Markoff was with his fiancée, on their way to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, when he was pulled over and arrested just south of Boston on I-95. The summa cum laude graduate of the State University of New York-Albany was later implicated in a similar Boston robbery, as well as one in Warwick, Rhode Island. A common thread ran through all three crimes: young women solicited through Craigslist's Erotic Services category.

Even more than the Weber slaying, the Markoff murder captured the public imagination. How could somebody like Markoff—clean-cut, well educated, ambitious, and in the midst of planning a beachside wedding this summer—do such a thing? Lacking any other hook, the national press dubbed Markoff "the Craigslist Killer," a phrase that still makes Newmark and Buckmaster cringe.

"We're taken aback any time we hear that term used," says Buckmaster. "Although, if you stop and think about it, it's a testament to how exceedingly rare violent crime is on Craigslist, when you consider that it's the most common way that Americans are meeting each other these days, by a significant margin. The reason they don't call him 'the Handgun Killer' or 'the Boston Killer' or 'the Hotel Killer' is because thousands of homicides have involved those factors."

Craigslist creator Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster are weathering a storm of criticism.
Gene X. Hwang
Craigslist creator Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster are weathering a storm of criticism.
Katherine Olson was killed after responding to a babysitting ad on Craigslist.
Courtesy of the Olson Family
Katherine Olson was killed after responding to a babysitting ad on Craigslist.

Details

See a timeline of the Craigslist Murders and a tribute to Katherine Olson in these slide shows.

The Weber and Brisman murders couldn't have come at a worse time for Craigslist. Just as the crimes were splashing into primetime news segments, a sheriff in Chicago was mounting a campaign against the company.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart first made headlines in October when he announced he was suspending all foreclosure evictions in his jurisdiction. The energetic state representative turned sheriff was fed up with throwing law-abiding people out on the streets.

By March, Dart was onto a new cause: Craigslist. He filed a federal lawsuit against the site, accusing it of "facilitating prostitution." He claims that, during the past two years, his department has arrested more than 200 Craigslist users on charges ranging from prostitution to juvenile pimping and human trafficking.

"In the hundreds of arrests that we've made, never have we had one where we went under the guise that it's a massage and it turned out that it was just a massage," says Dart. "We know what's going on."

Despite Dart's confident tone, most legal experts believe his lawsuit has little chance of success—a clause in the Communications Decency Act immunizes Web sites from liability for content posted by third parties. The goal is to ensure robust free speech, says Matt Zimmerman, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We don't want to have to make Web sites actively monitor what goes on, because that would drive up costs, and you would have every site saying, 'You know what, it's not worth it, we're not going to allow people to talk to each other at all.'"

A far more imposing threat to Craigslist is Blumenthal, who resurfaced in an April 22 open letter with additional, more sweeping demands. Blumenthal implored Craigslist to, among other things, disallow salacious prostitution-themed search terms, hire staff to monitor for pornographic images and ads, and eliminate the Erotic Services category altogether.

"We felt the first agreement was a good first step but insufficient," says Blumenthal. "The prostitution ads have continued; the pornography is still there. It has failed to accomplish all that we'd hoped."

Buckmaster says Craigslist welcomes the "constructive criticism" and confirms that the two sides are in the midst of hashing out a voluntary agreement. But don't expect Craigslist's most popular and controversial category to go away anytime soon.

"We added the Erotic Services category some years ago at the request of users who had been seeing those ads posted throughout our personals and services categories and wanted to see them collected in one space and put behind a warning screen," says Buckmaster. "And having them in one place has allowed them to be monitored more closely, by both our staff and law enforcement."

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard disagrees with Blumenthal that removal of the Erotic Services category is the answer.

"While I am disturbed by vicious recent attacks, removing one section of a Web site is not a magic bullet that will stop criminals from using the Internet for violence," Goddard tells New Times. "I [will] continue to work with Craigslist to eliminate its use for illegal activities, such as child prostitution and human trafficking, as well as to find and prosecute the predators who use the site as their hunting ground."

Goddard was among the 40 state attorneys general who endorsed the aforementioned agreement with Craigslist.

Others in the online classified trade back Buckmaster's assessment. Carl Ferrer, co-founder of Backpage.com, Village Voice Media's online classified partner, points out that even if Blumenthal's demands were met, it wouldn't safeguard against people posting it elsewhere.

"If you eliminate Erotic Services, the content will just migrate to Miscellaneous Services and other categories," Ferrer says. "Then it becomes a whack-a-mole strategy."

There's also no evidence that overall rates of prostitution or murder have increased in correlation with Craigslist's ascension, says Zollman, of the AIM Group. "There have always been hookers. There have always been people who sell drugs and other illegal things. But to call these 'Craigslist-related crimes' is no fairer than calling car accidents 'GM-related deaths.'"

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1 comments
Jane
Jane

What a great, thought-provoking article on Craigslist! And polarizing, to boot!

I have some things to say and forgive me for speaking disrespectfully about the dead. Let me preface this by saying that I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I believe that the folks at Craigslist are being blamed for things that aren't their fault. In our world today, people need to remember "Caveat Emptor." If you answer an ad on Craigslist for rough sex, you might get rough sex, and you might get killed.If you're a prostitute, oh whoops, I mean massage therapist, and you advertise your services on Craigslist, you might get killed.

And, if you answer an ad for a babysitter, you might get killed. (And this is where I feel badly for speaking disrespectfully about Katherine Olson...)

Are you freakin' kiddin' me??!! What kind of a mother would run an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter for their 5 year old??!! And then hire someone sight-unseen??!! NO DECENT MOTHER. And that should have been a red-flag for Katherine. She should have seen red-flags everywhere all over that ad!

"Hi, I don't know you, I've never met you, but please come to my home where I'm going to leave my 5 year old alone with a TOTAL AND COMPLETE stranger." Totally unrealistic scenario.

Wouldn't you want to meet such an awful parent first to see what the deal was? What kind of environment the home is? Every cop in the world tells you that you don't go to a total stranger's home! You meet in a Starbucks first, or something like that...you don't just answer an ad & show up at a person's home. If you do, you might get killed.

I have no problem with organized religion...but here is where it failed Katherine Olson...the daughter of a Pastor, God is good, and God will save you, and people are good, and rainbows and butterflies are beautiful, and always believe the best in people...BLAH, BLAH, BLAH...how about, not all people are good, some are pyschos, and God didn't save the Pastor's daughter from a brutal death, because she was silly enough to beleive that it's all good...but it's not.

People need to take responsibility for their own actions and stop putting the blame on everyone else.

Caveat emptor...let the buyer beware.

 
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