Lost Girls doesn’t end neatly. There’s not an ending, not yet, and there very well may never be one.
Kolker, a writer for New York magazine, delves deep into the lives of five prostitutes whose bodies were found on Long Island in 2010 and 2011. Four of the women appear to have been killed by the same person—there are varying theories about the fifth—but the crime remains unsolved. Also unclear is whether other bodies found nearby are the work of the same killer, or if the remote stretches of Jones, West Gilgo, and Oak Beaches were appealing dumping grounds for more than one murderer.
Yet Kolker’s aim is not to solve the killings or suggest a new suspect the police have overlooked, like so many true crime writers do. Instead, Kolker paints a portrait of the five women’s lives and that of their families—what drove them to prostitution, and, specifically, what drove them to post their services on Craigslist. There are broken families, abusive pimps, and drugs, but the stories of Maureen, Melissa, Shannan, Megan, and Amber are so much more complex than the usual tired cliches, much to Kolker’s credit.
“I can’t believe they’re doing all this for a whore,” Kolker quotes one unnamed television journalist as saying at a memorial service for the dead women. And Kolker has admitted in interviews that he was equally dismissive when the story first appeared on his radar. But, as he notes, that’s what the killers are counting on—no one cares about prostitutes, especially ones that go missing.
Except, as Kolker ably demonstrates, that isn’t true. There are families, even estranged ones, left behind. Children. Friends. Lovers. Mentors. Lost Girls walks a fine line between pathos and horror, and it’s an important depiction of lives all too rarely left unseen.