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Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery

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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. Lost Girls is a portrait of unsolved murders in an idyllic part 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. 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.


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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. Lost Girls is a portrait of unsolved murders in an idyllic part 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. 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.

30 review for Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery

  1. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Seaman

    Perusing some of these reviews, I have no idea why no one else seems to be puzzled by how very little information about the police investigation is given. Yes, Kolker does a good job of creating portraits of the "Lost Girls" and their families, and the book's arguably best attribute is its portrayal of the new world of online prostitution and its pitfalls. That having been said, I could have done with fewer family, Oak Beach, and FaceBook dramas in exchange for some good forensic information and Perusing some of these reviews, I have no idea why no one else seems to be puzzled by how very little information about the police investigation is given. Yes, Kolker does a good job of creating portraits of the "Lost Girls" and their families, and the book's arguably best attribute is its portrayal of the new world of online prostitution and its pitfalls. That having been said, I could have done with fewer family, Oak Beach, and FaceBook dramas in exchange for some good forensic information and analysis. As an avid true crime reader, I was shocked at the lack thereof. The only part of the book that deals with this aspect is when Shannan Gilbert's relatives go for an interview with the medical examiners on the case, only to be told that the cause of death is a mystery. Clearly, tests done on the remains were insufficient, but Kolker ostensibly goes no further to find out why no one in charge challenged the superficiality of the report in light of the case's high-profile. The police are represented as bumbling, and, while that may actually be the case, it doesn't appear that Kolker tried to develop sources inside the investigation. If he did do the prerequisite digging and was thwarted, he made no mention of it. Nor does it seem that he made any effort to get any crime scene details or find out if indeed the police were interviewing johns. He implies that they have not but does not say how he has come to that conclusion. "This isn't CSI!" Kolker quotes a police spokesman protesting when grilled for details, but an audience of CSI-savvy readers dictates that true crime be reported accordingly. Just as prominent in their absence are photos of the victims, the players in the drama such as Joe Brewer and Dr. Peter Hackett, and the lay of the land in Oak Beach and its surrounding area near the crime scenes. The maps, while graphically sophisticated and useful, are not enough. The necessity of crime photos, even general ones if no others were available, seems pretty basic "True Crime 101." Finally, I join the other reviewers who found the casts of characters difficult to follow. It was frustrating to see the "List of Characters" at the end of the book, when it should have been right up front and easy to refer to. Otherwise, to be fair, I don't know how I would have done it differently except perhaps to simplify the victims' stories by cutting out all but the most essential players. Kolker has done a good job of humanizing the victims and shining a light on their working world. If only he had succeeded equally in reporting the investigation side!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    ***NO SPOILERS*** Possibly the truest thing that can be said about Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is that it’s atypical for the true crime genre. This is not 399 pages of mostly investigation twists and turns and speculation regarding the killer(s). Lost Girls is primarily about each of the murder victims, all of whom were escorts, dismissed as mere objects in life. Author Robert Kolker banished the stoicism from standard-issue news reports about five murdered New York City prostitutes; ***NO SPOILERS*** Possibly the truest thing that can be said about Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is that it’s atypical for the true crime genre. This is not 399 pages of mostly investigation twists and turns and speculation regarding the killer(s). Lost Girls is primarily about each of the murder victims, all of whom were escorts, dismissed as mere objects in life. Author Robert Kolker banished the stoicism from standard-issue news reports about five murdered New York City prostitutes; he presented the victims’ backstories, introduced their loved ones, and laid bare their struggles and varied emotions. He described how they looked as children and as adults. He brought them back to vivid life. This special focus, in the finest detail, on the unique personhood of each of these women, makes Lost Girls a stand-out and welcome surprise in the true crime genre. In certain ways, Lost Girls reads a lot like a fictional mystery-thriller. There’s the always risky meeting-of-johns late at night in all corners of the city, the constant watchfulness for police, and, most intriguing of all: the quiet beach community just off Ocean Parkway in Long Island. The police investigation zeros in on a well-to-do gated section called Oak Beach that seems to have more than its share of secrets and possible cover-ups. Kolker smartly detailed this community’s history before delving into its more sinister side. A community history sounds dry, but it’s completely riveting, with each main character here depicted almost as distinctly as the murder victims. Additionally, because this area’s landscape plays a significant role, Kolker took pains to paint that picture clearly. By the end, readers will long to drive slowly through Oak Beach and gawk. (Luckily, a map of that area at the back of the book does satisfy to a degree.) The book is meticulously organized, with each woman getting dedicated chapters with a sharp focus, starting not from her birth but before, with her mother’s life circumstances. Clearly, Kolker was determined to provide a very full and rich context for each woman, show that she wasn’t “just an escort,” and that--possibly the point he wanted most to drive home--her decision to escort was never really a choice. He more than succeeded. He also repeatedly shifted the focus onto the decidedly unglamorous world of escorting, shedding the strongest of lights on its dangers, sadness, and inherent sexism. It’s all compulsively readable. The pace does begin to plod during the book’s second half, after the victims’ bodies have been recovered. Here there’s a lingering on the victims’ families and their various dramas, some of which, although understandable, are soap opera-ish and make for exasperating reading before long. Some of these sections come across as filler, though fortunately not all, so this misstep is minor. Lost Girls deserves a space on the top tier, beside Columbine and People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman. Like the authors of those true crime novels, Kolker was thorough, respectful, and thoughtful, right down to his double-meaning title choice. Final verdict: Fans of true crime will be very pleased with this book, and the people-centric focus will interest those new to the genre.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Karin Slaughter

    As a kid, I started reading true crime with Helter Skelter, then went on to the master (Ann Rule) and never looked back. Sometime in the last decade, true crime took a wrong turn (in my opinion, of course). The writing stopped focusing on the victim and started glorifying the killer. Serial killers (or just regular murderers) are not sexy or charming. They are violent killers. I hate when writers get so caught up in the who that they forget the why of the victim. Lost Girls doesn't forget the As a kid, I started reading true crime with Helter Skelter, then went on to the master (Ann Rule) and never looked back. Sometime in the last decade, true crime took a wrong turn (in my opinion, of course). The writing stopped focusing on the victim and started glorifying the killer. Serial killers (or just regular murderers) are not sexy or charming. They are violent killers. I hate when writers get so caught up in the who that they forget the why of the victim. Lost Girls doesn't forget the victims. In fact, it explores the victims' lives and explains how exactly they ended up in such dire straits that they fell prey to a sadistic killer. The book also explores the escort scene, and how instrumental (and dangerous) Craig's List is to the sex trade. I think for these pieces alone, it's well worth reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is a portrait of the women, most in the escort business, found slain on a remote stretch of beach in Long Island. It was sad to read this story of mothers, sisters, daughters, tossed away like pieces of garbage in burlap sacks by some depraved individual, who remains at large. The author, Robert Kolker, in this thorough investigative narrative gives these women a face and name, if unable to bring them back to life, at least dignifying the women they were. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is a portrait of the women, most in the escort business, found slain on a remote stretch of beach in Long Island. It was sad to read this story of mothers, sisters, daughters, tossed away like pieces of garbage in burlap sacks by some depraved individual, who remains at large. The author, Robert Kolker, in this thorough investigative narrative gives these women a face and name, if unable to bring them back to life, at least dignifying the women they were. This has been on my TBR pile for ages. Not an easy read; it exceeded my expectations. I will keep these women in my prayers: Shannon Gilbert Maureen Brainard-Barnes Melissa Barthelemy Megan Waterman Amber Overstreet Costello and as many as 15 more possible victims of The Long Island Serial Killer.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Krystin Rachel

