Lost Girls Part 14

Life was continuing even while Missy wasn't paying attention. Missy was pregnant again-a boy, due in September. On the ultrasound, it looked like he was already flexing his muscles. The pose in the printout reminded Missy of her brother. She thought of naming him Liam-like Will's name, William, only shortened-but she'd told Chris he could name the baby, so his name would be Dominic.

It was windy and cold with a light drizzle as Missy got out of the car at St. Mary's in New London. Maureen and Will were buried next to each other, near a statue of the saint herself. Missy was proud of the location. "Especially in the summertime. If you notice, my brother has all this gra.s.s everywhere, and my sister has this perfect gra.s.s, too. And everywhere else, it's all messed up."

Will was between two trees. At the other end of the cemetery were Maureen's grandmother and great-grandmother and her uncle Reggie. Missy's father was there, too-the father she and Will barely knew, separated from his son by just two other plots. "It's very, very hard to come here," she said. But Missy, usually so p.r.o.ne to tears, seemed more relaxed at the cemetery than anywhere else. Maybe it was because she got to commune with her past without any self-consciousness, without any guilt that she was neglecting her present-day life. She was mindful as she walked to their headstones. She was, in her way, maternal.

"I was kind of happy when the funeral parlor told me there was a law in Connecticut that states that you cannot cremate a homicide victim," she said. "I didn't want her cremated. I felt like she went through so much that I didn't want her . . . " She trailed off. "You know what I'm saying? I looked at my mom and was like, 'See, you shouldn't cremate her.' And she didn't get cremated, she was buried. And she's in a casket next to my brother. My brother wasn't cremated, either, he's in a casket."

There were some plants on the graves. Missy's mother had brought them. "She comes here more than I do," Missy said. "It's harder for me, I don't know. It's because I'm the middle child. I lost my older and my younger."

On July 14, 2012, the fifth anniversary of Maureen's disappearance, Sara Karnes reached out to Missy on Facebook: SARA KARNES I wish I had stayed. I really thought I'd be seeing her again on Wednesday MELISSA CANN Sara there was no way you could have known that Maureen would be in danger and it would be the last time anyone of us would hear from her was this weekend 5 years ago. Your in my thoughts cause I know this is hard for you as well as my family.

SARA KARNES Yeah but even if I didn't know that I shoulda still stayed. What kind of friend leaves their friend all alone in a big a.s.s city?

MELISSA CANN Please remember it is n.o.bodies fault besides the person who took her life. No one could have predicted that this would have happen. I mean, I can say what kind of sister lets their sister go to a big a.s.s city?

Stunts 4 Justice didn't raise close to the five thousand dollars Missy had hoped. But it was good to be with Lorraine that day, and they met a famous crusader for the families of missing persons: Janice Smolinski, whose son, Billy, disappeared in Connecticut in 2004, and who has been working for the creation of Billy's Law, which seeks to expand online public information on missing people and unidentified remains. Over the summer, Missy's activism intensified. She started looking into how to go about getting the Gilgo Beach killer on the FBI's most-wanted list: Others on the list were unidentified, with only the case details listed. Why not this killer and this case?

Missy kept gathering every piece of data, flagging some sketches of the unidentified bodies she found in a national database and giving them to the press. "The Suffolk police dropped the ball and never released it to the public," she said. Through the Connecticut victims' advocate attorney, she tried to arrange a meeting with Norwich police to go over what steps they took in Maureen's missing-persons case, and maybe even get a look at the case file. "This should be interesting," she said. Once she delivered the baby, Missy wanted to put together another stunt show and finally meet her goal. Somewhere down the line, she was thinking of moving to Stamford, to be closer to Long Island if and when there was an arrest in the case.

Missy monitored the growing national discussion about online ads for escorts. "Knowingly making money off of girls' bodies-that sounds like a pimp or promoting prost.i.tution to me," she said. "Of course, the girls who do this are also wrong, but if it was not for this online hiding of it, I don't think half of them would be out there doing this."

