Profile of Philip Markoff, the 'Craigslist Killer'

Smart, Good-Looking, and Deadly

Philip Markoff, The Craigslist Killer
Mark Garfinkel-Pool/Getty Images

Philip Markoff was in his second year of medical school when he was arrested for robbery and murder. He earned the moniker "Craigslist Killer" because it was believed that he found his victims through their exotic ads on Craigslist.

Markoff, born Feb. 12, 1986, grew up in the small town (population 3,147) of Sherill, New York. His parents divorced when he was in elementary school. He stayed with his mother, and his older brother went with his father, a dentist in Syracuse.

Those who remembered Philip as a child described him as well behaved and a good student.

High School

Throughout high school, Markoff's behavior was exemplary. He was clean-cut, popular, and involved in student activities including youth court and history club.

He was good-looking and stood out from many boys his age. He was 6-feet-3-inches tall with broad shoulders and a husky frame. Most boys his size would have gone out for the football team, but Markoff was a strong competitor on the bowling team and liked to play golf.

Markoff was serious about his education and preparing for his future. He was an honor student and a member of the National Honor Society. His future looked bright.

College

After high school, Markoff went to the State University of New York in Albany, where he showed an intense desire to excel. He took extra courses and graduated in three years with a bachelor's degree in biology.

Socially, Markoff was reserved with friends and awkward around women. He studied a lot and volunteered in the emergency room of the local hospital. The one thing he did for fun was play all-night poker games with his friends. He earned a reputation for being a good, serious player—sometimes too serious. He wasn't a good loser.

Megan McAllister

Markoff met Megan McAllister at the hospital where he volunteered. McAllister, attractive and sophisticated, was two years older than Markoff. She asked him out, and he accepted. They continued to date regularly and became college sweethearts.

After graduating from college, Markoff and McAllister moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Markoff had been accepted to Boston University Medical School. McAllister also hoped to go to medical school, but one of the only schools that accepted her was in St. Kitts in the Caribbean.

On May 17, 2008, Markoff proposed to McAllister and she accepted. She put her medical school dreams on hold and focused on plans for their August 14, 2009, wedding.

Everything about their wedding was going to be first class. The wedding registry listed mainly expensive brands of china, silver, and crystal. It was as if she was planning for the successful future she knew they would share.

Differences in their backgrounds became more apparent as the wedding date neared. Markoff came from a world where a microwavable casserole dish would make a great wedding gift. In Megan's world, a casserole dish would likely not be listed on the registry.

The truth was, Markoff was in debt for $130,000 and living off credit. Even the $1,400 a month he paid in rent came from borrowed money.

'Craigslist Killer'

In April 2009, police began investigating two separate crimes that surveillance images linked to the same man.

On April 10, Trisha Leffler was robbed at gunpoint in the Westin Hotel by a man who responded to an exotic ad she had placed on Craigslist. Four days later, Julissa Brisman was found murdered in the doorway of her hotel room at Boston's upscale Marriott Copley Place. She had an appointment with a man named "Andy" who had contacted her through her Craigslist ad. They had corresponded by phone and email, and the investigators had "Andy's" email address, a major break in their investigation.

The news media jumped on the story of the murder and by the following day news stories about the "Craigslist Killer" circulated nationwide. Police released a statement about the crime and hotel surveillance photos of a man whom the police wanted to question.

On April 16, Cynthia Melton was attacked by a man at a Holiday Inn Express in Providence, Rhode Island. The man had contacted her through her ad on Craigslist. Authorities knew by the pictures caught on the hotel security camera that her attacker was the same man Boston authorities were looking for, the one that they called the "Craigslist Killer."

On April 15, Markoff left Boston and headed to Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut. The place was familiar to him; he had been there 19 times in the previous three months. This time he stayed for two days and turned $700 into $5,300 in winnings.

A Suspect

Investigators traced the emails from "Andy" to a "Philip Markoff." They had an apartment building address but couldn't find a driver's license for Markoff.

Then came a lucky break: A Facebook search turned up the wedding page that McAllister had enthusiastically compiled. They learned that Markoff was a medical student at Boston University. They got a copy of his student I.D. picture and compared it with the video images they had of the suspect.

A 24-hour surveillance team was set up, and they followed Markoff to BJ's supermarket, where they took items Markoff had touched and sent them for fingerprint analysis. Better photos of Markoff helped Melton and Leffler identify him as their attacker.

An Arrest

On April 20, Markoff and McAllister were in her car, headed to Foxwoods Casino, when police pulled them over on I-95. With guns drawn, they cuffed Markoff and told him he was under arrest for Brisman's murder. McAllister kept insisting that the police had made a mistake and answered all their questions. Markoff proved to be difficult. He argued specifics about his Miranda rights and would not give direct answers to questions.

