Tuesday Reads: Victims of LI Serial Killer Were More Than Just “Hookers”

Good morning, everyone. I’m going to do something a little different today. I’m want to focus on the unfolding story of the presumed serial killer on Long Island and take a look at the lives of the murdered and missing women who have been identified.

A couple of days ago, I decided to try reading Matt Taibbi’s latest screed in Rolling Stone. I commend Taibbi for his research and his efforts to explain in plain English what the Wall Street criminals are up to, but I simply couldn’t make it past the first paragraph of his piece. Here is the portion that stopped me in my tracks:

According to popular legend, we’re broke and in so much debt that 40 years from now our granddaughters will still be hooking on weekends to pay the medical bills of this year’s retirees from the IRS, the SEC and the Department of Energy.

Really. Is that the only job Taibbi can imagine for our struggling grandaughters? And what will “our grandsons” be doing? I’ve got a really low tolerance for misogyny these days, and Taibbi long ago showed himself to be a woman-hater. The idea that this man thinks his offhand remark about “hooking” is humorous just turned my stomach.

Thanks, but no thanks, Matt. I’ve just about had it with your pathetic attempts to imitate Hunter S. Thompson. He was pretty crude, but he also managed to be funny. I think I’ll just stick with reading Dakinikat’s writing on economics. She actually knows what she’s talking about too.

I was especially sensitive to the rude remark about young women prostituting themselves for money, because I’ve been following the story of the latest vicious murderer of women–the Long Island serial killer, who murdered women who advertised their sexual services on Craigslist and other on-line sites.

Serial murderers often target women who work in the sex trade because they see these women as throwaways who probably won’t be missed right away. They are also easy to pick up, because their jobs involve interactions with strange men. From Salon

A report was released last month finding that 70 percent of known victims of serial killers are women (consider that only 22 percent of homicide victims in general are female); and it turns out sex workers are 18 times more likely than “normal” women to be murdered. Why might this be? Well, in the words of the Green River Killer, who targeted prostitutes:

I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.

Since they’re doing illegal work, sex workers have to be secretive and discreet. They often work in isolated and industrial areas. They get in cars with strangers. There are rarely detailed records of transactions. Many are drug addicts and estranged from their families, so they are less likely to be reported missing. Anyone who knows anything about a girl’s whereabouts is likely involved in the trade themselves, so they aren’t super eager to speak with police. What’s more, as we saw with the Robert Pickton case in Vancouver, police sometimes discount tips from working girls (all the more reason to not risk talking to them in the first place).

From what I’ve read about sexual serial killers, they tend have a lot of rage and hatred against women, often because of their relationships with their mothers or some other powerful woman in their lives. They may have difficulties connecting with “normal” women, and so they seek out women they can get easy access to and make them pay for their own inadequacies.

But women who work as prostitutes are human beings, and they have families just like everyone else. When they disappear or die, someone usually cares and grieves at the loss.

I’m going to summarize what is known about the four victims who were discovered back in December 2010. They all appear to have been murdered by the same perpetrator. The women were strangled and their bodies were found in burlap bags.

So far ten bodies have been recovered by police on Long Island beaches, and six are still unidentified. It isn’t yet clear if all of these bodies are connected to the four identified victims, but they were all disposed of in the same general location. Shannon Gilbert, a woman whose disappearance sparked the search that led the police to locate the bodies, is still missing.

Please follow me below the fold.

Amber Lynn Costello

Amber Lynn Costello, 27, grew up in Wilmington, NC. She had been working in the sex trade on and on since she was 17. She had been married and divorced twice. According to Newsweek writer Christine Pelisek, Amber lived with a man named Dave Schaller, who is described as her “roomate.” If men came to have sex with her in their home, he stuck around in case she was in danger.

Pelisek describes Amber as a small woman, only around 4’11” and 100 pounds. But According to Schaller, “she thought she was indestructible.” She was a heroin addict who had tried several times to get clean, but kept falling back into drugs and prostitution. She had an older sister who cared about her and with whom she was in close contact.

On the night she disappeared, Amber got several calls from a man who offered $1,500 for her services. She went out to meet him late one night, and she never returned.

