LISK: A Portrait Of Poverty, Circumstance, and Bias In the Ongoing Case Of a Serial Killer 2
In the introduction of part one of this case I described how prostitution has been viewed through the ages. I'm terribly remiss to have not mentioned one woman in particular, Mary Magdalene. A close and personal friend of Jesus Christ, himself, Mary was also a prostitute. Her chosen line of work didn't change the way the son of God looked at her. She was among those rejoicing the loudest when Jesus was resurrected after being crucified by the Romans. This leads me to ask why so many people that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ choose to judge those working in the sex trade the way that they do. It's not as if they're unaware of Mary Magdalene's existence. They simply choose to judge people they do not know based on a choice that's usually made out of desperation.
When we left off on part one, four bodies had been found on Ocean Parkway, near Gilgo Beach, in the midst of the search for Shannan Gilbert. After months of hard work, the bodies were finally identified as being four women that had worked as escorts on Craigslist. If you have not yet read part one, it would be wise to start there before continuing any further. We dove into the lives and the disappearances of Shannan Gilbert, as well as two of the four victims found, Melissa Barthelemy and Megan Waterman. As it was Shannan's disappearance that led to the discovery of several bodies, it's better to start by reading her story and how it launched one of the biggest investigations in Long Island.
Maureen Brainard-Barnes had been identified as being one of the Gilgo Four. In 2006, she was working at a telemarketing company known as Atlantic Security. It was there that she made a friend for life in Sara Karnes. Sara started with the company just a few weeks before Maureen started in December. They were constantly getting fussed at by their manager for talking over their cubicle walls. They just shook the complaints off and went back to their conversations. The two got to know each other quite well in their time as cubicle-mates.
It turned out that they were both 24-years-old and had attended the same high school in Groton, Connecticut, though they didn't remember each other. This would make sense as Sara only attended briefly after being kicked out of her previous Catholic school for playing a minor prank. During their high school years, Maureen was only a little more wild than Sara had been. She left school at the age of 17 to have a baby and never returned. By the time she befriended Sara, Maureen had two children that each had a different father. She had also hit a rather rough spot in her life, moving into a place in Norwich that her son's father was paying for. Before this, she had spent a few months staying with her younger sister.
Maureen's living situation wasn't ideal, or exactly normal. She was under the impression that her roommate had been sent there by her son's father to keep tabs on her. Meanwhile, Sara's living conditions were even more precarious. Her and her boyfriend were staying in a motel room that was costing them $200 a week to live in. Sara scraped the money together from her paychecks from Atlantic Security. When they were unable to afford food, they hit up local soup kitchens and food banks. At the very least, Sara had one thing that Maureen did not. A car.
Thanks to a jealous ex of her boyfriend's, one side of Sara's car had the word "whore" scratched into it. She and Maureen both found it to be hilarious. As Maureen was tired of relying on her son's father for a ride home from work, she started riding home with Sara in what Robert Kolker termed in his book, Lost Girls, as the "whore-mobile."
Atlantic Security only offered seasonal work to employees, not a full-time position. Shortly after New Years, Sara was let go, with Maureen following her about a month later. This didn't mean the end of their friendship, though. They kept in touch as Sara began working at a McDonald's. An inch away from homelessness, Sara was allowed to move in with her boss and his girlfriend while her boyfriend moved in with an aunt. Sara was at a particularly desperate point in her life when Maureen approached her with an offer that she couldn't refuse.
To better understand the circumstances Maureen ended up in adulthood, it would serve us well to look into her childhood as well. It quickly becomes apparent that hard-living was no anomaly in her life. She had watched her family struggle, so she was no stranger to the grind of simply trying to stay afloat. She grew up in a three-bedroom apartment in a federally subsidized housing development called Poquonnock Village. Her mother, Marie Ducharme, walked two miles every day to clean hotel rooms, while her father, Bob Senecal, drifted in and out of their lives as he pleased. He would stay with them from time to time, presumably when he had nowhere else to go. Maureen was known for being much like him, mellow and kind of immature at times. Neither of them ever took life too seriously.
Bob mostly worked in lumber, but he was also a mechanic. He loved to take long walks in complete solitude. These were occasions to think long and deeply about everything. One night in 2003, Bob died suddenly while out on one of his walks. It happened to be Maureen's 21st birthday. As he walked down a lonely train trestle late at night, he tripped and drowned in the shallow water he landed in.
Marie landed a job as one of the first employees at Mohegan Sun, a casino. She quit her job cleaning motel rooms and began working as a slot attendant. Her new job also allowed her to place a down payment on a car, which she would drive to a second job cleaning offices. After that, Marie was hardly ever home. Maureen and her younger siblings, Missy and Will, were left to fend for themselves. The three banded together and took very good care of each other. This bond would last their entire lives.
Every week, Marie would bring home a pile of frozen dinners for the kids to eat while she worked. When she was gone, they would explore the woods behind their apartment complex or walk the railroad tracks that they knew they weren't supposed to be on. Maureen would even sneak her siblings into American Billiards to drink and shoot pool. The kids were left to their own devices, but this was still pretty common in the 90s and early 2000s. Growing up in the same time period, I remember many friends that cared for younger siblings or listened to older ones from the time they arrived home from school until their parents got home from work. The term "latch-key kids" may have died by that point, but there were still many of them out there.
Maureen had been known for writing in her marble composition notebooks almost continuously. She normally remembered her dreams and liked to write them down. She would also use her writings to answer the bigger questions in the universe. She wondered if Heaven was a physical place she could ascend to, or if it was just a state of mind. Beyond that, she wrote her own rap lyrics as well. Verses about real life issues faced by real people, struggling to get by.
She also felt very perceptive of everything around her in a way that others weren't. On her MySpace page, she wrote of her premonitions. She had predicted the death of her grandmother and a friend of her's burning themselves with a cigarette lighter.
She loved to read and one book that fascinated her the most was the book of Revelations. Later, she became captivated by The Da Vinci Code. It almost became like a sacred text to her. She would devour anything she could find about the Illuminati before moving on to a fascination with the supernatural. Maureen spoke very passionately about the things she read with her siblings. Missy recalls her and her brother watching her make connections before their very eyes as she fervently explained things to them.
School was a breeze for Maureen as she grew up. She was a very bright girl that preferred to read books all day long. However, when she began developing in her adolescence, she began receiving much more attention from boys. This led her to read much less than she had before. Maureen was an early-bloomer, with her curves developing slightly younger than others. She wasn't one to wear make-up or accessorize, though. A natural beauty, she didn't need to.
When she started attending Fitch High School, the once reserved bookworm had become what Robert Kolker describes as "impetuous and needy." Friends from school reported that whenever she walked into a room, she made sure that all the boys knew she was there. At the same time, she would ignore all of the girls in the room. For a time, Maureen stopped going to school until it caused a fight between her and Marie. When she got pregnant with her first child, she quit school for good.
Though she had only been with the baby's father, Jason Brainard-Barnes, for six months, the two felt that they were in love. They were married in a brief ceremony performed by a justice of the peace in 1999. Once their daughter, Caitlin, was born, they moved into Jason's grandparent's house in Pawtucket, Connecticut. Jason enlisted in the army for two years and the couple moved south with their daughter. Soon after they returned to Connecticut, the relationship fell apart. Without any fights, lawyers, or papers, they determined that Caitlin would live with her father most of the time. He was living in Mystic at the time, an area with much better schools. Wanting the absolute best for her child, Maureen opted to let her live where the educational opportunities were better.
After splitting with her husband, Maureen moved in with her younger sister, Missy, and her children. They were living in a low-income housing development in Groton called Branford Manor. With their brother, Will, living nearby, the three siblings had been reunited. Now, all three of them had children of their own. Though their mother had receded from their lives by this point, they still had each other to depend on. Just like the good ole days of their childhood, they were back to taking care of each other and looking after one another as well as their children.
Missy would host Thanksgiving and Christmas for everyone and at least once a week she cooked a large meal to lure Will over with his kids. Since they had never really known a father, Will became the paternal figure in their lives. Missy was much like the mother, hosting holidays and other family gatherings. Maureen was described in Lost Girls as being "the dreamer, the artist, the romantic." Though she was the oldest of her siblings, Maureen was by far the most free-spirited.
As the paternal figure of the family, it was up to Will to play peacemaker between Maureen and Missy whenever they would argue. Their fights would always stem from Maureen leaving her daughter with Missy too often. Maureen just wanted to go out, but Missy got tired of the strain of having her niece plopped on top of her while already having her own kids to care for. Will was also the main person Maureen would turn to whenever she was hurt or angered by a boyfriend. All she had to do was complain about a guy she was dating and her brother would beat the guy up.
