A true crime story with a local link; author Robert Kolker writes of the recently discovered prostitute murders in Oak Beach on Fire Island. Kolker goes beyond the newspaper headlines and articles to delve into the backgrounds of five of the victims; all prostitutes who eschewed working with pimps in favor of independently marketing themselves on Craig’s List. Shannan Gilbert, the first woman to be searched for when she went missing was the reason that the other bodies were discovered; but she was the last to be found and may have accidentally drowned in a marsh while trying to escape. The other four women able to be identified came to metropolitan New York City from other parts of the East Coast to earn their livings. Kolker examines each in turn – Maureen, Melissa, Megan, Amber and Shannan. Each had family members and friends that cared about them. Each had limited education and family history of psychological ills that affected their ability to successfully launch themselves into mainstream American society.
Kolker also examines the Oak Beach community and the tendency of its residents to keep to themselves. Several of the residents suspect one another of the murders and share their theories with the author. Even the Suffolk County Police Department alters their theories of who the murderer or murderers are. The murders still are not resolved; the reader is left to guess who is responsible and to be amazed at the depth of this tragedy.