A bit over ten years ago, WNYC, the New York metro National Public Radio affiliate, broadcast a few spotty reports of a “possible” serial killer, or killers, dumping bodies on Gilgo Beach in Long Island. These reports struck me as weirdly non-committal. It was as if the reporters were reading only every other line of a coherent narrative. A possible serial killer? Multiple human remains were found on and near Gilgo Beach. Five of them were the remains of people known to be young, female prostitutes. Four were wrapped in camouflaged hunter’s burlap. Wasn’t that enough to reveal the workings of a serial killer?
And why did these reports not voice greater urgency? Where was the expected, fervent assurance from heroic, authoritative officials vowing to get up early and work late, to do everything they could to stop the fiend in his grisly tracks? It sounded as if Long Island’s protectors and defenders were hiding out in their offices, and if they got any reports of a monster dragging bodies down Main Street at noon they’d check their desk calendars and take action if their schedules allowed. It was reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 Jaws. “We don’t want to hear about no shark. We need the income from our short summer season.” Just so, in June, 2011, WNYC reported the bodies as mere inconveniences to swimmers. “The grisly discovery of ten sets of human remains … has apparently done little to deter beach-goers from their summer plans.” It was somehow more important to cover summer fun than to detail the biographies of the slaughtered women.
On July 14, 2023, Manhattan architect Rex Heuermann, a husband and father, was charged in connection with three of the Gilgo Beach Four, that is four of the bodies found on or near Gilgo Beach. Why did this arrest take so long? Media voices, from the New York Times to the New York Post, from WABC to WNYC, that is media both right- and left-wing, criticized Suffolk County police and prosecutors.
The New York Post, famous for pithy headlines, reported that “Bad Dudes Botched the Case.” Both the former Suffolk County Police Chief, James Burke and the District Attorney, Thomas J. Spota, had ended up in federal prison on corruption charges. Burke had assaulted a prisoner, and, also, allegedly frequented prostitutes and took drugs. Spota tried to cover up Burke’s crime. A police officer implicated in their schemes testified that, “If you crossed Tom Spota … Jimmy Burke … They will destroy you. Personally, financially, criminally. They will go after your family … They know no bounds.”
Before going to prison, Burke had “stymied the FBI’s investigation into the Gilgo Beach serial-killings for years … That’s because he learned he was in the FBI’s cross hairs for assaulting [prisoner] Christopher Loeb, who allegedly stole his sex toys … ‘ Burke never wanted us involved in this case because he knew we were investigating him,'” the Post reported in 2015. Loeb would allege that the sex tape he stole from Burke was a “snuff” film recording the actual murder of a prostitute.
Dave Schaller was living with Amber Lynn Overstreet Costello, one of the victims. In 2010, Schaller was face-to-face with the killer, and supplied authorities with a vivid description of both the killer and his distinctive vehicle, a green, first-generation Chevrolet Avalanche. The killer, Schaller said, was an “ogre” with an “empty gaze.” The ogre was between 6’4″ and 6’6″ in height, white, with dark, bushy hair. Heuermann fits this description. “I gave them the exact description of the truck and the dude. I mean, come on! Why didn’t they use that?” Amanda Barthelemy, the younger sister of victim Melissa Barthelemy, reported that the killer used his slain victim’s cell phone seven times to torment Amanda. The police traced these calls to Penn Station, less than half a mile from Heuermann’s RH Consulting Office, and also Massapequa, where Heuermann lived. Given these pings, it would be a safe guess that the killer might be a commuter into Manhattan who lived in or near Massapequa. In short, the police had clues.