When Amber didn’t come home the next morning, Schaller called her sister, Kimberly Overstreet. Amber and Kimberly grew up in North Carolina together, and remained quite close. “We didn’t live the American [Dream] childhood,” says Overstreet. “We watched our family struggle through alcohol addiction and sickness.” Amber struggled as well. She was a promising student but became involved with drugs as a teenager, and as an adult fought to overcome an addiction to heroin. “She was beaten down,” says Overstreet. She was also sexually molested by a neighbor when she was 6 years old, an incident that caused their mother to have a breakdown.

The fact that Amber was sexually abused as a child is very telling. Amber’s sister never contacted police about her sister’s disappearance, but Pelisek points out that police probably wouldn’t have done much anyway.

…even when families do report disappearances, police don’t always make priorities of people living in such precarious circumstances….Cases involving prostitution can be among the most difficult to solve. Even when a case does get going—and there are significant obstacles to that happening—they often turn cold. The victims frequently use false names (Costello advertised herself as “Carolina”) and are survived by witnesses who themselves often live on the margins of society.

Amber’s sister told The New York Daily News

she wants Amber Lynn to be seen as more than a cautionary tale.

“Right now she’s remembered as one of the prostitutes with a drug problem found murdered and dumped on the side of the road,” said Kimberly Overstreet, of Lindenhurst, L.I.

“I hope she’ll be remembered as the loving and caring person she was,” she said. “She’s my baby sister. She’s all I had.”

Amber’s case is interesting, because yesterday it came out that she had been the subject of a discussion on a Long Island sex forum.

Talk on longislanderotic.com shows members were outraged when one of their cronies claimed he had paid Amber Lynn Costello $200 for sex, only to be robbed by men who barged into her West Babylon home.

“Tell her we are all coming over there with baseball bats,” threatened one member, a self-declared ex-con known as “Morrie.” …. A message board member known as “Humiliatrix69” first raged on July 11, 2010, about getting “suckered” by Costello and company hours earlier.

Shortly after, a pal called “italyrider” asked for her address: “No one from this board needs to be involved. I have friends who can take care of this s—.”

Humiliatrix69 posted Costello’s address, a description of her home, and her phone number. Three days days later, Morrie chimed in: “A friend of ours told me today that ‘You won’t hear from those 2 girls anymore!'”

Police aren’t saying if any of these internet posters have been identified or are suspects, but the fact that Amber’s address and phone number were posted on-line seems ominous.

Megan Waterman

Megan Waterman, 22, was from Scarborough Maine. She wasn’t a long-time sex worker like Amber Costello. From the Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2010:

A year ago, Megan Waterman was living a typical small-town life in Scarborough, Maine, working two minimum-wage jobs at local sandwich shops and trying as best she could to take care of her young daughter.

Then one night, the 22-year-old met a persuasive man from Brooklyn at a Maine nightclub, her mother Lorraine Ela says.

The two began dating and the new boyfriend eventually convinced Ms. Waterman that there was easy money to be made prostituting herself as an escort, Ms. Ela says.

The man Megan got involved with was Akeem Cruz, 21, who was in the habit of traveling up to Maine and hanging out in bars there. It sounds to me as if he was looking for naive young women he could lure into selling themselves and supporting him with the money they earned.

The two went to Hauppauge, Long Island on Memorial Day weekend, and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. According to police, “[s]he left the hotel around 1:30 a.m. on June 6 without a wallet, money or identification,” and was never seen or heard from again.

Megan and her mother were close, and her mother knew what she was up to with Cruz. Megan also had a daughter who loved her.

Ela, told The Associated Press that Waterman always called three times a day to speak to her 4-year-old daughter, Liliana, but the last call came on the night of June 5. When police searched the hotel room they found Waterman’s clothing, makeup, cell phone and other belongings, Ela said. Family members said Waterman was aware of the potential dangers of advertising her services online, but was an adult and could make her own choices.

