Beyond the Headlines – The Craigslist Killer

Computers have changed the way we all do business.

The market place, that was, once-upon-a-time at the physical centre of a town is now virtually global. We can buy and sell anything from anywhere, anytime.
One of the more well known digital marketplaces is Craigslist. This is a very popular website where you can purchase the newest of goods from tech giants and, sometimes services from the oldest of professions.

For Philip Markoff it was a tool that allowed him to commit crimes while living a double life.


The promising student

Philip Markoff grew up in a small town in New York, where he excelled academically and participated in a great variety of student groups and activities. After graduating from high school, he became a pre-med student at The State University of New York’s (SUNY) Albany campus. Markoff spent a lot of time focusing on his studies and volunteering in the emergency room of the Albany Medical Centre Hospital. In his free time, he enjoyed staying up all night playing poker with friends. He did however have a reputation for being a serious player who did not take losing lightly.

In 2005, Markoff met Megan McAllister while they were volunteering at the hospital. Both were students at SUNY and soon became college sweethearts. Markoff graduated in just three years with a bachelor’s degree in biology and was accepted in to Boston University’s School of Medicine. McAllister had also planned on attending medical school, but because she was not accepted by the schools she wanted to attend, the couple moved to Boston and Megan put her plans on hold. In 2008, Markoff and McAllister were engaged, and set their wedding date for August 14, 2009. McAllister kept herself busy with wedding planning, while Markoff attended medical school and frequented casinos – racking up over $130,000 in debt.


The attacks

In April 2009, Boston police were investigating two separate attacks on women who had advertised erotic services on Craigslist and had planned to meet their “client” at a luxury hotel.

On April 10, 2009, 29-year-old Trisha Leffler, an escort, was gagged, bound, and robbed at gunpoint at a Westin hotel by a man who had responded to an ad she placed on Craigslist. Four days later, Julissa Brisman was found murdered in the doorway of her Marriott hotel room. It appeared that she had been trying to fight off her attacker, when she was shot multiple times. She had placed an ad on Craigslist offering erotic massage services and had scheduled an appointment to meet a man named “Andy” at her hotel room.

Police believed the same attacker was linked to the attempted robbery of Cynthia Melton, an exotic dancer offering lap dance services. Markoff had scheduled an appointment to meet her at a Holiday Inn hotel in Rhode Island through the usage of a disposable mobile phone. The three incidents were similar in that the motive appeared to be robbery, the attacks were on women offering sexual services, the dates were close together, and two of the women had been bound with plastic cords. Through all of this, Markoff’s fiancée remained in the dark – believing that he was “beautiful inside and out.”
Through security camera footage and electronic evidence, police determined that the person of interest in the three incidents was a young, blonde, clean-cut man, about 6 feet tall. Despite the surveillance footage, it was not going to be an easy investigation.


Solving a crime

Computers have undoubtedly changed the nature of marketplaces. They have also changed the ways law enforcement investigates crime.
Police traced an email that had been sent to Julissa in response to her Craigslist ad and the electronic trail led them to Philip Markoff’s Boston apartment. Police followed Markoff for several days, and finally pulled him over while he was driving to a local casino with his fiancée, Megan. He was accused of murder, armed robbery, and kidnapping. During the investigation of Markoff’s apartment, police located a gun, bullets matching those found in the Brisman case, plastic zip-ties, duct tape, a laptop with communication to Brisman, several mobile phones, and several pairs of stolen women’s underwear – two of which belonged to Leffler. Upon discovery of the evidence, Markoff was arraigned on murder and gun charges for the slaying of Brisman; Markoff pled not guilty and his trial was delayed until March 2011.


Not so happily ever-after

Initially, Megan McAlister stood by Markoff and believed he was innocent; but, in June 2009, she visited him in jail to end their relationship. While in jail, Markoff made several, unsuccessful suicide attempts; however, on August 15, 2010, Markoff was found dead in his jail cell – one year and one day after the date his wedding was to have taken place. It was determined that he had committed suicide through horrific self-inflicted wounds and suffocation.
Philip Markoff’s medical training ensured that it would be impossible for him to be resuscitated.



By: R. J. Hawksworth