Tuesday Reads: Victims of LI Serial Killer Were More Than Just “Hookers”Posted: April 19, 2011
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.
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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, 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, 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.
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, 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.