    Book Blog | Bookstagram Opening Mystery: Seriously, WTF happened to Shannan Gilbert? Main Creep: Peter Hackett has some attention issues Plot Truthy-ness: A humanizing portrait I'm pretty fascinated by the Long Island Serial killer case. It's been some time since we had an evil, undetectable serial killer case to watch in real-time. Though it's faded from news and been replaced by, well, mostly Trump for fuck's sake... this is certainly a story to keep a light on. There are dozens of women whose Book Blog | Bookstagram Opening Mystery: Seriously, WTF happened to Shannan Gilbert? Main Creep: Peter Hackett has some attention issues Plot Truthy-ness: A humanizing portrait I'm pretty fascinated by the Long Island Serial killer case. It's been some time since we had an evil, undetectable serial killer case to watch in real-time. Though it's faded from news and been replaced by, well, mostly Trump for fuck's sake... this is certainly a story to keep a light on. There are dozens of women whose lives have been cut short with zero progress towards justice of any kind. The more cynical side of me might say that because they were escorts and sex workers that their cases are deemed "less important" to solve compared to other things cops are coming across every day involving people with more "societal value." (I'm not saying that's what I think, but what I think people involved in the case might think. Don't @ me because of my shitty writing or your shitty reading comprehension.) I've seen a couple documentaries on this decades-old unsolved mystery, watched a few interviews and have a general idea of who is suspicious AF (I'm looking at you Dr. Hackett, you shady motherfucker,) so, I wanted to read this novel by an award-winning investigative reporter because I thought I would be getting a really in-depth overview of the case as it stood in 2013, and some theories about what the actual fuck is going on. Maybe I was expecting a little bit too much from a novel about murders where there are exactly zero real evidence and zero real leads. The logical side of me tells my more cynical side that it's not that no one is concerned AF about an uncaught serial killer because he's "only" killing sex workers, it's just that there is literally no evidence for the cops to go on so they really have nowhere else to take the cases. It seems that because there is so little "case" to really sink your teeth into here, that Kolker instead spends the first half of the book delving into the lives of the victims, which, I think is important when you consider true crime culture can sometimes focus too much on the twisted mind of the killer, and less on the lives he's taken. Kolker does a really detailed job of creating portraits of the "lost girls" and their families, but it's really, like, the only thing he does for the majority of the book??? At times, there were so many relationships and personal information being batted around, so many explanations of who was fucking who and who was dating who and who was having kids with who and who was exes with who and who's mother was mad at who - that I really stopped being able to keep it all straight. It was like a domestic soap opera and I wasn't really into it. There's even a "cast of characters" at the end of the book, but that doesn't really help when you're at the beginning of the book. That's not to diminish the fact that these are real people with real lives that were affected by tragedy, but there was somewhat of a disconnect for me between what I was expecting the novel to be and what it actually was. There's very little information for a true crime reader to take in that will answer questions, present theories, make you think or question or cast suspicion. Mostly, after all the women are profiled, this is a book that looks at the world of online escort services - how it works, what the motivations for doing it are, what lives are like within that scene and how Craig's List has become an important tool of the industry. I appreciate that Kolker never tries to draw any conclusions or steer the reader into one opinion or another, instead, he presents only real quotes, interactions and timelines of events. But, I think there was a missed opportunity to develop connections with the police and other professionals involved in the cases, and that resulted in very little information on the investigations into these women's deaths. Kolker instead connected with family members and friends, and did interviews with boyfriends and alleged pimps. The personal reflections and insights and denials of guilt from these people might be momentarily interesting and bring an important reality to the events, but it lacks the psychological, dark pull that true crime fans are generally looking for outside of the human elements. Maybe that makes me sound like a cold-hearted bitch. So, be it. But this was definitely not a balanced true crime novel because it had very little crime in it. I could have done with less Facebook, family court and rehab drama, and more information about forensics, theories and police interviews. I think we can do both when it comes to true crime - shine a light on the victims, while also exploring what is being done to find them justice. ⭐⭐⭐ | 3 stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kelli

    Ugh! What is happening here?! How is this not solved? How are there no suspects? What is going on with the police investigation? Is this a coverup?You aren’t going to find any of those answers by reading this book but what you will find are very extensive histories of each of the victims and the victim’s mothers, and a lot of extraneous information. Wonderful that the author humanizes the victims, devastating that he even has to...but the non-linear structure of this narrative coupled with an Ugh! What is happening here?! How is this not solved? How are there no suspects? What is going on with the police investigation? Is this a coverup?You aren’t going to find any of those answers by reading this book but what you will find are very extensive histories of each of the victims and the victim’s mothers, and a lot of extraneous information. Wonderful that the author humanizes the victims, devastating that he even has to...but the non-linear structure of this narrative coupled with an endless number of friends and relatives made it challenging to follow at times. There was no speculation but there were some shady characters with equally shady stories. It’s baffling. May these poor souls Rest In Peace. For the book though, it’s barely 3 stars.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bren

    I do include True Crime in my list of genres I read. Some are better then others. This book is among the b est I have read so if you are a fan of this genre and have not read this, put i t on your list! In some ways, it is not even a book I would classify under that genre. This book is not about the killer. It is about the victims. Kolker goes into their lives and writes their story with heart, sensitivity and humility. It is very different then the usual true crime book. It is actually rather I do include True Crime in my list of genres I read. Some are better then others. This book is among the b est I have read so if you are a fan of this genre and have not read this, put i t on your list! In some ways, it is not even a book I would classify under that genre. This book is not about the killer. It is about the victims. Kolker goes into their lives and writes their story with heart, sensitivity and humility. It is very different then the usual true crime book. It is actually rather haunting and a tribute to these women. The stories..many of them..all of them..will pull at your heart strings. This book is consistently ranked on "Best true crime" lists but I hear about it through a friend in one of my former book groups. I was really impressed with the in depth writing in this book and it is one I will not forget anytime soon . 4.5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ I was struggling a bit with insomnia back in 2010 when Shannan Gilbert’s bizarre 911 calls made the news (a surefire way to get to sleep is some Nancy Grace – just sayin’). Although I didn’t intentionally keep up with the story, I also recall when the burlap-wrapped bodies started being discovered on Oak Beach and the fact that all of these women were escorts who advertised on Craigslist and were not local to Long Island, yet somehow Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ I was struggling a bit with insomnia back in 2010 when Shannan Gilbert’s bizarre 911 calls made the news (a surefire way to get to sleep is some Nancy Grace – just sayin’). Although I didn’t intentionally keep up with the story, I also recall when the burlap-wrapped bodies started being discovered on Oak Beach and the fact that all of these women were escorts who advertised on Craigslist and were not local to Long Island, yet somehow took jobs out of their normal territory that would ultimately lead to their demise. Like all rating-grabbing stories, this one soon faded from the news and was replaced by some other shocking tale. When I saw a book had been released, I was immediately intrigued. If you are like me and prefer your non-fiction to read like fiction, this is a great choice. The story itself is hypnotizing and the research put in to this book is outstanding. No stone was left unturned by Mr. Kolker. He does an amazing job of laying out the facts as they are known and using only individual’s own words rather than drawing any conclusions. Amazing that, at the end of it all, so much seems to point in such a narrow direction and yet nothing has really been done to close these cases. Are these girls worth so little just because of their chosen profession?

