Review: Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

Book Information:

  • Genre: Non-fiction (murder mystery)
  • Source:  Edelweiss & Publisher
  • Pages: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers (July 9, 2013)
  • Cupcake Scale Rating: An excellent cupcake with sprinkles AND a cherry on top! (click here to find out what that means)


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.

One late spring evening in 2010, Shannan Gilbert, after running through the oceanfront community of Oak Beach screaming for her life, went missing. No one who had heard of her disappearance thought much about what had happened to the twenty-four-year-old: she was a Craigslist prostitute who had been fleeing a scene—of what, no one could be sure. The Suffolk County Police, too, seemed to have paid little attention—until seven months later, when an unexpected discovery in a bramble alongside a nearby highway turned up four bodies, all evenly spaced, all wrapped in burlap. But none of them Shannan’s.

There was Maureen Brainard-Barnes, last seen at Penn Station in Manhattan three years earlier, and Melissa Barthelemy, last seen in the Bronx in 2009. There was Megan Waterman, last seen leaving a hotel in Hauppage, Long Island, just a month after Shannan’s disappearance in 2010, and Amber Lynn Costello, last seen leaving a house in West Babylon a few months later that same year. Like Shannan, all four women were petite and in their twenties, they all came from out of town to work as escorts, and they all advertised on Craigslist and its competitor, Backpage.

In a triumph of reporting—and in a riveting narrative—Robert Kolker presents the first detailed look at the shadow world of escorts in the Internet age, where making a living is easier than ever and the dangers remain all too real. He has talked exhaustively with the friends and family of each woman to reveal the three-dimensional truths about their lives, the struggling towns they came from, and the dreams they chased. And he has gained unique access to the Oak Beach neighborhood that has found itself the focus of national media scrutiny—where the police have flailed, the body count has risen, and the neighbors have begun pointing fingers at one another. There, in a remote community, out of sight of the beaches and marinas scattered along the South Shore barrier islands, the women’s stories come together in death and dark mystery. Lost Girls is a portrait not just of five women, but of unsolved murder 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.

My Review:

It’s hard to understand how a book filled with horrific detail about murders that happened to young girls can be an excellent, must read.  Trust me, this is!  Robert Kolker does not add fiction, because this book needs none.  This book is filled with only factual information, told to Robert by the many people he interviewed….and he went everywhere to talk to those who knew the “lost girls”.   He went to the girl’s hometowns, tracked down friends, associates, pimps, other escort girls, families, and boyfriends.  He did countless hours on research, talking with police, detectives, and people who could shed light on finding the killer(s). The amount of research was astounding and truly shows with all the detail Robert covers in the book.

This book does not read like a police report or transcript.  Robert Kolker takes the reader into the dark world of drugs and prostitution, detailing the events leading up the murders of the girls on Long Island, NY.  Each chapter focuses on 1 lost girl, and details what drew her into the life of prostitution, using drugs, and eventually meeting clients through Craigslist.  Before people judge these young girls, it is important to understand what led them to that lifestyle.  No girl-who is someone’s sister, daughter, niece, granddaughter-wishes to be a prostitute, wishes to be a drug user, and wishes to sell herself online to make money.  While each girl’s life is different, it is apparent what having an absent mother and father does to these young girls, as they raise themselves in a poverty stricken household.  While not every girl is poverty stricken, something compels each of them to go into that lifestyle, with most being led into it by a friend or family member.

Robert doesn’t sway the reader to form an opinion of the girls and their lifestyle.  He simply lays the information, as he describes the events leading up to each girl’s disappearance.  Just when the murders can’t get any more horrific, Shannan Gilbert is introduced.  Unusual and crazy circumstances surrounding the timeline leading up to her death and will have readers wanting to figure out who did it, too.  Is her death linked to the Long Island serial killer?  Was her death a botched one because she did have her cellphone and driver?  Did the killer get frustrated with her and kill her differently?  Was it a truly fluke accidental drowning caused by drug infused psychosis?  Robert even adds a section on “theories” and actually interviews the people suspected of killing Shannan, aiming to leave no stone unturned.

This book will haunt readers, unlike any other book!  This is true-crime murder mystery, that leads up to the possibility of having a serial killer on a secluded little area: Oak Beach.  Sadly, more bodies were found (a total of 12), and many are Jane Doe’s.  It is so sad and tragic that people can disappear with no one asking for them, wondering where they went, and having these victims remain nameless.  It will make the reader angry, scared, sad, and in the end-the reader will want to see justice served, too.

This book is a necessary read.  Why? Because it shows how important it is that we take care of our daughters, encourage self-esteem, be a support to single mothers, help out our neighbors, be vigilant in our communities, and cause people to change laws, create new ones, and hold men accountable for soliciting services.  Craigslist should be held accountable, too.  Our sons need to be taught how to respect themselves, practice self-control, and they need positive male role models.  Schools needs to be invested in their students, regardless of socio-economic status.  As a community, we need to help train up our daughters and sons-help them with resources, and be vigilant in combatting drug abuse, sexual solicitation, and human trafficking.  Sexual human trafficking girls and boys are everywhere-in our neighborhoods, in our stores, in our community.  We as a nation need to be more present and know what’s going on in our neighborhoods.

There are few changes/additions that I would have preferred: pictures of the victims-to put a name with a face.  The timeline at the end of the book would have been better for me to have been placed at the beginning of the book, so that I wouldn’t have been so confused at the beginning with the names of the girls and who they were.  Lastly, to have had the bullet points on each girl’s info (displayed at the end of the book), placed at the beginning of each chapter with the corresponding girl.

Nonetheless, this is a fantastic read and will not only be a true murder mystery that will keep the reader engaged the whole time, but it will certainly move readers to be more vigilant at home, with loved ones, and hopefully create some change.

*This book was provided through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

Connect with the Author:




More Information on the Lost Girls:

48 Hours (1st episode)

48 Hours Episode (new episode)

( has some new interviews, but basically same video as the 1st episode.)

48 Hours, Erin Moriarty’s Blog on LISK

Everything you need to read from Huffington Post on LISK info.