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Why Gilgo Beach Victims Were 'Lost' for a Decade

Following the arrest of a suspect in multiple murders on New York's Long Island after a decade-long investigation, the author of the best-selling nonfiction account of the so-called Gilgo Beach murders wrote for the New York Times that the victims' involvement in sex work diminished their lives in the eyes of the police and a public titillated by the crimes but uninterested in the victims as real people. At first, police were uninterested in the women's disappearances, writes Robert Kolker, author of "Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery," which was made into a Netflix film. Once women's remains began turning up on Gilgo Beach and their work as escorts became known, police took the crimes seriously -- although at one point, a lead detective suggested the women's status served as reassurance that most people need not worry about falling victim themselves -- while the victims' families continued to suffer insults to the women's memories. "These women were soon reduced to a single dimension," Kolker writes. "Their profession turned them into plot devices in an established true-crime story line. Who they were mattered less than the mystery surrounding their deaths."

Attitudes have changed, Kolker writes, pointing to comments after last week's arrest of a Long Island architect, who has been charged with murder in three of the 11 deaths thanks to a painstaking investigation detailed in this Associated Press story. The suspect, Rex Heuermann, enjoyed years of freedom when no one apparently was looking for him -- until last year, more than a decade after the first bodies were discovered. Now, the district attorney and police commissioner in the case paid respect to the victims' families. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul led an impromptu moment of silence in honor of the victims. The news media no longer frequently identify victims as prostitutes, but as people who earn money with sex work. Kolker's book told the victims' stories in ways that colored in the details of their lives and their families' love. Referring to the title of his book, Kolker writes, "They were only 'lost' insofar as we — the police, the media, the social safety net — elected to lose them, by deciding they were worth discarding."


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