Seven Days of Ruthless Rage: The Craigslist Killer

Phillip Markoff, a 23-year-old medical student from Boston University, had everything going for him. He was blond, tall, intelligent, and engaged to the love of his life, Megan. But unbeknownst to those around him, he was leading a double life.

Philip Markoff / Craigslist logo / Quincy Police Patrol Car / Philip Markoff.
Source: Getty Images

Philip was a master at hiding his perverted desires. On the one hand, he was an ambitious student with a bright future ahead of him. And on the other, he was spending hours on Craigslist, looking for new prey to tie up and abuse.

He became known to the public as the “Craigslist Killer.” Here is his story.

Trisha, His First Victim

In the spring of 2009, 29-year-old Trisha Leffler, an escort from Las Vegas, moved to Boston to continue her line of work in the Back Bay neighborhood, an area known for its fancy hotels and exclusive boutiques. She went online to Craigslist, the web bulletin board that provides services of all kinds, some services sketchier than others.

A photo of Trisha Leffler.
Trisha Leffler. Source: Pinterest

Not long after placing an ad in the erotic services section, Trisha began receiving calls. But by acting as her boss, she was putting herself at serious risk. There was no one to look out for her in case something happened. And, unfortunately, something did.

A Malicious Man In Search of a Thrill

Trisha’s first Craigslist client was Philip Markoff, a dangerous man in search of a thrill. But when she opened the hotel door to greet him, she saw nothing of it. What she saw was a handsome, blond young man with eyes that seemed kind and an innocent smile.

An image of Philip Markoff sitting with his lawyer in court.
Philip Markoff. Photo by Mark Garfinkel-Pool/Getty Images

But a split second after she let him in, the good-looking man whipped out a very dangerous-looking gun. He told her, “If you do everything you’re asked, no harm will come to you.” He then ordered her to lie down on the floor and put her hands behind her back.

She Was Brutally Handcuffed

The Craigslist client put on black leather gloves and took out a few plastic zip ties, which he used to tie around her wrists. Handcuffed and struggling to grasp the situation, Trisha shook, praying quietly that it would all end soon.

A photo of Philip Markoff’s mother in court.
Philip Markoff. Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The man took 800 dollars in cash out of her wallet, as well as her debit and credit cards. All this time, he did not attempt to hide his face. But what he did make sure to do was to get his phone number off Trisha’s cellphone. Finally, he snatched her underwear off the floor and stuffed it in his pocket.

She Survived the Attack

Before leaving, the Craigslist client tied Trisha to the bathroom doorknob, cut the room’s phone lines, and covered her mouth with duct tape.

Within 20 seconds after he left, Trisha managed to squirm her way out of her ties. She looked out the door’s peephole to ensure he had left and then ran over to her neighbors.

A still of Trisha speaking during an interview.
Trisha Leffler. Source: CBS News

“I was robbed at gunpoint,” she managed to blurt out in between frantic pants.

The following day, she went down to the police station where she was shown footage of the robber, taken from the hotel lobby. Those were the first photo stills of the man who would become known as the Craigslist Killer.

Julissa Brisman Wasn’t as Lucky

Just five days after the hotel incident, Trisha received a call from the police telling her they had something important to show her. They handed her a photo of Philip walking around the lobby in a different hotel. As she examined the picture, the officer looked at her worryingly and sighed.

A studio portrait Julissa Brisman.
Julissa Brisman. Source: Facebook

“He killed a girl last night,” he told her. The victim was 25-year-old Julissa Brisman, an aspiring model from New York City. Local authorities immediately connected Julissa’s murder with Trisha’s robbery. Both women offered their services through Craigslist, and both had been restrained with plastic ties.

She Fought Back

Now, all eyes were focused on the 20th-floor hotel room of Julissa Brisman. Unlike Trisha, Julissa reportedly fought back. Her unruly behavior ticked off the Craigslist Killer, who eventually decided to shoot her at close range.

A picture of the crime scene.
Source: Boston Police

He fired a bullet right at the front of the room, and when he opened the door to flee, half of Julissa’s body tumbled outside the door. One guest staying in a room just down the hall from her heard the commotion and peeked out into the hall.

All They Could Do Was Cry

Julissa’s neighbor grew pale. She saw half of Julissa’s body on the floor, unmoving and colorless. Security was called up to the floor, and as the guard bent over, he saw a puddle of blood beneath her head. “This is an emergency,” he reported into his walkie-talkie.

A picture of Julissa’s I.D. at the crime scene.
Julissa Brisman. Source: Boston Police

Just a week before her 26th birthday, Julissa Brisman was pronounced dead. Later that day, the cops informed her family and friends. One family friend named Mark told the media that all he could do was break down in tears. “My heart was broken. All I could do was cry.”

