Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA
I don’t usually read true crime, but Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls – An Unsolved American Mystery was on the shelf next to the biography section, and it caught my eye because it was about an unsolved serial murder case in New York and New England.
My favorite type of nonfiction is the type that reads like a novel, and Lost Girls- An Unsolved American Mystery does just that. Author Robert Kolker recounts the stories of the five female victims in vivid novel-like detail.
Lost Girls- An Unsolved American Mystery tells the true story of five women who disappeared between 2007 -2010. Each worked as an escort/call girl/hooker, and each used Craigslist, which is most likely how their killer found them. Their bodies were discovered in 2010 wrapped in burlap in the island community of Oak Beach, New York. The killer remains at large.
The first half of the book details with great precision and care the lives of these five women, explaining their backgrounds and telling how they became escorts. It’s this part of the book that is most novel-like. We are privy to conversations they had with their family members, and we get to know each woman as we learn their hopes and dreams. We follow them during their everyday lives all the way up to the moment they disappeared. These accounts are quite chilling.
The book then switches to a comprehensive description of the Oak Beach community, the place where the bodies of these women were discovered. Oak Beach is a private, closed community, and Kolker goes into great detail about the people who live there. One character, a local doctor, is even considered a suspect by the family members, although the police dismiss him as a serious suspect early on in the investigation.
Book Two is the most painful and frustrating part of the book, as it tells the tale of how the bodies were discovered. Police searched Oak Beach because one of the women was last seen there, and as they searched for her, they found the skeletal remains of the other women. Ironically, the woman who disappeared in Oak Beach was the last body to be found.
Lost Girls- An Unsolved American Mystery is exhaustedly researched. It’s evident that author Kolker conducted many interviews and did his homework.
There are many unnerving moments in the story, none more than when the younger sister of one of the missing women received a phone call from her missing sister’s cell phone, and when she answered and said “Melissa?” a male voice answered calmly and confidently, “Oh, this isn’t Melissa.” She would receive several more calls from this man, and not once were the police able to trace the call.
A large part of the book covers the families’ frustration with the local police, as they felt the police never took these women’s disappearances all that seriously since they were prostitutes. Autopsies are sloppily conducted, conflicting statements are made by different police officials, and one police official even suggested one of the women was not murdered but died an “accidental death.
Lost Girls- An Unsolved American Mystery has a lot to say about how prostitutes are viewed by society and how dangerous a living it is, especially today when prostitutes and johns get together under the shadowy protection of the internet. The fact that this was a true story and that it remains unsolved makes the book all the more disturbing.
Lost Girls- An Unsolved American Mystery is a captivating read that I pretty much couldn’t put down. It reads like a novel and draws you in to its frightening and tragic tale from the first page.