The exchange of s.e.x for money has been a part of life in nearly every human civilization, at times playing an accepted, even respected role. Thousands of years before Christ, the profession was connected to religious practices in the temples of Sumeria, and the rights of prost.i.tutes and their children were spelled out in the code of Hammurabi. Brothels were legal in ancient China and ancient Greece, tolerated by the Israelites, taxed by the early Roman Empire, and openly indulged by royalty during the Renaissance. In practically every era, prost.i.tutes have thrived, and in some, they were recognized and exalted.

In America, commercial s.e.x was more or less tolerated as a sort of low-grade offense in Colonial times, easy for the authorities to ignore. That continued through the Civil War and only changed about a century ago, when progressive groups like the Women's Christian Temperance Union worked to protect young girls from being forced into prost.i.tution. When the Mann Act of 1915 made a federal crime of transporting "any woman or girl for the purpose of prost.i.tution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose," prost.i.tutes in America entered a shadow world, even if their services were as in demand as ever.

While Europe experimented with legalization and regulation after WWII, the practice here was more stigmatized than perhaps it had ever been. It was also dangerous. John J. Potterat, one of the nation's leading epidemiologists, noted in 2004 that the leading cause of death for prost.i.tutes was homicide. He also found that most prost.i.tute murders-64 percent-were committed by johns, with the high body count of killers like Gary Ridgway, Robert Pickton, and Robert Lee Yates skewing that statistic away from onetime killers and toward the serially inclined.

The Internet had promised to bring about the most significant change to the s.e.x trade in years, maybe centuries. Never before had the marketing of prost.i.tution become so convenient and un.o.btrusive-so easy. No one had to go to a bad part of town to look for what they wanted. Everything could take place behind closed doors, where no one was watching. Craigslist was the great disrupter in any number of industries, transforming the way people shopped for anything, and commercial s.e.x was no exception. The great selling point of Craigslist, and the Web in general, was its anonymity. A person can do practically anything online without even their closest loved ones knowing, from commenting on Yelp or Gawker to selling stolen goods or viewing p.o.r.n videos. This is as true for the escorts as it was for the johns, who have turned sites like TheEroticReview.com into a sort of Yelp for steady customers of commercial s.e.x.

In 2009, Craigslist earned a reported $45 million a year from Adult Services ads, or about a third of the company's total profits (the site had started charging $5 per posting just a year earlier). Some believed that Craigslist and its compet.i.tors were doing well by doing good: In 2006, a research team from Princeton and Columbia said that this new type of prost.i.tute had a "careerist orientation." Three years later, a study and survey by Baylor University economist Scott Cunningham confirmed that the Web was drawing entirely different sorts of people into prost.i.tution-better educated, even thinner. And in 2011, University of Arkansas researcher Jennifer Hafer said people embraced online prost.i.tution "for many of the same reasons that people enter the conventional job market-money, stability, autonomy and even job satisfaction." Thanks to the Internet, it was said, prost.i.tution could become a means of economic empowerment for an entire swath of society. The women and men who walked the street could come in from the cold, becoming free agents, liberated from the system of pimps and escort services that had exploited them for so long.

Few people considered how the Web's anonymity stood to make escort work more dangerous than ever. Sure enough, online escorts started to report incidents of violence. Nearly half of the New York City indoor s.e.x workers surveyed by a group called the Urban Justice Center in 2006 said they had been forced by a client to do something they did not want to do, and almost as many said they had been threatened or beaten. When the Craigslist killer, Philip Haynes Markoff, made headlines in 2009, the public got its first sense of the danger. The bodies on Gilgo Beach only reinforced the point: a killer using the convenience of the Internet to carefully select his victims, and taking advantage of the anonymity of the same technology to elude capture.

By 2009, law enforcement had already targeted Craigslist. The sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, sued the company, calling the site "the single largest source of prost.i.tution in the nation." He was joined in the lawsuit by forty state attorneys general, one of whom, Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal, called online s.e.x ads the new Times Square-an unsavory back alley everyone winked at, but no one did anything about. The pressure forced Craigslist to shut down its Adult Services category on September 3, 2010-as it happens, the day after Amber Lynn Costello went missing. Escorts never stopped advertising on Craigslist; they just posted on the sly in other categories. And when the scrutiny and criticism shifted over to the new market leader, Backpage, it was widely understood that if Backpage shut down its Adult Entertainment page, a dozen more sites like it stood ready to pick up the traffic.

