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"Hiding in Plain Sight" is the chilling account of serial killer Jack Unterweger, one of the most clever, manipulative predators of the 20th century...and the most dangerous.
"A Message from the Grave" examines the events surrounding the unsolved Gilgo Beach murders, a case which would spawn the largest murder investigation in Long Island, New York's history as an elusive serial killer continues to elude authorities.
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By Erryn Barratt on 08-20-18
Will we learn the lessons?
I listened to this book a while ago and was dismayed I had not written a review. I recently listened to The Big Book of Serial Killers, which is a great reference book, but more of a recitation of facts. Ms. Cresswell’s book is very different, taking just two crimes and investigating them in depth. Wanting to correct my oversight, I did a quick relisten.
I wasn’t familiar with either case in the book which made the read more interesting. Ms. Cresswell’s descriptions allowed me to easily envision the crimes being committed. Also, by extension, the victims were more real – more than just a number or a body. She also provides insight into the moments where these perpetrators could have been caught earlier, if only the police had been in possession of the facts. “Hiding in Plain Sight” the case of Jack Unterweger, was of particular note because the collateral damages wasn’t just the dead, but the living as well. His ex-girlfriend has to live with the horrific realization she knew more than she had initially believed and she had supported him long after she should have.
He deserved his ultimate end.
“A Message from the Grave” was also very interesting in that it was a story I was not familiar with. The note I made was: ‘how many bodies do you have to find before you take things seriously?’ The Gilgo Beach murders is a classic case where law enforcement has fallen far short. Now, I’m not saying that catching a serial killer is easy – far from it. What I am suggesting is that police need to look beyond the profession or lifestyle of the victim and make a greater effort to investigate crimes.
Over and over again, in both stories, the victims turned out to have been marginalized in life and, unfortunately, also in death. In fact, with the Gilgo Beach murders, it was only when a ‘respectable’ young woman went missing that any real searching was done. And when her body was finally discovered? Ridiculous assumptions that don’t pass even the simplest of sniff tests.
Am I biased? You bet. I live near Vancouver and for years and years and years, there were rumours swirling among sex workers in the city that something bad was happening. Women were disappearing. There was a place just out of the city where women were taken and questionable things happened there.
Many sex workers are reluctant to go to the police. Current laws on prostitution in Canada, introduced in 2014, make it illegal to purchase sexual services but legal to sell them. That is a quagmire, but at least the sex workers can no longer be charged for doing what they need to do to survive. And, let’s be honest, there will always be men (or mostly men) willing to risk being arrested in order to purchase sexual services.
Despite the laws back in the 1990s, some brave women did approach the Vancouver Police Department. So did the families of missing women. The women and families were systematically dismissed.
She’s just gone home.
She’s just left town.
She’s just abandoned you.
She’ll be back.
She’ll turn up.
Excuses after excuses. No one at the VDP took the disappearances seriously. These women were sex workers and drug addicts…the marginalized. It was easy for the police to dismiss the concerns because occasionally the women had just run away or it had been later discovered they had died of a drug overdose.
In December 2007, [Robert] Pickton was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years – the longest sentence then available for murder under Canadian law.
During the trial's first day of jury evidence, January 22, 2007, the Crown stated that Pickton had confessed to 49 murders to an undercover agent from the Office of Inspector General, who was posing as a cellmate. The Crown reported that Pickton told the officer that he wanted to kill another woman to make it an even 50, and that he was caught because he was "sloppy".
Even now, as I read those ‘facts’ I am nauseous. 49 women. Some of whom were listed as missing. Some of whom no one had noticed had simply fallen off the face of the planet. But they were daughters, mothers, sisters, and aunts. Canada now has a Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls commission listening to the stories of families about those who were killed and those who have vanished. More than 1,200 women and girls in Canada since 1980. It is a Canadian tragedy. I hope we have learned from this, although there are still stories that crop up in the media about family members who are belittled and their beloved ridiculed when they try to report the women missing. We’ve come a long way, but there is still a huge bias against these marginalized women.
How does this connect to Gilgo Beach? Because it needs to be asked – how many women need to die? (There was one man and one infant as well.) Yes, forensic evidence has been lost to time and Superstorm Sandy, but this strip of land in Long Island needs to be searched inch by inch to get a true picture of how many women have been dumped there – many of those found have been sex workers and drug addicts. The marginalized.
We owe these women justice. Better yet, let’s arrest the killer (or killers) and prevent further tragic and unnecessary deaths. Let’s treat these women with respect instead of relegating them to the margins of society.
Jason Fella was the perfect narrator for this book. He had good pacing and inflection. He carried me through the facts without making them dry.
If you are looking for stories about serial killers who aren’t famous, this is a good book. Quick, but thorough and with lessons that we as a society should learn from.
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