Many say that finding the killer took so long because his victims were prostitutes. “I can’t believe they’re doing all this for a whore,” a TV crew member commented when families erected four crosses on Gilgo Beach. The Barthelemys say that police hung up on them, and later told them that they would not even file a missing persons report for a prostitute till ten days after she’d last been seen. Boyfriend Alex Diaz attempted to get police to pay attention to Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance. Police laughed at him, he says. Shannan disappeared in a gated community where a video camera records arrivals and departures. Police didn’t ask for that video till months later, long after it had been erased. Melissa Cann, younger sister of victim Maureen Brainard-Barnes, also reported difficulty in getting police to list her sister as a missing person. Suffolk County Police Chief Dominick Varrone probably meant well when, on May 5, 2011, he made a notorious public comment. When asked about the public’s fear of a serial killer, Varrone said that it was a “consolation” that the killer was targeting Craigslist hookers. “He’s not selecting citizens at large.” In an interview, Varrone would also say of prostitutes that “greed gets the best of them. In fact, most of them are in the business that they’re in because it’s an easy way to make money, and because they’re greedy.”
How little victims can matter to anyone is evidenced by the anonymity of some. On August 4, 2023, Suffolk County DA Ray Tierney identified Jane Doe # 7 as Karen Vergata, a prostitute and drug user, last seen in 1996. Tierney reported that there was no missing persons report filed at the time of Vergata’s disappearance. Vergata had a father, at least one step-sister, and two young sons. It is remarkable that no one reported her missing. One of the corpses is that of a woman with a distinctive tattoo of a half-eaten peach. She is called “Peaches.” The body of her toddler child is with her. Another corpse is that of an Asian male in women’s clothes. These three people’s descriptions have been public for some time. As of this writing on August 8, 2023, no one claims them. Anonymous. Alone. Vulnerable. Easy prey for a monster.
Many credit the arrest of Heuermann to Geraldine Hart, Suffolk County police commissioner since 2018. “Two years into the job, Ms. Hart had moved Suffolk County’s most notorious unsolved case forward — where others once seemed determined to keep it from going anywhere at all,” reported the New York Times. Before taking the job, Hart had been an FBI agent for twenty years.
Though some, including, of course, their killer, assessed the Gilgo Beach victims’ lives as of negligible worth, in the history of serial killers, they are noteworthy. The Gilgo Beach Four, that is, Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Lynn Overstreet Costello, and Megan Waterman, the four corpses found wrapped in burlap, all advertised on Craigslist. Historians of prostitution and of serial killers point out that online services provide a new opportunity for misogynist monsters. Evidently the Gilgo Beach serial killer preferred very petite women. Three of the Gilgo Four were under five feet tall and they weighed a hundred pounds or less. If he had had to find prostitutes on the streets, fulfilling his criteria would have taken more time and effort. Sitting at home, scrolling through Craigslist, he had a full menu at just the press of a computer key.
Technology facilitated the killings; technology may make it easier to apprehend killers. “Twilight of the Serial Killer: Cases Like Gilgo Beach Become Ever Rarer,” the Times reported on August 6, 2023. Nowadays, security cameras are everywhere, and Americans are less trusting than they used to be. Very few people still hitchhike. Computers speed up analysis of data. DNA and even ancestry websites have cracked cases, for example that of the Golden State Killer. A friend who works in data collection said to me, “Given the nature of the IOT (Internet of Things) world we live in, data collection through RFID chips, credit card transactions, and public records, allow companies to collect data uninhibited. Without laws that allow people to control the collection and use of personal data, the only solution is to limit credit cards, block anything with RFID, and use cash.” Heuermann tried to avoid detection by using burner phones and anonymizing his sick internet searches for rape, torture, and child porn, but investigators, with warrants, were able to use both his burner phones and his internet searches to build their case against him. Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project is using artificial intelligence to find serial killers.
In 2013, Robert Kolker published Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. Kolker wrote this bestseller before anyone knew Heuermann’s name. His book isn’t so much about crime, as about what lead five young women to become prostitutes.
There are almost twice as many poor whites in the US as poor blacks. These poor whites are, in many cases, doing worse year by year. One measure of their decline is the increase in deaths of despair, that is deaths from drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, and cirrhosis. The same Woke who pretend to champion blacks express contempt for poor whites. See, for example, the 2019 peer-reviewed article, “Complex Intersections of Race And Class: Among Social Liberals, Learning About White Privilege Reduces Sympathy, Increases Blame, And Decreases External Attributions For White People Struggling With Poverty.”