The demand for commercial s.e.x will never go away. Neither will the Internet; they're stuck with each other. It may no longer even matter anymore whether the sale of s.e.x among consenting adults is wrong or right, immoral or empowering. What's clear is that no good can come from pretending that the people who partic.i.p.ate in prost.i.tution don't exist. That, after all, is what the killer was counting on.

The frustration with the Gilgo Beach case has tempted all the family members of the victims to target the Web itself as the reason for their loss-a coconspirator, along with the killer. They have argued that anyone running s.e.x ads is doing nothing less than enabling a haven for the trafficking of helpless women. "Most of them get conned and lured into this lifestyle and can't find a way out," Missy has said.

But that, like everything about the issue, was a matter of debate. The mistake may be thinking everyone works as an escort for the same reasons. Not all of them are minors, and not all of them have been trafficked. Shannan, Maureen, Megan, Melissa, and Amber were over twenty-one. They were more or less working alone and of their own volition. Despite what some family members said after the fact, they were not lured or overtly pressured. Some would say this makes them complicit in their fate-in other words, they brought this on themselves by doing something so dangerous. But to suggest they had it coming because they put themselves in a risky situation is disingenuous; no one walks through life thinking they're going to be killed. To blame the girls alone would be just as easy as blaming Craigslist or Backpage alone. To place responsibility on any family member-a mother like Mari, or a sister like Kim-means at least partially acquitting the girls themselves. To suggest that someone should have stopped them is to believe that they could have been stopped.

The issue of blame itself, in the end, may be a trap. They weren't angels. They weren't devils. One was the aimless dreamer of her family until the pressures of adult responsibility became impossible to ignore. Another was both adored and feared by all factions of her warring family, but she placed her hope for the future in the hands of her boyfriend. A third was raised by an older sister, also an escort, whom she worshipped and, at times, tried to free herself from. Another wanted to be a success, and coming home from New York anything less than that would have meant admitting defeat. Another was a self-made woman using her money to win a place back in her family. But to their loved ones, some part of each of the girls remains elusive.

There is an impulse now to have a reason. It's as strong an impulse-maybe stronger-as wanting to know who killed them.

After a while, Missy came around to the broader view. She worried that even if Backpage shut its page down, escorting would move further underground, making it even harder to track missing women. "These girls need to be looked at as human beings," she said. Right or wrong, Missy said, escorting needs to be brought in from the shadows. "They need to be protected as if they were any other profession. But since these sites are not regulated, they enable the rapists and killers."

All the activity might lead to nothing, though it gave Missy something to work for, a reason to keep going. But as summer turned to fall, Missy pulled away from Facebook. Some of her new friends, even Lorraine, would get angry at her for not donating the Stunts 4 Justice money to Crimestoppers right away. All the new bonds Missy had forged, all the friendships, were being tested. Lorraine started planning the next Oak Beach vigil without her. When the day of the next vigil arrived, Missy didn't come. Only ten people met up in the Oak Beach parking lot on a clear, cold Sat.u.r.day in December 2012, two years after police found the first bodies and a year after they finally found Shannan. Nearly a hundred people had swarmed the parking lot a year earlier. For a little while, it seemed like Lorraine might be the only family member to make it. Then Kim arrived with a surprise: She was seven months pregnant with her seventh child, due on Amber's birthday in February. The ceremony was brief, a ritual designed for a catharsis that never seems to arrive. At the end, the group released heart-shaped lanterns and watched them float high in the air, away from the water and back toward the parkway.

The one thing Missy and Mari agreed on was that as bad as not knowing was, knowing was worse. No matter whom they reached out to, part of them remained alone. "I'm starting to forget little things about her," Missy said. "And my brother, too. Not who they are or what they stood for but the little things, like who their favorite teachers were. I'm starting to forget. It's horrible."

