Visiting the Crime Scene at of the Fourth and Final of the Colonial Parkway Murders – New Kent County

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The start of the logging trail where Annamaria and Daniel’s remains were found some distance back. 

This is my fourth in a series of blog posts designed to take readers to the crime scenes related to the Colonial Parkway Murders (1986-1989). Our book, A Special Kind of Evil, covers these serial killings in detail. This material augments what is in the book with my personal observations and experiences in visiting these sites…a glimpse into the journey a true crime author goes on.  I ask your indulgence as you join us as authors on these trips.

I made three visits to New Kent County to explore the crime scene where Annamaria Phelps and Daniel Lauer met their untimely fates.  Out of all of the crime scenes, this was one that I wanted to make sure I had a good understanding of.  Some of it was personal.  Some was that so many newspaper accounts seem to think of this pair of murders as separate from the others.

For background:  On Labor Day weekend, 1989, the pair were on their way back from a short visit to Amelia County.  Daniel and Annamaria were not a couple – they were friends connected by Daniel’s brother.  Daniel was moving in with his brother Clinton and Annamaria was Clinton’s girlfriend.  She had come back with Daniel to visit her family while he hastily packed.  They set off back to Virginia Beach where Clinton and Annamaria lived, heading eastbound on I-64.

Annamaria Phelps
Annamaria Phelps
Daniel Lauer
Daniel Lauer

The next day Daniel’s Chevy Nova was found in the westbound rest area, parked with the driver’s side window half-down, keys easily accessible and a roach clip with feathers dangling from the window.  There was no sign of the couple.

Lauer Roach Clip
Daniel’s car interior.  Note the roach clip on the window.  

A search was made of the area by the Virginia State Police (VSP) and New Kent County Sheriff’s office, but no trace was found of the pair.  The families held out hope that the couple would be found but it would be six weeks later before a group of turkey hunters came across their remains in the woods under an electric blanket that Daniel had packed in the car.  They were just over a mile from where the car had been found, a testimony as to how badly the search had been conducted.

Exit on I 64
The rest areas as they appeared in 1989.  Both have been upgraded.  
The Logging Trail
Crime scene photo taken when the bodies were found in October of 1989 of the logging trail.  Much of the search for their remains had been done from the air, which, in such a wooded area, was pointless.  

Once the bodies had been found the VSP did an outstanding job of processing the crime scene, but a long time had passed.  Several clues were found that were important.  One was a knife wound on one of Annamaria’s finger bones, proof that this fireball of a young woman put up a fight with her killer.  Sadly it was a losing battle.  In my mind I always hoped that she inflicted some pain on her assailant before she died.  The second important clue, some 50 feet or so from the bodies, Annamaria’s locket with photos of her nephews was found.

The Locket
Crime scene photograph of the locket found on the logging trail.  This is one of the images from these cases that haunts me still.  I feel like it is there for a reason…but I don’t know why for sure.

While the crime scene was the farthest from the Colonial Parkway, it was a relatively short drive to reach the other crime scenes.  Because of the distance from that Parkway, people always question whether it is tied to the others.  I don’t.  The criminal behavioral specialists from the FBI and the Virginia State Police didn’t either.  This killing easily fit the pattern of the others, well, as easily as any of them fit together.

My first visit to the area, I explored the grounds between the rest area (which has been dramatically upgraded since 1989) and where the logging trail still exists where the couple had been found. Even looking at photos of the time, it was pretty evident that they had not been marched out to this spot in the middle of the night.  Whoever murdered these two drove them from the eastbound rest area to the first exit, hung a left, drove them to the logging trail and back into the woods.  Walking in the darkness that distance through that terrain would have represented a loss of control the killer needed over his victims.

My second visit was after I had stopped in at the West Point, VA, Tidewater newspaper.  Their editors kindly allowed me access to their bound archives.  I asked the editor there about the sheriff at that time of the murders.  Her comment was, “If you want to contact him, swing by the New Kent Sheriff’s office and ask them.”  Always trust your small town newspaper editors.

