Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

imageIn May 2010, 24 year old Shannan Gilbert went missing. Despite a frantic call to 911, police were slow to respond, possibly because Shannan was an escort and so – it could be assumed – not worth the police’s time.

After ongoing pressure from her family, a search was finally carried out. Shannon wasn’t found…but the bodies of four other women were, all just skeletons and all carefully wrapped in burlap.

The bodies were Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello. All were escorts, prostitues who met their clients through Craigslist. And all had been missing for months or years.

Long Island, it seemed, had a serial killer. One whose body count grew as more and more bodies were found (11 in total) whilst police seemed incapable of making progress or making an arrest. This despite some questionable behaviour by residents of the gated community alongside where the bodies were found.

Robert Kolker tells the story from when Shannan went missing to a conclusion that isn’t a conclusion because the killer has still not being found. He opens, though, with each dead girls life, taking you back to where they were born, how they were raised, who their families were. And how they ended up as escorts.

They are incredibly detailed and touching portraits. Kolker does a great job of getting you to see beyond the label of prostitute and understand what drove each woman and see how she ended up where she ended up. Theirs are story of foster care gone wrong, abuse, family breakdown but also a desire to make more of themselves, to earn enough money to help themselves, get an education, care for their family.

Theirs are not stories that should be ignored. And yet, they were because of who they were. Which is the other part of this book. It shines the light on how the police failed to investigate properly, how they didn’t take family and friends who filed missing person reports seriously, who ignored 911 calls and lost time finding vital clues. It is shocking and sad. And it wouldn’t have happened if these women hadn’t been prostitutes.

I don’t normally read true crime but this caught my eye at the library. The stories of the women drew me in. The who-dunit element kept me reading. Kilmer approaches it with his journalistic eye and writes in a clear, journalistic, style. It worked, though it didn’t mean it was without emotion. It was – sad and tragic and frustrating in equal measures. For a horrid subject, I enjoyed reading it and felt I learnt a lot about a case I knew nothing about. For those who like true crime, this would be a recommended read.




8 thoughts on “Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

  1. I love true crime books, but very rarely pick them up. I recently picked up In Cold Blood from my local library, and I feel like it’s going to start a reading spree of true crime books! So glad you found, enjoyed, and reviewed this title because I’m really intrigued by all that you’ve shared.


  2. […] Lost Girls by Robert Kolker which is one of my only forays into true crime writing.  It’s a story that sounded fascinating and was, involving the still unsolved death of at least four escorts and possibly as many as 11 victims by a serial killer no one seems to have any idea how to catch.  Kolker presents a sympathetic but honest portrait of the first victims found, sharing their lives stories and showing how they came to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He also shines a light on how the police let them and their families down because of who they were and what they did for a living (and to live). […]


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