Whenever she thought of them, Missy would try to write down what she remembered. Will getting a patch for his motorcycle club. Maureen and Will and Missy sitting in a field as little kids, and Maureen, with her Barbie doll, picking a b.u.t.tercup and holding it under Will's chin. The sad song Maureen was singing over and over with Missy and Will a few days before she disappeared, "4am" by a band called Our Lady Peace: And if I don't make it / Know that I loved you all along.

Just before the start of spring, Missy was taking her kids to a park and saw a little boy playing with his dad. It took a second before she realized that the boy was Maureen's son. She hadn't seen Aidan in almost five years. She finally got the chance, that day, to talk to his dad, Steve, and they all went out for ice cream. Missy couldn't remember the last time she felt so happy.

Less than two weeks later, she was outside the ShopRite when she spotted Steve and Aidan again, walking into T. J. Maxx. She thought of going in after them and orchestrating another chance meeting, but then she thought better of it. She didn't want to seem like a stalker. She came away thinking that G.o.d puts you in places for a reason.

MAPS.

CHRONOLOGY.

- April 20, 1996.

Two female legs, wrapped in a plastic bag, are discovered on Fire Island west of Davis Park Beach.

- December 19, 2000.

The first of two human torsos is discovered by hikers in the Long Island Pine Barrens in Manorville, off of Halsey Manor Road.

- July 26, 2003 The second human torso is discovered in the Pine Barrens, not far from the first. The remains are identified as Jessica Taylor, a twenty-year-old escort from Washington, D.C., last seen days earlier at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

- July 9, 2007.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes is last seen in her room at the Super 8 Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Her last known call that night is to her sister, Missy, during which she says she is at Penn Station.

- July 12, 2009 Melissa Barthelemy is last seen outside her apartment in the Bronx. In the next month, her sister, Amanda, will receive seven phone calls from a man claiming to be her killer.

- May 1, 2010.

Shannan Gilbert disappears at sunrise after being seen running out of Joe Brewer's house in Oak Beach, Long Island. Neighbors Gus Coletti and Barbara Brennan are among the last to see her, in the vicinity of Anchor Way.

- June 5, 2010 Megan Waterman disappears from the Hauppauge Holiday Inn Express, last seen heading toward a nearby convenience store on foot.

- September 2, 2010 Amber Lynn Costello leaves her home in North Babylon to meet a client, never to be seen alive again.

- December 11, 2010 Police discover a full skeleton, wrapped in burlap, in the bramble beside Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, three miles from Oak Beach. The remains are later identified as Melissa Barthelemy.

- December 13, 2010 Near where Melissa was found, police find three more sets of remains, also skeletons wrapped in burlap, later identified as Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, and Amber Lynn Costello.

- January 25, 2011 Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota publicly acknowledge that the police are looking for a serial killer.

- March 29, 2011 Police find a skull, hands, and forearm, later verified to be additional remains of Jessica Taylor, the woman whose torso was found in Manorville in 2003. These remains are also found along Ocean Parkway, three quarters of a mile east of where the first four bodies were discovered.

- April 4, 2011 Three more sets of remains are found along Ocean Parkway: an unidentified Asian male dressed in women's clothing; the skull, hands, and foot of the first Manorville Jane Doe; and an unidentified girl between sixteen and thirty-two months old.

- April 11, 2011.

Police uncover two more sets of remains in two separate locations. The first discovery, female bones and jewelry found near the Jones Beach water tower, is later suggested by DNA to be the likely mother of the girl found eight days earlier along Ocean Parkway. The second, a skull discovered west of Tobay Beach in Na.s.sau County, is later determined to be that of the Jane Doe torso found in 1996 on Fire Island.

- April 12, 2011 The first news reports air about Mari Gilbert's claim that she spoke with Oak Beach resident Dr. Peter Hackett in the days after her daughter Shannan's disappearance. Hackett and his wife deny that the conversations took place.

- May 9, 2011 In light of the six latest discoveries, Spota revises his theory of the case, announcing "There is no evidence that all of these remains are the work of a single killer."

- June 14, 2011 Family members hold the first of several vigils at Oak Beach.

- July 12, 2011.

Peter Hackett tells CBS News he indeed spoke with Mari Gilbert on the phone days after Shannan disappeared.