She Offered Sensual Massages to Pay Her Bills

Julissa’s murder was a tragic end to a young life. She was trying to get her modeling and acting career going, but, in the meantime, she had to pay her bills, so she logged onto Craigslist and began offering sensual and erotic massages.

A photo of glass with a bullet hole.
Source: Boston Police

Julissa wasn’t a prostitute, but she was dipping her feet in a very dangerous world. While sex and crime were around before the internet, the internet surely made them more accessible. And the Craigslist Killer knew it.

Victim Number Three

Just two days after Julissa’s murder, the killer logged into Craigslist again to prey on his next victim. This time, it was a stripper from Las Vegas. Escorted by her husband, she felt very secure in the clubs she visited.

A photo of Philip Markoff in court.
Photo by Mark Garfinkel/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

During downtime on one of her shifts, she advertised on Craigslist, offering private dances in her hotel room. The Craigslist Killer instantly took her up on the offer, and for the third time in seven days, a woman willingly opened the door and let him in.

“I’m Broke. I Don’t Want to Kill You”

Like in the previous attacks, the Craigslist Killer pointed a gun at her. But this time, he was shaking. He said, “I’m broke, I don’t want to kill you. I just need cards and money.” The woman was terrified, so she let him have his way and said she’d give him whatever he needed.

A photo of the crime scene.
Source: Flickr

He tied her up with plastic handcuffs and began searching the room when her phone suddenly started to ring. The gunman grew nervous and yelled, “Who’s calling you? Why now?” The man calling was her husband, who was in the hotel lobby waiting for a signal from his wife that everything was okay.

He Went Up to Check on Her

When he didn’t receive the signal, the stripper’s husband headed up to the room and used his spare key to enter. The second he stepped through the door, the Craigslist Killer pointed a gun at him. Immediately, the husband took off down the hall one way, and the killer ran off in the other direction.

A security camera records the Craiglist Killer entering the hotel.
Philip Markoff. Source: YouTube

The gunman managed to escape, but security cameras captured his image in the stairs and the lobby. But showing his face to his victims and the surveillance camera wasn’t his biggest mistake. It was forgetting to erase a few emails that got him officially busted.

A Huge Break in the Investigation

One of Julissa Brisman’s friends found the email between her and her 10 p.m. appointment with the Craigslist Killer. She reported it to the Boston police, which meant that they could now retrieve his I.P. (internet protocol) address.

A Quincy patrol car sits in front of the building where the killer lives.
Photo by Matthew Healey/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

This was a huge break in the investigation. Leaving behind your I.P. address is like leaving your murder weapon at the scene with your fingerprints all over it. Investigators began tracking the virtual address and were led to a suburb right outside of Boston named Quincy.

A Brilliant Student With an Uncommon Mind

The apartment in Quincy belonged to a man named Philip Markoff. For the first time, the detectives now had a name to match a suspect. However, they were shocked to discover this man’s full identity. He was a 23-year-old second-year medical student at Boston University.

A yearbook picture of Philip Markoff.
Source: Pinterest

By all accounts, Philip was a brilliant student and a cheerful young guy. He had an uncommon mind and a thirst for knowledge. His parents were proud of him, his professors envisioned great things for his future, and his fiancé, Megan McAllister, was eagerly waiting to marry him.

Police Couldn’t Believe He Was the Guy

It almost seemed impossible that Philip was the killer. So, when they got his name, the police still weren’t convinced. They began an around-the-clock stakeout around his house, starting late Saturday night. On Sunday morning, Philip left his house.

A photo of Philip Markoff starting his medical career at university.
Photo by David L Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

As they examined him closely, it dawned on them – this was the guy. The same guy from the surveillance photos taken at Trisha’s hotel and the same photos snapped at Julissa’s hotel. Police had to act quickly, for Markoff and his fiancé Megan got into the car and headed towards a casino in Connecticut.

The Race Was On

Boston authorities had to make sure not to let Markoff set foot over the state line because they were out of their jurisdiction once he did. Before they could arrest him, though, they had to confirm that Philip was indeed their man with Trisha one final time.

A photo of the documents involved in Markoff’s case.
Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

A detective contacted Trisha and handed her a photo array that included Markoff’s face. She went through them one by one, and when her eyes fell on the killer’s photo, she started shaking. “It’s him,” she told police.

Charged With Kidnapping, Robbery, and Murder

Boston police pulled Philip over and charged him with kidnapping, armed robbery, and murder. His fiancé Megan broke down in tears. Detectives saw no reason to hold her in the station, so she could fly out to her parents’ house in New Jersey.

The Boston Police Commissioner announces the arrest of Markoff.
Photo by Matthew Healey/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

With Markoff now in custody, his first victim, Trisha Leffler, felt like a weight had been lifted off her chest. Knowing that he was captured and in custody and couldn’t harm anyone brought her tears of joy and relief.