Will worked steadily as a mechanic for Midas. Missy was a stay-at-home mother, tending to her children as her husband worked. Maureen, on the other hand, just couldn't seem to figure out what it was she wanted to do right out of the gate. She delivered pizzas and worked as a cashier at a ShopRite. Neither seemed like a good fit for her. She was bored easily by the jobs and didn't choose to stick with them.
Looking back on the time they spent together, Missy remembers her sister quite fondly. She recalls Maureen reading Shel Silverstein to her daughter, and also to her children. Maureen liked to play dress-up, not only with Caitlin, but with the cat, too. I can't help but to think of the disgruntled look that must have been on that cat's face. The family would go out together for grinders before taking their sandwiches to the park to eat. Missy prefers to remember her older sister the way she was happiest. Barefoot in the backyard, wearing a sundress as she ran across the grass with the children.
By 2003, Maureen was 21-years-old with a 4-year-old daughter and no steady form of income to speak of. She still didn't have her own place to live in and had found out the hard way that jobs are harder to come by with no high school degree. Her situation seemed impossible to rise from. Even working the steady, legitimate jobs she had taken in the past didn't pay enough to get her out of her sister's apartment.
Her spirits seemed lifted in 2004, when she visited a friend from her sister's apartment complex, Jay DeBrule. She had finally figured out what it was she would do with her life. She wanted to go into modeling, or even become a rapper. She was very talented at writing her own rap lyrics and she wasn't afraid to tackle the real situations people living in poverty face. A very beautiful woman, she would've made an excellent model as well. With the advent of MySpace, it seemed like launching a career in music or modeling was actually within her grasp. There were already many taking advantage of the large community there to push their own brands, music, portfolios, and more.
When she visited Jay DeBrule that day, she brought her daughter to play with his little girl. She was excited about more than just figuring out her path in life. She recently had a photo shoot and was thrilled to show Jay the pictures that had come back. By the time of her photo shoot, Maureen had already moved out of her sister's apartment and in with a man she had recently become serious with. There were many men in her life, but Steve became the most serious relationship she had.
Though Maureen had met Jay at Branford Manor, she had also interned for him while he was working at a local radio station doing remote broadcasting. When Maureen was asked to wear an elephant suit one day, she quit the internship on the spot. Since her departure from the station, Jay had been laid off and was working two jobs to support himself and his daughter. He was delivering paint for Sherwin-Williams as well as pizzas. From time to time the two would have sex, but they were just good friends. Maureen found him easy to talk to, like she could speak to him about anything.
Jay's apartment had become a refuge for Maureen after moving in with Steve. Their relationship was fraught with troubles from the start. Steve may have owed his own pawn shop, but aside from being financially stable, he wasn't a good man. He was often heard talking about Maureen like she was an incapable child that couldn't be trusted with anything. When she would retreat to Jay's for a break, the two would have sex, watch online videos while sharing some of Maureen's weed, watch their daughters play outside together, or she would play around with her MySpace page. It was better than going to the library for internet access.
Sometimes they would even write new songs together. Jay and Missy both recognized her talent for writing lyrics and rapping. Her style was described as being more grave, much like Three 6 Mafia. Her grave tone better conveyed her messages about the trials and tribulations of those struggling to make it in rough areas. As talented as she was, her lyrics just weren't getting the kind of attention she hoped for on MySpace. With that dream bottoming out, she turned to the prospect of modeling. She used her MySpace page to help with this venture, too.
MySpace led her to a website called modelmayhem.com. There, she was invited to send in a portfolio, the very one she had excitedly brought to Jay's house in 2004. A friend had taken the pictures for free with the condition that he be allowed to keep the negatives. The pictures featured her wearing a few different dresses and a red nightgown that could be considered lingerie. Maureen was open to doing catalog work, music videos, magazines, really anything just to get her foot in the door. She received dozens of emails for nude modeling and escort services in her search for modeling work. It wasn't the emails that surprised her, it was the kind of money these women were making.
It seemed on the surface to be mainly sexless encounters, unless she wanted to have sex. In that case, she could make even more money. The only real downside that she could see was signing on with an escort service. This would mean giving up half of her earnings to the agency, then another percentage to the driver. After a little more digging into the online world of escorting, Maureen found that many women were working independently through Craigslist. They didn't have to share any of their money, unless they wanted to hire a driver. It likely all seemed almost too good to be true to a struggling young woman that just wanted a little more excitement in her life.
This brings us back around to the year 2007. Sara Karnes' life was in shambles after losing her job at McDonald's. She and her boyfriend were still living apart, and it was probably for the best. All they ever did by that point was fight. Maureen was still there to lift her up and make her feel better. The money she was helping Sara make wasn't bad, either. As far as Sara knew, Maureen was taking on massage clients. She just needed a ride to her appointments, which she was willing to pay dearly for.
Even if Sara had suspected anything else was going on, the $50 she was making for every appointment was enough for her to stay quiet. If the appointment lasted longer than an hour, which they normally did, she made $100. Compared to how hard she'd had to work in the past to get by, getting paid so much to just sit in her car and wait seemed like a dream come true.
Though things weren't going so smoothly for Sara at the time, she could plainly see how hard Maureen had it. Juggling custody of two children with both of their fathers, while also trying to keep appointments lined up. Some days she may have had her son, Aiden, with her. Others, her daughter, Caitlin. Sometimes she had both kids, and others she had neither. When Maureen had the children and appointments lined up on the same day, she would leave Aiden and Caitlin with her sister. She lived in constant fear that Steve would call social services on her and suggest that their son come live with him.
While also escorting, Maureen tried as hard as she could to find legitimate work. Try as she might, she couldn't get hired anywhere. It was at this point that she turned to Sara's boyfriend, a drug dealer. She started buying weed and ecstasy from him at first. Then, she started buying cocaine to stay awake. They had an arrangement that worked out nicely for them both for a while, until Sara's boyfriend got greedy. Maureen was allowed to take drugs on front, while leaving her EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card with him as collateral. For those that are not aware, EBT cards contain the monthly government benefits that many need to buy food, or food stamps as I knew them growing up.
Early that spring, Maureen accused her friend's boyfriend of taking extra money from her card, which he denied. At first, Sara sided with him, but it wasn't hard to prove his lie. When confronted with the truth, Sara left him. This meant that she really was homeless now. Maureen quickly swooped in to help, allowing her to crash on her couch rent-free in Norwich.
Quickly, it became apparent how generous and kind Maureen was to her friends. Sara had not been the first person she'd done this for. She had taken in others that were in need of help, but many turned out to be taking advantage of her. Once she realized she was housing a freeloader, she kicked them out. Sara was different, though. She was helping Maureen to work, whether she realized exactly what she was doing or not.
Maureen and Sara's birthdays were very close to one another. As their 25th birthdays approached, Maureen booked them a hotel room at the Foxwoods so they could throw themselves a party. It had been a rough year for both of them and they were ready to unwind. Maureen paid for their room and their party with her earnings made escorting. They had an amazing time, making the most of their birthdays after their long struggle.
It wasn't until they returned to Maureen's apartment at the end of the night that the mood turned slightly more serious. She had something she'd been wanting to talk to Sara about. She told her friend that it was important. Maureen asked her quite seriously that if she liked having sex so much, why didn't she get paid for it? As Sara grew silent as a mouse, Maureen explained that before the birth of her son, she had escorted on Craigslist. She would go to New York for a few days at a time to earn some extra cash when she needed it. Now, Maureen was looking to start up again, but this time with a partner.
Sara asked her if she liked the work she was doing. Maureen said that it was alright. She explained that when she went to New York, she was an entirely different person. Her first Craigslist ads were posted three years earlier on the Eastern Connecticut/Adult Services page. For reasons known only to her, she chose to post under her mother's name, Marie. The replies immediately started rolling in and Maureen asked her good friend, Jay, to drive her. She schooled him on the procedure, like calling in after five minutes to make sure all was well.
Maureen said that the sex wasn't so bad at all. The problem was working so close to home. The risk was much higher that she would eventually run into her johns out in public. Plus, the money in Groton and the surrounding areas wasn't as good as it was in New York. Though the casinos could earn her more money, her mother still worked at Mohegan Sun. That location was definitely out of the question.
