Thursday, February 20, 2014

Recommended Read: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

When multiple sets of skeletal remains were found in December 2010, it made national news because of the likelihood of a serial killer being responsible. This has become known as the Gilgo Beach Murders (also the unidentified Long Island Serial Killer). The remains were of missing prostitutes which, alone, aren't really a priority among the media and law enforcement. It is understandable that people who put themselves at high risk aren't taken seriously, but it also makes these women perfect targets.

Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker, had to focus on the victims because these cases are yet to be solved. Kolker delves into the lives of the five women: Maureen, Melissa, Megan, Amber, and Shannan. The first five chapters are devoted to the youth and background of each woman. The next five chapters are then devoted to each woman, as her working alias, up until her disappearance. Tragically, Shannan's disappearance triggered the discovery of the other four, yet her remains were not located for another year (and it is theorized by police that her murder is not even connected to the others, or even a murder at all; additionally, remains of others have been found in this same vicinity pointing to a prolific serial killer or multiple ones ). Further chapters discuss the search for Shannan and the implications on the families, friends, townsfolk, and police.

Kolker does not examine in depth the potential suspects or theories of the case, which may turn off some readers. However, what he does do is humanize these victims and their loved ones. This tale is so much broader than the "true crime" label. And, importantly, this case highlights so many other issues: technology (easier access to escorts and john anonymity since the rise of Craigslist, etc.), feminism (prostitutes are inherently less worthy, violence against women), family (turbulent childhoods, disconnected families) and issues that affect society as a whole (money, opportunity, drugs, sex ...).

On a less serious note, my only complaint is that there are no photos of the victims and their families. I don't mean this in a voyeuristic way, but because of the many people discussed and the structure of the book, it can be difficult remembering who is who. I had to look up photos online, which helped me solidify the cast. You can view photos as part of the New York magazine article that Kolker wrote in 2011 and expanded into this book.

Find it in the catalog!