I didn’t read Lost Girls in search of breathless, spine-tingling accounts of corpse disposal. I read it for insights into living poor, white women and their choices. I am a poor, white woman, and I grew up among poor, white people. My life featured the challenges that the women in Lost Girls faced. As a teacher, and as a citizen, I am concerned about declining life indicators for poor whites like myself. Lost Girls’ ethnographic approach promised unique insight.
When I was a kid, my town had no library, no official playing field, no movie theater, no book stores. We swam in a river that flowed through the ruins of a major factory explosion. We worked in factories, often handling toxic chemicals, and many of us, including my siblings, died young of cancer. We were often hungry, cold, and barefoot. The Salvation Army Santa Claus visited our house at Christmas and distributed hard candies.
I adored my childhood friend “Sue.” Sue was imaginative and dynamic. Playing with her was like a trip to Oz. As soon as hormones began to work on our bodies, Sue began telling anatomically graphic sex jokes with a sadistic, inhuman undertone. She went into the woods to smoke cigarettes with others. She got pregnant, with no husband and no income. I check in on her every now and then. She is obese, she’s never had any kind of a real job, she has morbidly obese and psychologically frail children and grandchildren, who report addiction to drugs and welfare dependency.
Another one of our childhood peers became a prostitute, along with her daughter. She drank, took drugs, lost her mind, and died prematurely. One of my first crushes died of a heroin overdose. On the other hand, another childhood companion went on to a stellar career. He is photographed in the company of world leaders. He is a noted mover and shaker, quoted in major media. Another peer married a wealthy professional and her life is worthy of a Town and Country spread. She grew up in the same poverty we all did. Why did we end up so differently? I thought that reading Lost Girls might provide some clues.
Author Kolker devoted hundreds of hours to researching his subjects in minute detail. The reader gains access to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of several young American women who chose prostitution as a career.
Maureen had a child at sixteen, and then another, by two different men. Like the other women Kolker covers, she had unstable addresses. Many of the women “crashed” temporarily with family members, friends, or relative strangers, in trailer parks, hotels, and crowded apartments. Many, in addition to prostitution, accepted money from men. Maureen, for example, took rent money from the father of one of her children. Maureen’s family disdained “stuck-up rich people.” Many of the women came from families that strongly differentiated themselves from those with more money or education. Maureen grew up in a public housing project, and many of the others in the book relied on federal benefits in one form or another, including food stamps and unemployment insurance. Maureen’s mother was a cleaning woman. Maureen’s father appears to have been a marginal person. He “stayed” with his family “only from time to time.” When Maureen was 21, her father fell to his death from a train trestle. While Maureen’s mother worked long hours at low-paying jobs, Maureen grew up eating junk food and taking care of herself. Maureen developed breasts early, and reveled in attention from boys. She got pregnant at sixteen and dropped out of high school. She began using drugs. She began posting ads on Craigslist.
Melissa was a hair dresser from Buffalo. Melissa’s mother, Lynn, got pregnant with Melissa at sixteen. She and Melissa’s father had a short relationship that didn’t even last until Melissa was born. When she was 16, Melissa began to date a black, drug-dealing “hoodlum.” Melissa was sent to Texas to live with her father. He was married and his wife fought with Melissa. Melissa stole her father’s van, thus ending her relationship with her father, and earning her first conviction. She moved from Buffalo to New York City and began working as a prostitute. Her pimp was John Terry, who called himself Blaze. He once arranged for Melissa to be jumped and beaten up.
Shannan was raised in foster homes. Her mother Mari left her husband and the father of her daughters because he was a heroin user. Shannan would often run away, according to a childhood friend, and no one would look for her. One of Mari’s live-in boyfriends abused Shannan’s sisters. Because of him, Shannan was sent away at age 7. Shannan worked at a hotel, an Applebee’s, a senior center, and as a secretary in a school. She was in college for a while and dropped out.
