Wilmington Star News: ‘Lost Girls' with local link wows the critics

Robert Kolker's true-crime story "Lost Girls" (Harper, $25.99) has been drawing some terrific reviews since it came out last month. It was an Amazon "Best Book" for July, and Mimi Swartz in The New York Times called it "a gothic whodunit for the Internet age."

The book tells the story of a possible serial killing on Long Island. In December 2010, the corpses of four missing women were found wrapped in burlap and buried in dunes near Ocean Beach, N.Y. The remains of a fifth woman were found a year later in a nearby marsh.

All five women had been prostitutes in their 20s. All five had advertised their services online on Craigs­list or its competitor, Backpage. Police suspect a serial killer is involved, but no arrests have been made.

This Big Apple tale has a local angle: One of the dead women was Amber Lynn Overstreet (later Costello), a former Wilmington resident.

Although born in Pennsylvania, Overstreet spent much of her childhood and teen years living in Carolina Beach – which Kolker describes as a "redneck Riviera" – and later in the Nesbitt Courts housing project. Sexually molested by a neighbor when she was 5, she grew up troubled.

When she was still a teenager, an older sister to whom she was close recruited her to work in an "escort" agency, entertaining bachelor parties at golf clubs and on Bald Head Island. The money on a good night was much better than either girl could make in a week waiting tables.

Much of that money, however, went to drugs, which were an integral part of the lifestyle. Amber Overstreet ended up addicted to heroin. She tried to kick the habit, and at one point moved to Florida, joined a church, married and planned to have a family. Then she backslid, re-entered the lifestyle and headed for New York. She was last seen alive on Sept. 2, 2010, leaving her home in North Babylon, N.Y., to meet an unknown client.

Kolker, a contributing editor for New York magazine, chose to tell his account through the victims' eyes, interviewing dozens of families, friends and others who knew the dead women. (Disclosure: I emailed Kolker some material on the history of Nesbitt Courts and got a half-sentence worth of credit in the acknowledgements.)

"Lost Girls" will add fodder to the current debate over human trafficking and whether prostitution should be legalized. One thing is clear, though: These five victims will never be faceless again.

- Ben Steelman, Wilmington Star News (NC)