Hunting the Craigslist Killer

An untold detective story from the digital frontier  
By JAMES ROBINSON  |  April 4, 2012

JULISSA BRISMAN'S 2009 murder captivated Boston, as police worked to identify a man seen in security footage from her hotel.
SLIDESHOW: The crime scenes
Julissa Brisman's 10 pm client, her sixth and last for Tuesday, April 14, 2009, was early. She planned afterward to go out with a Yale graduate she'd met on the train to Boston the previous morning and was due back home in Brooklyn the next day.

Her room on the 20th floor of the Boston Marriott Copley Place was dark, save for the bathroom light. Music was playing from a laptop on the desk. The comforter on one of the two double beds was folded over to create a makeshift massage space. A selection of oils lay within arms' reach.

A Gucci handbag and a copy of the New York Post sat next to the television. Cosmetics were strewn across the bathroom counter. A USA Today was crumpled in a nearby trashcan.

At 25, Brisman was striking, with dark features, dressed in a thin black undershirt and faded blue jeans. She was a masseuse who advertised in the erotic-services section of Craigslist. Her Dominican-born parents thought she was in Boston for her job at a tanning salon. Her life suggested a contradiction between conquered demons and leftover struggles.

Brisman had been arrested multiple times for theft. Now, however, she was near completion of a degree at the City College of New York, and wanted to be a counselor. She had self-declared as an alcoholic in recent years, and attended AA meetings. Seroquel XR, a drug used to treat bipolar depression, was found in her hotel room.

Her final client, "Andy M," had scheduled for the same time the previous day, but postponed. He'd responded to an advertisement on Craigslist, posted and paid for by Brisman's friend and business partner Beth Salomonis in Denver.

The ad featured a coy, demure Brisman in a suggestive pose promising "great company in addition to a great touch." As security, prospective clients would ring Salomonis when they arrived at the hotel, and she would provide them with the number for Brisman's room.

When the ad went up the previous morning, requests streamed in for Brisman's services. On her first day, a Monday, she saw six clients. She went to bed watching a Dane Cook movie.

Today, in between seeing another five clients, Brisman had been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, worked out in the hotel gym, made an evening trip to a nearby Shaw's, and spoken with her mother, with whom she was close.

Brisman's final appointment entered the Marriott around 10 minutes before 10 pm. He was captured on surveillance cameras entering the hotel, a tall, blonde young man wearing a leather jacket and a baseball cap, casually sending a text message. As per their arrangement, he called Salomonis and was given Brisman's room number.

From the medical and police records of the injuries that Brisman would soon sustain, it is likely that what happened was as swift as it was brutal. After Brisman let him into her room, the man pulled a black 9mm Luger pistol, not far inside the door. He began to bind her hands with white plastic flexcuffs, but before he could complete this, Brisman fought back. In the subsequent struggle he hit her in the skull with his gun, causing injuries that an assistant Suffolk district attorney would later describe as serious but not fatal. He then shot Brisman three times. One bullet lodged in her hip, while two bullets went straight through her, piercing her heart and lung.

Brisman fell face first in the doorway of her hotel room, ending up halfway out into the hall. Her killer was out of the hotel by 10:06 pm, filmed with his head down.

The murder of a beautiful young woman in Boston's city center less than a week before the Boston Marathon was a recipe for a huge media story. For the next six days, investigators would work around the clock, rewarded with a dramatic arrest and a week of page-one headlines.

The young suspect, Philip Markoff, had no police record, was not suspected by his friends and family, and had made conscious attempts to throw detectives off his path. But throughout his crimes he unwittingly left a trail of digital bread crumbs that homicide detectives would pick up on quickly. Investigators followed the suspect through cell towers, Craigslist accounts, and Internet protocol addresses, right back to his own apartment — 
culminating in a high-tech stake out and one of the more damning hauls of physical evidence authorities had ever seen.

Three years later, thousands of column inches have been devoted to the lives of Julissa Brisman and her killer. But today, the still-untold story of the manhunt that followed the murder at the Marriott still provides a window into the potential of modern police work, and an example of how easily we can all be found in a digital world.

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  •   HUNTING THE CRAIGSLIST KILLER  |  April 04, 2012
    Julissa Brisman's 10 pm client, her sixth and last for Tuesday, April 14, 2009, was early. She planned afterward to go out with a Yale graduate she'd met on the train to Boston the previous morning and was due back home in Brooklyn the next day.

 See all articles by: JAMES ROBINSON