After Shannan became a prostitute and came back to her mother’s home with lots of money and presents, an observer remarked, her mother, Mari, suddenly seemed to like Shannan more. Shannan was a conspicuous consumer of expensive items, like high-thread-count sheets and cakes from a bakery featured on a TV cooking show. Alex Diaz was Shannan’s driver for a while. They became lovers. He hit her once, damaging her face so badly she required the insertion of a titanium plate. She had the money handy to pay for the titanium plate. That plate would prove key to identifying her corpse.
Megan’s mother Lorraine grew up in a house with a lot of drinking. As a child, Lorraine sipped from leftover drinks. Her mother Muriel drank a lot and had lots of boyfriends. Lorraine had kids by Greg, a man she says abused her. She left him. Lorraine went on welfare. Greg showed up with a new girlfriend and asked Lorraine to house him and his girlfriend. Muriel took Megan away from Lorraine. Lorraine would insist that Muriel took the kids just in order to get state aid. Megan was a dysfunctional kid from early on. She was defiant and had trouble learning. She committed petty crimes like shoplifting. She threatened to kill people. She was institutionalized. Megan had “hook up” sex in a public bathroom with a 32-year-old man and got pregnant. She later went with Akeem Cruz, a black drug dealer from New York who traveled to Portland, Maine, to prey on white girls fascinated by black city boys. Cruz pimped Megan. Cruz was once witnessed grabbing Megan by her hair and smashing her face into the side of a house. A friend tried to intervene. Megan screamed, “You’re not my mother!” On another occasion, Megan told a friend that Cruz “clotheslined” her as punishment for stealing and using the drugs he was supposed to be selling.
Amber was raped by an adult neighbor when she was five years old. Amber’s mother was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown; her father drank. Amber’s sister Kim became a prostitute and she also stole from Johns. Amber was promiscuous. Following Kim, she began prostituting herself at age 16. Drugs were a standard feature of prostitution. Amber became a heroin addict. A Christian pastor went out of his way to help Amber. The help didn’t take.
Dave Schaller was a used car salesman engaged in petty drug dealing on the side. Dave took Amber in and tried to get her to quit prostitution and heroin. When Schaller met her, Amber was missing several teeth, she smelled bad, and she had track marks. Dave says that Kim was not supportive of her sister. Kim said, “If it wasn’t for her pussy, I wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Because her f—ing pussy makes money.” Eventually Dave succumbed and he also became a heroin addict. Amber’s prostitution “became the main economic engine of the house.” Dave lost his car dealership. He began to sell valuable items. At one point Dave had to rescue a bleeding Amber from a highway shoulder because John had beaten her and tossed her out.
After biographical sketches of the Gilgo Beach victims, their families and friends, and their fellow prostitutes like Kritzia Lugo and Sara Karnes, Kolker covers the discovery of the bodies, the conspiracy theories that arose on the internet, and how the murders affected the family and friends of the victims. His writing here is subtle, compassionate, and yet at the same time revealing. Kolker’s chapter, “The John” consists mostly of unedited quotes from his conversation with Joseph Brewer, the man who hired Shannan Gilbert the night she disappeared. This chapter alone is worth the cost of the book. The John in question is revealed to be a shallow man with no self-awareness and who engages in a great deal of self-flattery. Anyone tempted to romanticize prostitution should read this chapter.
