Chelsea King was a senior in high school. She was an academic leader among her peers with a strong conviction to make the world a better place. Often thinking of activities that would benefit her community, Chelsea frequently set these ideas in motion with the help of friends and family. Beautiful, intelligent, selfless, and dependable, Chelsea was the teenage daughter most parents can only dream about.
Then one day she failed to come home. Her parents began a frantic search for their daughter but found only her car. As Chelsea was a minor and had an impeccable track record of always being in touch with family and friends, police immediately formed search parties and informed residents of the area about the missing girl by way of television and helicopter announcements.
Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain. A few days later Chelsea’s body was found in a shallow grave.
But police had arrested one John Albert Gardner, Jr., a bipolar sex offender whose mother lived in the area near Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Several witnesses had seen Gardner on the trials the day of Chelsea’s disappearance and soon enough DNA from Chelsea’s discarded clothing would be matched to Gardner.
John Gardner realized the death penalty was a very real possibility and made a deal with investigators: he would show them where to find the body of Amber Dubois, another young teen who had disappeared without a trace the year before Chelsea.
Veteran true crime author Caitlin Rother has taken the tough task of recounting Gardner’s story in her recently published book Lost Girls. Despite her best efforts, Chelsea’s and Amber’s parents refused to talk with Rother about their daughters’ murders but Gardner’s mother did, in fact, openly discuss her son’s long history of mental illness – which in turn has put Caitlin Rother in a direct line for cruel criticism.
According to the multitude of critics, Caitlin Rother is sympathetic to a two-time child killer and too readily accepts his mental difficulties as an excuse for murder.
Well, they are wrong. Plain and simple.
First, Rother wrote the book because, as a mother, it frightened her that something so horrific could happen in an otherwise safe place to such extremely low risk persons, especially teenage girls. Secondly, she was appalled at a system she believes failed to offer enough resources to someone so obviously mentally ill.
Now that said – quite frankly, I don’t fully agree with Ms. Rother on the latter. I do think there are numerous resources out there for the emotionally and mentally disturbed but, like any other service or product, they do have their limits when it comes to supplying demand. And, more importantly, in my opinion, weak psychosis isn’t an excuse for violent crime. From what I’ve seen, usually the ones who truly couldn’t control themselves were found standing over the bodies, weapon in hand, and covered in blood. They didn’t have the competency to “hunt” for a victim then bury the body where it is well-concealed.
But I can’t understand why Rother is taking a beating over this book. So what if she allowed Cathy Osborn (Gardner’s mother) to contribute? The King and the Dubois families were invited to give their input as well but declined – not even allowing photos of the daughters to be included. Why? You can’t stop the story being told, why not share all the wonderful things about your child and speak out against the vile creature that took her life?
I’m also aware these families also disliked Caitlin Rother’s visit to a California prison to interview him, proclaiming they were a violation of prison visitation guidelines. With all due respect, I believe even killers have the right to make statements, via face-to-face or letter. And again I say, why did you choose not to contribute and make your voices your thoughts?
When all is said and done, making a book “taboo” only increases its sales and that is exactly what these folks are doing. My heart grieves for the parents of these girls and I do not even pretend to know what I would do should I ever find myself walking their journey, but controversy sales – no ifs, ands, or buts. Combine those characteristics with masterful, powerful writing from a writer who has long proven her sense of integrity and you’ve got a bestselling book.
Lost Girls by Caitlin Rother is sure to be one of the best you’ll read this year. Hands down!