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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 of America, of the underside of the Internet, and of the secrets we keep without admitting to ourselves that we keep them.

399 pages, Hardcover

First published July 9, 2013

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Robert Kolker

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,154 reviews
1 review4 followers
August 2, 2013
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!
Profile Image for Karin Slaughter.
Author 133 books62k followers
March 5, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Caroline .
411 reviews560 followers
May 28, 2020

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 400 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.
Profile Image for Kelli.
844 reviews392 followers
September 13, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Carol.
824 reviews480 followers
February 12, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Krystin | TheF**kingTwist.
456 reviews1,718 followers
October 19, 2022
Book Blog | Bookstagram

Hmm. Not sure about this one.

The author spend most 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 killer. The author 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 so it feels less like true crime about the Long Island Serial Killer, if that's what you're reading for.

At times, there was so much personal information, so many explanations of who was fucking who and who was dating who and who was having kids with who and who was exes and whose mother was mad at who - that I really stopped being able to keep it all straight. There's even a "cast of characters" at the end of the book. It's a bit much.

That's not to diminish the fact that these are real people with real lives that were affected by a 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 little information presented in this that will answer questions, present theories, make you think, 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 the author doesn't draw any conclusions or steer the reader towards one opinion or another, instead, you are presented with real quotes, interactions and timelines of events so you can form your own ideas. 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 scarce info on the investigations and the suspected serial killer.

I would have liked 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
Profile Image for Dona.
438 reviews79 followers
September 22, 2022
Kritzia was tiny, plump, and sultry with bright red lips and wild hair. But she was dressed conservatively, like a mom at a PTA meeting. Since hearing about Melissa's death, she'd sworn off working as an escort, and so far, she's kept the promise to herself. p281

I'm afraid this book has a gaze problem, as you might be able to see from even this brief excerpt, as I can.

But before I expand on that, let me first say that I bought LOST GIRLS because I enjoyed the Netflix adaption by the same name. The 2020 film is drastically different from what I found in this book, though I was expecting as much, from the reviews I read. What I didn't expect was Kolker's apparently different aim in writing the book than Michael Werwie's in his screenplay. The film focused almost strictly on the suspected crime of murder of several missing women, of explaining the appearance of their bodies all in the same place. Werwie treats the fact the women were sex workers with the nuance it requires in such a complex story.

Adversely, Kolker's book spends an inordinate amount of time combing through the details of the missing women's lives (and some who were not missing, but involved in the case merely by association). In the way the book is written, it's clear Kolker is propping violence against these women as lurid and spectacular. By comparison, when he finally introduces the key suspect in the murder investigation at the very end of the book, he soft paws the material.

I'm sure if you asked him, he would tell you journalistic integrity prevents him from pointing a finger at the suspect, an obvious liar-- the same journalistic integrity that describes a young woman desperately trying to express her modesty as "sultry," "with bright red lips." Kolker's perspective dehumanizes all the people for whom he should have empathy --he's writing a book, not a newspaper article. Without empathy, the reader can't connect.

Which is a huge problem here, along with Kolker's preoccupation with the sex-work element of the case. He practically skews his treatment of everything else in favor of his treatment of this one subtopic.

Rating 1 star
Finished September 2022
Recommended for no one, I really disliked it, but watch the film because that was great! It's available on Netflix and handles the material brilliantly.

✔️September Pick 2/15
✔️52 Book Club Summer Genre Challenge: True Crime
✔️Nothing But Challenges Author Alphabet Challenge 2022: [K.] Robert Kolker

*Follow my Instagram book blog for all my reviews, challenges, and book lists! www.instagram.com/donasbooks/ *
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,941 reviews722 followers
February 25, 2021
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 to be subjected to this dangerous trade 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.

**** I realize that I was unfair in my assessment of this book in my review initially. I judged it on the people Mr Kolker wrote about (the mothers) and not really about the quality of the book sadly. Although it was not as good as his Hidden Valley Road book, it did cover a topic that is both relevant and scary. ****
Profile Image for Bren fall in love with the sea..
1,564 reviews262 followers
August 2, 2019
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.
Profile Image for ❤️.
85 reviews112 followers
December 27, 2022
The best true crime book I have ever read.

