In May 2010, a 911 call from a 24-year-old escort, Shannan Gilbert, sparked a gruesome discovery: a possible serial killer was haunting the Long Island community.
Gilbert had vanished after visiting a high-end client, and her 23-minute-long 911 call led police to assume foul play. But while searching for Gilbert, police instead discovered the bodies of four other sex workers buried in the sand on Jones Beach Island. Gilbert’s remains were found in December in 2011, in addition to several other bodies — there's thought to be 10 victims so far.
The killer has been dubbed several names, including the “Long Island Serial Killer,” the “Gilgo Beach Killer,” and the “Craiglist Ripper.” This shadowy killer, who has yet to be caught, is the inspiration for author Cristina Alger's new novel “Girls Like Us.”
The book takes a fictionalized look at the murders through the character Nell Flynn, an FBI agent and daughter of a recently deceased local detective. Flynn grapples with questions about her mother’s murder years earlier as she dives into an investigation of the murders of two women, where she uncovers possible ties linking her father to the slayings.
Alger said during an interview with Oxygen.com that she wanted to write the story with Flynn as the narrator because of the lack of representation of women as lead characters on crime shows.
“She’s sort of an insider and an outsider,” Alger said. “She grew up in Suffolk County, her dad’s a police officer, she knows all of the people that are involved in the investigation, but she’s also been out of Suffolk County for 10 years so she has kind of a clear eye when she looks at the whole picture.”
Turning the true crime case into a work of fiction required about nine months of research by Alger. She said in addition to online research on the cases, she spoke to police officers and medical examiners to add to procedural aspects of the story.
Another theme explored in the novel is corruption in local law enforcement.
"The police chief of Suffolk County was found guilty of obstructing justice," Alger explained. "I became very interested in his relationship with this case and the sort of undercurrent of corruption in his department."
The disgraced former chief, James Burke, served time for beating up a man who stole sex toys, ammunition, and porn from his police car and for later trying to cover up his misdeeds. Alger says Burke inspired a character in her novel.
The real case and theories about the killer are still a topic of conversation for locals, according to Alger. However, no one has been charged in connection to the murders and the case remains unsolved.
For readers looking for a conclusion to the case, although fictional, "Girls Like Us" is available now.
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