But, just as important to Rother, in addition to the cautionary tales of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, was the chance to delve into the mind and history of the man who murdered them.
John Albert Gardner kidnapped Amber while she walked to school in Feb., 2009, then raped and stabbed her to death before burying her body in a remote location near Pala.
Then, Gardner struck again in 2010 when he cornered Poway teen Chelsea King as she jogged at Lake Hodges, and then raped and strangled her to death.
“I was able to obtain a lot of exclusive information that was not in the mainstream media,” said Rother, a former investigative reporter with the San Diego Union -Tribune.
“Lost Girls,” which debuted this week and has already created a stir among Amber and Chelsea’s families and friends who declined to participate in the book, offers a riveting glance into the life of John Albert Gardner who admitted to raping and murdering the girls.
Rother insists her goal in writing the book was to shine a light on the mind of a serial killer.
“There were a lot of mistakes to go around. I wrote this book to prevent something like this from ever happening again. To give the community a chance to take a proactive stance (when confronted by a similar situation),” Rother said, acknowledging the “tremendous groundswell of anger” that citizens experienced after the killings.
On the surface, Gardner’s story confounded the public, considering his mother’s work as a psychiatric nurse.
“Cathy (Osborn) is really the linchpin in this whole thing. There’s a lot to her story. And her story is his story,” Rother explained. “Things are not always what they seem. He fooled his family.”
Rother’s telling in this book — her eighth true-crime novel — is filled with intimate details about Gardner’s upbringing and his family. She details a mental health system that did not adequately diagnose or treat Gardner. And she explores a series of complex relationships that may have contributed to Gardner’s downward spiral into treachery.
Osborn, much-scrutinized by the public, emerges every bit as much as conflicted as her son. At times, she was an enabler in denial, and at others, a mother desperately seeking help for her son.
Similarly complicated is the picture of Gardner, who, despite a lifetime of anti-social behaviors, managed to earn the trust of women who loved and cherished him.
The contradictory images of Gardner who had fooled so many are what fuels the story and are crucial to understanding what the monsters around us look like, Rother said.
“During my interview with him, I never would have known he was a sexual predator. But he told me things. He told me what his thought process was (in these killings),” she said.
Certainly not up for scrutiny are Amber and Chelsea, whose lives were pure and uncomplicated until the day they crossed paths with Gardner.
Rother said the idea of families revisiting the anguish of their loss with this book pained her during her writing. She added that her intention is not to profit from pain, rather educate the community.
“I don’t want the parents to have to relive this. But, my intentions are to educate the public on what makes a sexual predator. We don’t want to think about this. These are horrible things. And it’s normal to want to look away,” Rother said.
Rother added she didn’t know how the families would feel about the book at the time of the interview, but Facebook posts via Chelsea’s Light have suggested that the book was unauthorized.
The family is calling upon Rother to relinquish her earnings from the book and donate them to a victim’s rights charity.
Despite the controversies, ultimately the answers to what went wrong lies somewhere between the pages of Rother’s compelling, panoramic telling of two tragedies of two girls lost to their families and the world forever.
Kerri S. Mabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @kerrimabee.