There are new developments to the possible Craigslist killing today. The suspected killer, Philip Markoff, is being held without bond in a Boston jail cell. Police were back in his apartment last night looking for evidence on what the district attorney is calling a “brutal, vicious crime.”
What drove the medical student to allegedly kill a young masseuse and assault one other woman? Early reports suggest that Markoff owed gambling debts. While the district attorney is not commenting on that, he is telling CNN when Markoff was picked up there was evidence to suggest he was headed to a casino in Connecticut.
The story is giving new attention to Craigslist. It's not the first time the site has been the center of a criminal investigation. In a taped interview Wednesday on CNN’s American Morning, John Roberts spoke exclusively to the CEO of Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster, about the case.
Jim Buckmaster: We feel terrible and it’s quite sad that anyone would lose their life and we’re horrified that use of Craigslist could in anyway be connected with a violent crime of this nature. It causes us to redouble our efforts to try to get across to users to take a few common sense precautions that eliminate most of the risk.
John Roberts: What do you plan to do in response to this Markoff case, if anything?
Buckmaster: We're examining the way the site is set up and the processes we use to see if there's any incremental new change that we can make that could make the use of the site even safer for users.
Roberts: Police believe that Phillip Markoff found his victims by surfing Craigslist. It's also believed that in New York City, George Weber met his killer on Craigslist. What do you say to this notion that while Craigslist is valuable as a community bulletin board, it could also be a conduit through which predators can find prey?
Buckmaster: We think quite the reverse is true in that you have to remember there are 50 million Americans using Craigslist each month; most of them using it several times a month. Whenever you have that amount of human activity there is a possibility of things going wrong despite everyone's best efforts to protect people. Having said that, no incident of violent crime, obviously, is okay. We're looking and seeing if there's anything we can be doing differently to make people even safer when they're using the site.
Roberts: In the case of Philip Markoff and the police in Boston, did you assist in the investigation? Not you personally, but did Craigslist officials assist in the investigation?
Buckmaster: As always, we make ourselves completely available to law enforcement and provide them with anything that they need that could help them either find the individual they’re looking for or prosecute the case once they've found the person.
Roberts: Why do you allow these types of services to be advertised on Craigslist, whether they're in erotic services or under other services?
Buckmaster: Back in 2005, our users saw these kinds of ads being posted throughout the site. They asked us to set up a dedicated category where these ads would live and where they could be put behind a warning screen. So we ended up doing what telephone, yellow pages, and newspaper classifieds have typically done for decades, which is have a dedicated category for these kinds of ads. One difference on Craigslist, of course, is that 100% of the net revenue goes to charity.
Roberts: That's under the erotic services category. But is it not true that people can post these erotic services and mask them and post them under other areas in Craigslist as well, making it that much more difficult for you to police?
Buckmaster: That's what they were doing previously. But now that we have a dedicated category, escort ads and massage ads, etc., that's generally where they're posted now.
Roberts: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in Illinois appealed to you to shut down these erotic services saying that he makes dozens of arrests for prostitution based on ads that he sees on Craigslist. In Worcester, Massachusetts over the weekend, 50 people were arrested after they responded to an ad that Worcester police put on Craigslist offering erotic services. So it’s clear that criminal enterprise is being conducted. Does Craigslist condone that?
Buckmaster: Of course we don't. We prohibit all kinds of illegal activity. In the erotic services category, we adopted telephone verification, credit card authorization. Those two steps eliminated about 90% of the inappropriate activity on the site. And now we're chipping away at that remaining 10%.
Roberts: Why not refuse to take any ads of this nature?
Buckmaster: That's actually the great thing about Craigslist. When there is criminal activity, which, of course, we don't condone, it is easier for law enforcement, at least they tell us that on a regular basis, to spot the bad apples and root them out and prosecute them and get them off of the site, which we really appreciate.