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The Tidewater image showing the trail in 1989.  Hunters found another body in New Kent at the same time – not far away on I-64

I arrived there and met with the Sheriff in the lobby.  It was an awkward meeting, me popping in out of the blue.  I told him I was writing a book on the Colonial Parkway Murders.  He told me he had been a deputy at the time and had been a first responder at the crime scene.  He also declined commenting on the case but agreed to pass on my contact information to the previous Sheriff.  I was a little surprised.  It’s been 30 years.  I know the case is still open, but my questions were not about suspects, but about the crime scene itself. He was very professional, but to the point. I had to remind myself I dropped in on him unannounced.

The sheriff asked if I had been out the crime scene.  “No, I was going to swing by there, after I leave here.”  He gave me appropriate warning.  “Well, that’s private property.”  I told him I understood.

When I arrived at the logging road (fully intending to trespass) there was a deputy’s car parked some 50 yards further up the road, lights on.  The deputy was standing outside the car and nodded in my direction as I parked along the road.  The message was pretty clear to me. One, any venturing in the woods was not happening today.  Two, this was a sheriff that knew this county and was pretty protective of his turf.  Welcome to small town Virginia.  I had been put in my place and I knew it.  Message received kemo-sabe.

Then again, it could have been just a coincidence…

I went back with Victoria (my daughter and co-author) a few weeks later, two weeks off from Labor Day, so we could see the trail as it was at that time of the year.  We went back into the woods (trespassing – for which we are sorry).  We got back about 100 feet or so and Victoria let out of a “whoop!”  The sound disappeared into the woods.  “This place just absorbs the noise.  Even if they called for help, no one would have heard them,” she said.  She’s brilliant that way, using all of her senses to take in a crime scene. I like to think I raised her well, despite the fact we were technically breaking the law.

Chief Danny Plott, formerly of the Virginia State Police (now Chief of Police at Colonial Beach) gave me directions to follow during my interview with him.  We passed two trail cameras and waved, what else could we do?  We reached the spot where the crime scene was.  Danny’s and Larry McCann’s interviews with us were incredible helpful since both had been there during the investigation.  It was eerie being back this far on unfamiliar ground, surrounded by woods.

Danny Plott
Crime scene photo.  Danny Plott is standing in the middle, holding the medical examiner’s purse.

Very little had changed here over time.  The logging road was a muddy trail leading back into the woods.  Turning around would have been very difficult, you had to know where the wide spots were to attempt it and you risked getting stuck if you didn’t have four-wheel drive.  When you stand on the logging trail and look back it is striking how similar it is to the Colonial Parkway.  Isolated – a tunnel through the trees.  Nature blocks avenues of escape.  I cannot help but wonder, did the killer(s) pick this spot because it psychologically reminded them of the Parkway?  Maybe he or they were trying to recreate their previous experiences.

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Just beyond the clearing in this picture is where the remains of the victims were found, six weeks after they disappeared.

We stood there a long few minutes and it became pretty clear that the killer knew the ground.  This site had been chosen for a reason, not at random.  It was isolated and provided natural control.  This meant that whoever killed them knew the terrain, knew the area, and had scouted out this particular piece of ground or knew it from experience.

We walked out and at the entrance to the logging trail – on the correct side of the no trespassing signs, we pondered how this crime had unfolded.  Testing of Daniel’s car tires didn’t show the dirt that he would have picked up on the logging trail, so the Nova was never out there.  That meant that murderer drove them in his vehicle to the scene.  The electric blanket was Daniels…so he either brought it with the victims, or as the VSP surmised, he went back for it to cover the bodies.  At some point, the killer drove Daniel’s car from the east bound rest area, exiting and re-entering I-64 to abandon it in the west bound area.  Then the killer had to get back his own vehicle in order to leave the area.

