Bingo Square: Reader’s Choice. Replacing Violet
In May 2010, Shannan Gilbert ran shrieking from a house in Long Island and disappeared. Others had seen and heard her that night, but no one could help find her. The small community of Oak Beach mostly went back to their lives. Then, seven months later, a search dog found the remains of four bodies alongside a nearby highway, not far from where Shannan disappeared. The assumption was that one of those bodies would belong to Shannan.
Instead there was Maureen Brainard-Barnes, last seen in 2007. Melissa Barthelemy, missing since 2009. Megan Waterman, who disappeared just a month after Shannan. Amber Lynn Costello, missing just a few months after Megan. All the women, like Shannan, had worked as escorts, and all had advertised on Craigslist.
After a brief introduction into the night Shannan disappeared, Lost Girls eschews the usual true crime narrative and instead begins with an in depth look at the women’s lives. Their childhoods and families, how they became escorts, what their lives were like as they were working, and what they did in their final days. Once we know the women, then we learn about the investigation, how those who loved them tried to get the police to take them seriously and look for these women. How the investigation into Shannon’s disappearance was pushed in part by her mother, Mari Gilbert, and her belief that the police were covering something up.
The book also offers insights into the small community where the bodies were found, and the politics at play there. Were any of these people involved in the murders?
I really appreciated the way the book was structured, and that it wasn’t just another deep dive into all the sordid details of a murder case. We get to know these women and that matters. It reminded me a little bit of The Five, where the author details the lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper. For too long serial killers have been more well known than their victims, every facet of their crimes detailed and studied. But the names and lives of victims get lost. Having said that, there were places I felt like aspects of the case were confusing or less well thought out. It isn’t until another body is discovered that they mention the cause of death for the others, for example. And maybe I missed it, that’s possible, but that does seem like a detail worthy of mention even when you’re trying not to sensationalise anything.
It is an incredibly sad and moving book, and when you do finally learn what happened to Shannan it is heartbreaking. I think a part of me had hoped for a better outcome, even if that was incredibly unlikely.
My book had a new afterword that details some of what happened in the years after the bodies were discovered, especially in regards to Mari Gilbert. It’s a bleak one, for sure, but definitely worth reading to see how these kinds of stories can be told in a different way.