Compressed into one week—and now packed into the new book SEVEN DAYS OF RAGE: THE DEADLY CRIME SPREE OF THE CRAIGSLIST KILLER—the story just kept unfolding: three vulnerable women, each cornered in a hotel room, one of them murdered when she resisted.
The images of the suspect are jarring: an all-American handsome young man who could be the guy next door, clean-cut and casually dressed. Police detectives matched his gun and fingerprints to the crimes, and following a trail of digital bread crumbs, they arrested twenty-three-year-old Philip Markoff-- a brilliant, well-regarded medical student at Boston University, engaged to be married on the beach at sunset to a beautiful and trusting fiancée.
The arrest of Markoff, a man with no criminal record, seemed incomprehensible, but the evidence against him seems overwhelming.
As the public tried to understand why someone with everything to live for would be so reckless, the double life of Philip Markoff began to materialize, and he appeared to be an out-of-control thrill seeker hiding a secret sexual life.
This penetrating profile of Markoff and his alleged crimes reveals how a young man described as "a beautiful person inside and out" hid his dark obsessions from the world—and how the Internet can make us vulnerable to the most unlikely killer.
Interview with Paul LaRosa by Barry Leibowitz, Senior Writer at 48 Hours | Mystery
What's the most compelling or surprising aspect of this case?
LaRosa: Overall, the most surprising aspect of this case is who the alleged killer is -- Philip Markoff, a brilliant second-year medical student at a prestigious university, who had the world at his feet.
But the most surprising new element in the book is how widespread Markoff's dark side appears to be. He had kinky web profiles going back to 2007, on websites that feature bondage and S & M. Now, on the face of it, this does NOT mean he's a killer.
Many people are fond of sexual practices that would seem extreme to the average American but that does NOT mean they are murderers.
But psychiatrists I spoke to suggest that such a break between Markoff's public and private lives, combined with his impending wedding and the pressure to conform, may have caused what shrinks call "a fractured identity" that led to violence.
What fascinating forensics or investigation details have you uncovered?
LaRosa: One aspect of this story reads like something out of an old detective novel. Markoff allegedly hollowed out the inside of a book to hide the murder weapon. It has been positively identified by ballistics as the murder weapon. And this wasn't just any book.
Markoff allegedly hid the gun inside Gray's Anatomy which, aside from being a popular television program, is THE classic anatomy textbook for all medical students.
It takes HOURS to hollow out a book that size and all the while, you are cutting through pages upon pages of drawings of human bodies and their organs.
I think that says a lot about the person who would do such a thing. There are far easier ways to hide a gun.
Whether or not Philip Markoff is convicted, how could someone with such a spotless reputation successfully hide a risqué double life?
LaRosa: I asked Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley that very question and he said, "It happens." People are very good at compartmentalizing their lives. How many times has a serial killer or murderer been arrested and his neighbors tell reporters "he was the nicest guy." It's become a cliche of crime reporting but we should be aware by now that people can hide their inner lives very well.
Is there a hero in this case?
LaRosa: For my money, the heroine in this case is Trisha Leffler, the Craigslist Killer's first victim. She immediately reported the crime even though she is an escort and the killer was probably betting she would do no such thing. After that, she helped cops tremendously with eyewitness identifications, and even told them that her attacker had removed his gloves when putting duct tape on her mouth. Bingo! They found his fingerprints which, by the way, are Markoff's, according to the DA.
Does this case prove that Craigslist and similar online services should be more aggressively policed or regulated?
LaRosa: No, I do not believe that. Craigslist is a service and what you do with it -- good or bad -- is up to you. Use common sense. Craigslist is no more at fault than dozens of weekly newspapers across the country -- including the liberal Village Voice -- which feature page upon page of ads placed by sex workers. No one is saying those newspapers should be policed and I feel the same way about Craigslist.
Is the case against Philip Markoff open and shut, or do you expect any surprises?
LaRosa: I have rarely seen a case where there is more evidence against a suspect. It's as close to open and shut as I can imagine. That said, the police have Markoff's computer and there are likely more surprises at hand.
BONUS QUESTION: What question should Crimesider have asked you that we didn't... and what's the answer?
Will this case go to trial given the amount of evidence lodged against Markoff?
LaRosa: Hard to say. If Massachusetts were a death penalty state, this case would be plea bargained down to life in prison and there would be no trial. But now, there is nothing for the DA to bargain for... unless Markoff throws in the towel, this case will go to trial sometime next summer. It may not be in Boston, however, if a change of venue is requested.
Watch "The Craigslist Killer," a full episode of 48 Hours Mystery on Sept. 19, 2009.
Paul LaRosa is an Emmy Award-winning producer for the CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours Mystery. He won an Emmy Award for the acclaimed CBS documentary 9/11, and has also won a Peabody Award, a Christopher Award, and an Edward R. Murrow Award. He was reporter for the New York Daily News for sixteen years. His previous 48 Hours Mystery true-crime books are Death of a Dream and Nightmare in Napa. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their two children.
Maria Cramer, a crime reporter for the Boston Globe, has been the lead reporter on this and numerous other high-profile cases—including the 2008 search for Clark Rockefeller. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Excerpt: "Seven Days of Rage".
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Authors on "The Early Show"
Publisher Pocket Books is an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is part of the CBS Corporation.