The FBI have seized Megan’s boyfriend’s computer to try to identify her clients. Cruz himself is currently in prison in Maine.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes

Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 28, was from Norwich, Connecticut. Friends told CBS News that

…she was trusting and a good mother.
Sarah Marquis, who described herself as a close friend of Brainard-Barnes of Norwich, Conn., said her friend “had a lot of energy” and “thought everyone was her friend.”

Marquis says Brainard-Barnes was always on the phone, so when she stopped calling, her friends knew something was wrong.

From The Day.com Connecticut, January 20, 2011:

Maureen Brainard-Barnes of 180 Prospect St. was 25 when she was reported missing to Norwich police on July 14, 2007. Police said the investigation at the time revealed Brainard-Barnes had gone to New York City on July 9, 2007, and was expected to return the next day. When she did not return and could not be reached on her cell phone, family members and friends contacted police in Norwich and New York City….

When reached Monday evening, Marie Ducharme of Groton, the mother of Brainard-Barnes, said the family would have no comment.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Jason Brainard-Barnes had a daughter in 1999. Marueen Brainard-Barnes also had a son. In August 2009, Brainard-Barnes’ brother, William Vieu Jr., died in a motorcycle accident in Montville.

That’s a lot of tragedy for one family to face. It’s not clear if her family and friends were aware that she advertised herself as an escort on Craigslist.

Melissa Barthelemy

Melissa Barthelemy, 24 was from Buffalo, New York. She had a family who loved her and worried about her when she disappeared. They even hired a psychic in their efforts to find her. Her uncle, Jim Martina, told the Wall Street Journal in January of this year:

After graduating from South Park High School in Buffalo, Barthelemy obtained her cosmetology license and set off for the city by herself. She wasn’t yet 21.

“She had the most wonderful personality I’ve ever seen,” Martina said. “She was just so full of life.”

Matrina said that his niece instantly fell in love with the city, where she spent 3 1/2 before her disappearance. “She loved New York City,” he said. “She loved the excitement of the city. She loved to shop. That’s what she was — a shopper.”

Somewhere along the line, Ms. Barthelemy, whom the family thought was employed as a cosmetologist, started working as an exotic dancer and escort.

Melissa’s case is very interesting to police, because her murderer apparently used her cell phone to make taunting phone calls to her family. From the New York Daily News

“Do you think you’ll ever see her again?,” the unidentified male caller asked Barthelemy’s sister on August 26, 2009, according to Steve Cohen, an attorney for the victim’s mother.”You won’t. I killed her,” he added and hung up. The phone call ended after less than a minute.”

Melissa Barthelemy, 24, was last seen alive July 12, 2009, but her sister in Buffalo got calls from her cellphone on July 16, 19 and 23, sources said.

“Do you know what your sister is doing? She’s a whore,” a man menacingly said….

The NYPD, which had opened a missing persons case on the Bronx-based prostitute, was able to trace the last two calls to the Madison Square Garden and Times Square area.

“But he shuts off right away so we can never figure out where he was exactly,” one law enforcement source said.

When cops got Barthelemy’s phone records, they determined that around the time she vanished, she checked her voice mail from Massapequa, L.I. They showed her picture at several motels, but no one recognized her.

In one of the phone calls, the killer confessed, according to CNN.

“Do you think you’ll ever see her again?,” the unidentified male caller asked Barthelemy’s sister on August 26, 2009, according to Steve Cohen, an attorney for the victim’s mother.

“You won’t. I killed her,” he added and hung up. The phone call ended after less than a minute.

There were seven calls altogether. In the final one, the man described exactly what he had done to Melissa sexually and how he killed her. Melissa’s sister and mom kept written records of all the calls.

I know this post is way too long, but I wanted to include some personal information about each of these young women. They were people with families and friends and hopes and dreams. They weren’t just “prostitutes” or “hookers.” It really bothers me when I see them referred to in that way in news articles. Why not just use their names? They were women who may have had problems, but they didn’t deserve to die because they were sex workers. They deserve to be remembered as fully human–not in their role of servicing men.

When I read stories like this, I have to wonder why people refer to soliciting prostitutes as a “victimless crime.” There is a whole underground economy devoted to meeting the sexual desires of men, but the women who respond to those desires are the ones who get blamed and who end up in jail. And those women are also targeted for murder. Something is very wrong with a society that tolerates so much violence against women.