- November 29, 2011 Dormer revises the case theory yet again, announcing he believes a single serial killer is to blame for all ten victims, and that Shannan's disappearance is a separate case, perhaps not even a murder.

- November 30, 2011 The Suffolk County police announce they will reopen the search for Shannan along Ocean Parkway.

- December 6, 2011 On day two of the new search, the police move from Ocean Parkway to Oak Beach. That same day, they find Shannan's pocketbook, ID, cell phone, jeans, and shoes in a marsh, steps from where she was last seen on Anchor Way.

- December 13, 2011 Shannan's remains are found on the far side of the Oak Beach marsh, a quarter mile from her belongings. Before an autopsy is performed, Dormer refers to her death as an accident.

- December 15, 2011 Spota decries Dormer's single-killer theory. The same day, County Executiveelect Steve Bellone names Dormer's replacement as police commissioner, effective January 1.

- December 20, 2011.

Mari Gilbert and her attorney publicly call for the FBI to take over the case.

- January 3, 2012 Suffolk County Interim Commissioner Edward Webber announces "There's no fixed theories at the moment" about the Gilbert case or any of the Ocean Parkway cases.

- May 1, 2012 Shannan's autopsy results are shared with her family. The cause of death is "undetermined."

- November 15, 2012.

Shannan's family files a wrongful death lawsuit against Peter Hackett.

LIST OF CHARACTERS.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes.

(disappeared 2007) (working name: Marie) (from Norwich, CT).

* Mother: Marie Ducharme * Father: Bob Senecal.

* Younger sister: Missy * Younger brother: Will (died 2009) * Daughter: Caitlin.

* Son: Aidan * Friend: Jay DuBrule * Friend: Sara Karnes (working name: Lacey or Monroe).

Melissa Barthelemy (disappeared 2009) (working name: Chloe) (from Buffalo, NY) * Mother: Lynn Barthelemy * Mother's boyfriend: Jeff Martina * Grandmother: Linda.

* Grandfather: Elmer * Aunt: Dawn * Younger half-sister: Amanda * Boyfriend: Jordan * Friend: Kritzia (working name: Mariah) * Boyfriend/pimp: John Terry (working name: Blaze) Shannan Gilbert (disappeared 2010) (working names: Sabrina, Madison, Angelina) (from Ellenville, NY) * Mother: Mari Gilbert.

* Younger sister: Sherre * Younger sister: Sarra * Younger sister: Stevie * Boyfriend/former driver: Alex Diaz * Driver: Michael Pak.

Megan Waterman (disappeared 2010) (working names: Lexi, Jasmine, Tiffany) (from South Portland, ME) * Mother: Lorraine Waterman * Father: Greg Gove * Mother's boyfriend: Bill * Older brother: Greg * Grandmother: Muriel * Aunt: Liz Meserve * Daughter: Liliana * Boyfriend/drug dealer: Akeem Cruz (working name: Vybe) * Friend: Nicci Hayc.o.c.k * Police officer: Doug Weed * Pimp: Banks Amber Overstreet Costello.

(disappeared 2010) (working name: Carolina) (from Wilmington, NC) * Mother: Margie (died 2005).

* Father: Al.

* Sister: Kim (working names: Mia or Italia) * Friend: Melissa Wright * Owner of Coed Confidential: Teresa.

* First ex-husband: Michael Wilhelm * Second ex-husband: Don Costello * Chaperone/roommate: Dave Schaller * Chaperone/roommate: Bjrn Brodsky (Bear).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.

This project never would have been possible without the generous partic.i.p.ation of the mothers and sisters of the women whose lives I have tried to present here. My deepest thanks go to Melissa "Missy" Cann, Lynn Barthelemy, Amanda Funderberg, Mari Gilbert, Sherre Gilbert, Lorraine Waterman, Muriel Benner, and Kim Overstreet. Many others contributed invaluable insights; with apologies for not mentioning everyone, I'm particularly indebted to Sara Karnes, Jason DuBrule, Jeff Martina, Kritzia Lugo, Elmer Barthelemy, Anthony Sims, Liz Meserve, Alfred Overstreet, Melissa Brock Wright, and Dave Schaller. This book is a tribute to their candor and sensitivity and to the love they feel for those who were lost.