While starting out in casinos through Craigslist, Maureen met other, more experienced escorts. One woman in particular, named Chrissy, invited her out for her first trip to New York. Jay declined to drive her on her Manhattan trip. He had a daughter to take care of and two jobs that he needed to keep. Though he wasn't as confident about her trips to the city, Maureen made them sound adventurous and luxurious. She made it sound as though she were being doted upon and spoiled by handsome, rich men in a flashy, big city. The piles of bills she stacked up on her dresser made the lifestyle seem even more glamorous.
Missy didn't think that what her sister was doing was truly satisfying her soul. Maureen was living a double-life. The secret wasn't an easy one to keep. Her son's father was easy enough to fool. She simply told Steve that she was staying with her family, knowing he wanted nothing to do with them. Keeping Missy out of the loop wasn't possible since she was needed to watch the kids while Maureen worked. This made it even harder to keep Will in the dark, but somehow they managed.
The secret weighed heavily on Maureen, but the money was too good to give up. She lived in fear that Steve would find out somehow and try to take custody of her son. At the time that she began escorting, she was still with him. She always made her appointments away from Steve and referred to them as "modeling trips" if Caitlin was nearby. During her early days, the only others that bared her secret with her were Jay and Missy. When she got pregnant with her son, she quit and grew closer with Steve for a time. She was certain he was the father because she always used condoms when she was working.
Her son, Aiden, had been born in 2005. Just a year later, her relationship with Steve crumbled. She struck out on her own with her son and tried her best to earn money legitimately. When Atlantic Security failed to pay the bills, she turned to her "massage appointments," paying Sara Karnes to drive her. She was making alright money again, but she knew that she could be doing better if she went back to New York. If she could come up with a partner, she could do even better while also being safer.
With Sara agreeing to give it a try, they set out for Manhattan together. While Sara was looking to earn enough money to get her own place, Maureen's situation was much more serious. She was on the brink of eviction, which would've caused her to lose custody of her children. Maureen's mission was clear when the two set out for their first trip to the city together. It was this drive to keep her apartment and her children that would lead her to her death.
When the pair boarded the train for Manhattan, Sara noticed an immediate change in Maureen's personality. She became a new woman, a businesswoman. She was serious and almost in-charge as she spoke about setting Sara up with a guy named Vips. This man would freshen their ads for them while they worked for a fee. He charged $150 a day flat. When he wasn't freshening ads for the girls already paying him, he was online trolling for girls considering the sex trade. He was always looking for women to offer his services to, even if his service could just as easily be handled by a well-trained monkey.
As Maureen worked Vips's payment into their overhead along with the price of their hotel, she figured that they would make $1000-$2000 for each day that they worked. This would be if the girls made five to seven calls each day. Maureen called Vips from Groton the previous day to inform him that he would be meeting Sara. Everything was in place, the girls just needed to make it to New York and place their ads.
To save money on parking fees, they left Sara's car in Groton and took the train into the city. From there, cabs, buses, and the subway can get you all over the city. A car in New York is no more than an unnecessary, costly burden. As the train rocked them back and forth, Maureen gave her friend a quick lesson in survival on the streets. Sara quickly learned the many rules of the escorting business.
The number one rule to always remember is trust your instincts. Never do anything that doesn't feel right to you. All outcalls should be viewed suspiciously, but if she was to except one, Sara was warned to never leave Manhattan. Even then, only some parts of Manhattan were open to her for her safety. Morningside Heights, Washington Heights, Harlem, and Alphabet City were all off limits. She was also to avoid The Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn as well.
She explained to her friend that escorting can become a grind like many other jobs. It's never wise to do it full-time. To keep yourself from becoming too jaded, tried, or even strung-out, breaks are needed.
When deciding on a name to post her ads under, Sara thought of a beautiful starlet that ironically managed to transform her life into something glamorous. It almost seemed too fitting when Sara named herself Monroe on her Craigslist ads as she was trying to do the very same thing. Sara paid Vips his flat fee and he set to work creating her ad for her, using another woman's pictures. She wasn't flattered in the least when she saw that the pictures he used were of a woman looking much older and heavier than herself. He assured her that this was a good thing. The men would be pleased to see a prettier, thinner woman than they expected and would tip well to show their gratitude. She quickly found this to be true.
Before their night began, Maureen shared another safety tip. Always make sure to take someone with you for protection. They need to stay close by, but never be seen by the john unless they're needed. Usually, you want your muscle somewhere on the block, nearby. Johns have a tendency to check bathrooms and closets to ensure they won't be jumped and robbed.
For her first time, Maureen set Sara up with a regular of her's. A nice guy that she knew would treat her well. He lived in a nice apartment near the old Studio 54. The date went well, with the two spending the entire afternoon together. He did cocaine, which made the date last longer. As we saw in part one, cocaine makes it nearly impossible to get and maintain an erection. After five and a half hours, Maureen burst in on their date, furious. While Sara had spent all day on one john, Maureen had to make up for all of the missed calls herself to not lose out on money she desperately needed.
Though Maureen was upset, Sara left the apartment with a huge payday and a regular client on her very first call. This wasn't the only thing that would make Maureen angry that weekend. Most of the calls that came in were specifically for Monroe, not Marie. Though Maureen needed the money more than her, Sara came home with a bigger payday. What was supposed to be a plan to maximize her capital ended up biting her in the ass. When she asked that Sara pay her a 20% commission fee, Sara refused. She had earned the money in her pocket on her own. It wasn't her fault that her ad was clicked on more than Maureen's.
The issue was dropped, with Sara keeping all of her money. The following weekend, she returned to New York without Maureen. This time she took her friend, Matt, to drive her and provide security. When she returned to Vips to have her ad posted, he raised his rate, seeing that she wasn't with Maureen. He was now charging $250 a day. She walked away, deciding that she could easily post her own ads and have her driver freshen them for her. To avoid Vips, she changed her name from Monroe to Lacey. She also worked from a different motel, a Super 8 on 46th.
By the next weekend, Maureen was also back in the city and all seemed to have been forgotten by the girls. Sara had quickly become enchanted with the lifestyle escorting offered her. Even though Maureen had warned her that she didn't want it for a full-time job, Sara was in love with the money she was making. Her friend tried to speak to her from a place of experience. Before Aiden's birth, Maureen had been a full-time escort. She knew well how that kind of grind could affect you. All Sara could see was fat wads of cash in her hands as she declared to her friend and driver, Matt, that she was never going back to Connecticut.
The only issue she had really found with the job so far was that the money never seemed to last. Between motel bills, clothes, make-up, shoes, and other material items, she was usually broke no sooner than she became flush. It seemed as though she needed to stay at a near-constant grind to keep the money coming in.
On Friday, July 6, 2007, Maureen came back to Manhattan with a chaperone named Brett. He was a friend of Steve's, but had his own reasons for wanting to be there that weekend. He was due in court alongside Maureen on July 10, facing eviction. If Maureen couldn't make the back rent that weekend, she could lose her son and Brett would be out on the streets. She needed to come up with $1,100 before her court date or risk losing her home and custody of her son to Steve. Maureen and Sara decided to work together that weekend to earn as much as possible.
From Matt's laptop, the girls advertised as a duo they termed as "snow buddies." This meant that they would do cocaine with their johns. For a while, they had to deal with Vips trolling their ads and flagging them as offensive content, having them pulled down. This was his revenge against them for striking out on their own. With Maureen's situation being as it was, this was the worst possible time for his immaturity.
As their ads were repeatedly pulled from Craigslist, the girls spent Friday night unable to make a dime. They spent their night in the motel room, smoking a blunt and talking about what would become of Maureen if she lost the Norwich apartment. Maybe this was a sign. Maybe she was meant to stay in New York. Sara and Maureen fantasized about moving to Manhattan and living their lives as an episode of Sex and the City. Maureen even responded to an ad for a sublet on the Upper West Side, costing $749 a week. Compared to what they were spending for a room at the Super 8 every week, that was a deal.
By Saturday, Vips had evidently grown bored with flagging their ads and the girls received some calls. After only a few calls he must have remembered his grudge and started having their ads pulled down again. Sunday was much the same, with only a few calls getting through Vips's campaign of revenge. The entire weekend, the girls were only able to make $700. Maureen had fallen $400 short of her goal.
Staring failure in the face, all they could do now was try to have some fun before losing it all. They got their nails done and their eyebrows waxed before taking new pictures for their Craigslist ads. They spent $200 at Sephora, buying new make-up and glitter and they also bought new clothes. Sara never forgot the feeling she had walking the streets of Manhattan dolled up in her new clothes. With her hair, nails, and make-up done, she felt like a supermodel.
