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Digital trail led investigators to alleged Craigslist murderer

Arraigned in Boston today, Philip Markoff charged with assault, kidnapping and murder

April 21, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - 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.

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.

Investigators say digital forensics work was key to tracking down the suspect, according to Jake Wark, press secretary for the Suffolk County, Mass., district attorney's office.

"The technology involved was absolutely crucial in identifying the suspect," said Wark in an interview with Computerworld. "The investigation led to the recovery of an abundance of cellular, wireless and other electronic evidence."

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. In what police said they believe to be a robbery, the victim and assailant struggled in the doorway to a hotel room before Brisman was shot. She was pronounced dead at Boston Medical Center.

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. Police noted that a 29-year-old woman, who had been advertising "sexual services" on Craigslist, was robbed at gunpoint in her hotel room, according to Wark. The woman was bound with restraints and threatened at gunpoint but escaped serious physical harm, he added.

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.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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