Kolker has already given the reader the sense that just about everyone he is writing about is immature, emotionally unstable, adrift, and needy. Once they learn that their loved ones have been murdered, the murders catalyze some of them. Kim, who had dismissed her sister Amber as merely a money-making “pussy,” goes so far as to post Craigslist ads that will draw the killer to her. She is convinced that her sixth sense will allow her not to be overcome by him, but to stop him. Mari allegedly did not have a good relationship with her daughter Shannan until Shannan began sharing her prostitution earnings with her mother and her sisters. After Shannan’s disappearance, Mari became a volcanic activist. Many credit Mari with jump-starting the discovery of a serial killer. Lorraine, who, thanks at least partially to alcoholism, was never much of a mother to her daughter Megan, was suddenly making TV appearances. “She plays a mother on TV,” one detractor said. These and other family and friends of the deceased cling to each other, feud with each other, and call each other their new “family.” Kolker’s writing here is intimate and yet brutally honest. He feels for these people, and he wants his reader to feel compassion for them, but he refuses to depict them as better than they are. Dave is consumed by guilt. He couldn’t save Amber. Other family and friends “make some small adjustments to history, to ease [the] burden somehow” of having had a family member or friend who took a devastating life path from which no one saved them. In less artful language, they lie to themselves about this fact: Yes, my loved one was a prostitute doing risky work and no, I never was able to stop her. And, yes, I even took some of her money.
It’s clear that Kolker provides so many details about these women because he wants us to feel for them as he does. We are to see through their eyes, be on their side, understand their choices, and be sympathetic to them. We are not to be judgmental. It goes without saying that even though they made bad life choices, they did not deserve to become murder victims.
To that I say, of course, yes. If Heuermann is as guilty as he appears to be, he should be pumped for as much information as the police can get out of him, including other murders he has likely committed, and then he should be unceremoniously put down. New York does not have a death penalty, but Nevada and South Carolina do, and Heuermann’s actions there are being investigated. One can always hope that prisoners will carry out justice. “I don’t think people would be too happy if he was in population … I could see someone doing something to him … Crimes against women and girls … is frowned upon here. A lot of us have sisters, daughters, mothers. No one likes guys who did crimes like that,” said Philip Walker, an inmate in the same facility as Heuermann. One can hope. Jeffrey Dahmer was killed by another inmate. In July, 2023, Larry Nassar was repeatedly stabbed by another inmate. Unfortunately Nassar survived.
So, no. The lost girls did not deserve to be murder victims. But, yes, I found them impossible to like, and I felt rage at them. I think I felt this way exactly because I am poor, and white, and a woman. Growing up poor, I have long been aware that we walk a tightrope, and with one loss of balance, we plunge to unspeakable depths from which escape is unlikely. Those losses of balance, I saw early, are the result of very small choices. I think of Sue going off to the woods to smoke cigarettes with other bad kids, and my refusal to do so. My refusing meant losing friends. I had to go it alone for a while till I met other friends less interested in being delinquents. Smoking cigarettes doesn’t sound like such a criminal choice but it was one step, the first step to Sue living the rest of her life as a miserable, marginal person, the matriarch of three generations of miserable, marginal people. Making other small choices produced very different fruit. My decision to study, to go to mass, to seek nutritious food, to work at helping jobs like nurse’s aide, and scrupulously to reject alcohol and drugs and not to engage in casual sex had an impact on my life. My family was poor; Sue’s family was even poorer. Her childhood home was filthy. It smelled bad. There were no books. There were serious health issues. Is that why Sue has spent her life on sagging couches griping about how ugly life is? No. Sue’s siblings made other choices. After her life went south, her parents lowered the boom on her younger brothers and sisters. I’m in touch with all of them, and they are happy, healthy people leading productive lives. One of her siblings is a top professional for an international corporation. Another served in the military with distinction. All of these people were born into the same filthy, smelly house with no books, the house cursed by serious medical issues in a small town with no library, no bookstores, and very limited horizons. Environment didn’t create Sue’s misery. Sue’s choices created Sue’s misery.
When I was a leftist, my fellow leftists rarely spoke of personal responsibility. If your life sucked, it was because society screwed you over. You were a victim of racism or sexism or capitalism. One of the distinct differences between the Left and conservatism is emphasis on personal responsibility. That emphasis was one of the key steps on my moving from left to right.
