Book Review

Following the trail of ‘Craigslist killer’

The accused Philip Markoff The accused Philip Markoff
By Chuck Leddy
November 20, 2009

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Last April, a Las Vegas prostitute who had flown to Boston was robbed at gunpoint in her Copley Square hotel room. She had placed an ad on Craigslist seeking Boston clients, and a young man had responded. Four days later, on April 13, Julissa Brisman, 25, a New York model who specialized in “sensual massage,’’ traveled to Boston after placing an ad for her services on Craigslist. The next evening, a young man arrived at Brisman’s Copley Square hotel room and allegedly shot her to death.

The Brisman murder shocked Boston and the nation, especially because the killer had used the popular website Craigslist to arrange the meeting with his victim. As the police sifted through evidence and began focusing on a single suspect, Philip Markoff, 22, a medical student at Boston University, critics in law enforcement and elsewhere began castigating Craigslist for insufficient “monitoring of their adult and erotic ads.’’

“Seven Days of Rage’’ coauthor Maria Cramer covered day-by-day developments in the so-called Craigslist killer case for the Globe, where she is a reporter. Coauthor Paul LaRosa is a CBS television producer who covered the story for the CBS newsmagazine “48 Hours.’’ Their meticulously researched and accessible narrative looks at the story from every angle, including those of the victims and the investigators inside the Boston Police Department, the possible motives of suspect Markoff, and the media coverage of the events.

Perhaps the most dramatic pages center on the police use of “digital forensics’’ in an attempt to identify a suspect. Once police found Brisman’s e-mails, including ones arranging her meeting with her suspected killer, they were able to follow the Internet protocol (IP) address to Markoff. The authors quote Joe Caruso, a specialist in digital forensics, who said that “the killer’s carelessness with his IP address was the equivalent of leaving digital bread crumbs from the hotel [crime scene] back to his home.’’

Police discovered that the suspect in the April 10 robbery used his cellphone during that crime. Police traced the cell number back to Markoff, and used hotel surveillance cameras to help identify the alleged robber as a suspect in Brisman’s death four days later.

After following the forensic evidence, the police staked out Markoff’s Quincy residence. They observed Markoff and his fiancée putting suitcases into their car and driving down Interstate 95, and arrested him. On April 21, Markoff was charged with Brisman’s murder. His trial is scheduled for next year.

The authors have tirelessly researched possible motives, finding evidence of Markoff’s gambling and also a secret sex life online. They researched Markoff’s life history through the people who knew him in college and at Boston University. One of Markoff’s former BU lab partners, Tiffany Montgomery, tells the authors she’s not surprised to see Markoff in legal trouble: “He just wasn’t right in his head, and I knew it, and probably other people did. . . . I got the impression he was really disturbed.’’

As true crime narratives go, Cramer and LaRosa deliver a detailed and absorbing account. They have painstakingly sifted through the available evidence, yet the story is far from over. With Markoff’s murder trial to come, more revelations are sure to follow.

Chuck Leddy is a freelance writer who lives in Dorchester.

SEVEN DAYS OF RAGE: The Deadly Crime Spree of the Craigslist Killer By Paul LaRosa and Maria Cramer

Simon and Schuster, 224 pp., $21.99

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