The Two Sides of Philip Markoff

With Philip finally in custody, the questions surrounding his seven-day spree were only just beginning. For one, the question everyone wanted to know was – WHY? Why would a handsome, young medical student rob and murder women?

A still of Philip from a security camera.
Source: YouTube

Philip sure didn’t look the part, and he likely counted on the fact that he appeared so innocent. He was “the boy next door” who was engaged to a beautiful young woman. The last thing his friends and family expected was to discover that he was also a killer.

Philip Hid His Dark Side Well

Philip’s college buddy, Morgan Houston, remembers falling into a state of shock after hearing of his crimes. “He was a complete dork,” she said. In retrospect, however, Morgan did recall one incident where she saw a darker side to her friend.

A photo of Philip sitting in court.
Philip Markoff. Photo by Mark Garfinkel-Pool/Getty Images

It happened one evening as the two came back from a night of drinking. Philip reportedly cornered Morgan and pushed her against the wall. She tried to push him off, saying they were just friends, but he wouldn’t budge. Luckily, another friend happened to pass by and pushed him off her.

It Was Supposed to Be the Happiest Day of Their Lives

This case is odd because Philip, the killer, was different from Philip, the student, son, and fiancé. Philip was a star student who was accepted to a medical school at top-ranked Boston University. By 2009, he was in his second year at school and was planning a wedding to Megan, his college sweetheart.

A high school yearbook photo of Megan McAllister.
Megan McAllister. Photo by Mike McLaughlin/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

The wedding was set at a beach resort in New Jersey. It was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. The young, aspiring doctor had everything going for him. Why ruin it for the sake of the thrill or for some extra bucks to cover your bills?

“A Beautiful Man Who Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly”

In the beginning, Philip’s fiancé, Megan, kept quiet and refused to speak to the press. However, when she eventually did open up, she had nothing but good things to say in defense of her significant other.

Julissa Brisman’s mother and a friend are crying in court.
Carmen Guzman, Gertrude Goldstein. Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

“Philip is a beautiful man, inside and out, and would not hurt a fly,” she told reporters. The two had been together for three years, and it was simply unfathomable to her that he could do something like that. He must have been framed, she believed.

The Evidence Left No Room for Debate

As much as people found it difficult to believe that Markoff would do something as hideous as murder innocent women, the evidence that the police brought forth was pretty straightforward and left little room for debate. They found the gun that killed Julissa in his apartment.

An exterior shot of the Quincy apartment complex where Philip lived.
Photo by Ted Fitzgerald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

The murder weapon was hidden inside a hollowed-out book, a thick, hardcover of Gray’s Anatomy, the basic reference guide for all medical students. But that wasn’t everything. Police also found Trisha’s underwear hidden in his room, as well as two other pairs.

More than Just Simple Robbery

Markoff kept his victims’ underwear as trophies meant that his actions were more than a simple robbery. Attacking those women was his way of fulfilling his perverted needs. It demonstrated a need for control, sex, and power.

A photo of Philip Markoff in court.
Photo by Mark Garfinkel-Pool/Getty Images

As it turns out, Philip didn’t just approach women. He also messaged men, in particular, gay crossdressers. A brief look into his Craigslist account opened up a Pandora’s box, revealing all sorts of messages talking about masochism and how he longed to be the submissive one in bed.

His Online Name – Sexaddict5385

Philip Markoff didn’t have just one Craigslist account; he had several. Among the interests, he listed under his profile name: “chains, cuffs, collars, leashes and experimentation with transvestites.”

An image of the Craigslist logo displayed on a smartphone.
Photo by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The picture shown in his profile is of his naked torso. And if anyone dared to doubt whether it was Philip, the Boston police managed to find that same picture on his laptop.

These secret profiles and “taboo” desires strongly suggest that his public persona was seriously at war with his deeper desires.

A Fractured Identity

Markoff led a double life. Over time, his identity became more and more fractured. He grew violent and dangerous and turned to places like Craigslist to relieve all that built-up tension.

Despite his horrific crimes, Markoff’s family visited him in jail. It’s hard to judge; after all, a parent’s love is something incredibly strong.

A Quincy patrol car sits in front of Philip Markoff’s house.
Photo by Matthew Healey/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

His dad, Dr. Richard Markoff, his mom, Susan, and his older brother, drove over to see him. Markoff told his older brother to forget about him and move away because soon, more information about his double life would be revealed. Philip felt ashamed.

They Love Their Son Very Much

By all accounts, Markoff had a normal, happy upbringing. His mom, Susan, worked at a casino, and his dad was a dentist. After the news broke out, his family was unwilling to speak to the press, so his lawyer spoke for them:

A photo of Markoff’s brother leaving the county jail.
Jonathan Markoff. Photo by Mark Garfinkel/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

“They love their son very much; they’re supportive of him,” he told reporters.

