“And they were never seen alive again.” It was the sentence that stopped my fingers on the keyboard.
You see, for decades, fifty years in fact, the fate of three young women was a mystery. All that was known about their “disappearance” was that the last recorded sighting of them was with Tony Costa, a man who would later be convicted for the murders of two women and guilty in the deaths of three more, as well as the disappearances and presumed murders of as many as another eight. So, when investigators went looking for these three women to determine if Costa had had a hand in their demise, the women were nowhere to be found. Or so it was thought. And in 1969, who knows how hard the police and prosecution looked.
Imagine; a blue-suited cop with a badge and a gun, perhaps accompanied by an investigator wearing the standard-issue trench coat and fedora, come knocking at the door of a Haight Ashbury commune. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to envision a troupe of long-haired hippies, clad in torn jeans and leather vests, jumping out of windows and fleeing back doors amid a cloud of marijuana smoke as the police stood at the front door.
“Any of you creeps seen this girl?”
The cop pushes a faded photograph into the bloodshot eyes of the unfortunate too stoned to flee with the others.
“Nope, never seen her,” says the kid, wiping the hair from his forehead, then perhaps muttering, “Pig,” under his breath as he slams the door.
Or picture if you will, another set of investigators not even sure where to look for two teenage girls who ran away from high school, and home – perhaps somewhere in Pennsylvania, perhaps somewhere near Sarasota, Florida, depending on which story Costa was telling them at the time. In their “search” for these girls, they didn’t even attempt a road trip; they merely made a few calls and, unable to locate either girl, declared them missing – two more presumed dead at the horrific hands of Costa.
Now jump ahead fifty years when Liza and I are digging back into the story and Costa’s victims, trying to learn their fate. As we read through a blizzard of papers on the case – trial transcripts, police records, investigators’ reports, press coverage, Costa’s own prison diary, an unpublished book heavily sourced by Costa, and a variety of websites focused on serial killers – we gleaned nothing new; every chronicler since 1969 had simply cut and paste the sentence, “and they were never seen alive again.”
But when it came time for me to write the same sentence, something tugged at my journalistic roots and stopped my fingers on the keyboard. That something was — I didn’t know the sentence to be true. In fact, I could almost envision one of the women, perhaps all three, reading “The Babysitter” only to see her name and learn of her untimely death and exclaim, “Not so fast, Jennifer!”
So I did what was unavailable to those investigators in 1969 – I Googled, I cross-referenced with Facebook and Ancestry.com, I employed online search engines, phone books, and high school yearbooks — until I came up with a short list of women with the same or similar names and then started calling and sending letters and emails.
And sure enough, I found them. All three. Well, I found their sisters and daughters – each of the three had since died, but none at the hands of Tony Costa.
A sister of one of the women, when I told her how history had recorded her sister’s murder by the Cape Cod Cannibal, told me, “I can picture [her] sitting there with a scotch, a cigarette in her hand, slapping her leg and laughing hysterically saying, ‘you mean that wuss from Provincetown was a serial killer? No way. I could have taken him down with one arm behind my back!’”
Oh, that she had had the chance.