Rather than disregard the unassuming two-page letter from the mother, Blumenthal found a new cause at which to throw himself with characteristic vigor. The first thing he did was fax Craigslist a short missive. “I am certainly concerned that children may have access to such explicit material,” he wrote. “I would appreciate your review and response to the complaint, as well as any suggestions for improvement.”

An attorney for Craigslist, Barry Reingold, replied with a four-page letter that made clear that Craigslist was sympathetic to the woman’s “desire to protect her children from personal advertisements that are intended for adult eyes only.” But, Reingold wrote, it was essentially out of their hands. He suggested that she install a web content filter.

Over the course of the next several months, both factions bantered back and forth via conference calls, with Craigslist executives gradually growing more receptive to making some concessions. In early 2008, Newmark and Buckmaster agreed to amp up their enforcement of the site’s terms of use and introduced a telephone verification requirement. As a result, the number of posts for erotic services in Hartford, Connecticut, dropped from about 400 per day to 50.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart sued Craigslist, saying it facilitates prostitution.
Cook County Sheriff's Department
Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart sued Craigslist, saying it facilitates prostitution.


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But when a Connecticut woman was arrested March 19, 2008, for prostituting herself on Craigslist, Blumenthal jumped back on the case, livid that sex-worker ads were still polluting the site. He wrote the company again: “Craigslist must determine now what type of site it is. If it’s truly concerned about the issue, it must devote resources and technology to eliminate these postings from its site.” Frustrated by what he perceived to be stonewalling, Blumenthal went to the media, accusing Craigslist of profiting from prostitution.

Baffled, Craigslist brass went on the defensive and fired back on the site’s blog. “We were disappointed that he chose to ignore our recent progress in dramatically improving compliance with our terms of use, shocked at the bizarre assertion that we are ‘stonewalling,’ and frankly stunned to hear Craigslist recklessly slandered as ‘profiting from prostitution,’ ” wrote Buckmaster. “Craigslist will not be used as a punching bag for false and defamatory statements.”

In July 2008, the sides arranged their first meeting. Buckmaster, along with two Craigslist attorneys, made the cross-country trek to Rye, New York, just beyond the Connecticut border. They met Blumenthal and a few of his subordinates in a coffee shop and, over the course of a few hours, hashed out an agreement.

Under the accord, Craigslist began charging erotic-services advertisers $5 to $10 per ad, enabling the company to confirm users’ identities with their credit cards. Craigslist also vowed to donate profits from the sex category to charity.

The agreement was made public in November. Forty attorneys general endorsed the deal, including those from Tennessee, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has refused. Asked why, McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes sent New Times this email: “At the time, we did not feel we had enough information about certain aspects of the settlement and were reluctant to support some of the agreement’s provisions. I’m afraid that’s as specific as I can be.” Copes declined to elaborate.

Craigslist’s Buckmaster says the company is doing its best to comply with the attorneys generals’ concerns.

“There are far more — and far more graphic — images on all of the general-purpose internet portals and general-purpose search engines than anyone is ever going to find on Craigslist,” says Buckmaster. “That said, we aren’t comfortable with any pornographic images being posted on Craigslist, and we’re committed to eliminating that.”

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 Satanist from Queens. “I can smother somebody for $60,” he wrote to Weber.

The two met in Brooklyn and made their way to Weber’s first-floor brownstone. There, Katehis allegedly stabbed Weber some 50 times in the neck and torso. When police arrested Katehis at a friend’s house in upstate New York, he was still wearing clothes he had taken from Weber’s apartment.

About three weeks later, on April 14, Philip Markoff — a tall, blond, 22-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. 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 killing Brisman by shooting her three times, twice in the torso, once in the hip.

Markoff was with his fiancée, on their way to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, when police pulled him over and arrested him 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 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 Brisman killing 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? The national media dubbed Markoff “the Craigslist Killer,” a phrase that still makes Newmark and Buckmaster cringe.

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