He left Daniel’s car staged for theft – just like he had with David Knobling’s truck and Keith Call’s Celica.  The hanging of the roach clip on the window…the founder of the VSP’s Behavioral Science unit Larry McCann told us that was a taunt to authorities.  He was rubbing the VSP’s nose in virtual poo.

Daniel's Car
Crime scene photo of Daniel’s car on the exit ramp.  Did you see this vehicle or its occupants in 1989?  You may hold the key to solving his case if you did. 

This was Labor Day weekend and the highway would have been busy, even late night, between Richmond and Virginia Beach.  How is it that no one saw all of this activity?  Someone did.  They just didn’t realize what they were witnessing at the time…that is the only logical answer.

I wondered about Annamaria’s locket.  Danny Plott had told me they surmised that it had been cut off when she had been attacked, but the necklace itself had not been found.  Danny’s theory made sense.  At the same time I wondered…did the killer leave it there on the trail, perhaps out of guilt?  Or did Annamaria deliberately leave it as a breadcrumb so that someone might find them? That locket bothers me to this day.  It was separate from the bodies by some 50 feet or so.  How it got there and why has awaken me several times from a deep sleep.  What does it mean – if anything?

“You know,” Victoria said as we stood there looking back into the forest, “If the police had found those bodies that day, they would have had a lot of evidence.  They would have known for sure what killed the pair, they would have had trace evidence – fibers, etc.  I mean it was only a mile away.  What kind of search did they do?”

“Not a good one,” was all I could reply.  I thought back to Rosanna Phelps Martin Sedivy, Annamaria’s sister, one of the first family members I interviewed for the book.  She told me how it had rained so hard during that six weeks while her sister’s fate was unknown and how the rain still depressed her to this day.  All the while her sister’s remains were a mere mile or so from where Daniel’s car had been found.  Rosanna really got to me that day.

Her anguish and pain pushed me through that moment at the foot of the logging trail in New Kent. “The bastard that did this needs to be brought down.”

“And hard,” she added, unconsciously patting the holster of her own CCP (conceal carry permit) sidearm.

She’s definitely daddy’s little girl…

#Truecrime

#Colonialparkwaymurders

Visiting the Crime Scene of the Third of the Colonial Parkway Murders – Back to the Parkway

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The parking area where Keith Call’s car was discovered
Keith Call 20001
Keith Call
Cassandra Haily
Cassandra Hailey

This is my third in a string of blog posts designed to take readers to the crime scenes related to the Colonial Parkway Murders (1986-1989). Our book, A Special Kind of Evil, comes out on July 12. This material augments what is in the book with my personal observations and experiences in visiting these sites…a glimpse into the journey a true crime author goes on.

As a bit of preface, my co-author and I were able to interview seven of the eight families of the Colonial Parkway Serial Killings.  Each and every one of them suffers a unique agony over the loss of their loved ones.  Almost every person said the same thing (or a variant of this).  “At least we know what happened with our loved ones.  The Call’s and the Hailey’s don’t have that.” Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey have never been found. After nearly three decades, the assumption exists that they are dead.  We tried to avoid saying that in the book or out loud to the family members.  To us, we prefer to think of them as missing though we humbly acknowledge the reality.

Keith and Cassandra went out for their first and only date on April 9, 1988.  Keith had been in a serious relationship for years and he and his special woman were taking a short break apart.  This was not a romantic, head-over-heels-in-love date between Keith and Cassandra.  They knew each other from Christopher Newport University where they both attended.  The two went to an off-campus party until around 1:45am.  They left together in Keith’s car. Most of the evening they didn’t even hang out with each other according to attendees at the kegger.

The next morning Keith’s car was found on the Colonial Parkway just north of Yorktown, Virginia. The vehicle appeared abandoned.  In the back seat was most of their clothing, two empty beer cans, and the keys were left in plain view in the car.  There was no sign of Keith or Cassandra. There was no clue as to where they went.  Just an empty red Toyota Celica.