Come Monday morning, the group should have been setting off for Connecticut. Sara was supposed to meet up with a friend and Maureen was due in court. The girls considered changing their plans and staying one more day to see if they could scrape the money they needed together. Maureen could possibly make the money in one night and wire it up to Brett in time for court. She received a call back about the apartment on the Upper West Side she'd inquired about Friday night. She made an appointment to look at it the next day if she was still in the city.
Sara struggled with the decision to leave Maureen in New York. She tried to convince her friend to come with her. She needed to go home and face the music. It wasn't safe to stay by herself. She finally decided that she needed to go home, whether Maureen was coming or not. Maureen planned to stay and wait for Sara to come back that Wednesday. She would keep their room for them and go look at the sublet the next day. Sara had no way of knowing when she walked out that door it would be the last time she ever saw her friend.
Maureen had always been perceptive. She had always had dreams and feelings throughout her life. In an eerie sort of irony in her final days, she posted to her MySpace page saying that she was having "serial killer dreams again..."
Sara had only been gone from the motel for barely half an hour when Maureen called. It was 12:27 in the afternoon and Sara was stuck in traffic with Matt and Brett on the West Side Highway, wanting nothing more than to sleep. She decided not to answer the call, dozing off in the car instead. Later that night, she got a call from a man named Al she had met at Tony's porn office in the city. He said that Maureen had called him when she couldn't reach Sara. She had been robbed for $5000. Sara was stunned. How was she robbed for more money than she had before Sara left?
Al figured that Maureen probably pulled something out of her ass in desperation. She was under an immense amount of pressure to gather a large amount of money in a short time. Anything is possible when a person is backed into a corner.
When Sara tried to call her friend back, she got no answer. She left a voicemail and waited to hear back, but she never did. The first day, Sara and Missy both assumed that she was just sleeping the day away. By the second day, Missy was becoming alarmed by the lack of response from her sister.
The same day that Sara had left Maureen in New York, she tried to call Missy. She never spoke of being robbed or needing money. She kept the conversation light as she asked for a ride from Penn Station from Missy's husband, Chris Cann. It was 11:30 at night when she called and Chris had to work in the morning. He wasn't able to make the trip at that time of night. She told Missy that she would try their brother, but called back soon after to say that he also had to work early. Maureen assured her sister that she had enough money to catch the next train out of the city. The following day, Tuesday, Missy was receiving no answer from her.
All day Tuesday, Missy, Will, and Sara figured she was sleeping or out of minutes on her phone. On Wednesday, Will found that his calls were going straight to voicemail. By Thursday the siblings had contacted the Norwich police. As soon as they heard that she was escorting in Manhattan, they stopped taking the case seriously. That didn't stop Missy and Will from taking on the case of Maureen's disappearance themselves. They spoke with Sara and learned where they had been staying that weekend. Will and Chris got on their motorcycles and traveled to the city to talk to the motel clerks, who said they had no memory of Maureen. The motel records showed that she had spent days in room 406, checking out on Tuesday.
Tuesday was the day of her court date, but she couldn't be reached. She also missed her appointment to see the Upper West Side sublet. She had been so excited about the prospect. It seemed strange that she would miss the appointment that she had been looking forward to. When she called Al, she had promised to call back later, but she never did. It would seem that after her series of phone calls, the trail went cold.
When Missy went to Maureen's apartment, she found that most of her sister's possessions had been thrown into a dump truck. All of her clothes had been taken by a friend of her's that claimed Maureen told her she could have them. Since she did not appear in court and pay her back rent, the apartment was gutted of any trace of her.
Not long after this terrible discovery, the police notified Missy that Maureen's EBT card had been used in Norwich. She and Will chased that lead down on their own, too. The same friend that had stolen Maureen's clothes had also taken her EBT card. It was at this time that Missy was particularly happy that her sister had shared the password to email with her. She scoured the inbox, looking for clues and finding nothing.
Missy became her sister's own personal private investigator. She took to the web, looking into adult sites, stories of unidentified bodies, and stories of women with amnesia. She called the police in New York and Groton often, hoping to hear some news about Maureen's case. An internal-affairs officer finally took pity on her and told her that one of the last people to answer her sister's ad was a NYC police officer. The officer said that this man lived on Staten Island and had already been cleared of any involvement. After that the silence grew deafening. No more word on Maureen's case was heard until police informed Missy that a ping from her sister's cell phone had registered at a water tower on Fire Island. Possibly someone trying to access her voicemail.
A search was conducted around the area that Maureen's cell phone pinged. Helicopters circled the area while cadaver dogs covered the ground, but nothing was ever found. The case became all-consuming for Missy. It dominated her entire life until it was the only thing that mattered anymore. She began neglecting her job, her husband, and her children in her fight for answers and justice. While Missy responded to the tragedy by fighting and investigating, Will just went through the motions.
After losing his sister, Will just floated through life. He did what he needed to do to support his family, but the joy had been zapped from his heart. On August 14, 2009, he was involved in a fatal motorcycle crash near Exit 78 on Route 95. A tricky merge that is now marked by a traffic sign was the cause of his death. After leaving a party with some friends from his motorcycle club, Will took his usual place at the head of the pack. A truck in front of him either had no lights on, or the lights were too dim to be seen. Regardless the situation, Will didn't see the truck until it was too late. He died on impact and his bike broke in half.
This trauma was just more grief laid at Missy's feet. As she was still fighting to find Maureen, she was also left to bury her older brother. Though grieving an indescribable loss, it gave her a glint of hope. Maybe Maureen had run off to start her life anew in the face of losing her home and her son. When she didn't show up to her brother's funeral, that hope was dashed. No matter how far she may have run, she never would've missed her brother's funeral.
Until the bodies were found, Missy was left to fight her battle alone. When Maureen's body was finally found among the Gilgo Four, she was devastated, but at least she knew for sure now that she wasn't coming back. She also found a support group in the other family members after the discovery. She reached out and brought the women together in solidarity, one family member at a time.
Before she was even informed about the positive identification, Missy was all over the internet trying to find out as much as she could about the Gilgo Four. She followed the news coverage closely, looking for any clue that Maureen could be one of them. She read story after story about Megan Waterman, covered in part one. She found Lorraine on Facebook and the two were conversing over the phone daily by the time the identifications had been made. By the time the DNA matches came through in late January 2011, their group had grown to include Shannan Gilbert's mother, Mari, and her sister, Sherre. Then, Melissa Barthelemy's aunt, Dawn, joined them before Amber Costello's sister, Kim. The grieving family members convened on the memorial page that Mari had started for Shannan.
They worked together to search for clues or links over the phone and online. They were trying to figure out if these crimes were linked by a single killer. When the four families held funerals for their lost loved ones, they were there for each other in support, attending each other's services. When more bodies were discovered, they called each other in shock and horror. They were truly there for one another as no one else seemed to understand how they each felt.
Amber Lynn Costello had been born Amber Overstreet in 1983. She was six years younger than her sister, Kim, who was born in 1977. Both girls were born in Pennsylvania to parents Margaret Ann Sassy, or Margie as she was known, and Al Overstreet. Margie doted upon her youngest daughter, while Al constantly made jokes about her small stature. He would jest that Amber was only a half an inch away from qualifying for a disability check as a little person.
Al had grown up in Wilmington, North Carolina. Throughout his adult life, he had worked at a series of bakeries. He met Margie at one of the bakeries that employed him called Donut Town in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Shortly after Amber's birth, the family moved back to Al's home state. When they first moved back, they lived in Gastonia, just outside of Charolette. Al found work in the knitting mills in nearby Dolford.
The first tragedy to take place in Amber's life was while she lived in Gastonia. At just 5-years-old, a 26-year-old neighbor named James took a liking to her and her sister. He would take the girls to the park to play tennis. Over the years, minor details of the story changed when Amber retold it, but the important portions stayed the same. One day, James took her into the bushes. Other details divulged stated that Margie and Al discovered the abuse when Margie walked in on it. She caught James in bed with her youngest daughter, completely naked.
Margie couldn't force the man out of the bed due to his size. When she found that she was unable to pry him out, she called the police. Though Kim had believed James to have gone to jail along with her father for trying to shoot him, Al remembered the ugly scene a little differently. Al had indeed bought a shotgun with every intention of shooting the man that had raped his daughter, but the police got to him first. There are no existing arrest records for this incident today and no formal charges were ever filed. It would seem that everyone just walked away and the matter was resolved. For Amber though, it would never truly be resolved. She would carry this trauma with her for the rest of her life.