It was unbearably difficult for the family to come to terms with the double life Philip had led. They thought they knew their son, their brother, their friend, but discovered that they knew nothing at all.

He Was Knee Deep in Debt

Boston University expelled Philip shortly after his arrest. The former medical student then told the court that he had no money, for he was knee-deep in debt. He owed $130,000 in school loans.

Media trucks gather near the apartment complex where Philip lived.
Photo by Ted Fitzgerald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

But the reason he was out of money was less about school and more to do with his addiction. Philip loved to gamble and made frequent visits to casinos. He was headed to one on the day of his arrest.

He Pleaded Not Guilty

When Philip stood trial, he dared to plead not guilty to the first-degree murder of Julissa and armed robbery of Trisha. Honestly, he didn’t stand a chance. The cops had incredibly strong evidence against him.

A photo of Philip Markoff in court.
Photo by Mark Garfinkel-Pool/Getty Images

Trisha’s identification, the gun in the book, the underwear, as well as his fingerprints found on the duct tape used on Trisha were enough evidence to have him locked up for good. Still, he tried sticking to his ridiculous claim that he was wrongly framed.

What About His Fiancé?

What about Megan, his college sweetheart? Did she know anything? According to investigators, no. There was no evidence that she knew anything about her fiancé’s double life. After telling the press that he “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she took her words back.

A dated photo of Philip and Megan.
Source: Pinterest

Megan visited him twice in prison and told him face to face that the wedding was off. Philip, however, never stopped loving Megan. He covered his jail cell with her pictures and thought about her night and day.

A Sharp Razor to End It All

Philip tried committing suicide numerous times. At last, he succeeded. His suicide was done with a scraped pen and a piece of metal, what’s known in jail as a “primitive scalpel.” The metal came from one of the metal plates Philip snuck into his cell.

Close-up of a scraped pen.
Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

He used the scalpel to slash arteries in his legs, ankles, and neck, including the carotid artery. He also swallowed toilet paper to ensure that he couldn’t be revived and secured a plastic bag over his head with gauze. Finally, he covered himself, head to toe, with a blanket.

They Sensed Something Was Wrong

By mid-morning, a deputy sheriff felt “something was wrong because the covers were over his head.” He then entered the cell, called his name, and pulled back the covers, only to find him limp and blue and bloody.

A picture of Philip Markoff’s brother.
Jonathan Markoff. Photo by Mark Garfinkel/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

Having a prisoner commit suicide is upsetting and points to some serious deficiencies in security and management. But the way he died shouldn’t obscure the cruelty of his crimes. Suffolk County District Daniel Conley put it best: “His suicide was the ultimate indication of his guilt.”

The Suicide Was Unfair

The prosecutor claimed that Philip’s suicide was unfair to the Brisman family, who had lost their daughter to this brutal man. “The Brisman family has been deprived of a judgment rendered,” he claimed.

A commander of the Boston Police Department, speaks to the media.
Sgt. Brian Albert, Boston Police Department. Photo by Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

He added that, most importantly, they lost their chance “to tell the court and Philip Markoff of the immense pain he inflicted on them.” Markoff’s death ended any plans for another trial, but the evidence against him was still public.

He Wrote Her Name in Blood

Before his suicide, “Craigslist Killer” Phillip Markoff crafted a sick shrine to his former fiancée, Megan. He spread out photos of her on the small table in his prison cell and drew her name in his blood over his door.

An exterior shot of Boston University's School of Medicine.
Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Markoff, just 24, killed himself on the anniversary of what would have been their wedding day.

This young man, who seemingly had it all, gave in to his desires and threw everything away. Why? Only in his heart of hearts does Philip know why he did what he did.

Craigslist Still Offers Adult Services

After the attacks, Craigslist renamed its erotic services section – Adult Services. As if that’s supposed to ease the dangers looming in that section, which, by the way, is growing faster than ever. Sadly, there are many women out there risking their lives by letting strangers into their rooms.

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch addresses the media.
Photo by Ted Fitzgerald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

We all need to make a living, yes. And it’s understandable why some would turn to “adult services” to make that happen. Still, it’s hard to brush off the thought that there are so many other Craigslist killers out there just waiting to attack.

A Date With Death

Philip Markoff’s case attracted an unprecedented amount of attention. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. In 2009, a book about his case was published. It was written by Paul La Rosa and titled Seven Days of Rage: The Deadly Crime Spree of the Craigslist Killer.

The media follows Philip’s brother as he drives his car.
Photo by Mark Garfinkel/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

That same year, an episode of CBS News’ docu-series “48 Hours Mystery” released an episode covering the case. A TV film titled The Craigslist Killer was released in 2011, and an episode of Investigation Discovery’s See No Evil (Episode Four, Season Five) was aired, which covered his case.