  9. 5 out of 5

    ❤️

    One of the best true crime books I have ever read. Nah, scratch that, it is the best true crime book I have ever read. It has all the makings of a great true crime book - an interesting case, scandal, gripping storytelling - but what was especially great about the book is how Robert Kolker handled the life stories of the victims. I read a lot of true crime, and I watch a lot of true crime documentaries, and unfortunately a lot of times a victim's humanity can be forgotten in the name of juicy One of the best true crime books I have ever read. Nah, scratch that, it is the best true crime book I have ever read. It has all the makings of a great true crime book - an interesting case, scandal, gripping storytelling - but what was especially great about the book is how Robert Kolker handled the life stories of the victims. I read a lot of true crime, and I watch a lot of true crime documentaries, and unfortunately a lot of times a victim's humanity can be forgotten in the name of juicy sensationalism and drama. That was not the case with Lost Girls. In fact, the book's title is more apt than one might expect, as it's almost entirely all about the young women's early lives, their hopes and dreams, how they found themselves in the world of escorting, their final days, and how their disappearances and murders impacted their families and loved ones, rather than the unknown murderer who took their lives. I'll be the first to admit that serial killers are among some of the most fascinating types of people in society, and I find myself researching them often, but it bothers me when their victims are treated as footnotes in their own stories/tragedies. It happens a lot just in general (just look at the Amanda Knox case - half the time Meredith Kircher isn't even mentioned), but it's especially prevalent when murder victims just so happen to be sex workers - and that's if they're lucky enough to even be given a second thought or media attention in the first place. Robert Kolker goes really deep into the Long Island Serial Killer case here. His book is detailed, unbiased, haunting, and overall humanizing. It's evident right from the start that he cares about the case on a personal level and that he had no plans to devalue the victims because of the fact that they were sex workers. When the women aren't the focus in certain chapters, much time is spent detailing how society and eventually law enforcement may or may not have failed them (and in which ways) because of the stigma attached to their line of work. They are in no way painted as saints, believe me (just as Kolker says himself, they weren't angels, but they weren't devils either), but they are given a fair and well-rounded portrayal, which in turn helped to showcase the overall nightmare of a serial killer on the loose. And it's done with extremely captivating writing, which is just the cherry on top of the cake.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    Felt like 2.5 stars; rounded up to 3. The subtitle makes it quite plain: this is an UNSOLVED AMERICAN MYSTERY. So, no matter how eloquent or meticulously reported, "Lost Girls" has a built-in disappointment as far as a conclusion goes. The book is quite often a fascinating study of what a terrible crime did to a small, gated neighborhood. It also takes a good long look at the outrage over how such a crime can happen when it happens to a group of people (prostitutes) that society cares little for, Felt like 2.5 stars; rounded up to 3. The subtitle makes it quite plain: this is an UNSOLVED AMERICAN MYSTERY. So, no matter how eloquent or meticulously reported, "Lost Girls" has a built-in disappointment as far as a conclusion goes. The book is quite often a fascinating study of what a terrible crime did to a small, gated neighborhood. It also takes a good long look at the outrage over how such a crime can happen when it happens to a group of people (prostitutes) that society cares little for, especially in the context of coastal real estate and privacy-minded, middle-upper income lifestyles. When an investigative reporter digs this deeply into a story, he or she has the tendency to come back with too much information. It's up to an editor to help the reporter weed through his copious notes and prioritize the narrative into something of value to the readers of a publication. Sometimes, when a book deal then follows, the reporter takes this to mean that his story now qualifies for unlimited space and tangential sprawl, into which he can do what we in the business sometimes call a "notebook dump." "Lost Girls" is a notebook dump -- an absorbing and well-written notebook dump, but a notebook dump all the same. It's hard to figure out what's most important here: the unsolved crime? The suspects? The biographical details of each victim and how she came to be on Long Island the night she disappeared? The pain and suffering of the victims' families and friends? "Lost Girls" loses something in its organization and pace. I think Robert Kolker should have sat on this material longer and worked harder to get inside the investigation, to which he appears to have limited access, judging from a lack of hard facts or official reports on the bodies and evidence. As Kolker fills out the back third of the book with people's theories and speculations about what happened, it doesn't feel as though the Gilgo beach murders were ready to be put to rest between hardcovers. The story is far from finished. Finally, on a trivial note, I don't like the title -- "Lost GIRLS." Kolker is so careful to give these victims the dignity as women that they did not always have when they were alive and hiring themselves out as sex workers. I'm one of those people who believes that a female over 18 is not a "girl" in any context except the context that would objectify her. That's a losing battle in our present culture, where even 45-year-old women refer to themselves as "girls." It used to confine itself to beauty pageants, where every woman contestant was a "girl," but unfortunately it's seeped out into everyday talk about women.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    A no-miss, for sure. read on for the brief version; a longer version can be found here. Five young women are the central focus of this excellent book, five "lost girls" who went to work one day and never returned. All were escorts advertising their services on Craigslist; four of them ended up as bodies wrapped in burlap hidden near the main road of Jones Beach Island (NY), close to the small gated community of Oak Beach. The body of the fifth young woman was located almost a year to the day A no-miss, for sure. read on for the brief version; a longer version can be found here. Five young women are the central focus of this excellent book, five "lost girls" who went to work one day and never returned. All were escorts advertising their services on Craigslist; four of them ended up as bodies wrapped in burlap hidden near the main road of Jones Beach Island (NY), close to the small gated community of Oak Beach. The body of the fifth young woman was located almost a year to the day after the other four. Lost Girls offers no solution, no grisly details of how these murders were committed, or any of the usual true-crime components, because as the title reveals, the mystery behind the deaths of these young women has not yet been solved. Instead, the author reveals a) the lives of these women up to the very moment when they were last seen alive, b) some speculation about some of the residents of the small, gated community of Oak Beach where one of these women was last seen running through the streets, c) the events behind the discovery of the bodies and the lax attitudes of the police and other officials who ran the investigation, and finally, d) the aftermath of the girls' disappearances among the families and friends they left behind, as well as the crazy media circus after the discoveries of the bodies. Most pointedly, however, he examines how each and every one of these "lost girls" and their families were failed by the system due to officials' indifference toward them, primarily based on what they did for a living. Lost Girls is simply one of the best works of true crime/reportage I've ever read. Once I picked up the book, I stayed buried in it for the entire day until I'd turned the last page. I loved this book from beginning to end, so I have pretty much nothing negative to say about it, but there are a couple of issues. First (and this is a very minor one), Sanibel Island is not part of the Florida Keys, although the author states this while reporting on an interview with one of the Oak Beach residents. Second -- where the heck are the photos? I mean, photos to give the victims a face instead of having to rely on descriptions would have been the perfect touch -- I sat with my Ipad on my lap to get visuals of these "lost girls." It's a stunning book, and I most highly recommend it to anyone who may be interested.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amanda NEVER MANDY