After Amber's scarring experience, the family moved from Gastonia. Margie blamed herself and ended up being hospitalized after suffering a nervous breakdown. According to Kim, Amber blamed her mother, too. Once Margie left the hospital, the family fell apart. She and Amber moved to Charolette, and then later to Wilmington, staying at an aunt's house. Kim stayed with Al when he wasn't serving another jail sentence for too many racked up DUIs. For a short time, Kim lived with the family of a friend.
Eventually the family reunited and settled in Wilmington together for a time before moving to Florida. They ended up making their way back to Wilmington before spending a year in a housing project called Nesbitt Courts in Carolina Beach. While living there, Kim welcomed her first child into the world, a girl named Marissa. Amber and her friends loved to come home from school and play with the baby. Though Kim had Marissa and two more children with a neighborhood boy named Mootnie, another man would raise all three.
In the year that they lived at Nesbitt Courts, Al worked at Krispy Kreme, while Margie worked part-time managing properties. When she wasn't working, Margie was looking after Marissa. By this point in her life she had grown thin and gray. Her cabinets were stocked full of Olde English, which she bought by the case. She was known for sipping her warm forty-once beers early in the morning.
Amber was an excellent student, earning As and Bs. On the occasions she was caught skipping class, this clever young girl tricked her mother into signing the notices from her teachers. She would set up her desk as though she were playing school and have Margie sign the notes thinking that Amber was just playing. She never even noticed what she was signing as she watched television.
For the most part, Kim and Amber looked out for each other. Throughout their childhood, Al could only remember one knock-down, drag-out fight between them. The sisters only seemed to butt heads when Amber began to feel entitled to Kim's belongings, such as her clothes and perfume. When it came down to it, Kim always stood up for her little sister. She even came out of their house with a baseball bat while pregnant when a member of the Crips came to their door looking for Amber.
At 19-years-old, Kim was attending the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She was studying sports medicine while waiting tables at two restaurants to pay her tuition. She was a sophomore when she met a woman named Teresa in her psychology class. Teresa was a year ahead of her in school and seemed to have it all together. She was married to a man who was enlisted in the army and stationed in another town. He was rarely ever home, but he was a junior partner in Teresa's business. She ran things as the boss, though.
Kim had no idea what Teresa did for a living when she first met her. At first, she never would've guessed that her new friend from school was a madam. She just seemed like a savvy businesswoman. Her business was no real secret, though. Coed Confidential advertised in the local paper, posting ads for "entertainment" for solo appointments, bachelor parties, or massages. When Kim and her family hit hard times, she finally learned what it was that Teresa did.
She lamented to her new friend about her troubles at home. Right as the school year was beginning, both Al and Margie had been hit hard by back-to-back health issues. When Al went to get a hearing aid, he learned from the MRI that he had tumors on his acoustic nerve. As Al was still in bandages recovering from his surgery, Margie collapsed from a perforated ulcer. She was rushed in for surgery. As Amber was only 13 at the time, Kim became her parent's full-time nurse. What little sports medicine training she had received came in handy while taking care of them. She repacked her mother's bandages and also bathed and re-bandaged her father, minding the staples in his head.
Kim was the only person at home bringing in any money. Waiting tables at two restaurants wasn't enough to take care of her family and pay for school. Teresa would lend a sympathetic ear while Kim told her of all her woes. She could see how hard Kim was struggling to get by and stay in school. One day, when she was at her most despondent, Kim declared her intention to attend an amateur night at a local strip club. She had seen an ad in the paper for a $500 prize for the winner. Teresa shook her head at this idea. She couldn't make half at a strip club that she could make working for Coed Confidential.
Kim was adamant that she wasn't having sex. Teresa explained that it was really more about the show than anything else. She offered the struggling young woman a job answering phones for her, which Kim accepted.
Rates depended upon the location of the call. The farther they had to drive, the more the johns were expected to pay. Since the girls drove themselves, they got to keep the extra money, plus the tips they made. Minus tips, they typically made $800 or more every night. Kim also made a good deal of money just to answer phones and set up appointments. For every call, she made a $25 commission. With so many calls coming in every night, she was able to quit both of her jobs to work at Coed Confidential full-time.
Just like a telemarketer, Kim had a script prepared to read from every time a call came in. She had her script memorized in no time. Kim, along with the others answering the phones, knew that if they were asked about a sexual encounter over the phone, they were to tell the johns that it was against the law. Teresa tried to make her business look as legitimate as possible on the surface. She even had her lawyer draw up papers for the girls she employed to sign, stating that they were working as independent contractors and they were not asked to do anything illegal. On paper, they weren't prostitutes and in the early days of the business they never felt much like escorts, either.
Everyone that worked for Teresa became friends with one another. It was a fun, light-hearted atmosphere in the beginning. Teresa moved into a plantation-style house with four bedrooms, hardwood floors, a grand staircase, huge living rooms on the ground floor, and a big Jacuzzi in one of the bathrooms. With such a grand home, it's not surprising that her employees liked to hang out and store some of their clothes there. It was much like one big slumber party for a time. The sorority house-like atmosphere couldn't last forever, though.
Working for Teresa was very pleasant in the start. The girls set their own hours, working only when they wanted or needed to. When they were ready to quit for the night, they quit. Teresa had been the most flexible employer Kim had ever had. Soon, she was skipping classes to work day and night answering phones. Being the family's sole bread-winner, she felt as though she had no choice.
One night, Kim decided to tag along for a bachelor party at the Beau Rivage, a golf club in Wilmington, to observe her co-workers. About 17 doctors and lawyers from New York and New Jersey made it out for the party that night. By the end of the night, she was astounded. She figured that each girl had taken home around $900 plus tips. Once she saw how much more money she could make going out on calls instead of answering them, her decision became a lot easier.
On her first call, Kim used the name Mia. She spent a couple of hours with a man named Vinnie that owned a backhoe service in Raleigh. It only took a couple of hours for her to walk away hundreds of dollars richer and with a regular client.
She already knew some of the girls that worked for Teresa. They had gone to school together at the university. They all got along and had a great time together for a while. They threw parties much like the ones you would imagine seeing at a fraternity or sorority house. There was always plenty of alcohol to go around. Even a bathtub filled with something they called purple Jesus, which was vodka, grape juice, and whatever else could be found to mix in. Someone would walk the parties, administering acid to party-goers in the form of eye drops.
Margie and Al weren't getting any better over time. They were unable to return to work, leaving Kim to shoulder the burden. She became obsessed with earning enough to end her family's struggles once and for all. In her quest for more, she picked up some tips and tricks from the other girls on how to maximize her revenue and even started lifting watches, credit cards, or checks for extra money. Feeling backed into a corner, she did what she had to do to support her family.
When Kim went to work, she made the same show as the other girls about not offering "full service." When Amber got involved in the sex trade, she didn't bother with such formalities. She traded her first sex act for money at the young age of 16. She charged some of the neighborhood boys $75. Quickly, Amber earned a reputation for promiscuity. With her car, cash, and nice clothes, Kim had an even bigger reputation than her younger sister. Though the entire population of Nesbitt Court could see what she was doing, Margie and Al couldn't.
Her parents believed her to be driving a limo for the Hilton in Wilmington. They thought that she picked up VIPs from the airport and drove them to the hotel for good pay and large tips. When she finally opened up and told them the truth about how she was earning their living, there was nothing they could say. They were completely reliant on her. She was paying their bills, keeping a roof over their head, and she'd taken care of Amber until she came of age.
By the time Amber started working for Coed Confidential, Margie and Al already felt as though they had lost that battle with Kim. There was no use in fighting now. They both hoped for the best as Margie prayed that they were both just working their way through a phase. Al knew his youngest daughter and her tendency to be overtaken by religious fervor well. During these bouts of piousness, she would become more chaste.
The sisters were quite similar in many ways. So many in fact that it took others at Coed Confidential a while to notice exactly how different they really were. Kim was much more self-reliant, less affectionate, and never believed in anything besides herself. Amber, on the other hand, was more dependent, innocent, and sweet. Kim was in the business at Coed Confidential strictly for the money. Amber wanted nothing more in this world than to connect with others and make friends. She felt that she had found people she could connect with in the girls working for Teresa.
All Amber ever seemed to want was a family, with nothing in return. She just wanted to fit in somewhere, anywhere. In her search for acceptance, Amber would do anything that anyone asked of her. She only wanted people to like her. No matter what any of the girls at Teresa's may have needed, Amber was always there to make it happen.
After Amber started working there, the parties started getting bigger and more out of control. Gone were the days of the slumber party-like atmosphere. Heavier drugs were being introduced and more of the girls began to get addicted. Teresa started doing ecstasy. Then, she moved on to cocaine before she started smoking crack. Always seeming to seek a bigger high, she started doing heroin and eventually ended up on meth. She was far from the only one on a downward spiral.
