Did the "Craigslist Killer" Change Media?

BlogHer Original Post
Boston University graduate student Philip H. Markoff appears at Boston Municipal Court for his arraignment on April 21, 2009. Markoff, who has been dubbed the Craigslist Killer, will be charged with the murder of masseuse Julissa Brisman, who he allegedly lured to his hotel room through an ad posted on Craigslist. (UPI Photo/Mark Garfinkel/Pool) . Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

Philip Markoff, 24, the so-called “Craigslist Killer,” was found dead in his Boston jail cell on Sunday. He had a plastic bag tied over his head and cuts on his arms. Markoff was awaiting trial for allegedly killing Julissa Brisman, a Boston masseuse he contacted over Craigslist. He was suspected of attacking another woman in Rhode Island, and committing armed robbery against another woman in Boston. As a result of the case, Craigslist modified how certain adult-oriented services could be advertised.

While Brisman’s family is understandably devastated to not have a day in court, it might actually be better for the poor woman’s reputation. Back when she was murdered and Markoff was arrested in 2009, much of the media attention went to her looks and “salacious” activities, noted Feminist Lens. When a true crime show highlighted the case a few months ago, Jill at I Blame the Patriarchy was horrified at what was broadcast:

The real star of the show was Dead Hookers and Kinky Sex...That’s right, almost the entire program was devoted to sensationalizing the killer’s victims, prostituted women described variously as “the Las Vegas escort,” “a stripper” and “the slain masseuse” who had placed “erotic services” ads on Craigslist.

After all of this, what else do we know about Brisman? Sadly, not much else. We know her family is grieving. She was 25 years old (Women’s Day called her a “25-year-old girl,” which bothers me to no end, and other sources say she was 26) when she was killed in April 2009. She was from New York City. Kim LaPria at The Inquisitor includes a line that Brisman was an aspiring drug counselor, but other sources say she was a model and actress. Whoever she was, she didn’t deserve to die. Her family has also pledged to work to prevent violence against women.

The murder set off a panic about finding services through Craigslist and other online/anonymous sources. In the aftermath, Craigslist modified how they handle “erotic services,” changing the category to “adult.” Vanessa Richards at The Tyee posted an article in April about the dangers that still lurk on Craigslist and how to protect oneself. She noted that:

In 2006, Nassau County set up a prostitution sting operation focused on Craigslist. As a result, last year, Craigslist reached an agreement with state attorney generals to charge a $5 fee and require a phone number for people posting "erotic services." The move led to an immediate 80 per cent drop in postings to that section, and turned the casual encounters section into a free-for-all.

Did this case change how we meet people online? I am not sure. It’s still possible to find fake accounts on Facebook and other social media. When I read blogs, I feel like I know the author well, although really I don’t. I remember meeting Kara from Count Mockula’s Naughty Bits for the first time in February 2006. I was in her neck of the woods for work, and she and two of her friends were going to pick me up from my hotel for dinner. My dad was horrified. “You are going to get into a car with strangers?” he asked. I explained that I knew them from their blogs, but he was not convinced. He begged me to bring along a co-worker, just in case. Fortunately, we all had a wonderful time and I continually rue the 3,000 miles that separate me from Kara for most of the year.

The Internet and social media can be dangerous or it can be something that foments friendships and love. I’m lucky. Julissa Brisman was not. May she rest in peace.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.

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