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.
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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.
Sad Story, Smartly Told
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.
- Grumpy S. Monkey