46 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Victims of LI Serial Killer Were More Than Just “Hookers””

  1. Minkoff Minx says:

    This is very upsetting…not just the tragedy these victim’s family and friends are left with. The attitude toward the victims is very sad, and you are right BB, there is something wrong with society that tolerates violence against women…but there is also something wrong with society when women and girls who are victims of sexual assault or any other crime, are callously disregarded as the ones who “asked for it.”

    Thank you for discussing these women in terms of their humanity.

    • dakinikat says:

      I will never understand why men pay for sex. It’s creepy. Obviously they can’t be very good lovers if they don’t even want to do it with themselves.

      • paper doll says:

        I think it’s to compartmentalize it and have no emotional involvement while being totally in charge…I’m guessing

      • gregoryp says:

        I’ve never considered seeing a prostitute or looking at on-line pornography or heck any pornography.

        Prostitutes are usually coerced into the field and often become or are drug addicts and people who have been stripped of all their dignity and self-worth.

        And you just don’t know where the on-line porn originated from or under what circumstances the young women were living under. Many from foreign lands are essentially sex slaves forced into participation. Heck, many from this country are probably in the same boat.

        Now if 30, 40, 50 year old couples decide to make a “sex” tape and distribute it for profit. I don’t see a problem with that. Or if it is adults who understand what they are doing and are not coerced. However, how do you know when that is the case? You really can’t. Therefore, have to stay away from it all.

        Also, sex for the sake of sex isn’t really my cup of tea. If there is no intimacy there then the endeavor isn’t substantive or fulfilling. I can’t figure out why anyone would sleep with someone that they didn’t have an emotional bond with. It is sort of bizarre.

      • Branjor says:

        The sex industry for men, between porn and prostitution, comes to billions of dollars per year. It would be interesting to know just what percentage of men make/have made use of this industry. The amount of money indicates that the numbers are not trivial.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I’ll never understand by some men need to murder women.

      • Seriously says:

        Thanks, bb, that was a beautiful piece. Tabibi could be the face of the Age of Obama, because it’s impossible to photograph him without his ubiquitous awful smug smirk. Even if you’d never read his awful stuff, just looking at him it’s so obvious that he has zero compassion for anyone.

      • Seriously says:

        Sorry, I don’t know why that nested there.

      • BxDemFem says:

        In that “creepy” sense then Elliott Spitzer can’t be a very good lover, nor human being when he was caught dallying with a prostitute, one of the reasons I cannot bear to watch or hear his bloviations on television.

  2. Minkoff Minx says:

    I wanted to post this:

    Tennessee investigator makes plea for help in Bobo case | Reuters

    Bobo was last seen being led by a camouflage-clad man into the woods near their home on Wednesday morning about the time she normally would leave for school.

    Investigators have said Bobo was being led by her hand or arm and they believe she was coerced and feared for her life and complied with the abductor.

    On Sunday, investigators asked area residents to try to recall people who may have been acting peculiarly the day Bobo disappeared or afterward, saying it was likely her abductor had knowledge about the the thick woods nearby.

    The abductor may have missed work or appointments on Wednesday or for days afterward and also may have an “excessively cleaned” car or all-terrain vehicle, or suddenly sold a vehicle or reported it stolen, the bureau said.

    Some clues have been found, including the young woman’s white lunch box that was found about eight miles from her home. Investigators are not commenting on other evidence found.

    Investigators have also said Bobo’s brother saw her outside the house with a man Wednesday morning, but at the time he thought it was her boyfriend. When he went outside later, he saw blood and called police. The blood is being analyzed.

    This is the latest update:

    $75K reward in Holly Bobo case | The Jackson Sun | jacksonsun.com

    This case reminds me of an abduction and murder in my town.

