Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a haunting and humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island, in a compelling tale of unsolved murder and Internet prostitution.
One late spring evening in 2010, Shannan Gilbert, after running through the oceanfront community of Oak Beach screaming for her life, went missing. No one who had heard of her disappearance thought much about what had happened to the 24-year-old: She was a Craigslist prostitute who had been fleeing a scene - of what, no one could be sure. The Suffolk County Police, too, seemed to have paid little attention - until seven months later, when an unexpected discovery in a bramble alongside a nearby highway turned up four bodies, all evenly spaced, all wrapped in burlap. But none of them Shannan's.
There was Maureen Brainard-Barnes, last seen at Penn Station in Manhattan three years earlier, and Melissa Barthelemy, last seen in the Bronx in 2009. There was Megan Waterman, last seen leaving a hotel in Hauppage, Long Island, just a month after Shannan's disappearance in 2010, and Amber Lynn Costello, last seen leaving a house in West Babylon a few months later that same year. Like Shannan, all four women were petite and in their 20s, they all came from out of town to work as escorts, and they all advertised on Craigslist and its competitor, Backpage.
In a triumph of reporting - and in a riveting narrative - Robert Kolker presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of escorts in the Internet age, where making a living is easier than ever and the dangers remain all too real. He has talked exhaustively with the friends and family of each woman to reveal the three-dimensional truths about their lives, the struggling towns they came from, and the dreams they chased. And he has gained unique access to the Oak Beach neighborhood that has found itself the focus of national media scrutiny - where the police have flailed, the body count has risen, and the neighbors have begun pointing fingers at one another. There, in a remote community, out of sight of the beaches and marinas scattered along the South Shore barrier islands, the women's stories come together in death and dark mystery. Lost Girls is a portrait not just of five women, but of unsolved murder in an idyllic part of America, of the underside of the Internet, and of the secrets we keep without admitting to ourselves that we keep them.
©2013 Robert Kolker (P)2013 HarperCollins Publishers
it's so timely, and an interesting look at a side of the internet that I'm sure we'd all rather ignore.
Seeing many perspectives of the same story was valuable, and the author tries to take away some of the sensationalism.
It's definitely an upsetting book, and I personally looked in the mirror at my own classism and ability to write off certain crimes as "just the way things are."
There are no answers in this book. The author doesn't attempt to make any guesses as to the killer, nor does he try to reconstruct any of the homicides, so if you're looking for that kind of book, you're in the wrong place. If you're looking to learn about the victims, about the line of work they were in, and about how the internet is inextricably linked to the sex industry, this book is really well-written.
I'm a bear that likes honey, climbing trees, stealing picnic baskets and listening to audiobooks.
This was an enlightening (if somewhat depressing) look into the dangers of the modern sex trade, especially in the Craigslist era. I wouldn't call it an enjoyable listen, but informative and well-told.
I think what will leave a lasting impression was the amount of time the author devoted to telling the stories of the victims. A lot of hard work and excellent reporting went into this work.
I think the author did a really good job of telling the complete story, from the broken homes that the victims came from, to the quirks of the private community where the bodies were found. There are no easy answers in this story, but it was a smartly written and fair minded work.
I knew a little about this case from television, and was very interested to hear more about both the progress of the case and the lives of the victims. It was fairly depressing, but quite interesting, to hear the sad backgrounds of the women and how that played out in the aftermath of the discovery of their remains. The work Kolker did in investigating the residents of the Oak Beach area was quite informative and I was very glad it was included. Nothing like that was included in any television reports I saw of the case. My only real criticism of the book was that it focused very little on the unidentified remains. Whether or not the murders were all related, there must have been more information available (even if just the forensic reports) about these unidentified victims. I realize there could not have been much background information to find without knowing who the bodies belonged to, but it did feel that they were simply not a focus of the book. Yet it seems odd not to have put a little more into that aspect of the story. Still, it was detailed and well-researched. Well worth the credit.
The narrator's voice suited the material perfectly.
all the girls were fascinating - so vulnerable and so brash. The author made it easy to see how the limited choices they had made the decisions they made seem reasonable. He was not uncritical but still deeply compassionate.
He didn't really perform the characters (as this is non-fiction) but his voice seemed especially suited to the narrative thread surrounding Amber.
Lost Girls - America's Underside
It would be a mistake to simply view this book as 'true crime'. Kolker does not sensationalize the murders of these escorts. Instead, he take through their individual histories to show us how they each arrived at a point that made them particularly attractive to the killer. In addition, he offers balanced, intelligent social commentary on the changes the internet has wrought on the business of prostitution and shows the listener/reader how these changes (mostly cutting out the middle man pimp) both could have empowered and endangered the sex workers. This is a book that will make you rethink how the US regulates the sex trade - laws made to protect sex workers now seem to do more to force them deeper into the shadows, endangering them still further.
I really tried to listen to this book, but the narration is very monotone & very hard to listen to.
Sorry, but add some inflection to your voice & the book may be a keeper.
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