We visited the crime scene with that in mind.  When you come onto the Colonial Parkway at Yorktown, you drive a short distance to arrive at the first half-moon shaped turnoff where Keith’s car was found.  It is along a gentle curve, so that headlights would bath any vehicle parked there. It has been a few decades since I parked with a young woman in a car, but this was not the place for it. For that kind of activity, you want some degree of privacy.  The headlights would have made that impossible. My co-author daughter and I shared awkward mutual experiences as we stood there in the darkness of early evening. The FBI’s early view that they had been there for romance didn’t make sense, on many levels.

When you look out over the York River, you can see the Navy dock jutting out in the distance to the north.  Trees surround the sight today, as they did then.  The low rumble of the Colonial Parkway announces the presences of any approaching vehicle.  Anyone committing this crime would have been best to walk to mile or so south and exit the park.  Like every other area of the drive, it is confined space – it limits where you can get in or out. This similarity with the other two crime scenes is difficult to ignore.  From the murderer’s perspective, this place offered a physical degree of control.  The Colonial Parkway killer is all about control.

The comparisons of the location to the first pair of Colonial Parkway Murders are hard to ignore.  In fact, if you weren’t familiar with the locale, you could be standing in either spot and not know which one you were at.

This crime scene was different though.  There were no bodies, only clothing.  The National Park Rangers actually put forth that the pair may have gone skinny dipping.  Victoria (my co-author and daughter) and I walked to the edge of the parking area and looked down to where they would have had to go.  If you could, in the dark, make your way through the tangle of growth, it was a 10-15 foot decent to the icy waters of the York River.  I doubt I could have done it in broad daylight.  The weather the night of their disappearance had been in the low 40’s.  Keith and Cassandra had not even held hands at the party, let alone demonstrated amorous behavior to where they might go skinny dipping together. It was a preposterous claim that defined common sense.

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The precarious climb down to the river.

The NPS (National Park Service) had a lot of reasons to offer distractions.  They had ruined the crime scene – something we spend some time on in the book.  The FBI found out about the incident on the radio news the next day.  The news media and rangers had tromped around the crime scene so much that it was difficult to obtain good evidence.  Footprints and tire prints were corrupted or utterly destroyed.  It was a mess.

The crime scene itself should have been a clue.  It was two years and one mile from where Cathy Thomas and Becky Dowski had been found. Common sense should have come into play.  Of course it is easy for us to look back at this in hindsight and armchair quarterback the series of mistakes that took place.  Was the NPS trying to downplay the finding of the car, and as a result, corrupting the crime scene?

Call Hailey Site
FBI crime scene photo of the Call Hailey crime scene

On a separate trip I walked from the crime scene north to Indian Field Creek.  Search dogs had allegedly tracked Cassandra Hailey’s scent north along the parkway to the creek – then the trial ended. Keith’s scent ended before the creek. I tried to picture them, afraid, a weapon held on them, naked, being marched into the night.

I found that image hard to believe during my visit and I do still.  You are on a parkway, with no cover, and you walk a half a mile with a naked couple, supposedly to kill them? Any vehicle coming on the parkway would have seen the killer and his victims in their headlights.  Perhaps the murderer took their clothing with them driving north and threw it in the creek.  Why north though?  The shortest exit was to the south.  It didn’t make sense.  My co-author agreed.  “The parkway always has traffic.  Even Keith’s brother (Chris) was driving it that morning.  Someone would have seen them.”

The search dogs detected a dead body in the York River and one was found, but it was neither of the missing youth.  It was merely a disturbing circumstance.  The river was thoroughly searched and no sign of either victim was found.

One my first interviews was with Major Ron Montgomery of the York County Sheriff’s Department.  He said something that burned in my head.  “They were never on the parkway.”  He said the car was dumped there.  I think Ron was right.  Whatever happened to Keith and Cassandra, at least in my mind, didn’t happen there on the parkway.  Ron had encouraged me to walk the area and with good reason – I quickly came to his thinking.

