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       June 24, 2015 2:53 PM

 Stalking Craigslist


Robbery and Murder

On Friday, April 10, 2009, an out-of-town businessman was working on his laptop in his room at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston. [photo right] Someone frantically pounded on his door. When he opened it, a disheveled woman in a cocktail dress told him a man had threatened her with a gun and a knife, robbed her and left her bound and gagged. Her wrists bore marks from zip-ties.

The businessman let her use his room phone to call hotel security. Soon, police arrived. Tricia Leffler [photo left], 26, told them a tall, blond muscular man had stolen a debit card, $800 in cash, and $250 in American Express gift cards. Upon further questioning, Tricia admitted she had advertised erotic services on Craigslist.

Four nights later, on Tuesday April 14, a mother staying with her teenage son at the nearby Marriott Copley Hotel heard two loud screams. She opened her door and saw a woman on the floor down the hall. She called hotel security.

Boston police quickly arrived, this time to investigate a homicide. Julissa Brisman, 25, [photo right], had been beaten and shot multiple times. Julissa had also advertised erotic services on Craigslist.

Police immediately suspected the murder might be related to the robbery at the Westin.

Surveillance Tapes

The area around Copley Place, an upscale shopping mall, is considered one of the safest in Boston. Nearby historic buildings include Trinity Church, Old South Church, the Boston Public Library and several luxury hotels.

Clockwise from top left: Trinity Church and the Hancock Tower, Hotel Westin, Old South Church, Boston Public Library.

The Westin and the Marriott hotels employ security cameras.

Police examined security footage from the Marriott hotel. [composite at right] On Tuesday night around 10 PM, a blond man in a dark jacket nonchalantly rides down an escalator, typing into his cellphone. Tall and ruggedly built, he appeared to match the description given by the Westin Hotel robbery victim. Calling him a "person of interest,” police released stills from the video asking the public to identify him.

A Foiled Robbery

Less than 48 hours later, on Thursday April 16, a man attempted to rob a woman at the Holiday Inn Express in Warwick, RI.

She called police and told them a man had tied her up and tried to rob her at gunpoint. However, when her husband returned to the room, her attacker turned the gun on him and backed out of the room. Her husband chased him, but the man escaped.

The woman, whom police did not identify, had also posted an ad for erotic services on Craigslist. Her description of a tall, clean-cut blond man was strikingly similar to the man Boston police were seeking. Boston detectives rushed to the scene. The man in the Holiday Inn Express surveillance video resembled the man in the surveillance videos taken from the Boston hotels.

A Crucial Tip

By now, Boston police had received more than 170 tips, but none identified the killer. Then they got a tip from a friend of the murder victim. After learning Julissa had been murdered, the woman accessed Julissa's email and found a message from the man she was scheduled to see the night she was murdered. She immediately forwarded the message to Boston detectives.

This allowed them to identify the IP address of the computer that had sent the message. It had been sent from an apartment in Quincy, MA, rented by Phillip Markoff, 23, a second-year medical student at Boston University. Detectives searched the internet, found Markoff's Facebook page and obtained his photograph.

The Stakeout

Detectives set up round-the-clock surveillance outside the apartment building. On Monday, April 20, they saw a blond man in his 20s leave the building with an attractive young woman and get into a Toyota Corolla. Police followed them to BJ's. After loading bottled water and groceries into the car, they returned to the apartment. But the detectives weren't positive it was Markoff. They didn't want to arrest the wrong man. They kept watching the building.

A short time later the couple came out with a suitcase and a knapsack, got in their car and drove off. Detectives followed them down Interstate 95 toward Rhode Island. Fearing they would leave the state, the detectives pulled the car over in Walpole, MA. Saying they had a search warrant to seize the car, detectives took them into custody and drove them to Boston for questioning.

