By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It took five hours for the jury to return its verdict. The Olson family held one another as the 12-member jury announced the news: Michael Anderson was guilty of first- and second-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter.
The following morning, Judge Mary Theisen addressed the Olson family with watering eyes. She told them that Katherine’s life had touched the entire courtroom.
The sympathy turned to rage as her gaze fell on Michael Anderson. “You’re a callous, cruel and unjust human being,” Theisen said, sentencing Anderson to a mandatory term of life in prison without parole.
On an unseasonably snowy March 20 in New York City, George Weber — a passionate, affable 47-year-old radio newsman for WABC — posted a Craigslist ad looking for rough sex.
His solicitation was answered promptly by 16-year-old John Katehis, a self-described sadomasochist and Satanist who lived with his separated parents in the East Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. “I can smother somebody for $60,” he wrote to Weber. In the context of what was to be a sadomasochistic romp, Katehis’ aggressive reply failed to raise red flags.
The two met in Brooklyn and made their way to Weber’s first-floor brownstone apartment in Carroll Gardens. There, Katehis allegedly stabbed Weber some 50 times in the neck and torso. The teen stripped off his bloodied clothes, put on a clean pair of jeans and T-shirt purloined from Weber’s wardrobe, and hopped the G train back to Queens. When police arrested Katehis at a friend’s house in Upstate New York, he was still wearing Weber’s clothes.
About three weeks later, on April 14, Philip Markoff — a tall, blond, 23-year-old med student at Boston University — came across an Erotic Services ad on Craigslist posted by 26-year-old Bronx-based call girl Julissa Brisman. Markoff sent her an email and the two arranged a soirée at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston’s upscale Back Bay district. Seconds after entering the room, Markoff allegedly pounced on Brisman, who, according to a medical examiner, fought back tenaciously. Markoff stands accused of shooting Brisman three times — twice in the torso, once in the hip — killing her.
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.”
The Weber and Brisman murders couldn’t have come at a worse time for Craigslist. Just as the crimes were splashing into prime-time 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 last 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.’”
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