Keith had left the party to try and get Cassandra home around her curfew at 2:00am.  He was only a few minutes from her house, well short of the parkway.  Whatever happened to the two of them happened between Christopher Newport and Cassandra’s house. There is another crime scene out there, one that has not been found yet.

Law enforcement kept its focus on the parkway though, harboring the illusion that these were kids that had gone there to do what kids in their early 20’s do.  It doesn’t add up though.  Both Keith and Cassandra didn’t like going to the parkway after dark.

The FBI and NPS conducted searches for Keith and Cassandra along the parkway.  The lack of information as to the actual crime scene leaves them with little alternative.  The families also have tried to organize their own searches of the parkway.  These have been met with a cold shoulder from the NPS.  The Park Service is worried that teams out with cadaver searching dogs might disturb the park’s plants and animals. It is appalling that they have treated the families as disruptions to the wildlife rather than victims.

Keith and Cassandra’s disappearance did one positive thing – it drew a connection to the Dowski/Thomas murders.  The press arrived at that connection long before law enforcement.  It drew attention to the cases; not as isolated murders but a pattern.  Soon the experts in criminal behavior saw the connection between these two cases and that of Knobling/Edwards at Ragged Island.  Like at Ragged Island, the killer had left Keith Call’s vehicle staged for theft. This was possibly done to further throw-off the authorities chasing car thieves rather than the true killers.

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Keith’s car

There was one thing that the crime scene did give us both, a sense that in this case, the murderer left the least amount of evidence.  With no mortal remains, there was no way to determine the cause of death or other vital information that could have helped the case.  The killer was learning, evolving.  He was not making it easy for authorities.  It was not the perfect crime, some evidence was left behind.  In some respects the murderer was aided and abetted by the bumbling of the NPS.

When the twilight came and Victoria and I surveyed the road, letting the headlights of cars douse us, we understood the significance of this crime scene.  It was after the disappearance of Keith and Cassandra that these crimes became known as the Colonial Parkway Murders.  This would spurn media attention and with that, police attention.  A task force was formed between the Virginia State Police and the FBI.  Information was shared. The people of the Tidewater region understood they had a serial murderer stalking the killing in their midst.

It was small solace to the Call and Hailey families. Each passing day was another in an unending vigil for closure.

#TrueCrime

#ColonialParkwayMurders

Our new true crime project – The Colonial Parkway Murders

parkway-entrance

As some of you know, I tend to focus on writing true crimes – specifically those tied to cold cases. I try and alternate between cold cases and other books (or closed cases) because of the incredible emotional investment you make with cold cases as an author.  Also, when you write about a cold case you are putting yourself out there, physically and personally.  Killers are often not fond of having their dirty deeds brought back into the spotlight – or their own involvement exposed. Also there’s the time you spend with families and friends of the victims.  If you don’t become emotionally engaged with them, then you’re not doing your job correctly as a writer.

On my true crime books for the last three years I partner with my daughter Victoria Hester as a co-author.  It helps greatly to have another set of eyes and hands work on a book – and our writing styles are similar.  We review ideas for books constantly.  It isn’t your garden-variety father-daughter relationship.  Yes, I haul her out to crime scenes.  For us, that’s oddly normal.

Many readers send clippings or emails with suggestions.  It’s part of being a true crime author.  Everyone’s murder is a potential book.

When we look at cold cases as possible subjects for a book there are things we look for that are more gut instinct than science.  People come to us all of the time with, “You have to look into the murder of X.”  In many cases we do just that, pulling newspaper articles and seeing if there is indeed something interesting there, something that catches our attention.

Ninety-nine percent of the time it is a tragic crime but not one that would compel us to spend 8-15 months of research and write.  That isn’t us downplaying the sadness of that loss, but a harsh reality – not all murders are worth the incredible investment of time.  Not every crime warrants a book about it.  I know people don’t like to hear that, especially if it is their friend or loved one – but that is often the truth of the matter.