Like she was placing a DoorDash order, Teresa would order enough drugs for everyone in attendance at her parties. It was at one of these wild events that Kim tried crack for the first time. My mother struggled with an addiction to this substance in the early 2000s and learned some distressing information about it in rehab. Crack quite literally kills the pleasure receptors in the brain until the only pleasure one addicted to the substance can enjoy is while they're on the drug. While it is possible for the pleasure receptors to start functioning normally again, it can take years of sobriety before this occurs. It's due to this unfortunate side effect that those coming down from the drug feel as though they're being pulled into a black hole of emptiness and depression. This low feeling can also extend to your own self-esteem.
When the girls would feel the creeping feeling of disparity crawling upon them as they came down, they began seeking out whatever else they could get their hands on to curb the feeling. Xanax was just one of many drugs that they tried to feel less miserable when coming down. As all the girls working for Teresa enjoyed different highs, there was always a wealth of substances to be found in the house to curb that encroaching darkness.
Whoever Teresa was buddied up with at the time depended upon what drug she was using. When she started doing heroin, Amber became her new best friend. Heroin was Amber's drug of choice. When a dealer showed her and Teresa how to shoot the drug up to get higher, she fell even further into its grasp. The fun, care-free element of Teresa's plantation-style home walked out the door as drugs like cocaine, crack, meth, and heroin started tearing through it.
The once happy girls with a wild streak transformed dramatically along with the feeling in the house. Kim was grabbing whatever extra coke she could find lying around to sell on the side for more money. Another of Teresa's girls, named Crystal, left Coed Confidential to start her own escort service called Sensual Pleasure. Her new business specialized in happy-ending massages. It was around the time of Crystal's departure that Amber was forced out of Coed Confidential. There were far too many complaints about her taking money and drugs lying around before leaving without performing any service. When she found herself cast out of Teresa's house and employment, she turned to Crystal and Sensual Pleasure for a job.
Throughout Amber's life, she had searched for love, family, and faith. She would find them all, and manage to lose them time and time again. Every person she met was an opportunity to be part of a family. For a short time after she left Crystal's employment, Amber stayed with pastor Charles West of the Open Door Church in the town of Leland. She would later say that it was while staying there that her withdrawal symptoms completely left her for the first and only time in her adult life. Calling the West family her own, she did well while staying there. The church dissipated after the sudden death of Pastor West. The unexpected loss led Amber to relapse.
She cleaned up again long enough to marry a man ten years her senior named Michael Wilhelm. When she experienced another relapse, they divorced. In 2005, Amber and Kim would lose their mother to the ulcer that had appeared years earlier. The ulcer had repeatedly ruptured from the time of its appearance until her death. After Margie passed away, Amber left North Carolina with her older sister. She and Kim moved to Florida along with a man named Mike Donato that Kim was involved with. Looking for a fresh start, Amber drifted off on her own soon after arriving.
She found her new beginning in a Christian congregation that she joined in Dunedin. Once she began attending their services, her and Kim started seeing a lot less of each other. When Amber joined the church, she was all in. She sang in the choir and attended women's retreats, throwing herself into the church heart and soul. At a diner near her home and church, she took a job serving tables. Dedicated to the new leaf she'd turned over, she also joined a church-affiliated group called Celebrate Recovery. The group helped those struggling to overcome addiction work through their issues openly. With this group, Amber even found herself able to open up about the childhood rape she had endured.
In Florida, Amber blossomed for a while. She fell in love and got married again in 2007, to a man named Don Costello. She truly felt that this marriage had been a promise from God. They moved into Don's condo, located in a desirable neighborhood just across the street from a top-rated public school. Once she and Don were married, she joined his church with him and began working in the nursery. The couple wanted more than anything to start a family of their own. A miscarriage and an adoption that fell through set their plans for family back, though.
When a family within their church had a son named Gabriel that they couldn't care for, Amber and Don were more than happy to take the baby in. They took care of him while Child Protective Services sorted the issue out. During this time in her life, Amber was happier than she had ever been. She even took Gabriel home to show off to her father and encouraged him to become more religious, too. The arrangement was only temporary, though, and Gabriel would eventually have to leave their care.
As hard as she tried to be a better person and live a straight and narrow, happy life, Amber seemed to uncontrollably slip back into her old habits. Whenever she found any kind of stability and joy in her life, she would compulsively destroy it. In March 2009, her marriage to Don disintegrated only 15 months after saying "I do." Once they divorced, Don decided to never bring Amber up again. He insisted that she was dishonest with him throughout their entire marriage. He only saw her once more after their marriage ended that spring, when she came to pick up some holiday decorations at Christmastime.
Later that same month, she was arrested for shoplifting toothpaste. She informed the arresting officer that she worked at the Clearwater Library. She was ordered to appear in court in February, but by that time she was long gone. Amber had already taken off to Long Island in hopes of cleaning herself up again and getting back on the righteous path she'd strayed from. While Kim wasn't very thrilled about her sister's arrival, her good friend, Dave Schaller, was ready to help.
Kim met Dave working behind the counter of a pizzeria in Northport, Long Island. She gave him her phone number after some flirting, but he never called. He was much too shy to call or even return to the pizzeria after the encounter. A few days later, he saw her again as he was driving down Montauk Highway. As she walked down the road, he whipped his car around in a U-turn to talk to her. Since he couldn't remember her name, he called out for the pizza girl. Right away, she remembered him and was happy to see him.
Dave was 32-years-old when he met Kim. He was self-taught in everything he knew, and he knew much. Cooking, sailing, mixed martial arts, and ultimate fighting, he had many talents. He had made some money fighting underground in basements and parking garages in Manhattan. Standing at 6 feet tall and weighing 250 pounds, he was a formidable opponent. He only participated in six fights before breaking his hands in the only loss he ever suffered. Around the time he was meeting Kim in the fall of 2009, he was also becoming a partner in his friend's used-car dealership in Babylon, Long Island. Thanks to his job at the car lot, he normally had as many as four cars sitting in his driveway at any given time.
At that time in his life, he was doing quite well for himself. Aside from the money he was making at the dealership, he was making even on the side selling pills. He suffered from chronic leg pain stemming from a nerve disorder called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSD). He was prescribed several opiates for the pain, including Oxycontin, but never took the pills unless he could no longer stand the pain. What he didn't take, he cashed in on, selling everything to a single dealer in one large bundle. He would make thousands every month selling his pain medication. It was this money that helped him to invest in his friend's dealership. It also paid for a cottage on America Avenue in West Babylon, a middle-class Italian neighborhood.
In the first few months of getting to know Kim, she seemed like a truly sweet person. She really listened and Dave felt that he could talk to her about all of the pain and sadness in his life. She could simply lay her head on his shoulder and tell him that everything would be okay and he always knew it would be true. The two went shopping together, went out to lunch, and went to the movies. Dave would even accompany her to the nail salon for a few laughs. Kim persuaded him to get his nails done and eyebrows waxed right alongside her.
He was given a saturated version of her life story. He knew that she grew up in Wilmington and that she had six children by that point. He was also aware that three of her children still lived back in North Carolina, while the other three were on Long Island. She told him nothing of her past with drugs and prostitution. She was, however, honest about the fact that she had a boyfriend named Mike Donato she had been living with before his incarceration. Dave would later learn that Kim and Mike had signed their rights off to the three children they had on Long Island. Mike's parents were taking care of them.
Dave knew that their relationship wasn't built to last. Kim had told him quite plainly that she had a boyfriend in jail for passing bad checks and she intended on going back to him when he got out. For the time being, they were free and clear to hook up. Though he knew that she was not really his girlfriend, he still wanted to show her off to his friends. He even brought her as his date to a friend's wedding, taking her shopping for a dress to wear beforehand.
During their relationship, Dave took care of Kim in a way Mike never could have. He bought her a cell phone and put her on his friends and family plan. He even sent presents to her kids in North Carolina and took calls from Marissa when Kim didn't answer her. Marissa wanted her mother to marry Dave and have a "normal" life. Through phone calls, he got to know Amber better than any of the rest of Kim's family. While Amber was struggling in Florida, she would call to talk to her sister, rarely getting through. Then, she would call the man she referred to as her brother-in-law to lament her situation.