    I am currently working through my to-read list. I am trying not to add more books until I knock some of the older ones out. This book has been on my list for a long time and I’m not sure why it ended up on there to begin with. I imagine I read an awesome review that sold me on it or it happened to catch me at just the right time in my reading cycle. I do like to jump around. Sometimes it’s truth and sometimes it’s fairy tales. This one falls under the brutal truth category. Long Island has a I am currently working through my to-read list. I am trying not to add more books until I knock some of the older ones out. This book has been on my list for a long time and I’m not sure why it ended up on there to begin with. I imagine I read an awesome review that sold me on it or it happened to catch me at just the right time in my reading cycle. I do like to jump around. Sometimes it’s truth and sometimes it’s fairy tales. This one falls under the brutal truth category. Long Island has a serial killer and this author has made it his mission to investigate and bring the crimes to light. The life story of each girl was hard to keep separate. I kept confusing them and the people from their lives that were speaking for them. I get that it was a study of the people involved and not what happened to them but it wasn’t enough to make each person stand out as an individual as they should. I think a picture or two of the people and locations involved would have helped out since it involved real people and wasn’t meant to be a paint a picture of the characters and story in your head situation. I don’t know, maybe that was the intent of the author. Tell the story of the victims as one instead of as unique individuals since the killer seemed to prey on them as such. Three stars to a book whose journey didn’t make the destination worth it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Howard

    *Really* not having much luck with my saved-for-vacation book pile... LOST GIRLS has a problem right from the start, and it was there before the author even sat down to write one word: the case is unsolved and there is nothing but conspiracy theories, rumors and internet-based speculation about what actually happened (as opposed to, say, the case of the Zodiac Killer, where although no one was ever convicted, there was at least a prime suspect). So already, this tale is murky, because unless the *Really* not having much luck with my saved-for-vacation book pile... LOST GIRLS has a problem right from the start, and it was there before the author even sat down to write one word: the case is unsolved and there is nothing but conspiracy theories, rumors and internet-based speculation about what actually happened (as opposed to, say, the case of the Zodiac Killer, where although no one was ever convicted, there was at least a prime suspect). So already, this tale is murky, because unless the author picks a theory and sticks with it, this book can't have a clear, linear narrative. The author doesn't pick a theory, and compounds the problem by avoiding any and all discussion of the police investigation, save for a few press conference quotes here and there. This genre is true crime, and people read it expecting at least a glimpse into the investigation. What they get instead is the rambling and mostly (seemingly) ill-informed thoughts and theories of the parents, siblings, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, children, pimps, friends and co-workers of the victims, everyone living within a twenty mile radius of where the bodies were found and that 7/11 clerk that served one of them once. Basically, anyone who (i) had a link to the victims, however tenuous or irrelevant and (ii) were willing to talk to the author. This is not a book about these crimes; this is a compendium of what a lot of people who are not in law enforcement, many of whom also seem to be attention-seeking, have to say about these crimes. By the last section of the book, the author has given up any pretense of a narrative and is instead just transcribing his meetings with these people, interspersed here and there with Facebook posts. An entire book later, I'm none the wiser about what actually happened to these girls. I'm none the wiser about the *evidence* that exists in relation to what might have happened to these girls. As there's about 500 characters in this book (okay, slight exaggeration... but that's what it feels like!), I've long lost track of what was a fact and what was something that someone said someone else had told them was a fact (and then changed their story and then changed their story back). The tragedy here is that this is the story of a serial killer who disposed of a number of young women and got away with it, it seems, because the women were working as prostitutes, came from underprivileged backgrounds and, essentially, weren't Natalee Holloway. While I'm sure the author's intention was exactly the opposite, the girls have got lost here again, in this book, overshadowed by a parade of drama queens and wannabes and neighbours who want their 15 minutes of fame. We could all contact a few people and put what they think about a particular crime into book form. A true crime title written by someone who knows what they're doing finds a way to incorporate this -- the aftermath of the crime, the pain and loss it leaves behind -- into the actual events, the investigation and the life of the person up until the moment it was taken away. That never even comes close to happening in LOST GIRLS. Disappointing on so many levels. Perhaps someone else will do these girls justice and write the story the right way... (Anyone interested in reading a true crime title done the right way should try PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS.)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marialyce

    This book held more interest for me since I lived very close to where these unfortunate ladies were found. It was truly a tragic turn of events though some might feel that the ladies' profession left them open to the dangers and darkness of the underworld of prostitution and craigslist posting escort services. The thing that irked me and has during the recent news is that these mothers go on and on about their daughters, hold vigils, appear on TV, conduct interviews, sell tee shirts, and yet This book held more interest for me since I lived very close to where these unfortunate ladies were found. It was truly a tragic turn of events though some might feel that the ladies' profession left them open to the dangers and darkness of the underworld of prostitution and craigslist posting escort services. The thing that irked me and has during the recent news is that these mothers go on and on about their daughters, hold vigils, appear on TV, conduct interviews, sell tee shirts, and yet when they were really needed where were they? They allowed their daughters and some even condoned what the girls were doing. Some even accepted gifts and money gotten by what their daughters were doing. If some of these mothers had put as much effort into raising their children as they did in capturing their fifteen minutes of fame, perhaps these young women might still be alive. The fact that the killer has not yet been apprehended is frightening.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Camille

    According to the back of the book: "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." Five girls. Maureen, Megan, Amber, Melissa and Shannon. All five had promise, loved ones, passions, pursuits, hopes and dreams. All five had turned to prostitution for their own reasons, specifically using the adult section on According to the back of the book: "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." Five girls. Maureen, Megan, Amber, Melissa and Shannon. All five had promise, loved ones, passions, pursuits, hopes and dreams. All five had turned to prostitution for their own reasons, specifically using the adult section on craigslist to advertise their "wares." And all five had their lives cut short as a result. Their killer has never been found. Robert Kolker does a decent job humanizing the victims. He takes us on a journey with each of the five girls, shining some light on their respective pasts. You can tell he was very emotionally invested in each girl's story, and it shows as he tells us about them. He really gives the reader a good idea of who each girl was, and what they were like before they were killed. What IS missing from this portion of the story is photos. With each new chapter in the first section of the book, Kolker introduces another of the victims, and I found myself stopping to search the internet for images of each of the girls as I read, so I could put a face with a name. The numbers are staggering. "According to a study conducted on one hundred and thirty people working as prostitutes in San Francisco, as adults in prostitution, 82% had been physically assaulted, 83% had been threatened with a weapon and 68% had been raped while working as prostitutes" (information via wikipedia.org). And that is just a small sampling of the risks of prostitution, without even factoring in the possibility of being a murder target. Even without looking up statistics like I just did, these girls had to know that they were putting themselves in danger by doing what they did. I wish more attention had been paid to just how these girls ended up turning to prostitution. But perhaps that is part of the mystery as well. How could such seemingly vibrant, promising young girls turn to such a degrading and dangerous profession? That seemed to be a question the surviving friends and family members were asking as well. I did have some trouble reconciling the juxtaposition of the two concepts presented in the book: the girls are all described as such promising young ladies, despite the hardships they each faced. Yet none of them seemed able to resist the temptation of the drugs, the sex, the money. And it would seem that for each of them, it was their undoing. The first half of the book reads better than the second half. The book begins by detailing each girl's life and personality, then revisits each girl, glimpsing their lives and personas developed as they descend into prostitution. Then it goes back one more time to detail the last time each girl was seen, one at a time. Kolker does a good job here, first getting us personally invested, then detailing the darker aspects of the girl's lives (the prostitution and drugs), then building suspense as the inevitable draws near. The second half is where the book loses momentum. This is the first book Robert Kolker has written, and this is where is starts to show. A little steam gets lost as he turns largely to speculation and focuses a little too much on the gossip and assumptions of both the victims' family members, as well as the members of the community where their bodies were discovered. The Oak Beach community and its own personal story and neighborhood dramas take a little too much focus at times. What doesn't change is Kolker's obvious investment in this unsolved case. You can tell he really was personally invested in the story he's written. Lost Girls tells the sad and chilling tale of 5 girls who fell victim not only to prostitution, but to an as yet unknown killer in Long Island. Until reading this book, I had not heard of any of these poor girls who had gone missing and whose bodies were subsequently found in Oak Beach. It seems that the relative lack of sensationalism given to this case was as much a part of the tragedy as any other detail. As I read, I was stunned to learn how long it took for the case to gain any attention both from law enforcement and the media. The sad fact is that a missing prostitute just doesn't get the same attention as a missing child, or a missing wife and mother. Whether it's right or wrong, it seems to be the unfortunate trend. These women went missing and were murdered just within the last few years, yet until now their stories have been largely untold. Despite the fact that their families and loved ones have to live with the face that the killer is still out there, at least they can take a small comfort that with this book, these girls are gone but not forgotten.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alissa Patrick

