A Boston University medical student has been accused of robbing women who advertised erotic services on Craigslist, killing one of them. The incident has triggered calls for more safety features in social networking sites.
Philip Markoff is charged with killing a masseuse at the Marriott Copley Place hotel April 14. He is also charged in the robbery of another woman who he allegedly met at another Boston hotel four days earlier.
A law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Wednesday that police found items belonging to both women in Markoff's apartment south of Boston. The source wasn't authorized to speak about evidence.
Investigators are looking into gambling as the possible motivation. The law enforcement source says Markoff was a "frequent visitor" to Foxwoods casino in Connecticut
The suspected killer, Philip Markoff, is being held without bond in a Boston jail cell. Police were back in his apartment last night looking for evidence on what the district attorney is calling a "brutal, vicious crime."
Craigslist is a centralized network of online communities, featuring free online classified advertisements - with jobs, internships, housing, personals, erotic services, for sale/barter/wanted, services, community, gigs, résumés, and pets categories - and forums on various topics.
The Markoff story is giving new attention to Craigslist. It's not the first time the site has been the center of a criminal investigation.
Jim Buckmaste, CEO of Craiglist told CNN, "
We feel terrible and it's quite sad that anyone would lose their life and we're horrified that use of Craigslist could in anyway be connected with a violent crime of this nature. It causes us to redouble our efforts to try to get across to users to take a few common sense precautions that eliminate most of the risk."
The greatest concern is that while he Craigslist is valuable as a community bulletin board, it could also be a conduit through which predators can find prey.
But Buckmaster defended his site saying
there are 50 million Americans using Craigslist each month; most of them using it several times a month. Whenever you have that amount of human activity there is a possibility of things going wrong despite everyone's best efforts to protect people. Still efforts should be made to make it safer for the people, he conceded.
He also claimed even the erotic services section is streamlined in its own way.
Buckmaster said, "
Back in 2005, our users saw these kinds of ads being posted throughout the site. They asked us to set up a dedicated category where these ads would live and where they could be put behind a warning screen. So we ended up doing what telephone, yellow pages, and newspaper classifieds have typically done for decades, which is have a dedicated category for these kinds of ads. One difference on Craigslist, of course, is that 100% of the net revenue goes to charity."
Ads offering escort or massage service could actually be thinly veiled solicitation. Police even nab sex-workers by tracking such ads. Still the Craigslist refuses to shut down such categories, but Buckmaster insisted, " We prohibit all kinds of illegal activity. In the erotic services category, we adopted telephone verification, credit card authorization. Those two steps eliminated about 90% of the inappropriate activity on the site. And now we're chipping away at that remaining 10%."