Dave felt for Amber as he listened to her despondency in those calls. He wanted to help her just as much as he'd helped Kim and her children. While Kim wasn't thrilled about the prospect of her sister coming out to Long Island, Dave wanted to fly her out anyway. He could get her into a rehab program and help her turn her life back around. He could give her a place to stay until she got into rehab and once she was released. As he heard her talk about the dangerous men she ran across, drug deals that went bad, and debts mounting so far over head she couldn't see her way past them, he resolved to help however he could.
Dave sent money for a plane ticket, but Amber used the money to get high instead. The next time he sent her a plane ticket and she finally arrived at the MacArthur Airport in Islip in February 2010. Though she held reservations about Amber's arrival, Kim cried at the sight of her little sister after nearly three years. When she walked through the gate, Amber only weighed about 80 pounds. She was covered in track marks, missing many of her teeth, and smelled as though she hadn't bathed in weeks. When Dave looked at her, he saw none of that. He only saw a smaller, much more vulnerable version of Kim. He saw a version of the woman he cared for that needed him so much more.
Though he wondered if she might steal something and sneak away with it, Dave allowed Amber to stay at his house until he found her a bed in a rehab facility. To curb her withdrawal symptoms, he gave her some of his Oxycontin and Suboxone. With only one bed in the house, Kim, Dave, and Amber all three piled up in it together. He felt guilty asking her to sleep on the couch after bringing her all the way out there, promising help. It took a little time, but they finally tracked down her records and got her into a detox center at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Then, she moved on to a 30-day rehab at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson.
By the time Amber entered rehab, Mike Donato had been released from jail. He and Kim were back together, and Dave saw much less of her than before. He wasn't bothered, though. He knew what their relationship was when it blossomed. It was never meant to be permanent and Kim had always been transparent about that.
While Dave didn't seem to mind Kim's newfound devotion to her boyfriend, he did mind her lack of devotion to her sister. He made a point to visit her every Saturday and Sunday, but Kim never once went to see her. He played nice with Kim when he spoke to her on the phone, but inside he was furious. It should've been Kim visiting and looking after her own sister, not Dave. He was finally starting to see just how little Kim cared for Amber.
During her stay, Amber made a friend in a man named Bjorn Brodsky, who had checked in the week after her. He was known by his friends as Bear, funny for a man with such a wafer-thin appearance. Though he was scraggly, he was also lumbering, standing every bit as tall as Dave. Bjorn means bear in Swedish, so when friends were unable to pronounce his name, he just told them to call him Bear. His long struggle with drugs had led him to St. Charles to clean himself up for his newborn son. As the baby's mother was not into his kind of lifestyle, she didn't want her child exposed to it. If Bear couldn't straighten out his life, then there could be no place for him in his son's.
Once Amber and Bear were released, they began living with Dave at his cottage in West Babylon. The three got to know each other quite well. Though Dave's medication was a well-guarded secret, Bear found out. At first this angered Dave, but the two ended up bonding even further over their new secret. For the first time in a while, Amber felt as though she had found a family with her two new friends. They formed a very tight-knit group, and on occasion Kim would even grace them with her presence. When she came over to escape her boyfriend, the four of them would all go out together. While Kim and Dave would have lunch, Amber and Bear would find something to do around the neighborhood surrounding Dave's cottage.
It was during this time that Dave finally began to wonder about Kim. Was she only using him for a free phone, money, and someone to babysit her little sister? She only seemed to come around when it was most convenient. When Amber needed her, she couldn't be found. The more Dave saw how she treated her own family, the more he wondered about what kind of person she really was.
One night on a trip to a drive-in movie theater, Amber began nudging and urging her sister to ask Dave a question on both of their behalf. She finally asked if he had ever heard of Craigslist. He had. She asked if he was aware that there were escorts advertising on there. He was. Now she wanted to know what he would think of her if she were to do something like that. Dave masked his disdain, claiming that he had no reason to be mad about it. She wasn't his girlfriend.
When they arrived back at Dave's house, Amber clarified that Kim wasn't only asking for herself. She wanted to know if Dave and Bear would protect her if she started posting ads. The men were on the fence at first, but decided to help just to make sure the girls were safe. They would take none of the money, allowing Kim and Amber to keep every penny they made. Dave was no pimp by any stretch of the imagination. He really hoped that Amber would save her money and get her own apartment.
When the girls took to the internet, Amber revived her old name from Coed Confidential, Carolina. With her southern accent, the name worked even better for her up north. She knew the men on Long Island loved to hear the way she spoke. When she was on phone calls with potential clients, she would make sure to work her southern accent and charm to its fullest. In a northern city, she found a niche all her own and took advantage of it.
In the beginning, the three roommates had devised a plan that prevented Amber from having to have sex with any of her clients. The two imposing-looking men would play the angry husband routine, storming in after payment was collected and scaring the johns off. They recalled to Robert Kolker that some of these men ran out the door completely naked, leaving their clothes behind along with their money. One man, roughly the size of a linebacker, refused to leave without his money, causing Bear to break character. He demanded that Amber give the man his money back so he would just leave. These scams earned Amber some very scornful reviews on sites such as Erotic Review, UtopiaGuide, and Longislanderotic.com. Men would anonymously come forward with claims of being robbed by men with baseball bats after arriving to meet with Kim and Amber both. They urged others to stay away.
Kim went by the name Italia on Craigslist. Sometimes she would work with her sister, sometimes she would work alone. It didn't take long for Kim to start taking advantage of Amber, knowing her sister would let her. Kim would go for long stretches without working at all. Then she would come to her little sister for money. Amber was always willing to help.
It's not as though she were unable to make her own money on Craigslist. By upselling her johns, Kim could make up to $500 in a single call. With just two calls, she could make enough to get by for a week or two. Knowing that Amber was making more on every call she worked, she decided to just hit her up for cash instead. When she didn't feel like working for weeks on end, she would treat Amber as though she were her own personal ATM.
Kim had her own key to Dave's house, allowing her to come and go as she pleased. And she did. Whenever she was in need of money, she came walking through the door. If Amber didn't have anything to give her, Kim would suggest that she post an ad. Many times arguments would break out between the sisters, with Amber relenting each and every time. Much like Amber had felt entitled to Kim's belongings as a child, Kim felt that she was entitled to her sister's. The only difference was, Amber was only snatching some T-shirts and bottles of perfume. Kim was forcing her sister to work on nights she didn't want to just so she could have the money.
Even when Amber would post ads to make money for herself, Kim would come calling. When she found that her younger sister had recently worked, she would come over to encourage her to go shopping. Of course, Amber was paying. Dave and Bear could clearly see how she really felt about Amber. Her sister was nothing more than a burden to her until she needed her. The fact that she could never deny this led to much guilt later on, when Amber was no longer around to exploit.
Like many things, when the implosion of the happy home happened, it started small. First, Bear started using again. He hadn't been off of heroin long when he relapsed hard. Once Bear was off the wagon, Amber fell off right behind him. Kim was the next one to start using again, slipping right back into her old crack habit. As Kim would scrape together whatever cocaine she could find to cook up, she would glare at Amber for shooting up. Dave was the only responsible adult left in the house, for a time anyway.
On a warm day in June 2010, Dave decided that he wanted to try heroin, too. With Kim and Amber both gone, he and Bear were left alone for the day. Bear refused him at first. He didn't want to drag the last reasonable adult in the house down into their spiral. Bear finally relented when Dave threatened to take all of it. He said he didn't know how much a guy his size would need, so he would just take it all if Bear refused to help. For his first time, Dave needed two small bags. Before long, he was up to a whole bundle every three to four hours.
In his time doing heroin, Bear had never seen anyone Amber's size with the kind of tolerance for drugs that she had. By the end of that summer, she was already up to 20-30 bags a day, or 2-3 bundles. Due to her high consumption of heroin, she awoke most mornings terribly sick. Every morning, the group had a routine. Bear and Dave would go out on the long trek for dope. If Amber couldn't stand to wait the three hours it would take for them to get back, she would tag along. Most days, she was too sick to even think about a long car ride.
A day's supply for them was 6-7 bundles, costing anywhere from $250-$500. While this typically lasted them an entire day, it wasn't always enough. Occasionally, Dave would end up back on the road for more at 10:30 or 11:00 at night. Amber was never sober anymore. Half of her day consisted of meeting with johns from Craigslist, while the other half she would be nodding off on the couch.
The drugs had a different effect on Dave. He became very hyperactive. When Kim would find the time to come visit, he would finally have someone around as fluttery as himself. She would smoke crack as he shot heroin, and the two would carry on energetically.