    3.5 Stars I remember hearing this story in the news a few years back . This was a very compelling story, moreso since this was a true story . It reads like a fiction novel so if reading non-fiction isn't normally your cup of tea I would suggest you try this. Shannan Gilbert, an escort/prostitute is heard screaming for help and running for her life in a quiet gated community in Long Island. She knocks on people's doors begging for help. She calls 911 and is on the phone w police for 22 mins. Yet, 3.5 Stars I remember hearing this story in the news a few years back . This was a very compelling story, moreso since this was a true story . It reads like a fiction novel so if reading non-fiction isn't normally your cup of tea I would suggest you try this. Shannan Gilbert, an escort/prostitute is heard screaming for help and running for her life in a quiet gated community in Long Island. She knocks on people's doors begging for help. She calls 911 and is on the phone w police for 22 mins. Yet, She disappears and no one knows what happens to her . The police start to search for her and end up discovering 4 skeletons wrapped up in burlap sacks on a beach. It is discovered they are all also escorts/prostitutes. In our society, prostitutes tend to be looked down upon . If something bad happens to them it's usually shrugged off- "oh well who cares? They're whores". This book tells Shannan's story as well as the 4 bodied. It gives them names- Amber, Maureen, Melissa and Megan. It humanized them . It asks the question- why does no one care when prostitutes are killed? They are still people. They are daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. Overall this book was entertaining but also very thought-provoking.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    The author did a great job of capturing the story of the Long Island Serial Killer from all angles. I was glad to see that even though I was a vigilante web detective suffering from tunnel vision, the author described me as a "skilled researcher" and much of the information I gathered was ultimately utilized in the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    ♥ Marlene♥

    As a very frequent reader of true crime I hardly if ever read unsolved crimes because the part I like best is when the perpetrator is caught and punished. How glad I am that I decided to give this book a try, if not I would have missed a very emotional and good read and would not have known about this shocking case. First of all I compliment the author how well he brought the girls to life.Yes there were no photo's but I did not mind that so much. After I finished reading I looked them up online. As a very frequent reader of true crime I hardly if ever read unsolved crimes because the part I like best is when the perpetrator is caught and punished. How glad I am that I decided to give this book a try, if not I would have missed a very emotional and good read and would not have known about this shocking case. First of all I compliment the author how well he brought the girls to life.Yes there were no photo's but I did not mind that so much. After I finished reading I looked them up online. I did add some spoilers but I suggest if you have not yet read this book,skip all reviews including mine and just jump in knowing nothing. Because I did not know about this case beforehand this book read like a thriller. How shocked I was with what happened to Shannan Gilbert and how angry when nothing was done apparently. This is a very weird story. Are there more killers or is it just one? Sorry but I do not belief what they (cops) said happened to Shannon. Hardly possible so it was just a coincidence? Anyway the first 2 parts of the book were great. Here the author makes us get to know the girls. They each have a chapter. Then in the second book they all have a chapter again but now they are named by the nicks they used as prostitutes. People complain that there is hardly anything about what the cops had found and nothing about the case or any police work which is true but I think that is not the fault of the author but probably the cops do not want to speculate anymore about he case and keep their distance from the press. Isn't it horrible when they have so much power and it feels like they do nothing to solve this case and there is nothing you as a mu or loved one can do? The third part was speculation. What everybody thought had happened which I thought was interesting as well. My first thought was the john. Why did Shannan become so scared? it all began with Joe Brewer. There must be a reason why nobody, not the cops or the ones in the book suspects him but instead think the other guy Hackett is involved. At the end of the book the author interviewed Joe Brewer who apparently had lots of fun being interviewed laughing a lot. So for me this was a great book and it deserves 5 stars. Can't wait for another book by this author but even more I cannot wait for this case to be solved.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shaun

    Tony and Al were guys Maureen had been hoping to get to know better, guys who might help her stop doing this [prostitution] one day. She had told her friend Jay DuBrule that porn was legal and safer and easier than what she was doing; it resembled a legitimate entertainment career and was one step closer to the life she dreamed about. Okay, so WTF!!!! This is why I read, to understand how someone can feel this way. On the surface this passage blows my mind. I'm certainly no prude, but I'm the Tony and Al were guys Maureen had been hoping to get to know better, guys who might help her stop doing this [prostitution] one day. She had told her friend Jay DuBrule that porn was legal and safer and easier than what she was doing; it resembled a legitimate entertainment career and was one step closer to the life she dreamed about. Okay, so WTF!!!! This is why I read, to understand how someone can feel this way. On the surface this passage blows my mind. I'm certainly no prude, but I'm the first to admit, I'm pretty vanilla when it comes to the seedier sides of life. Ironically, compared to many, I came from a troubled home. When I was about three, my mentally ill father went to prison for kidnapping and raping my aunt. I spent the next six years visiting him in prison. My mother had no choice but to become a welfare mother, even if only temporarily. In the end she ended up with a married man who then led a double life. Yet by some standards it was a successful relationship, since it lasted for over 20 years until his death. From the age of 5, I was left at home with my sister who was 18 months older. Even back then we gave new meaning to the term "latch key kids." As a teen, like many teen girls, I struggled silently with bulimia, which isn't surprising when you consider the lack of control I felt in so many aspects of my life. Yet I was an honor roll student, a good girl in every sense, a model teenager in every way. I was the first and only person in my immediate and extended family to get more than an associates degree, eventually earning a professional masters. I'm now married with four beautiful children and although marriage is a challenge at times, (both my husband and I are from broken families and grew up without any positive role models) we somehow manage to make it work. In short, while unconventional, I'd like to think the science experiment worked. Sure, I have demons. I struggle with taking chances. I often feel like I'm the odd duck, the outsider, and have difficulty with intimate relationships, especially with people outside my family which is my "normal." But, hey, that just makes me completely "normal." In short, I guess my fucked-up-ness exists on a reasonable scale. In the end, I feel I am a happy person. I have a sense of peace and satisfaction with who I am and where I'm going. I don't feel the need to beat up on myself because I'm not perfect...at least not most of the time. Clearly, there are those who had a more stable childhood, a more traditional family...and obviously, there are those who had it much worse than I did. In fact, I'm not sure I had it rough at all, because despite all the dysfunction on surface, at the end of the day I felt loved and cared for. My mother wasn't perfect, but she did her best...and that made all the difference. Anyway, this story wasn't what I expected from a true crime novel, but it was a worthy read nonetheless. Rather than focusing an the crime, which is still unsolved, and much of the investigation, which is only superficially covered, Kolker focuses on the murdered girls and their journeys. There is no question the chain of dysfunction is long and, in these women's cases, unbreakable. The fact that they ended up as prostitutes and escorts often abusing drugs only reinforces that sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason. I'll admit at times I pitied these girls, yet at other times I admired them...not for their choices but for their gumption, their determination, their will to survive in a world where everything seemed stacked against them. So while this what not what I expected, it still delivered. I was fascinated by the escort/sex-for-sale culture. The idea that this stuff goes on in my world is hard to accept since it is so far removed from my experience. I am grateful for that, btw, but still for this reason, much of this read like fiction to me. Who would I recommend this to? I'm not sure. It's well-written and I enjoyed it, but I also felt that many people who did not as expressed in the reviews I read had very valid reasons for not liking it. I'll end with a quote that made me question if I should be embarrassed by or thankful for my naivete. In 2009, Craigslist earned a reported $45 million a year from Adult Services ads, or about a third of the company's total profits (the site had started charging $5 per posting just a year earlier)...The demand for commercial sex will never go away. Neither will the internet; they're stuck with each other. It may no longer even matter anymore whether the sale of sex among consenting adults is wrong or right, immoral or empowering. What's clear is that no good can come from pretending that the people who participate in prostitution don't exist. That, after all, is what the killer was counting on.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Mccloskey

