Digital forensics leads police to suspected Craigslist killer

Digital forensics was a key factor in tracking down a man law enforcement officials say targeted women who advertised massage and other personal services on Craigslist.

Philip Markoff, 22, of Quincy, Mass., was arraigned in Boston Municipal Court today.

Ordered held without bail, Markoff is charged with murder, armed robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm, and kidnapping.

The charges, according to the Boston Police Department, are in connection with the April 14 murder of Julissa Brisman at the Copley Marriott Hotel in Boston and the April 10 kidnapping and robbery of another woman at the Westin Hotel, also in Boston.

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Markoff, a second-year medical student at Boston University, was taken into custody late Monday afternoon.

He is due to make his next appearance in Municipal Court on May 21 for a pretrial conference.

Forensics work was key to tracking down the suspect, according to Jake Wark, press secretary for the Suffolk County, Mass., district attorney’s office.

Digital forensics has also played a crucial role in the investigation of crimes by Canadian police teams.

For instance, in Winnipeg, police investigators used image matching software to track child porn producers and sexual predators.

In the Julissa Brisman murder case, in Boston, forensics technology”led to the recovery of an abundance of cellular, wireless and other electronic evidence,” Wark said.

He added that investigators from the Boston police homicide unit were able to link the IP address that was used to send an e-mail setting up the April 14 date with the murder victim to Markoff’s home address.

Brisman, according to information released by the Boston Police Department, was found at the Copley Marriott after having been shot three times in the abdomen at close range.

She also had been repeatedly struck in the head with a blunt object.

The woman had been advertising massage services on Craigslist.

The victim and assailant struggled in the doorway to a hotel room before Brisman was shot.

According to news reports, other hotel guests heard screams from Brisman’s room on the 20th floor of the hotel.

She was found lying in a pool of blood, riddled with bullet wounds — and a plastic restraint on one wrist. The massage table was reportedly set up in the room.

Brisman was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators managed to retrieve hotel video surveillance footage featuring images of a young man with blond hair.

Cops think the same man robbed a prostitute a few days before at a nearby hotel.

The nature of Brisman’s “masseuse services” – sex or just rub downs – aren’t known, according to the Boston police.

But a photographer who knew the masseuse for six years said it was just massage, and completely legit, according to reports,

Information garnered from friends indicates she was a “sweet girl” who hoped to become an actress, and suggests she was close to her family.

She gave part of her earnings to her mother, and purchased school books for her teenage sister.

She also worked on music videos and other photo shoots, gave her mom part of her earnings and bought school books for her 14-year-old sister.

Police report that the murder is connected to an April 10 robbery at the Westin Hotel, which is about two-tenths of a mile from the Copley Marriott and connected to the other hotel by a shopping mall.

In that case, Wark noted, a 29-year-old woman, who had been advertising “sexual services” on Craigslist, was robbed at gunpoint in her hotel room.

The woman was bound with restraints and threatened at gunpoint but escaped serious physical harm.

A series of photos were taken by surveillance cameras of a man in both hotels at the time of the incidents.

Wark said police are also investigating whether Markoff can be tied to a similar assault and robbery at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel in Warwick, R.I.

With files from Joaquim P. Menezes


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