Sometimes I do cursory research into a subject to write a magazine article about it – before jumping in and doing a book.  This allows me to test the waters.  This allows me to validate my assumptions about the case(s).

So what do we look for?

Is there a story to be told – one that will engage and captivate the reader?  We are not detectives; we are story tellers.  I say this often with people so their expectations are managed.   We investigate cases – that is true.  There has to be a narrative that is going to grab the reader. While it sounds cruel to say that some crimes are boring, a better choice of description might be “routine.”  People have to want to read the story.  In some ways they have to identify with the characters and events surrounding the crime(s).

Did the crime leave an imprint on the community where it happened?  People want to read about things their friends and family know or talk about.   Events of significance to a community often resonate with readers outside of that community.  I want to write books that people will talk about because they are already talking about them.

Is there a twist – something that will capture the reader’s attention?  This usually takes the form of something new that we can introduce to the story.  Are there misperceptions that can be set straight?  Are there new facts we can present readers?  We always want to be more than a regurgitation of what has appeared already in the newspaper accounts.  This is always hard to gauge at the start of a project – you don’t know what you don’t know.  Intuition plays a big part here.

Does the story speak to us as writers?  Do we feel any sort of connection with the victims?  We like writing about people that readers can identify with.  That first step is for us to feel some sort of connection with the victims and/or their families.  For us to write about people, we have to in some way have to empathize with where they were in life, what they were doing, what they were achieving.  It doesn’t have to be substantive or tangible – just a feeling.  Sometimes those connections are generational (I was a child of the 70’s and 80’s) sometimes it is geographical.

One reader/far keeps asking me to look into the death of a friend who was involved with drugs who had an abusive relationship with her boyfriend (who allegedly killed her).  While I am sympathetic; this victim did not lead a life that most people can connect with.  While her death was tragic, it is simply not relatable enough for most readers.

Do we have the support of law enforcement?  In most cases we strive to have a positive relationship with law enforcement.  It is never our intention to create problems for the successful prosecution of a cold case.  We’re not tools for the police, we operate independently.  Sometimes those connections are pretty strong, sometimes they are one-way doors where we share information and never hear the results.

Has enough time come to pass on the case?  Emotional wounds never heal completely, which is one reason we don’t go after current cases.  It is important for some time to have passed, so that the case is indeed truly cold.  Personally I like the older cases because they allow us to bake in some historical context to the book.  It is one thing to give a reader a mental picture of a place; it is another to give them a picture of that place in a different time.  It adds to the challenges and fun in the writing.

Is there intrigue?  Will the readers be curious about the case still?  Will they want more?  Will the readers care – either about the victims or the crimes themselves?  Cold cases are great for this because they have an element of mystery.  The reader is a detective, piecing together the information too. We simply provide the journey for the reader.

Can we do some good by writing the book (generating new tips or leads – righting a wrong)?  We do not solve cases.  We’re writers.  Our job is to take the facts and weave a good readable story.   Our readers will solve the cases – most likely one of them knows a tip or clue that could help resolve a case.  For us, what is important is an ability to generate tips.  Don’t kid yourself – I get a tip or so every month on one of the cases we’ve written about.  We turn them over to the police to act on.  Why?  Simply put, we want to write the last chapters on the cold case books – the arrest and conviction of the killers.

All of this criteria is entirely subjective on our part.

The Colonial Parkway Murders was an easy choice for us. 

I wrote an article about the case for Real Crime magazine last summer on the cases and became hooked.  I got Victoria in the loop and we’ve been diligently doing research on these murders for months now.  I’ve been holding back on revealing too much what we’ve been working on until we had some degree of contact with all of the victim’s families.  Also, in just a few hours, we are coming up on the anniversary of the first the string of murders and disappearances coined as the Colonial Parkway Murders.

Our weekends have been burned and churned with trips all across the state, especially the Tidewater region.  We have met some truly remarkable people – and the stories we have gathered are heart-wrenching and even inspiring.