    Could not put this book down. The kind of book that leaves me wondering, now what the HELL am I going to read? No doubt whatever I read next will suffer by close comparison.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    One of the great films of the last decade is David Fincher's Zodiac. But even though it had all the ingredients of his earlier film Seven, it disappointed commercially and failed to win any prestige awards. Too long, maybe, too many characters to sort through. But the biggest reason the movie flopped may have been something inherent to the story: the Zodiac killer, unlike Kevin Spacey in Seven, has never been caught. Maybe people of a certain age knew that going in, but for anyone under the age One of the great films of the last decade is David Fincher's Zodiac. But even though it had all the ingredients of his earlier film Seven, it disappointed commercially and failed to win any prestige awards. Too long, maybe, too many characters to sort through. But the biggest reason the movie flopped may have been something inherent to the story: the Zodiac killer, unlike Kevin Spacey in Seven, has never been caught. Maybe people of a certain age knew that going in, but for anyone under the age of 40, that likely came as a discouraging revelation by film's end. After 3 hours of claustrophobic psychological suspense, the lack of proper closure may have doomed the film. Too bad, because Zodiac was only ever partly about the serial killer. The filmmakers were playing for higher stakes. The same mindset may be helpful for readers of Robert Kolker's gripping new account of the Long Island serial killer, Lost Girls. The book's subtitle tells you that this case is still open, so why devote 400 pages to a crime story that has no conclusion? Because it's not really about the Long Island serial killer. It's about five women and their families, and how their murders ripped them apart before, in a strange irony, bringing them all together. It's about the seedy underworld of prostitution, and the new reality of Internet prostitution, which for all its convenience manages to be even seedier than traditional prostitution. It's about the obsessive nature of crime-solving in the Internet age, where conspiracy theories are able to foment and amateur sleuths take it upon themselves to implicate anyone who fits into pre-conceived narratives. And finally, it's about the ripple effects of murder, how it consumes families and communities and comes to define them. The locals resent the intrusion from outsiders and all the media attention, while at the same time relishing their turn as minor celebrities, experts of their domain. The victims' families, despite genuine heartbreak, become oddly cliquish and proprietary of their victimhood, in some cases showing depths of concern for their loved ones in death they never showed in life. Lost Girls begins with sketches of the five women whose bodies were eventually found along Gilgo Beach in Long Island. The names and places differ, but each story follows a sadly similar trajectory: low-income, often absent parenting; rampant drug and alcohol abuse from an early age; unplanned pregnancies in most cases; and a history of sexual abuse are all the common denominators in wondering how young girls all described as generous, loving, and intelligent would enter the dangerous world of sex-for-profit on their own accord. Many readers have noted how hard it is to keep each story straight (especially in the absence of photos), but perhaps that confusion, that names and events all kind of bleed together in the reader's memory, is intentional. Who killed these women? Is it one of the people depicted in this book? One man in particular goes under heavy scrutiny (much the way Arthur Leigh Allen was singled out, but never proven, in Zodiac). I was actually surprised how freely Kolker published the unfiltered conjecture of various folks, notably one conspiracy theorist on the island, even though the man in question has never been considered a suspect by the police. Kolker admirably maintains an objective, non-judgmental tone throughout, but you will not have to dig too deep to read this as the indictment of sex culture that it is. When we stigmatize sex workers and keep their work in the shadows, the men who prey on them are able to do their business in the shadows as well. Lost Girls goes a long way toward shedding some light on this issue.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mark Stevens

    “Lost Girls” is a grim trip to the underbelly of prostitution and drugs and desperation. And serial killers. Robert Kolker draws intimate portraits of women on the economic edge of society—Maureen, Melissa, Shannon, Megan and Amber. He gives them identities, families, cares and concerns. He invites us into their worlds and we meet real individuals with real hopes and dreams. These are not quick, newspaper-abbreviated glimpses. The first half of “Lost Girls” draws their slow journey down into the “Lost Girls” is a grim trip to the underbelly of prostitution and drugs and desperation. And serial killers. Robert Kolker draws intimate portraits of women on the economic edge of society—Maureen, Melissa, Shannon, Megan and Amber. He gives them identities, families, cares and concerns. He invites us into their worlds and we meet real individuals with real hopes and dreams. These are not quick, newspaper-abbreviated glimpses. The first half of “Lost Girls” draws their slow journey down into the shady world of Craigslist ads, pimps, fast cash and drugs. From all across the Eastern United States, these women end up, ultimately, in and around New York. Kolker shows us how money is made—the risks, the scary encounters and how drugs create a black hole of delusion. The second half of “Lost Girls” looks at the police investigation into the series of disappearances and, when the bodies start turning up in and around Oak Beach along the southern shore of Long Island, murder. In fact, the unusual Oak Beach community and its peculiar denizens and unusual circumstances become a key part of the book. Is Oak Beach and the endless vacant shoreline around Gilgo State Park a dumping ground, or is it possible the murderer lives in the midst of this small, offbeat community? Kolker rings doorbells and asks questions that would have left my knees knocking. He keeps his role to a minimum; rarely puts himself on stage on the story. Kolker is there in the story but mostly focuses on the victims and the circle of friends who provoke the bureaucracy to keep looking for answers. Kolker asks whether the police (society?) care enough about victims from the underclasses. Some of the police effort is sparked and prompted by family, friends and co-workers of the victims, who organize and pressure the cops to step up the intensity and focus on their work. They form their own little detective crew and start asking hard questions the police should be asking and, of course, we wonder if the police shouldn’t have enough reason to care, with all the body parts and shallow graves. Kolker shows police departments led by individuals with pet theories and personal agendas out of sync with science, evidence or, at the very least, clear thinking. This is a brilliant book. Despite the “unsolved” nature of the case (right there in the tag line of the title), we can draw our own conclusions: the killer is still out there and not enough has been done to figure out who it is. Haunting.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Haunting. That's the first word that comes to mind after finishing Lost Girls, about the victims of the serial killer on Long Island. The book was also chilling and compulsively read-able. I stayed up one night until 2 am, unable to put the book down, completely freaked out by what I was reading. The section detailing how the killer called the younger sister of one of the victims to taunt her still gives me chills when I think about it. Because the killer has yet to be apprehended, and because Haunting. That's the first word that comes to mind after finishing Lost Girls, about the victims of the serial killer on Long Island. The book was also chilling and compulsively read-able. I stayed up one night until 2 am, unable to put the book down, completely freaked out by what I was reading. The section detailing how the killer called the younger sister of one of the victims to taunt her still gives me chills when I think about it. Because the killer has yet to be apprehended, and because the police investigation is so cagey, the only thing we really know about the case are the stories of the girls who were murdered. But this actually leads to the strength of the novel. So many stories of serial crimes focus on the killer, not on the victims. The victims become props in the story, easily shunted aside so we can get a view of the killer and try to figure out what causes some people to do such evil things. In Lost Girls the narrative focuses on the victims and that's a refreshing change of pace. These women were real people, not just prostitutes or drug addicts or sad cautionary tales. Robert Kolker does a great job of fleshing them out, showing them as multi-faceted human beings. What I was so impressed by was how the book presented a journalistic yet compassionate view of all the people involved in the case, from the victims to their family members. In reporting on the victims, their families, and their stories the book truly strives to be balanced. Kolker doesn't judge the girls for how they lived their lives, just presents their stories and shows them as nuanced human beings with strengths and failings. It's nonjudgemental; matter-of-fact yet compassionate. I'll admit to tearing up towards the end of the book and being touched by the tragedy of these women's lives cut short. I'm glad Kolker told the victims' stories and did so in such an evenhanded way. It's a sobering look at the economic inequality in this country, and the need to do something about the dangers of sex work done in a shadowy underworld. Really a must-read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marcos