I know some readers will approach Kolker’s book and say, “We can’t judge these prostitutes because they faced hardships that we have never faced.” I didn’t have that reaction. I knew these girls; not these girls specifically, but girls like them. I knew prostitutes. I heard the lies they told themselves. They pretended that they had a wisdom that “straight people” lacked. They sneered at women who cleaned houses or waited tables or changed the diapers of bed-bound patients, as I have done. Women who worked minimum-wage jobs were suckers. Kim Overstreet talks this way in a documentary interview. Amber, Kim said, “Had a little job at the Waffle House, busting her tail for nothing, and she just wanted more, fast.”
Yes, these prostitutes all faced very difficult childhoods. There were weak or absentee fathers, drunken mothers, chaotic households, erratic moves, meals of junk food, child sex abuse. Any insistence that these circumstances dictate a life of prostitution fills me with rage. Plenty of us endured all of these challenges, and even worse, and we made different choices. I have heard so many stories from so many wounded people who had parents from hell but who did everything they could to lead decent lives. It’s the people who don’t give up, who don’t take drugs, who don’t commit crimes, with whom I feel solidarity. Some of us have been denied dignity by the powerful others around us. And yet we struggled to inhabit that denied dignity with our own choices. Some of us lived with violence, but chose not to be violent. Some of us lived with addiction, but chose to refuse alcohol and drugs. Some of us lived with irrationality, but worked hard to identify and operate in a world constructed of objectively verifiable facts, not a world of paranoia, self-flattering myths, and rage. Some of us saw the worst side of sexuality, but chose to find and protect the best in our own bodies.
The women Kolker profiles made destructive choices that hurt themselves, hurt those close to them, and hurt the wider society. Their initial bad choices are written off by those around them as “minor.” She shoplifted; she threatened to kill teachers; she got pregnant at sixteen. Minor mistakes! No, these aren’t minor mistakes. They are the kind of choices that lead to very bad outcomes.
Again and again, in all the Gilgo Beach coverage I’ve read, friends and family members, journalists and officials, tiptoe around the word “prostitute.” These women were not prostitutes; they were “escorts,” or “erotic dancers,” or “sex workers.” These women were more than prostitutes. These women should not be written off as prostitutes. This is language policing. We are not to state blunt truths.
No, nothing I or anyone else will say will make a dent in prostitution. It’s the world’s oldest profession and male lust is possibly the most powerful of economic engines. Yes, a good percentage of men have at one time or another paid for sex in one form or another. All that being said, let’s get real. Prostitution is disgusting. Prostitution is evil. Sex between a committed, adult man and a committed, adult woman who choose each other is one of the most beautiful things any human being will experience. It’s about so much more than orgasms. Loving sex in a committed relationship bonds two people to each other in multitudes of ways that affect not just the two people, but the world around them. Married people live longer. Married people are less likely to smoke and drink excessively. Married people are less likely to be criminals. Married people are less likely to be poor. Committed parents raise healthier, happier children. And on and on.
Prostitution parasitizes and parodies one of the most sublime and sacred aspects of human life. Prostitutes insult women with their every gesture. They turn themselves into perversely exaggerated mockeries of women’s bodies. They offer themselves as objects, which is exactly what Johns want prostitutes to be (see here and here).
Again and again I am told that I am not supposed to be “judgmental” and I am not supposed to judge my fellow women who undermine women by reducing women to objects. Sorry, I can’t comply. I do judge such women, from Kim Kardashian to hookers. And yes, yes, I know my judgment means absolutely zero in a world that spins on the axis of male lust. But I’m here to say that I was a poor, white girl, too, and I faced similar obstacles and opportunities as these lost girls, and no, being poor or living in a town characterized by surrounding towns as “white trash” did not make it inevitable that I would become a hooker, a thief, a drunk, a drug addict, or a single teenage mother. I had different priorities and I made different choices.