McAllister, still convinced that the police had the wrong person, began contacting news outlets with what she thought was the truth: There was no way the Philip Markoff that she knew could have murdered anyone. She continued to believe in Markoff until the police divulged the evidence discovered in their apartment.

The Search

Evidence found in the apartment included:

  • A gun hidden in a medical book that had been hollowed out. Markoff had purchased it using a driver's license in the name of Andrew Miller. The same license was found on him at the time of his arrest. Markoff's prints also had been found on the purchasing document.
  • Bullets matching the kind used in Brisman's shooting.
  • Plastic zip ties that matched those used on the victims.
  • Duct tape that matched that used on Leffler.
  • A laptop computer with fragments of communication with Brisman.
  • Unused disposable cell phones purchased in February 2009.

Under the couple's mattress, police found rolled socks stuffed with 16 pairs of panties, two that had been stolen from Leffler and another two stolen from Melton. Owners of the others were not identified. The socks concerned investigators. Were there other victims? Was Markoff so cool and collected when he robbed Leffler because he had done it before? Investigators continued to dig.

On April 21, Markoff was charged with Brisman's murder and burglary and weapons counts. He pleaded not guilty. Bail was denied, and he was sent to Nashua Street Jail.

Two days later, Markoff tried to kill himself by hanging himself in his cell with his shoelaces. He was moved to the infirmary and placed on suicide watch. That same day, McAllister took down the couple's wedding website.

'More Coming Out'

Markoff's parents, sister-in-law, and estranged brother Jonathan visited him in jail on April 24. This was the first time Markoff and his brother had spoken in years. Dave Wedge of the Boston Herald reported that the meeting was allegedly overheard by guards and that Markoff told Jonathan, "Forget about me... there is more coming out."

Markoff was right. More was revealed about a side of him nobody knew about, including his fiancée.

NBC News' Jeff Rossen reported on the "Today" show that Markoff might have been soliciting transvestites on Craigslist. Markoff had a Yahoo! email address, "sexaddict5385," that he used in spring 2008 to correspond with an anonymous source, including erotic emails and explicit pictures of himself. Their last correspondence was in January 2009.

Investigators also found evidence that Markoff had used the "sexaddict5385" Yahoo account to register at a BDSM website in the "Transvestitism" category. He posted, among other things, that he was interested in wearing a collar and leash and in cross-dressing.

On April 29, McAllister and her mother visited Markoff in jail. Markoff was dressed in a "Ferguson Safety Blanket," a prison suicide robe given to inmates on suicide watch. McAllister spent 25 minutes with him and broke off the engagement. She told Markoff that she would probably never see him again. Markoff had little to say but, "I'm sorry."

Another Suicide Attempt

The next day Markoff attempted suicide again by using a sharp metal spoon to cut his wrist. He did little damage to himself. 

By June 2009 Markoff had been moved out of the infirmary into the general population. He became friendly with some of the inmates and set up poker games. By all accounts, he was adjusting to his life in prison.

McAllister visited Markoff one last time to tell him she was going ahead with her plans to attend medical school in the Caribbean. Soon after her visit, Markoff was caught with a stockpile of anti-anxiety pills that he had been prescribed by the prison shrink. He was placed back on suicide watch for a few days but was again released into the general population.

Suicide

Philip Markoff, 24, still awaiting trial, succeeded in killing himself on Aug. 15, 2010, the anniversary of what would have been his wedding day. He had spread out photos of McAllister on the table inside his cell and wrote "Megan" and "pocket" in his blood above the doorway. Also, he:

  • Slashed major arteries on his ankles and legs and the carotid artery in his neck.
  • Used plastic bags to catch the flowing blood.
  • Swallowed toilet paper so that he could not be resuscitated.
  • Pulled a plastic bag over his head and tightened it with gauze.
  • Lay on his bed, covered himself with a blanket, and died.

Legal Proceedings

On Sept. 16, 2010, prosecutors filed a nolle prosequi, a legal term meaning they would proceed no further, and dismissed the charges against Markoff. The evidence against him would someday be released to the public, but legally, Markoff got what he wanted.

On March 31, 2011, the Suffolk County district attorney's office released the evidence on Markoff. Included was a pair of brown leather shoes he was wearing at the time of his arrest. Brisman's blood was found on the shoes.

Evidence also included the hollowed-out medical book where he hid the gun, bullet casings, a knife, victims' underwear, incriminating emails, and the disposable phones. Prosecutors said the evidence proved their case against Markoff beyond a reasonable doubt.

Also released was the interview detectives had with Markoff on the day of his arrest, where Markoff is heard denying any knowledge of the crimes. "I didn’t tie up and rob anybody," Markoff said. "I don’t really know what you’re talking about." He then asked for an attorney.

Suffolk County DA Dan Conley said, “There was apparently a dark and sinister side to Philip Markoff that he took to his grave.” 

Sources