A great many others offered expertise and opened doors. On Long Island, thanks to Steve Barcelo, Brendan Murphy, Jim Jones, Michele Kutner, Joe Scalise, Jr., Mary Cascone of the Town of Babylon's Office of Historic Services, Babylon Chief of Staff Ronald Kluesener, Babylon Waterways Management Supervisor Brian Zitani, and State Parks ecologist Julie Lundgren of the New York Natural Heritage Program. Beyond Long Island, thanks to Neale Duffett and Jim Cloutier in Portland, Maine; Doug Weed in Scarborough, Maine; Aaron Bartley in Buffalo, New York; John Jeremiah Sullivan and Ben Steelman in Wilmington, North Carolina; and Charlie Hannon in Jersey City, New Jersey. The forensic pathologist Michael Baden provided great insight into his field, as did Sienna Baskin of the Urban Justice Center's s.e.x Workers Project and several employees at Safe Horizon, a social services organization in New York. Thanks also to John Connolly, Robert D. Ryan, and Susie Sampierre.

For historical material, I relied heavily on two essays from the dearly departed journal Long Island Forum: "The Old Time Ma'shin' Season" by Julian Denton Smith (1957) and "By-gone Days At Oak Beach" by Ulla S. Kimball (1968). The personal remembrances of Ed Meade, Sr., written in 1983, were also invaluable. My account of the search for bodies owes a debt to the work of a number of reporters: Andrew Strickler and Michael Amon broke news constantly in Newsday; Manny Fernandez and Tim Stelloh of The New York Times wrote the definitive piece on Officer John Mallia and his dog, Blue; Jaclyn Gallucci of the Long Island Press reported comprehensively on the case; and Christine Pelisek and Roja Heydarpour of the Daily Beast published the first major report on the relatives of the victims forming a "sisterhood."

I would like to thank my talented and caring editors at HarperCollins, David Hirshey and Barry Harbaugh, for believing in the book and improving it tremendously; Bill Ruoto for designing a beautiful finished book; Beth Thomas and Lydia Weaver for a skillful copyedit; and my agents, David Gernert and Chris Parris-Lamb, for their faith, encouragement, and expertise. Jon Gluck has been my great friend and editor at New York magazine for ten years. The article from which this book evolved, "A Serial Killer in Common," is just one example of Jon's editing skill, story sense, and boundless enthusiasm. I've treasured our partnership. Editor in chief Adam Moss and managing editor Ann Clarke were very gracious and supportive while I took time to complete this book. Several skilled reporters from the magazine and elsewhere a.s.sisted me with transcription and research: Bianca Male, Taylor Berman, Thayer McClanahan, and Rachel Arons.

Through countless discussions over a great many salads, Jennifer Senior helped me figure out what to say and when and how to say it. She and Mark Levine, Emily Nussbaum, and Clive Thompson never failed to offer moral support. Amy Gross and Kenneth Mueller helped me through some of the worst of it. Thanks also to Chris Bonanos, Juliet Lapidos, and Cristine Cronin. Other good friends contributed not just encouragement but much-needed child care: Josh Goldfein and Yvonne Brown, Michael Kelleher and Shari Zisman, and Doug McMullen and Corinna Snyder. My family, the Kolkers and Hallocks of Maryland and Illinois and the Danises of Ma.s.sachusetts, North Carolina, and Georgia, have always been so very supportive, and I can never thank them enough.

A few months before Lost Girls was completed, our family experienced the loss of Henry L. Danis, Jr. We'll always cherish his memory. This book is for him, and for Audrey and Nate, and for my wife, Kirsten. I am so glad to have this chance in print to thank her not just for encouraging me, but for her beauty, understanding, and love. She means the world to me.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR.

ROBERT KOLKER is a New York magazine contributing editor and a finalist for the National Magazine Award. He writes frequently about issues surrounding criminal justice and the unforeseen impacts of extraordinary events on everyday people. He lives with his family in Brooklyn. This is his first book.

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