    Blairsville Woman Abducted While On A Walk | 11alive.com

    Kristi Cornwell’s brother finds her charred remains after 16 month search | Mail Online
    When Kristi went missing, people in our town began to immediately disregard this abduction as a “set up” and were saying horrible things about Kristi…implying that she just took off and abandoned her son. It was very upsetting to see and hear this crap. In the end she was found not to far from where we live, and even though her family may have some closure that she was found, they will never have closure of knowing for certain who killed her.

    I hope that Holly Bobo is found alive.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, Minx. That is a very perplexing case too.

    • paper doll says:

      Bobo was last seen being led by a camouflage-clad man into the woods near their home on Wednesday morning about the time she normally would leave for school.

      Huh? Someone SAW her led by a camouflage-clad man into the woods and did nothing?

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        Get this Paperdoll, it was her own brother…he saw her being “forced” into the woods and didn’t think anything about it. He figured it was her boyfriend and was not concerned until he saw blood in the driveway later in the day. Disgusting innit it?

      • bostonboomer says:

        It’s very strange. At first they said she was dragged away, now they are saying she walked seemingly willingly into the woods with the man. I can’t help but suspect the brother was somehow involved.

      • paper doll says:

        It’s very strange. At first they said she was dragged away, now they are saying she walked seemingly willingly into the woods with the man. I can’t help but suspect the brother was somehow involved.

        Hey I’m with you there. The story she was dragged away is even worse…or she was walking willingly? …which is it? Someone changes their story like this should be of interest to the police. ” The camouflage-clad man ” sounds like the stewart/smart black man, who does the crime ..or from back in the day , ” the shaggy haired stranger” made up shit

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    We “tolerate” this violence because the images are everywhere.

    Advertising, movies, tv, music, you name it. Our culture is awash is this disgusting treatment of women and praise is heaped on those who make a living producing this degradation. How many hip hop performers are lauded and applauded as “artists” as one example?

    Thanks, bb, for putting a human face on these tragic women.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Pat, did you see what recently happened in Oregon?

      Public Suicide in Bend, Oregon, Horrifies Audience, Who Now Seek Counseling for Trauma – ABC News

      The keyboard player had just finished singing a song called, “Sorry for All the Mess.” At first the audience clapped, thinking it was part of the act, then reacted in horror.

      “It was an impromptu open mic night and he got on stage with his electric keyboard and performed a song,” said Lt. Brian Kindell of the Bend Police Department. “At the conclusions he cut himself with a knife at heart level a number of times.”

      “At first, people didn’t realize what happened,” he said. “They thought it was part of open mic night, but the harsh reality was it wasn’t.”

      The public suicide occurred last Tuesday night at Strictly Organic Coffee Company before about 15 patrons, many of them young, according to co-owner Rhonda Ealy.

      I have been shocked about this suicide since I stumbled upon an article about it.

    • dakinikat says:

      Our society looks at people as disposable. We only value them when they do something meaningless like star in a reality show or play football. If rich people can’t capitalize them, they’re basically considered worthless.

  4. Pat Johnson says:

    That was bizarre!

    He must have been in some very great emotional pain to end his life in this manner.

  5. Branjor says:

    BB, thanks for writing about these women in human terms. That is how they should be written about and remembered.
    I once heard that some police departments had a shorthand term to refer to cases of women working as prostitutes who were murdered – NHI – short for “no human involved.” More often than not, they did not investigate the murder.
    When we were little, my cousins and I used to count cottontail bunny rabbits along the side of Ocean Parkway, the approach to Jones Beach. Very pleasant memories. It’s horrifying to think of what we might have come upon today.

  6. dakinikat says:

    From the UK Independent

    Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq

    Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.

    The papers, revealed here for the first time, raise new questions over Britain’s involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair’s cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

    We can only imagine what was said between oil companies and Dick Cheney at this point. Read it. It’s BP again.

    • paper doll says:

      Over and over the known fraud and theft is covered over at the time it’s happening and then presented years later as history we need to ” move on” from ….a seeminly unending loop

  7. Boo Radly says:

    Thank you for this post BB. Each sexist comment cuts. IT seems the only thing that filters down from the very top – if you consider politicians elites, is the hate and judgment spoken, classism. We have “entertain” programs dedicated to women acting out, obsessed with trivial m, hm, what Pat J. said.

