative person she always wanted to be.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677
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