Thursday, April 11, 2019

Audio: "Lost Girls" by Robert Kolker

Audio: Lost Girls: an unsolved American mystery by Robert Kolker, 2013, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Kolker sorta investigates the murders of several prostitutes whose remains were found in 2010 and 2011 near Oak Beach, a small town on a barrier island south of Long Island. I write "sorta" because Kolker had minimal access to the police investigation. Kolker was able to either interview or pull comments from a few police officers but he had no inside information on the deaths, the bodies, the investigation, etc.

Tied directly to the victims is Oak Beach, Long Island where Shannan, whose 2009 disappearance ignited the search that stumbled upon the bodies. Oak Beach is a small, insular, private community of homes that used to be summer cottages and are now, mostly, year round residences. The entire investigation kicked off after one prostitute, Shannan, went missing from Oak Beach during a prostitution out-call.

Kolker focuses on the known victims and their families. The remains of 10 people were found and one victim was a child. The identified victims were prostitutes and most everyone assumes a serial killer is assumed. This is an easy assumption since four of the bodies were buried together.

Kolker did a lot of interviews with survivors. Parents, grandparents, siblings, co-workers, boyfriends, husbands, neighbors, so on, so forth. He lays out the biographies of all the women. Some were heavy drug users. Some needed money and prostitution paid very well. Some had mental health trouble. All of them were loved by their families.

Because no killer has been tried or identified - including currently, in 2019 - this is different than other true crime stories I have read. With no one to blame Kolker is giving a dual report on the victims's and surviving relatives lives. Prostitutes are so often regarded as rotten people by society. They have drug problems, childhood traumas, criminal records, and are all-around trouble for local police. Kolker lets us know the dead women were human. He shows us their personalities, childhoods, ambitions, and failures.

After a time the many different families start to talk and gather. They raise awareness with vigils, remembrance ceremonies, and interviews. The 2,500 person Suffolk County Police seem to be getting nowhere and the families are angry about it.

Kolker has tons of information from interviews and research about the victims but the investigation is a case of outside looking in. With no convicted killer to blame the families are left guessing what happened to the women. This guesswork leads to some specious theories about the victims, the residents of Oak Beach, the police, and the victim's friends or acquaintances. Survivors sit at a coffee roundtable and come up with all sorts of wild theories.

Part of survivor talk seems to be guilt and shame over the women's work and lifestyle. They want to see their dead relatives as "clean" people. "She didn't do drugs. She didn't really have sex. She was a good girl." They love and miss their daughters, granddaughters, and sisters. It's bad enough that the women were murdered and buried in sand. That some of them were dismembered and the parts scattered.

Kolker spends a good deal of space repeating internet gossip. Recounting the wild theories that attempt to tie in various Oak Creek residents as viable suspects. Often times people are coming up with a theory and fitting the facts to it.Telling those stories is part of learning what everyone is going through. Repeating the internet bullshit is a reminder that an entire community - even a online community are are involved - even if it is scurrilous bullshit Scurrilous because the wild theories try tie-in Oak Beach people and cast them as a possible serial killer. One online poster that Kolker interviews calls himself "Truth Spider" who won't even reveal what part of Long Island he lives in.

Online trade is where all the women worked. Craig's List was their main advertisement. At one point Kolker follows along one woman who sees her former pimp on the sidewalk. She hates the guy and tries to stroll on past. Instead, he fakes a punch at her, she flinches and yells at him, he then slugs her in the face and pursues her into a store. The woman escapes and tries to laugh it off. The violent encounter is a part of everyday life for street workers. Why not take a risk of a dangerous client off the internet then give all your money to a pimp and get slugged in the face?

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