It is a huge project and we have been helped by many fantastic people along the way so far.   We’ve had a fantastic publisher lined up for this for months now, Wild Blue Press.  They seem excited about the book, as are we. To be honest, this project is daunting.  It is hard enough to capture a single murder – and in this case we are dealing with six victims and two victims that are missing.

Folks, I have never written about a case this incredible.  There are stories here, compelling, tragic, and much more.  This book is forcing us to up our game, so to speak.

I’ll be writing more about these cases and what we’ve learned in our own long investigation into these crimes.  The working title for the book is A Special Kind of Evil – because for any one or any group of people to inflict this kind of horror on innocent victims and their families – they must possess a special kind of dark, twisted evil in their souls. I say working title, because publishers love to change things.

For now, I want to offer a moment of reflection as we approach this dark anniversary of the first of these murders.

If you have any good stories or memories about these cases or the victims, please reach out to me at bpardoe870@aol.com.  If you have any tips for law enforcement, please contact the Virginia State Police or the FBI.

For more information – please check out these newly released articles from the Daily Press.

http://digital.dailypress.com/static/parkway_main/Main/index.html

http://digital.dailypress.com/static/parkway_cottage/main/index.html

As my friend David Schock once said, “Somebody out there knows something…”

Review of Lost Girls – An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

Lost Girls

I remember when the bodies were first found on Long Island, the numerous bodies of young women buried in the sand.  There was a serial killer or killers on the prowl and his/their dumping grounds had been discovered.  The media swarmed the story for a few weeks, doing what the media does best, generating fear and postulating numerous (often misleading) theories.

Then the story died.

The media, drawn to other bright shiny objects, moved on; leaving only the victim’s families to struggle to keep the issue alive in the public’s mind. What was a huge story at the time became a lingering memory for some.

Robert Kolker didn’t let the story die.  He wrote Lost Girls and the book is outstanding.

Kolker doesn’t follow the usual true crime format (Horrific crime scene, the investigation, the capture, the conviction.)  He starts off with a bit of a mystery, a young woman running door-to-door in the night claiming someone is after her, only to disappear into the darkness.  No crime…just darkness and a suspicious disappearance.

The author then takes you on an exploration of the lives of the young women who we presume are going to be found later on the beach in Long Island.  Their stories are extremely well presented, offering a dark glimpse into the creepy world of Craig’s List sex-for-sale.  These victims all had lives that were difficult and sometimes I felt as if they even blended together.  As a reader you develop a lot of sympathy for these girls before you even know their fates.

The upside of this book structure is that it was compelling.  The downside is that it begins slower than most true crimes.  Around the 50% mark the book shifts from the stories of the victims to the crimes, the discoveries of the bodies, and the strangely twisted community and characters where all of this blends together.  The pace becomes fast and churning, I was wantonly devouring chapters in the second half of this book – it was that good.

The author himself is drawn into this – which is something I understand.  I write books on cold cases and inevitably you too are sucked into the cases whether you like it or not.  As a true crime author I appreciated Kolker’s telling of his own digging and interviews.  I know from experience what it is like to be drawn into the story itself, regardless of your efforts.  Even this last week a tip came into me on a cold case I had written about.

The cold case subgenre of true crime doesn’t get a lot of books in it.  Writing about cold cases is hard because readers want some degree of ending or closure – just like the families of the victims.  Lost Girls is a great book and Kolker does a very good job of finding a stopping point where, in the real world, one doesn’t exist.  These cases remain open.  The families still suffer and grieve without knowing the full stories of what happened to their loved ones.

This book stirs you because you feel that there were genuine opportunities to solve this case that were bumbled by law enforcement and members of the community.

My daughter Victoria and I are starting on similar journey as Mr. Kolker on a new project.  I have to say he has set the bar fairly high for what we have to accomplish.

I give this book five out of five stars. Put it on your reading list.  It is not your typical true crime faire and will draw you in as it did me.