Dave lost 40 pounds during this dark period in his life. When he looked at Amber, all 80 pounds of her, he was shocked back into reality. He had brought her there with every intention of helping her clean up her life. Now, here she sat beside him, doing hundreds of dollars worth of dope a day. She was arguably worse off than she had been before she came to Long Island. For the first time since meeting the Overstreet sisters, Dave realized that this had been their life before he entered. They were simply returning to the status quo.
He finally decided that it was time to fix this. As Amber kicked, screamed, and cried, he ordered her into the car. He was taking her back to rehab. It wasn't too late to help her turn it all around. When she tried to refuse, she was given an ultimatum. Get in the car, or live on the streets. She chose to climb into the car and ride to Beth Israel in Manhattan. He dropped her off at the detox center, but she didn't stay for long.
Within just a few days, she returned to Dave's house and to her habits. Plainly seeing that she wouldn't get clean on his terms, he stopped pushing the issue. After all, you cannot help someone that doesn't want to be helped.
At this point, Amber was the sole earner in the house. As her addiction intensified, the pretense of not having sex with clients fell away. She was averaging $4500 a week posting ads on Craigslist. That was more than enough to cover her $3500-a-week habit.
Dave sold every single car at his dealership and closed it down. Soon after, anything of value in his home was sold off. As Dave was emptying his home of all its valuables, Bear was experiencing intense paranoia. He was convinced that everyone around him was out to kill him. The ambience shifted from familial to something else entirely. Once everything that wasn't nailed to the ground was sold, it looked like nothing more than a drug den.
Neighbors of the pleasant, middle-class area were all too aware of what they considered to be a whorehouse, crack house, and heroin den. The police were called constantly, making it difficult for Bear's extreme paranoia to not catch on. They started keeping the lights shut off at night and the curtains drawn. Using night vision goggles, they would check out the windows for anyone that could be trying to sabotage them. Their paranoia only grew worse when Amber decided to take an outcall one night.
That awful night Dave received a call from Amber. She was in tears as she told her friend and protector that she had gotten hurt. He raced to his car and sped down the Southern State Parkway to get her. When he found her, she was on the side of the road with her mouth bleeding. She said that the john had beaten her up because she refused to perform oral sex on him.
When Bear was arrested in August 2010, life changed for the group. Amber worked hard to raise the money for his bail as he languished from withdrawal symptoms in his cell. Three days after the arrest, he was released on a $3800 bond that Amber raised completely on her own. Though Amber was convinced that the issue had been resolved, Bear was more experienced at dealing with the police than she was. He knew a raid was inevitable. Aside from that, he was concerned about his own drug and alcohol consumption. All of it was a misguided attempt at assuaging the guilt he felt about not being there for his son.
When Bear decided it was time to leave the cottage, Amber was despondent. She couldn't take any more abandonment in her life. She almost felt as though she had been betrayed when he checked himself into the North Shore University Hospital. She had risked her neck to earn his bail money. How could he just leave her after that?
Soon after Bear left on a mission to earn a place in his child's life, Amber met with the man that would end her life. She had an early call at 8:00 on the morning of September 2, 2010. Afterward, she rode into Manhattan with Dave to get some dope for the day. They spent some time at a friend's house, getting high and watching movies for a while. Somewhere around 4:00-5:00 that evening, she posted an ad to Craigslist and got some responses, but nothing solid. She was on and off the phone with the same man for quite some time. He would call and they would talk for a bit before hanging up, but he always ended up calling back.
It took until the end of the day, but she finally got him on the hook. As she typically did, Amber worked her Southern accent to the best of her ability when she described her body to the mysterious stranger. Most men, she had to upsell over the phone, giving them some line about her landlord being after her for rent money. This guy was different. He was offering a lot more money than girls in Amber's position typically made in a single night. For $1500, he would pick her up from Dave's house at around 11:00 that night and have her back home between 6:00-7:00 the next morning.
Leaving the house for a call was not something Amber normally did. Especially after her recent run-in with an angry john. Dave didn't know why she seemed to be so trusting of this guy. Maybe she just felt that they needed the money. At about 11:00, Dave walked her to the corner of their lawn by the mailbox. They embraced before she walked to the car parked just up ahead. He had no way of knowing that this would be the last time he'd ever see her again.
When three days passed with no word from Amber, Dave was more than concerned. He called Kim, who was visiting North Carolina at the time. She was much less concerned than he was, assuring him that Amber would be back. She always came back, eventually. After a few more days, he called Kim again.
Kim didn't know what to do. Given her past, going to the police wasn't an option for her. All she felt that she could do was hope that her sister had found a new crowd to run with. Maybe she had made some new friends to stay with for a bit.
Bear was told about the situation while still in rehab. He was just as worried as Dave. He also felt terribly guilty about the way he had left things with Amber. After he checked into the facility the two had parted on bad terms, with Amber feeling dejected. Every three hours, he was on the counselors to allow him to call Dave. He diligently checked throughout the day for any word on Amber. He just knew that she had been killed. As much as Dave didn't want to hear it, Bear told him it was the most likely outcome.
After Amber disappeared, Kim became a very hard woman to track down. She changed her phone number constantly and avoided her email and voicemail at all cost. On a rare occasion, she would send out a text, but after a certain point no one ever expected to hear from her. Her Facebook page would go unvisited for three to four months at a time. Kim had completely fallen off the grid after her sister vanished. Only every once in a little while would she pop back up again, assuring everyone that she hadn't fallen off, she was just hard to find.
Even her children would go for months at a time without seeing or hearing from their mother. They had no way of knowing whether or not she was safe. For all they knew, they may never hear from her again.
According to Robert Kolker, Kim had a way of muddying the waters when she spoke about her life or her sister. It revealed a much more calculating side of her. Kim always needed to make herself out to be someone that she really was not. Rather than tell people that Dave Schaller had been the one to bring Amber to Long Island and put her in rehab, she said it was all her. Though she never reported her sister missing because of her past record, she somehow had a way of making even that sound better.
One thing no one could ever quite get over was that Kim had promised to bring her sister's ashes home to North Carolina. She never returned with them. She never had an answer for what she had done with them or why she hadn't taken them home, either.
This is not to say that Kim didn't love her sister and wasn't deeply effected by her disappearance and murder. Feeling the guilt of being the one to expose her to the sex trade, she took it harder than anyone. There was also the guilt of having treated her the way she had in life. Kim sank further into her addictions and her risky lifestyle after Amber went missing. Finding out that her little sister had been murdered on a call didn't help matters any. She was running from her guilt every bit as much as she was running from others. Instead of reaching out for love and support, she receded into herself, getting high to make it from one day to the next.
It was while visiting with her father in a Wilmington nursing home that Kim learned the news of the bodies discovered on Gilgo Beach. A friend called her cell phone to say that she needed to turn on the news. At that point, she had been dodging calls from Dave for months. The moment she heard about the four bodies, she already knew Amber was one of them. It was only a matter of time before the Suffolk County Police made a positive identification using a swab of Kim's DNA.
She made it back to Long Island in time for Amber's funeral. Held in Lindenhurst, Dave had largely arranged the service himself. He received money from a pastor to bury her cremated remains. Dave passed Amber's ashes along to Kim with the money meant to bury her. She promised that her sister would be buried in North Carolina, where another service would be held. No one ever saw Amber's ashes again and no other services were ever held for her.
After the service in Long Island, Kim disappeared into the wind again. Bear exited rehab and eventually ended up moving on to a commune. Dave went through a round of rehab and got sober. Like a childhood friend of Amber's, Dave thought that Kim had taken the money along with Amber's ashes and split.
It would seem that Kim stayed distant until meeting the other grieving family members online. She even joined them in New York to visit the site of the discovery on Ocean Parkway. Kim stayed in touch with the other women about as much as she stayed in touch with her own friends and family. She would occasionally pop up in chats or comments, letting everyone know she was alive and well. By that point, Kim was on a mission all her own.
She was determined to catch the man that had killed her sister, herself. From her own experience in dealing with the police, she knew that Amber's case wouldn't get any real attention. She wanted to find the man on her own and put a stop to what he was doing to women like her and Amber. The other women on Facebook tried to urge her not to do something so dangerous. What would she do if she really did meet this guy? Did she not think he would kill her too? Regardless, Kim continued posting her ads, even making her intentions known publicly in an interview.
This case only gets stranger as time goes on. After the discovery of the Gilgo Four, the search for Shannan Gilbert continued. In that search, more bodies were found. Corruption was uncovered within the Suffolk County Police Department. Lines already drawn in the sand in the Oak Island Beach community became more defined as the people became more divided. Look out for the third and final installment of this large and intriguing case. For a much deeper dive into the case, look for Robert Kolker's book, Lost Girls.