This book is highly recommended on a forum I visit about unsolved mysteries, which may or may nor be an odd hobby. Robert Kolker didn't take the normal approach to this serial killer, which I really like. Kolker focuses on the women that went missing and were later found on Long Island deceased.
Apparently Netflix is creating a movie/series on the book and case. Also, the 911 audio recording of one of the victims mentioned in the book is supposed to be released, although I'm not sure if that will do anything.
Title: Lost Girls: An Unresolved American Mystery
Author: Robert Kolker
Page Number: 399, paperback
Genre: nonfiction, true crime, mystery
Publisher: Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing
Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker delivers a humanizing account of the true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island and presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of online escorts, where making a living is easier than ever, and the dangers remain all too real. A triumph of reporting, a riveting narrative, and "a lashing critique of how society and the police let five young women down" (Dwight Garner, The New York Times), Lost Girls is a portrait of unsolved murders 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.
I think the first thing to understand about this book is that this is a mystery that is unsolved. The mystery is that it's unknown who killed these people or if there are more victims. His (her?) "media name" is "LISK" or the "Long Island Serial Killer." He/She has other aliases like "Gilgo Beach Killer" or "The Craigslist Ripper." They haven't been caught and I'm not even sure there's an DNA or evidence other than bodies that were found in the marsh. It's not looking super solvable.
This book is also mostly about five victims, their lives, their families and the search for them. It's sad but I really appreciated how Kolker humanized these women. He gives each person at least two chapters (pre-missing and during/after missing) and often covers their dreams and why they felt forced into prostitution. Kolker interviewed their family members and friends in order to create such a rounded picture. I found this atypical of many true-crime books and quite honestly, I enjoyed this approach so much.
Kolker does cover the investigation as well. It's infuriating of course because in hindsight the reader knows that there is some crazed serial killer that is murdering vulnerable women. There seemed to be a police command that was ever-shifting, an unknown abduction scene, confusion over which precinct had investigative control, contempt for the victims' profession, a community that had no interest in being involved in the search and a serial killer who was unknown. It's a hot mess.
I think many people became aware of the missing women because of a woman named Shannon Gilbert. I honestly don't know if the police put out a BOLO, journalists latched on to her story, her family got a media push or what...but somehow her disappearance seemed to really attract attention. From that, the other victims were now in the news, as were the disgruntled residents of Oak Beach on Long Island. Shannon's body was not found with the rest of the victims so it's unclear if she's a victim of the serial killer or she succumbed to the elements. Shannon went on a call to a man's house and at one point, fled in terror while calling 911 and banging on neighbor's doors. She then disappeared.
The book is divided into two "books", part one and part two. Those two parts are split into two as well so the book in entirety is a quartet. The first is an introduction to the five women profiled in the book. Their names are Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello, and Shannon Gilbert. It can be a bit rough on their family, although perhaps deserved. I'm not sure that part is all together fair as sometimes people make bad decisions and you just cannot save them. Other times, family can really set you on a bad path. Either way, all five women find themselves in need of money to survive and they all turn to the web in order to escort which is the second part (or the end of book one).
The third part is based around the town of Oak Beach and how a police officer was training his dog and found a body. This started a full search of the beach area where other bodies were discovered. Some of the bodies were found in burlap bags, which has led to discussions online on some suspects. Shannon was not found at this point, which was a struggle for her family. It's also confusing for the investigation because it seems to be unsure on whether Shannon was a victim of the same man. This probably seems insane...but there was another serial killer nearby in Manorville and Joel Rifkin (plus others) were all roaming around.
The fourth section of the book, and the ending of book two covers the recovery of Shannon's body, the grief of the families and some of the suspects. Like the john that Shannon fled from and a doctor who placed himself with her before she had disappeared. There's so much information in book two and it's quite complex.
I found the writing easy. I never stalled or stumbled. The prose was clear, precise and engaging. I know that I gave this book five stars because I enjoyed the way Kolker handled the victims (they were more than a blurb or a number). It's also impressive that this is his first book (he has written for newspapers/magazines though).
I think it does help to know a little about LISK and the crimes because (the little that is known) Kolker doesn't spend a huge amount of time on LISK. Since I already knew about this I didn't need any fleshed out explanation of serial killers or possible profiles. I did want to know more about the other serial killers that were roaming around (but that's not what this book is about).
There are no pictures in the book but there are maps which bring an atmospheric feel to the story. A small part of me wanted the duo chapters of the women together. For instance, the chapter on Shannon (early life) right before the chapter on Angelina (her working name and life) but it wasn't that confusing.
The website for the book includes an excerpt and an interactive case map.
Leave a Reply.