While I’m ranting fecklessly against the immovable force of prostitution, allow me to rant against another force I can never change: addiction. As Lost Girls makes clear, drugs are inextricable from prostitution. Kim says that some Johns demanded that their hooker provide the John with drugs. Alcohol and drugs destroy lives. We all know that; we’ve all witnessed it. But somehow we aren’t supposed to say it. We are supposed to call drunks “jolly” and we are all supposed to wink and smirk when illegal drug use comes up. Why do people participate in these absurd, grotesque lies? Come live in my neighborhood. Watch skeletal, pock-mocked, mostly white heroin addicts dance with death on the street for months before they finally disappear, leaving as much trace of their wasted lives as does the ever present trash falling down through the sewer grates. Watch adult black men, so needed as fathers and community leaders, lie in the street in puddles of their own urine, clinging to emptied bottles of booze.
The lost girl’s friends and families protested that Suffolk County officials were not paying enough attention, or enough respectful attention, to their dead. They reminded me of Jordan Neely’s friends and families. On May 1, 2023, according to those present, Jordan Neely, a homeless black man, criminal, and drug addict, behaved in a threatening manner toward subway passengers. Former Marine Daniel Penny, recognizing a threat to his fellow passengers, restrained Neely, who subsequently died. Neely’s family mourned publicly, insisting that Penny had robbed them of a cherished family member, and, of course, they sued Penny for financial damages. Al Sharpton eulogized Neely, bemoaning society’s failure to care about him. One had to ask, why didn’t any of Jordan Neely’s family members care about him? He’d been on the streets for decades. He was a criminal and an active drug addict. “Society” had offered Neely sweetheart deals, second chances, and care, which he rejected. Maybe if someone, like his father, had actually loved Neely, he wouldn’t have ended up as he did. Just so, the lost girls’ friends and family members demanded that “society” respect and care for them in a way that their friends and family never did. I want to hear someone say, “If you love your child, be sure to be in a committed relationship with that child’s father, and be sure that that father is a productive, independent adult male who can shelter and provide for both mother and child. If you aren’t in such a committed relationship with such a father, use birth control. That’s love. Anything else is child abuse.”
Leftists often condemn conservatives for being “harsh” and “not nice” and lacking “compassion.” What approach would result in fewer dead Jordan Neelys and Megan Watermans? The “compassionate” leftist approach? That approach now dominates in schools, journalism, and churches. We are not to judge. We are not to condemn. We are to walk a mile in their shoes. We are to offer second chances. What if someone had come down on little girl Megan Waterman like a box of rocks and told her that if she again threatened to kill her teacher she’d meet with appropriate consequences? What if someone had told the teen mothers in this book the facts of unwed teen motherhood? That the children of such mothers are more or less condemned to lifetime poverty? What if someone had told them how cruel it is to condemn a baby to a lifetime of never having a father? In short, what if any of these lost girls had been introduced, by some responsible conservative adult, to the consequences of their selfish, immature, destructive choices? If that had happened, perhaps they would still be alive today, and their own lives would have been surrounded by health and happiness, rather than degradation and misery.
In an interview, Dave Schaller said that Amber “used to say that she was better off dead … she lived her life as if like she didn’t even care about herself … She knew what she was doing was just like degrading, just despicable … She absolutely hated it.”
I am haunted by those lost girls, with whom I have so much in common, and from whom I am so different. Different emphases on personal responsibility and personal choice drove me from the Left to the Right. In thinking about the lost girls, I question my conclusions. I believe that I made the choice not to become a lost girl. I credit myself for this. But was I really exercising free will? Perhaps, unbeknownst to me, I had something that the lost girls didn’t have. It might have been a higher IQ, or greater impulse control. It might have been my parents, who were imperfect, but who did voice values that supported me: education, God, dignity, responsibility, hard work, low expectations, never quitting, gratitude. I’ve thought all my life about those moments when Sue and I took different paths. We had been so close, and when I saw her moving closer and closer to what to me appeared to be an abyss, I consciously chose not to follow her, even in something as apparently harmless as smoking cigarettes in the woods, or telling nasty jokes. It appears that investigators have solved the mystery of the Gilgo Four. What remains to be solved is how some of us go one way in life, and others go another.
Danusha Goska is the author of God Through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery