Case File Overview
On Monday, September 10th, 2001, 31-year-old Sneha Philip had a low key yet busy day planned.
Ron Lieberman, Sneha’s husband, kissed his wife goodbye and left their apartment located at 225 Rector Place in Battery Park City, New York, New York at approximately 11:00AM. Ron had a demanding job as an emergency-room intern at Jacobi Medical Center and left in plenty of time to make sure he would not be late for his long shift.
Sneha and Ron
After playing with her kittens Figa and Kali, Sneha cleaned the apartment in preparation for a dinner party she had scheduled with her cousin Annu on the upcoming Wednesday. She also repotted some purple and white orchids that had finally arrived from Hawaii, leaving the plants in the bathtub so any excess water could drain out before finding them a permanent home.
Sneha sent her mother an instant message around 2:00PM, and like usual it turned into a chat fest. The two-hour online conversation covered a wide-range of topics, including Sneha and Ron’s fun time at a bar the previous Saturday when Ron had played the guitar and jammed with co-workers and details of Sneha’s upcoming plans for the week.
Finally, at about 4:00PM, Sneha said goodbye to her mom and left to run some errands.
After dropping off dry-cleaning, Sneha headed to Century 21, a discount department store she was a regular at that was located only a few blocks away from their apartment… and just past the World Trade Center.
Shortly after 6:00PM, Sneha used a credit card to pay for lingerie, a dress, panty hose, and linens. Then, she moved on to the shoe annex and bought three pairs of shoes. A cashier at the department store thought she saw Sneha shopping with a young Indian woman, but this person never came forward and did not appear on any of the surveillance footage.
After she stepped out of the Century 21 department store, Sneha vanished.
Last Confirmed Sighting of Sneha
Sneha was born in India on October 7th, 1969. She is 5’6” and 115 pounds and has a mole on her left cheek. She was last seen wearing a short-sleeved brown shirtdress with buttons down the front, sandals, and a black and gold beaded necklace with a cross pendant. She also typically wore a gold solitaire diamond engagement ring and a gold wedding band with small inset diamonds, and flower-shaped diamond stud earrings.
Case File Theories
Ran off to start a new life
Did Sneha walk away from her life?
This theory usually comes up in missing persons cases even though it rarely happens. In fact, it is very unlikely Sneha disappeared of her own volution.
Sneha With Ron and Her Family
There is no evidence Sneha had made preparations in advance to leave. Her computer was thoroughly searched and she had never looked up places to relocate or tips on how to disappear without a trace. Plus Sneha left behind her passport, driver’s license, credit cards (except for the one she used at the Century 21 department store), and glasses.
Sneha was extremely close to her family, especially her mom. When describing her relationship with her only daughter, Sneha’s mom Ansu said, “She tells me everything.”
Overall, there seems to be little chance Sneha vanished on purpose and then remained out of contact with her loved ones for years.
9/11 terrorist attack
Was Sneha killed by the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center?
Ron’s says that when he got home from work just before midnight on September 10th Sneha was nowhere to be found. By the next morning he was irritated but not overly worried as she often stayed out late with friends and crashed elsewhere. Ron left for work and arrived at Jacobi Medical Center at around 8:00AM for a meeting.
Shortly after the meeting at approximately 9:00AM, Ron wandered over to join some coworkers who were gathered around a TV. He was horrified to discover that a plane had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, which was located about two blocks from their apartment. Ron says he repeatedly called Sneha but she never answered. And when he got in contact with her family they told him they had no idea where she was.
Ron caught a ride on an ambulance to his and Sneha’s apartment. But it took over six hours to get there due to the throngs of people fleeing lower Manhattan. When he made it home he discovered the electricity was out in the building and could not bypass the automatic locks. After running around the building calling Sneha’s name, someone in the building asked what was wrong. He asked them to go and knock on his apartment door. There was no answer.
9/11 Photo Montage
After spending the night at a friend’s house nearby, Ron was able to gain entry into his building the next morning. When he opened the apartment door he was met by a surreal scene. Gray soot and debris from when the Twin Towers fell had seeped in through an open window and coated every surface. The only footprints visible were those made by the cats. There was no sign of Sneha and Century 21 shopping bags were not found in the apartment. Ron was sure that Sneha had never made it home and reported his wife missing.
Ron began to wonder if Sneha was killed in the terrorist attack when a woman matching her description was seen on the apartment building’s security footage. At 8:43AM, just three minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 was flown into the North Tower, a woman who resembled Sneha entered the lobby, waited for the elevator for a couple of minutes, and then abruptly left the building. The woman had a similar build and haircut to Sneha and was wearing a dress like the one she had on while shopping.
Ron thought if Sneha had been on her way up to their apartment when she heard the commotion outside she would have gone to see what was going on. And given that she was an internal-medicine intern, once she had seen the chaos she would have jumped into action and put her medical training to use.
However, authorities were unable to confirm if it was Sneha in the footage. Sun streaming into the lobby washed out the video making it impossible to see anything other than the woman’s silhouette. Also, the mystery woman was not carrying any shopping bags, which Sneha likely would have been after her Century 21 shopping spree.
Ron tried to get the media interested in his wife’s disappearance, but since he was unable to prove it was related to the terrorist attack they had little interest. So he called Sneha’s brother John and asked him to reach out to reporters and tell them about Sneha’s disappearance but to leave out key details—like the fact that she was last officially seen on the 10th.
Sneha Happily Posing for the Camera
But unbelievably Sneha’s brother instead fabricated a story that involved him talking to his sister on the phone while she tended to injured victims. John told reporters, “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.” He eventually admitted his lie to the authorities, but by then Sneha’s hero narrative was impossible to quell.
Sneha’s name was eventually added to the official list of 9/11 victims and her family attended a number of the memorials. At these memorials, they found some sense of solace in being with others who had also experienced the sudden loss of a loved one.
In 2003, Ron filed a court petition in New York County Surrogate’s Court to have his wife declared a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At around the same time he also filed a claim with the Victim Compensation Fund. Given Sneha’s age and future earning potential, Ron was in line to receive between three million and four million dollars.
In January 2004, the medical examiner’s office removed Sneha’s name from the official list of 9/11 victims. A spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office explained they just had no evidence to show that Sneha was even still alive on September 11th.
And on June 29th, 2006, Surrogate Court Judge Renee Roth ruled that it could not be proven Sneha died on September 11th, 2001. Instead, her date of death was documented as September 10th, 2004—three years after she was reported missing in accordance with state law. In the ruling, Judge Roth pointed to evidence in the police report that suggested Sneha may have intentionally disappeared or been murdered.
Seeing as Ron could not produce a death certificate with September 11th, 2001 on it as Sneha’s date of death, the Victim Compensation Fund denied his claim.
But the case was not over yet. On January 31, 2008, a five-judge panel voted four to one to overturn the lower-court ruling and declared Sneha a victim of the attacks, officially making her the 2,751st victim of the World Trade Center collapse. Her name was added to Panel S-66 of the National September 11th Memorial’s South Pool.
Regardless of the ruling, Ron never received any money from the Victim Compensation Fund. It made its final payments and was closed in 2003, so there was no money left to distribute by the time 2008 rolled around.
The majority judges admitted there was a lack of direct evidence putting Sneha at Ground Zero, but noted the “clear and convincing standard […] does not require an absolute certainty; it merely requires that the evidence make the conclusion highly probable.” According to the judges, it was highly likely Sneha died at Ground Zero. They believed if she had died any other way her body would have turned up. Additionally, they seriously questioned the evidence in the police report that suggested Sneha met with foul play, labelling most of it as hearsay.
Yes, there is a possibility Sneha was a victim of the World Trade Center collapse. As mentioned, the courts ruled that was indeed the case. Also, Sneha’s family and her husband Ron have been very vocal in their belief that she died a heroic victim of 9/11.
But there are also a number of reasons why many people do not believe Sneha died at the World Trade Center site.
First, no physical evidence has been found that suggests Sneha was killed in the attacks. At least 60% of the victims from the World Trade Center had been identified by 2019 through DNA testing of remains or by identifying jewelry or other belongings found at the scene. But in Sneha’s case, a DNA match was never made to prove she was at the site that fateful day and none of her distinct jewellery was located in the rubble.
Second, as mentioned before, it was never confirmed Sneha was the woman in the lobby of her building in the video footage from minutes before the attack. Really, there is no evidence that she ever made it home on the 11th, or was anywhere near the Twin Towers. The dissenting judge, Bernard Malone Jr., said: “Since it is not known where the decedent spent the night of September 10th, it requires speculation to say…that her route home …took her across or dangerously near the World Trade Center grounds, or that at 8:48 a.m., when the attacks began, she was even in the vicinity of the World Trade Center.”
Which brings us to the third reason it is unlikely Sneha died in the terrorist attacks. Judge Malone went on to stress that the majority judges had made a ruling based on speculation. And in his opinion…and mine…it is equally probable that Sneha’s professional and personal problems somehow led to her death.
Was Sneha a victim of foul play?
During their investigation into her disappearance, the police found evidence they believe suggests Sneha had been living a double life and, in their view, had been spiralling out of control.
In Spring 2001, Sneha was told her contract as an internal-medicine intern at the Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan would not be renewed. The reason given: “tardiness and alcohol-related issues.”
After being informed she had basically been fired, Sneha went to the bar with a group of interns from the hospital. During this outing, Sneha later told the police that one of the interns had groped her. But the police did not believe the allegation. And it was Sneha who ended up in jail charged with third-degree falsely reporting an incident. The Prosecutor offered to drop the charges if Sneha recanted her original complaint, but she held her ground and refused.
Sneha was able to land a new internship at Staten Island’s St. Vincent’s Medical Center shortly after being fired and spending time in jail – but it did not last long. The position came with strict stipulations that she did not follow. And when she failed to meet with her substance-abuse counselor she was suspended, which is why Sneha was not at work on September 10th.
Although they were only married in May 2000, the police report includes interviews that suggest Sneha and Ron were already experiencing serious martial issues by the Fall of 2001. The authorities learned Sneha, “often stayed out all night with individuals (not known to her husband) whom she met at various bars.” And her usual haunts included popular lesbian bars. During an interview with her brother John the police heard a shocking story – about a month before her disappearance John said he had walked in on his girlfriend and Sneha having sex.
Taking into consideration Sneha’s substance-abuse issues and reportedly erratic behavior, the authorities concluded it was likely she died as a result of foul play. Sneha could easily have gotten mixed up with the wrong person on the evening of September 10th and been murdered. The question remains, though, how they got rid of the body in a city crawling with police in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
Sneha’s family, though, strongly disagrees with the police report. Yes, she liked having a good time, but she did not have a serious substance abuse issue. She hung out at lesbian bars because men hit on her often and she had been unsettled by the groping incident. And yes, she sometimes went home with women she met at the bar. But this was because she liked to have innocent fun and became fast friends with people. In Ron’s view there was no way Sneha was bisexual or cheating on him. And John denied ever telling the police he caught his sister and girlfriend having sex.
In the end, Sneha’s loved ones and the courts disagree with what the police say they uncovered. But it is unclear what motivation the police would have to lie about what they found. And it would have been much easier for them to just agree that Sneha had died during the World Trade Center attack. But they did not do this; instead, the authorities spent countless hours on their investigation only to come to a conclusion few people wanted to hear.
Another possibility is that Sneha was killed by her husband.
Sneha and Ron’s Wedding
On the morning of September 10th, Sneha appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charge of filing a false complaint in relation to the groping allegation. According to the police, witnesses reported seeing Sneha and Ron in a huge fight at the courthouse, apparently arguing about her substance abuse issues and lesbianism. An enraged Sneha took off, leaving Ron behind.
Then there is the bizarre phone call. Ron claimed he was the only one home on the night Sneha’s vanished, yet someone called his cellphone from their home phone at approximately 4:00AM on the 11th. Ron told authorities he did not remember placing the call, but did say he might have been checking his cellphone messages. But maybe Sneha had returned home, noticed Ron was out (maybe looking for her…), and called him. Could their earlier fight at the courthouse continued? It is unclear how thoroughly Ron and Sneha’s home was searched, or if it was exactly when this was done. Did Ron have time to kill Sneha in the apartment, clean up the scene, and somehow hide her body in the chaos following 9/11? And if so, where could this dump site have been that has remained hidden all of these years?
Ron denies ever fighting with his wife at the courthouse and is adamant that he had nothing to do with her disappearance. During their investigation, the police ruled out his involvement. And his behavior seems to support this. He took a month off of work to search for Sneha, and when that failed he hired a private investigator to look for her. And Sneha’s family must have thought there was no way Ron was involved in her disappearance, as he eventually left his apartment and went to live with them.
What do you think happened to Sneha?
When Sneha was officially declared a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center her family finally had closure. It gave them a concrete reason for her disappearance – and her addition to the memorial provided them with a place to both grieve and honor Sneha.
Ansu, Sneha’s mom, told reporters, “I don’t have even a grain of hope that she’s alive or that anything else happened to her. It’s more peaceful for me to think she died in the World Trade Center than … I cannot bear to think that somebody killed her.”
For many, this case is closed. But for some, until Sneha is found the mystery lives on.
Sneha’s Missing Person Poster
Sources and Related Reading and Listening
“Sneha Ann Philip.” The Charley Project, Last updated September 13, 2019.
“Sneha Philip: Did Doctor Use Cover of 9/11 to Disappear?” New Zealand Herald, September 10, 2018.
“Disappearance of Sneha Philip.” Thinking Sideways Podcast, May 28, 2015.
“Solved: The Last Mystery of 9/11.” New York Post, July 11, 2008.
“Doctor Missing Since 9/10 Is Declared a Victim of 9/11.” The New York Times, February 2, 2008.
“Last Seen On September 10th.” New York, June 16, 2006.
“A Tragedy Within a Tragedy: Man’s Wife Was Last Seen On Sept. 10 Near the World Trade Center.” The Times-Picayune, November 4, 2001.
“Losses Unbearable.” Johns Hopkins Magazine, November 2001.
“Missing Poster: Sneha Ann Philip.” September 11 Archive, n.d.
“Panel: Sneha Anne Philip.” 9/11 Memorial Guide, n.d.