Intense Interrogations

At Boston police headquarters, detectives questioned the pair separately. Markoff remained calm and denied everything. One detective said, "Sometimes when things happen … we don't mean them to happen [but] it only makes things worse if you lie about it.” Markoff continued his denials. "You keep on asking me the same questions. I didn't tie up and rob anybody. I told you I don't know what you're talking about.” He then asked for an attorney, and detectives terminated the interview.

But his fiancee, Megan McAllister, was far from calm. She told detectives they were going to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. She said she had been in New Jersey with her parents the previous week and hadn't returned to Boston until Saturday night. Before she left, her mother had warned her to be careful because "some guy just killed someone up in Boston.”

When they told her Markoff would be charged with murder, Megan burst into tears and asked them if she could book a flight to New Jersey. "She just wanted to go home,” said one detective. Police drove her to the airport that night.

The Evidence

When police searched Markoff's apartment, they found a semi-automatic handgun hidden in a hollowed-out copy of Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, plastic restraints, duct tape, and underwear that allegedly belonged to his victims. Photos below left

When police arrested him, Markoff was carrying $1,600 in cash and a NY state driver's license belonging to another man. [photo above right] Police determined that Markoff had used it to purchase the gun in New Hampshire in February 2008.

On Monday, April 21, Phillip Markoff (left) was arraigned in a Boston courtroom. No one in his family was present. Citing $130,000 in student loan debt, Markoff claimed he could not afford to pay for his own lawyer. He had no job and was not receiving financial help from his parents. A criminal defense lawyer was appointed to represent him.

Although some speculated that Markoff had gambling debts, prosecutors were not required to provide a motive for his crimes.

Seated with his hands cuffed in his lap, Markoff betrayed no emotion as prosecutors described the crimes. Saying Markoff stalked easy targets, District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said, "He chose women so that he could abuse and control them,” and the murder was committed in a "very personal, violent way.” Julissa Brisman was five-foot-five and weighed 105 pounds, no match for her six-foot-three, 200 pound attacker. When she resisted, Markoff hit her in the face with the butt of his semi-automatic pistol and shot her at close range in the heart, chest and abdomen.

Markoff entered not guilty pleas to murder, kidnapping and armed robbery. He was ordered held without bail and taken to the Nashua Street Jail.

Julissa Brisman

Described by friends as a troubled young woman, Julissa [photo left] had struggled with alcoholism for years. An attractive woman with long dark hair and dark eyes, she had worked as a waitress, a bartender and a clerk at Macy's. An aspiring model, she appeared in a short public service video. But none of the jobs lasted long. Unable to pay her expenses, she began offering erotic services on Craigslist.

Her friends said she had changed and intended to get a degree in psychology. One friend, Mark Pines, believed she had turned her life around and stopped offering erotic services on Craigslist. "I was so proud of her. Julissa had been sober for more than a year,” he said. "That's the tragedy of this. It's like escaping Alcatraz and going back for your hat. She had given up all that.”

The Survivors

While working as a masseuse in Las Vegas, Trisha Leffler [photo right], Markoff's first victim, began offering erotic services on Craigslist and often traveled to Boston. She said Markoff appeared clean-cut and normal, but when she let him into her room, he acted weird. He had no interest in sex, he wanted money. But when he left, he took some of her underwear with him. After Trisha identified Markoff from a photograph Boston detectives showed her, she asked where they got the photo. When told it was taken from a surveillance video after a murder, she said, "My heart almost stopped. That could have been me.”

Unlike the other victims, Markoff's third victim was married. She worked as an exotic dancer in Rhode Island strip clubs, including the Cadillac Lounge in Providence, and also advertised erotic services on Craigslist. Her husband apparently went along with this and may have acted as her protector. When Markoff attempted to rob her at the Warwick hotel, he came to the room and Markoff fled.

Reactions from Professors and Classmates

Markoff's friends and former teachers were stunned. None suspected he was leading a double life. At SUNY-Albany, Markoff was known for his discipline and intense study habits, which allowed him to graduate with honors a year early. Photo right. "If there were any clues, he hid them well,” said one college friend.