It has all the makings of what one wants out of a 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 sex work, 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, (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.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,415 reviews7,430 followers
December 9, 2013
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?
Profile Image for Catherine Howard.
Author 20 books2,680 followers
September 15, 2013
*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.)
Profile Image for Hank Stuever.
Author 3 books2,015 followers
October 24, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Camille.
7 reviews3 followers
June 15, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,921 reviews721 followers
July 19, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Amanda NEVER MANDY.
447 reviews96 followers
January 5, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Lee.
279 reviews6 followers
June 3, 2014
Intermittently interesting, but a very poor book overall, a frustrating read, a blown opportunity. For starters, basic fact checking was sorely lacking. Specifically, the author refers to a vehicle called a "Ford Durango". Anyone with a passing familiarity with cars knows that Dodge makes the Durango, not Ford. Kolker also refers to Sanibel island in the "Florida Keys". Incorrect. Sanibel Island is near Fort Meyers, nowhere near the Keys. Those are just two examples I happened to catch. Makes one doubt all the other supposedly factual information presented.

The writing style was very poor in my opinion. I acknowledge this is a subjective value judgement. Yet, when a chapter opens with "they found two more bodies..." and the "they" is one jogger, and one guy out with his dog, each of whom found one separately, it makes no sense to use the pronoun they. Just say "Two more bodies were found..."

We get nothing about the police investigation - literally almost nothing! But, we do learn that one menu item in a diner owned by a relative of one of the victims "has a nice heat, without being too spicy" or words to that effect. Who cares? With irrelevant information galore, the book is overlong. Or too short, if you factor in the information on the investigative side that the reader isn't getting.

It was impossible to keep track of the myriad relatives of each missing woman. Get to the end and you will find a list of characters. Great. Could that not have been placed in the beginning where it might have been useful? Finally, the subtitle says unsolved so you know that going in. But the author makes no effort to draw any kind of conclusion at all, not even why no one was ever arrested, never mind the identity of the killer or killers. Kolker apparently made no effort to interview anyone associated with the investigation, or conduct his own investigation. The scant quotes from the investigators all seem to come from press conferences. And yet anyone who posted on Facebook would get quoted.

The story in this book is tragic and I feel for the victims and their families. As a reading experience, unfortunately this book is sorely lacking.
Profile Image for Alissa Patrick.
416 reviews182 followers
October 11, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Brendan.
1 review
July 10, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Johann (jobis89).
628 reviews4,259 followers
November 11, 2021
Conflicted feelings. I’m glad it exists and appreciate the thought behind it… but damn is it confusing at times.
Profile Image for ♥Milica♥.
832 reviews241 followers
March 9, 2023
Kind of on the fence with how to rate this, it's like a 3.5 so I could go up or down.

I liked it, especially learning about who the girls were before and during the sex worker days, but the book itself wasn't too gripping. I think it could be one of those that get better as you reread them.

I *may* have seen a documentary about this on ID at some point, and now I learn there's also a movie so I'll have to watch that too.
Profile Image for Michael.
539 reviews50 followers
July 16, 2016
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.

Profile Image for ♥ Marlene♥ .
1,687 reviews130 followers
March 27, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Ashley Daviau.
1,740 reviews751 followers
November 30, 2021
This is a bit different than the true crime novels I usually read. It’s a bit more of a mix of true crime AND biography than just a straight up true crime novel. At first I was a little annoyed by that but I quickly got into it as a learned more about these girls and my heart started feeling for them. It also didn’t have all the trial and conviction details that most true crime stories have seeing as it’s still unsolved despite a pretty evident suspect. But I enjoyed the fresh spin on a true crime novel, getting to know the victims and their families so well was both heartbreaking and yet so rewarding. My only complaint is how we were first introduced to each character under her real name one by one and then reintroduced to them under her sex work name one by one. It made things a little bit confusing and hard to keep track of, I almost found myself wanting to take notes. Other than that minor detail it was a really captivating and heart breaking story I won’t soon forget.
Profile Image for Shaun.
Author 3 books182 followers
February 1, 2015
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.

Profile Image for Jenny Parker.
8 reviews2 followers
September 8, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Mark Stevens.
Author 6 books172 followers
January 11, 2014
“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.
January 6, 2020
Lost Girls is an amazing piece of work. I’ve been a huge fan of true crime since I read “In Cold Blood” as a kid. My mom hid Helter Skelter from me, saying I was too young and she was probably right. I’ve also devoured everything that Ann Rule has written. She’s definitely missed in this genre. There have only been a few true crime books that I have not been able to finish reading. This has usually been due to the writing being so all over the place that it’s tough to keep track of who is who or I felt that the author was more on the side of the killer instead of the victim, which didn’t sit right with me.

I think Robert Kolker does an amazing job of portraying the victims as humans with family and friends. Since the killer has not been caught yet, it worked perfectly since obviously details of the investigation would be off limits. The book also reads like a story and not as much like a true life event. I’d definitely recommend if you like this kind of book.
Profile Image for Morgan.
209 reviews10 followers
August 11, 2013
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.

Profile Image for Marcos Teach.
908 reviews12 followers
November 14, 2013
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.

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