    Robert Kolker’s “Lost Girls” about Long Island’s Gilgo Beach serial killer is one of the most penetrating and haunting true crime books I’ve ever read. Chilling and controlled, it reminds me of a scary surgeon carefully cutting up a patient with skill and precision; with each page brimming with unbearable tension and heartbreak. The book centers on the disappearances and the murders of five prostitutes who advertised their services on sites such as Craiglist and Backpage: Shannan, Megan, Robert Kolker’s “Lost Girls” about Long Island’s Gilgo Beach serial killer is one of the most penetrating and haunting true crime books I’ve ever read. Chilling and controlled, it reminds me of a scary surgeon carefully cutting up a patient with skill and precision; with each page brimming with unbearable tension and heartbreak. The book centers on the disappearances and the murders of five prostitutes who advertised their services on sites such as Craiglist and Backpage: Shannan, Megan, Melissa, Amber, and Maureen. All disappeared from 2007- 2010, and their bodies all eventually found in Oak Beach, a secluded area in Suffolk County. The book is at its most affecting when Kolker retraces the girls’ steps and their final days leading to the inevitable and the frightening. With the skill of John Berendt or Truman Capote, each murdered woman is brought to life as incredibly human, funny, sorrowful, and manic. And no matter what they chose to do with their bodies; or that many of them were searching for fame, or even love; the book is a powerful indictment that as a society, we tend to ignore those who we feel are on the margins of society. The book gives voices to those who are not deserving of such a fate. Who are we to judge? I am so elated and frightened at the same time that I finished this book- no thriller can match the sheer terror that each chapter drips with; a final descent into hell and into the abyss. Of also how we need to catch this horrible person, or persons responsible for innocent lives lost- no matter what they did for a living.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jody

    "The demand for commercial sex will never go away. Neither will the Internet; they're stuck with each other. It may no longer even matter anymore whether the sale of sex among consenting adults is right or wrong, immoral or empowering. What's clear is that no good can come from pretending that the people who participate in prostitution don't exist. That, after all, is what the killer is counting on." pg. 381 I read true crime because of books like this one. Robert Kolker humanizes the tragic "The demand for commercial sex will never go away. Neither will the Internet; they're stuck with each other. It may no longer even matter anymore whether the sale of sex among consenting adults is right or wrong, immoral or empowering. What's clear is that no good can come from pretending that the people who participate in prostitution don't exist. That, after all, is what the killer is counting on." pg. 381 I read true crime because of books like this one. Robert Kolker humanizes the tragic deaths of five young women, as well as yet unnamed victims, found disposed along a long stretch of tangled brush and marsh called the Ocean Parkway which leads to Long Island's Oak Beach and Gilgo Island. The fact that Shannan Gilbert, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy, and Amber Lynn Costello all worked as 'escorts' does not minimize their lives despite how our society marginalizes victims who work in the sex trade. With the popularity of Craig's List and Backpage, it's very easy for young women to be seduced into making fast money. Each of these girls have their own stories, their own families and friends left in the wake of grief. The killer is still on the loose but as Kolker investigates, it's obvious that certain people definitely seem to have much more knowledge of these killings than they let on. In Shannan's case, she called 911 from Oak Beach saying someone was trying to kill her. The police didn't show up for about 45 minutes later. The fact that Oak Beach is a gated community means there was security cameras with crucial evidence. Those just happened to be erased. Also, the residents' doors that Shannan knocked on all changed their stories. The town appears to be banding together to keep secrets that could prevent further murders. Kolker's journalism brings to the forefront a segment of our society that is often ignored and scorned for their 'careers'. We need to treat these murders for what they are. These women are sisters, mothers, friends, and relatives. They matter.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I read this book because a family member who shares my Kindle account bought it, so there it was. I've complained before about my general failure to see the appeal of true crime books, but--surprise--this isn't really a true crime book. First off, how could it be, when the culprit has never been found? All the kinds of salacious details that true crime books would allow us to puzzle over are unknown here. Over several years, a number of young sex workers who operate solo on Craigslist or I read this book because a family member who shares my Kindle account bought it, so there it was. I've complained before about my general failure to see the appeal of true crime books, but--surprise--this isn't really a true crime book. First off, how could it be, when the culprit has never been found? All the kinds of salacious details that true crime books would allow us to puzzle over are unknown here. Over several years, a number of young sex workers who operate solo on Craigslist or Backpage are last seen by someone in a completely ordinary way. Then they (presumably) go on an outcall. Much later, their skeletons are found. Their deaths are a story from which the entire middle is missing. So instead the author writes about their lives, and that's what made this book successful in my view. He writes about five young women who, through different circumstances, come to work as prostitutes and eventually operate on their own as opposed to through an escort service or with a pimp. In each case, it seems like the women are poor, but not completely destitute. They all have notable disconnections in their family histories that leave them unmoored as young adults. The path into the profession is the realization that they can be paid seemingly vast amounts of money for work that's sometimes unpleasant but sometimes just being admired in a way they never are in their daily lives. The author doesn't linger over the details of what their work involved, but he really brings alive what it feels like to get an eviction notice or be in danger of losing custody of your kids, go to NYC for the weekend, and come home with $1500. I found it almost impossible to put down and in the end, it's more like a book about poverty and broken families than a regular true-crime book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Bales

    Heartbreaking book about the Ocean Parkway murders on Long Island and the women and their stories who disappeared and whose remains were eventually found, the victims of a serial killer. Robert Kolker is outstanding in his investigative reporting and provides much commentary on the tentacles of circumstance surrounding poverty, addiction, family dysfunction and class that led the women to work in the highly dangerous trade of Craigslist sex worker.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ariel