Most of his BU professors declined to comment. One who did said, "It was a total shock. He was a fantastic student.” But his former lab-partner at BU was not surprised. "He just wasn't right in the head, and I knew it,” she said. "I got the impression he was really disturbed. One day he'd be friendly and smiling, the next day the clouds rolled in.” Then she called him "the upset, brooding Phil, not the smiling happy Phil.”

"He Tells Me Everything”

His fiancee, Megan McAllister, was another victim. [graduation photo at right] At the time of his arrest, Megan was 25, two years older than Markoff. Detectives who questioned her said she was cooperative. They didn't have money to go out, Megan said, but once or twice a month they went to Foxwoods Casino. She watched him play blackjack, but said he wasn't a heavy gambler.

They were living off student loans, she said, because she was unemployed and Markoff was a student. "We're living dollar to dollar. Either you have rich parents who pay for your medical school or you take out loans.”

She told them she had searched Craigslist for nanny jobs, but said Markoff never used the site. When they asked how she could be so sure, Megan said, "He tells me everything.”

His arrest set off a media frenzy and Megan's life spiraled into chaos. She had been planning their wedding. A website [photo left] detailed their four-year romance and mutual interest in becoming doctors.

After their wedding on August 14, she planned to attend medical school in the Caribbean. After Markoff got his medical degree from BU, she would continue her studies in the U.S.

But now reporters and photographers followed her everywhere. Her father, Jim McAllister, spoke with reporters outside the McAllister home in New Jersey. "She's still confident in Phil,” he said. Asked how she was doing, he said, "As expected, not well. Things are very tense.” Asked if she knew about Markoff's double life, McAllister said,” Absolutely not,” and walked away.

At first Megan defended Markoff, saying he was "beautiful inside and out” and "couldn't hurt a fly.” However, after Megan and her mother visited him in jail on April 29, Megan's attorney told reporters the August 14 wedding plans were "dismantled.”

On June 11, after Megan testified before a grand jury, she again went to visit him. News reports quoted her attorney as saying, "She let him know that she did not expect to return to Boston,” and it would be "a long period of time, if ever, before she would see him again.”

Angry about headlines that said she had dumped him, Megan made her lawyer issue a correction: She had not told Phillip she might never see him again. Noting that Megan was angry about being labeled a country-club blonde, her lawyer said this was untrue. "Megan is very hardworking, her parents are hardworking and they do not belong to a country club.”

A Manipulative Sociopath

Born in 1986, Phillip Markoff was the son of Susan Hayes Markoff and Richard Markoff, a dentist. When Philip was a toddler, his parents divorced. His older brother, Jon Markoff, lived with his father.

Phillip grew up with his mother in Sherrill, NY, a small town near Syracuse. By all accounts, he was academically gifted.

In high school [photo left] he was a member of the National Honor Society and the bowling and golf teams.

He had no girlfriends. He was more interested in computers and science.

After graduating from high school in 2004, he enrolled in a pre-med program at SUNY Albany. He met Megan McAllister in 2005 when they were volunteering at a hospital emergency room in Albany. After graduating from SUNY in 2007, Markoff was accepted at the Boston University School of Medicine.

But after he was charged with murder, Boston University suspended him. The next day officials at the Nashua Street Jail found shoelace marks around his neck and put him on suicide watch.

More Bombshells

The Albany Times-Union reported it had found an undated Craigslist posting, allegedly by Markoff, for an "ebony erotic masseuse.” An NBC-TV report said Markoff had solicited a transvestite in Boston. In a series of emails, they exchanged photos, including one Markoff sent, allegedly of himself, that could not be shown on television. Police sources confirmed that the hard drive of Markoff’s computer, which they had seized, contained the messages to the transvestite.

