Accused Craigslist Killer Offers Larger Lesson: You Don't Really Know Someone

By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

How many times have we heard a long-time acquaintance of an accused killer say something to the effect of, "He never could have done something that horrendous."

As a local news reporter in the 1980s, I must have covered a dozen stories in which it was my assignment to speak to friends, neighbors, acquaintances of accused murderers, burglars, or you-name-it varieties of violent criminals. Not a one of them told me, "Oh yeah, he did it. He's a scary human being."

Yet here we go again in the case of accused Craigslist killer, Phillip Markoff. We don't know yet whether Markoff is guilty of murder, but it's natural for people to speculate whether he could have done it. And, typically, his friends and family are expressing disbelief:

A high-achieving dentist's son from upstate New York, Philip Markoff is described in various ways, but everyone, even those who didn't like him, is shocked at the charges against him.

If he is innocent, then that disbelief is justified, but plenty of convicted killers have gotten similar support from friends. So for future reference, can we all please remember that people are peculiarly wired so that they are capable of hiding aspects of their personality from other people? In other words, even when you've known someone for a very long time, that person is capable of keeping a different aspect of his/her personality from you.

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By Bonnie Erbe