    Shannan Gilbert goes out on an escort call to a remote part of Long Island. While she is inside the house something goes wrong and she emerges hysterical and runs off into the night never to be seen again. The search for her leads to the discovery that some one has been using Gilgo beach as a dumping ground for bodies. Who that may be is still yet to be determined. This book chronicles the lives of the known women whose bodies were discovered during the search for Shannan Gilbert. Maureen was a Shannan Gilbert goes out on an escort call to a remote part of Long Island. While she is inside the house something goes wrong and she emerges hysterical and runs off into the night never to be seen again. The search for her leads to the discovery that some one has been using Gilgo beach as a dumping ground for bodies. Who that may be is still yet to be determined. This book chronicles the lives of the known women whose bodies were discovered during the search for Shannan Gilbert. Maureen was a struggling single mom who couldn't get a job. Melissa was a talented hair dresser. Megan was a single mom who was raised by her grandmother. Amber was a drug addict led astray by her big sister Kim. The thing that they all had in common was that when they were down and out they turned to Craig's List to sell their bodies. Law enforcement saw them as throw aways but the author humanizes them as real people who were in impossible situations. They were women who had families and children and they were doing what they had to in order to survive. For some that meant providing for a child, feeding a drug habit, or buying a birthday gift for a mother. Unfortunately their risky lifestyle made them easy prey for the person who took each of their lives. Usually I won't pick up a true crime book where the killer has not been apprehended. There is just too much conjecture and it usually feels like someone rushed a book out just to make money on a tragedy. This book is an exception. It does not linger on who the killer could be except to mention Dr Hackett who inserted himself into the story. If the police have a profile or an idea of who the killer could be the information is not given here. Even the fact that the killer used Melissa's own cell phone to call and taunt her little sister Amanda only gets the briefest mention. Instead the book focuses on the girls and their families. And what families they were. From the almost heroic Missy who works tirelessly on behalf of her murdered sister Maureen to the unstable Mari who is Shannen Gilbert's mother. The families ran the gamut from helpful to self destructive. The only thing they had in common were all were grieving. The pain that comes through makes you sympathetic to some pretty unlikeable people. From the day they were born some of the girls never had a chance simply because of the family they were born into. Other girls had loving support but they were too head strong to go home. Who killed them is still a mystery but that they were killed was not very surprising. They were dying long before they met up with the man who ended their lives. The question to ask now is what could have been to help them. Nobody should be killed for engaging in the oldest profession in the world but as long as they are forced to operate in the fringes there will be more long island serial killers waiting to prey on them. I hope the other bodies can be identified especially the one of the toddler who was found along with it's mother. Someone needs to be brought to justice but even more than that young women on the streets of one of the wealthiest and most industrialized cities in the world should be able to find help when they need it. I am thinking in particular of Melissa's friend and fellow prostitute who is trying to change her life but is kept of school because she lacks a birth certificate. People who live in the shadows can easily disappear so thank you Robert Kolker for being a light. To see a 48 hours episode on the case click here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?i...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    This is a fascinating, disturbing, terrifying, and deeply sad book. It's a study of the deaths of five women, all of them "escorts" who advertised on Craigslist, four of the five (if not all five) murdered by the same person. Kolker isn't so much interested in the investigation as he is in the biographies of the victims and the stories of the people who survive them. He's compassionately non-judgmental (I think the only person I could actually tell Kolker didn't like was Shannan Gilbert's last This is a fascinating, disturbing, terrifying, and deeply sad book. It's a study of the deaths of five women, all of them "escorts" who advertised on Craigslist, four of the five (if not all five) murdered by the same person. Kolker isn't so much interested in the investigation as he is in the biographies of the victims and the stories of the people who survive them. He's compassionately non-judgmental (I think the only person I could actually tell Kolker didn't like was Shannan Gilbert's last john) and what he ends up writing is a study of modern American poverty as much as it is anything else. These women didn't resort to prostitution because they were corrupt or lazy; they resorted to prostitution because they needed the money. The money they could make at "honest" jobs (and those "honest" jobs being hard to come by) just looks ridiculous next to the money they could make as escorts. Kolker comments at the end, "The demand for commercial sex will never go away" (381), and the truth of that is something America has been failing to cope with for a very long time. In most ways, the world that these women lived and died in is very different from the world that Helen Jewett lived and died in (The Murder of Helen Jewett), but in some ways it is horribly the same. And if you compare the hardship--and outright lethal danger--of trying to make a living as an escort via Craigslist with the relative safety and security of the women at Mustang Ranch (Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women) it kind of makes you despair of a society that would rather blame the prostitute than admit any shred of responsibility on the part of the john. Would rather condone murder than give women (and men) a chance to do this job safely and with dignity. Kolker doesn't try to impose a narrative on something that is intrinsically narativeless. There's only parts of a story here, parts that can't be lined up with each other. Lost Girls is a gentle ironizing of books like Someone's Daughter, as Kolker records the alliance formed by the mothers and sisters and friends of the murdered women, and then records the way that alliance falls apart under the pressure of the horrible anti-closure of the case. The arc of redemptive community, of the survivors coming together to create a family, ends with a woman unwilling to talk to the accidentally encountered father of her murdered sister's son because she's afraid of looking like a stalker. There is nothing, Kolker suggests, that is redeemable about these crimes, only destruction.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    An engaging and very sad book. It explores in detail how these five young women descended into a nether-world life of selling their bodies for money and hard drug use (cocaine, heroin, crack, meth...). We are given their family background and friendships. Initially they started with pimps as their guardians – but then used the internet (Craiglist) to solicit customers. Four of them were abducted and murdered between July 2007 and September 2010. Their partially buried bodies were found not far An engaging and very sad book. It explores in detail how these five young women descended into a nether-world life of selling their bodies for money and hard drug use (cocaine, heroin, crack, meth...). We are given their family background and friendships. Initially they started with pimps as their guardians – but then used the internet (Craiglist) to solicit customers. Four of them were abducted and murdered between July 2007 and September 2010. Their partially buried bodies were found not far apart on a highway on Long Island. A fifth woman, Shannon, was presumed murdered in this time period as well, but her case was different in that she tried unsuccessfully to escape. The author spends a significant portion of the book analyzing this episode of Shannon - and what happened to her has not been resolved to this day. The author humanizes these five women. They were prostitutes, but they had mothers and fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters who cared very much for them. They all applied much pressure on the police departments to resolve these crimes. I did have a number of issues with this book. It was too long and filled with many details that could have been filtered out. I became tired of reading of the rivalries between different members of the family groups. There are a tremendous number of individuals introduced. I counted forty-three, not including the five victims, who were family members, friends, pimps, escorts... It became confusing in the close to 400 pages, as the author shifted from victim to victim, just who was who – and the connection they had to each other. There is too much discussion of innuendo, which would, I hope, never be accepted in a court of law. The chapter “Conspiracies” is one example of this. However, there was an interesting chapter on a confrontation between Kim, a sister of one of the victims (Amber) and also an escort. She lays it on the line as to exactly what these young women’s lives were like, as she felt some of the family members were being rather naive about what was really going on (i.e. prostitution, pimps, drug use, advertising on the internet...). There is not very much on the police investigations. There are no interviews with any of the “on the ground” investigators. I feel that the police and F.B.I. get short shrift in all this. There were large teams involved in scanning the terrain of Long Island to search for clues. But the loss of the surveillance tape of Shannon and the perfunctory autopsy done on her, indicate gross negligence and are unforgivable. “Lost Girls” has a strong human interest side and made it well worth reading.

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