Suicide Attempts

After Megan allegedly broke up with him in June, Markoff tried to cut his wrists with a spoon he had sharpened to a point. Two months later, on August 14, 2009, the date of his now-canceled wedding, he again attempted to slash his wrists and was taken to a medical facility.

One year later, Markoff succeeded. On August 15, 2010, a guard at the Nashua Street Jail found him dead in his cell. One official termed it "a bloodbath," saying, "He was a smart guy, a medical student who had anatomical knowledge.” Using what officials termed a "primitive scalpel” made from a pen and a piece of metal from an electrical outlet, Markoff cut open major arteries in his ankles, legs, and neck.

In a grisly epitaph, Markoff then used his own blood to write "Megan” and "Pocket” (their pet name for each other) on the wall of his cell. He also placed photos around the cell, one of Megan alone, another of them together. Then, after swallowing wads of toilet paper to prevent anyone from reviving him, he  tied a plastic bag over his head, lay on his bed and covered himself with a blanket.

Although Markoff cannot be termed a serial killer, he might have become one if police hadn't caught him. However, he was a determined stalker, trolling Craigslist for vulnerable women who advertised erotic services. He wasn't interested in sex. He wanted to dominate and control them. Please leave a comment and tell me your thoughts about him.

This case inspired my third novel, Natalie's Revenge. When Natalie is ten, someone murders her call-girl mother in a New Orleans hotel. She spends the next twenty years hunting for the killer, seeking revenge.

Sources: multiple Boston Globe articles in 2009: April 16-18, 21-23, 28.

Transcript, Boston Police interview Megan McAllister, April 20, 2009

"Craigslist Killer Phillip Markoff Wrote Ex-Fiancee's Name in Blood as He Killed Himself,” Michelle McPhee, ABC News, August 16, 2010

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[ Posted by Millicent broderick, June 25, 2015 11:48 AM ]
     Interesting, sad and tragic tale. Feel sorry for all his victims including fhe fiance. What a blow that was. She never picked up on his personality disorder As did his colleague. Love is blind. i think the supervison at his prison was exceeding lax..swallowed toilet paper?? Bag over head, pierced himself? Yikes..Think a lower student loan interest rate would have factored in keeping him in line? I live in Boston and followed this as it was unrolling..Still I feel for the choices this brilliant young man made. If we knew the outcome of our actions it might alter the course.Whatever was he thinking

[ Posted by admin, June 25, 2015 3:04 PM ]
     Thanks for the comment. Yes, it's a very sad case, especially for the murdered woman and her family, but also for Markoff's fiancee. He was a sociopath and very manipulative. Even his college professors didn't pick up on it, although his lab partner did.

I don't think money or student loan rates had anything to do with his crimes. He got off on having power over women. He was a thrill seeker with a compulsion. As for his ability to commit suicide in jail, I don't fault the guards. Markoff was very smart, very determined and knew exactly how to do it.

[ Posted by Jack Reacher, July 05, 2015 3:50 AM ]
     Millicent broderick, who commented, staggered me by calling this killer a "brilliant young man". If he had a brilliant mind he wouldn't have left so much incriminating evidence lying round for the cops to find. The way I'd describe him is merciless, brutal and downright stupid. He took lives and ruined others and I congratulate the prison staff on the standard of their supervision. It led to the best possible resolution to this case.

I've been reading and enjoying Natalie's Revenge, which led me here.

[ Posted by admin, July 05, 2015 9:04 AM ]
     Jack, thanks for the comment. Yes, Markoff was brilliant in some ways, very stupid in others. He probably thought he would never get caught, but really, not being aware of the surveillance cameras at hotels was a huge mistake.

So happy you're enjoying Natalie's Revenge ... her story isn't exactly like this case, but it did inspire me to wonder what if someone tried to avenge the murder of a prostitute ...

[ Posted by admin, July 07, 2015 5:29 PM ]
     Here's link to recent article about a similar crime.


posted by SUSAN FLEET   June 24, 2015 2:53 PM  Stalkers 


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