That night, the city of Boston was in the midst of its usual preoccupations. It was a brisk early-spring evening, with temperatures in the low 40s. The city was preening itself for the marathon in six days.
At the homicide unit on the second floor of Boston Police headquarters, Sergeant Detective Daniel Duff's homicide unit was on call. Duff, wiry and plain-spoken, worked alongside two detectives: the stocky, seasoned Robert Kenney and the newer man on the unit, James Freeman. With no active case, it was a usual night: they were tending to the thousands of less-glamorous administrative tasks that normally occupy detectives.
At the same time, across town, confusion reigned at the Marriott. Jane Greenberg and her son Leo, in Boston on a college reconnaissance trip, had heard a commotion and two loud screams from down the hall. Greenberg thought it was kids, and, after seeing Brisman lying face down in the hallway, had then thought she was a sulking child.
A young woman approached Brisman's body from the other direction in the hall and screamed. It was an adult, she told Greenberg. Security was alerted, but those on hand now assumed it to be a fallen drunk. Security guard Alan McCarthy arrived within minutes and found Brisman without a pulse, her face covered in blood. He called emergency services, claiming that she had been stabbed. He could see that the wardrobe's sliding doors were shattered and felt blood seeping through the back of Brisman's shirt, he told police.
In the case of a severe attack — even if the fate of the victim is still uncertain — homicide detectives get paged automatically by the first responding officers to the scene. As soon as he got the call, Duff knew immediately that this was an unusual case. Most of the homicides that happen in Boston are gang-related, with the occasional domestic incident. In 2009 almost half of all homicides occurred in the Dorchester area. But an attack at a downtown hotel was out of the ordinary.
Duff and Freeman arrived at the Marriott shortly before 10:30 pm. The 20th floor had little of the chaos that might be assumed to come with a murder scene. Duff remembered that the hallway, a circular walkway with four separate wings of rooms coming off it, was empty except for a score of officers and security guards. There were media cameras outside the Marriott almost instantly, Kenney remembered.
Kenney had left for Boston Medical Center, and called to confirm to detectives that Brisman had not survived. At 10:36 pm doctors at Boston Medical Center had declared Brisman dead. A medical examiner said the next day that the bullet that pierced her heart would have killed her instantly.
Thirty-one police officers had responded to the scene, not including hotel security staff and the crime-scene response unit. Lieutenant Detective Robert Merner, the head of Boston's homicide division, and an attorney from the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office were also on hand.
From the moment he arrived on site, the myriad strands of the investigation were all at Duff's direction.
The detectives looked over Brisman's room — a "walk-through." They saw spent shell-casings in the doorway and blood on the floor, the cosmetics and newspapers; the last mundane details of her life frozen in time, given poignancy only in their finality. But there was little to clue the detectives to a motive for what had happened.
Police pulled hotel surveillance, and an officer went into the surrounding streets to scout other relevant surveillance footage. Other officers canvassed nearby rooms and stairwells, and transported witnesses to the station. Some hotel guests, police discovered, had managed to sleep through the whole thing.
No observation, though, was as important as that of the District Four homicide detectives. The previous Thursday they'd responded to a call across the street in Copley Square, at the Westin Copley Place. Trisha Leffler, a 29-year-old Las Vegas woman, had been advertising on Craigslist as a masseuse; a client had tied her up and robbed her. Given the close proximity of the two hotels, the District Four detectives were also first responders to the Marriott. The presence of a gun, and the white flexcuff spotted on Brisman's wrist, suggested a possible link. Marriott surveillance confirmed this hunch. It appeared to be the same man at each crime scene, dressed almost identically.
Spurred by this link, two detectives returned to the station and began searching erotic services advertisements on Craigslist. They rang Duff shortly after 1 am, according to police reports. They had found an ad featuring a woman who looked much like the victim removed from the Marriott that evening. It was the first digital link in a chain that would start rapidly expanding.
To Duff, having a second crime scene in play so soon compounded the evidence at hand. Detectives at the Westin had pulled fingerprints off duct tape used to cover Leffler's mouth and the plastic flexcuff that bound her hands. The fingerprint was not in the police database. But Duff felt that by the time they'd put all of this evidence together, they could have a very strong case.
Police secured the Marriott at 3:10 am. Most pressing now was to notify Brisman's family of her death. The media had begun to report on the story and there is no
worse scenario than a relative finding out on the news, Duff said in an interview three years later.
Brisman had not registered at the
Marriott under her own name, but her student ID was found in her room. A security guard at her college gave a 37th Street address, but an NYPD cruiser sent to the scene found that she had moved.
In the interests of notifying the family at any cost, Duff made an unorthodox decision. He scrolled to the listing for "Mom" in Brisman's cell phone and dialed. Carmen Guzman, Brisman's mother, did not speak English. Brisman's 15-year-old half-sister was put on the phone and Duff informed her that there had been an incident: her sister was injured and did not survive.
Almost three years later, Duff became somber when he remembered this phone call. "There's a reason we don't do that," he said. "Because it was very traumatic."