    Misogyny was overwhelming to me in the ’70’s – today it is deadly. The phone calls to that radio program…..it is only going to get worse as economic conditions worsen. Those who have a voice and value human life must continue to speak out. There are so many “lost beings” who have no support, never been valued.

  8. paper doll says:

    Re I’ve got a really low tolerance for misogyny these days, and Taibbi long ago showed himself to be a woman-hater. The idea that this man thinks his offhand remark about “hooking” is humorous just turned my stomach

    Yes yes and yes…..this is his sexual fantasy dressed up as political comment.The very idea thrills him imo. Thanks for calling him out .

    I have long been uncomfortable the the idea murdered “hookers” got what they asked for ….that’s how it’s portrayed.
    If there was “hooker” out there killing Johns…the law enforcement agencies would be going 24/7 from the start full of the wish for justice….instead of finally dragged into it by the sheer number of bodies

  9. paper doll says:

    BB, thank you for posting the photos . These young women’s faces call to one like those of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Companyfrom a 100 years ago…..young lives cut tragical short in horrifying circumstances.

  10. dakinikat says:

    Gawd, I’m going to quote my mother … people are no damned good

    Parents picket girl with peanut allergy, ask her to withdraw from school

    A student at Edgewater Elementary School in Volusia County, Florida is being asked to withdraw from the school by her classmates’ parents.

    The student has a life-threatening peanut allergy and, as a result, her classmates are asked to make accommodations to ensure her safety. Some parents of children at the school say the extra steps their children are taking to ensure the girl’s health, such as washing their hands or rinsing out their mouths, are taking away from their own children’s learning. Meanwhile, the school is standing by its decision to make accommodations for the student.

    What made every one in this country so damned inconsiderate and selfish?

  11. Adrienne in CA says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the full humanity of these women who, whatever their struggles, had done nothing to deserve having their lives torn from them.

    One small suggestion I’d make in the last paragraph would be to change men’s sexual needs to men’s sexual desires. No one “needs” to exploit another human being for sex, or for anything else.

  12. Minkoff Minx says:

    I linked to an article from Historiann this Sunday about a surgeon’s disgusting Valentine’s Day paper:

    Well here is an update…

    President-Elect of American College of Surgeons Resigns – ABC News

    Here is another link to a NYT article and the headline pisses me off:

    Incoming American College of Surgeons Head, Lazar Greenfield, Resigns – NYTimes.com

    Head of Surgeons Group Resigns Over Article Viewed as Offensive to Women
    By GARDINER HARRIS
    Published: April 17, 2011

    The president-elect of the American College of Surgeons resigned his position Sunday after weeks of controversy surrounding a Valentine’s Day editorial he wrote touting the mood-enhancing effects of semen on women during unprotected sex.

    Maybe I am being too critical of the line “viewed as offensive” but WTH? This is not outright offensive?

    The editorial cited research that found that female college students who had had unprotected sex were less depressed than those whose partners used condoms. It speculated that compounds in semen have antidepressant effects.

    “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates,” it concluded.

  13. WomanVoter says:

    Matt Taibbi is a real disappointment and it is no wonder that he and others filled with misogyny of women were so critical of Hillary Clinton but most approving of a someone without a record.

  14. Fannie says:

    You’d think that forensic labs, and technology would be set up & in high gear with the Long Island killings. I also think there should be a 24 hour calling number, where others should be able to call
    and give information that they might have without they themselves being at risk for jail time, or at risk for being a rat fink, and subject to more violence off hours.

    BB, thanks for pointing out that there is more to it, than being a hooker. I admire your courage to speak out, and we all need to do what you are doing.

    No doubt, violence is linked to child sexual abuse, and pornographic material is a big factor in sexual violence against women.

    These sick attitudes are being passed down by politicans, religions, medical doctors, educators, and they are indeed doing it in anti-woman ways. It’s like a wild fire.

    I can’t help but think of the young girls sexting, we really need more safety awareness. We need to go after all the Polanski’s out there.

    Whether profit or perversion, when these men harm and kill our sisters, they harm our families and harm our communities.