“We’re taken aback any time we hear that term used,” says Buckmaster. “Although, if you stop and think about it, it’s a testament to how exceedingly rare violent crime is on Craigslist, when you consider that it’s the most common way that Americans are meeting each other these days by a significant margin. The reason they don’t call him ‘the Handgun Killer’ or ‘the Boston Killer’ or ‘the Hotel Killer’ is because thousands of homicides have involved those factors.”

The Weber and Brisman murders couldn’t have come at a worse time for Craigslist. Just as the crimes were splashing into prime-time news segments, a sheriff in Chicago was mounting a campaign against the company. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart filed a federal lawsuit against the site, accusing it of “facilitating prostitution.” He claims that, during the past two years, his department has arrested more than 200 Craigslist users on charges ranging from prostitution to juvenile pimping and human trafficking.

“In the hundreds of arrests that we’ve made, never have we had one where we went under the guise that it’s a massage and it turned out that it was just a massage,” says Dart. “We know what’s going on.”

Craigslist creator Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster are weathering a storm of criticism.
Gene X. Hwang
Craigslist creator Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster are weathering a storm of criticism.
Gene X. Hwang

Details

Click on the photos below to view slideshows related to this story:

Craigslist Murders: A Timeline


Remembering Katherine Olson

Despite Dart’s confident tone, most legal experts believe his lawsuit has little chance of success — a clause in the federal Communications Decency Act immunizes websites from liability for content posted by third parties.

A far more imposing threat to Craigslist is Connecticut’s Blumenthal, who resurfaced in an April 22 open letter with additional, more sweeping demands. “We felt the first agreement was a good first step but insufficient,” says Blumenthal. “The prostitution ads have continued; the pornography is still there. It has failed to accomplish all that we’d hoped.” Blumenthal implored Craigslist to, among other things, disallow salacious prostitution-themed search terms, hire staff to monitor for pornographic images and ads, and eliminate the erotic-services category.

Buckmaster says Craigslist welcomes the “constructive criticism” and confirms that the two sides are in the midst of hashing out a voluntary agreement. But don’t expect Craigslist’s most popular and controversial category to go away anytime soon. “We added the erotic-services category some years ago at the request of users who had been seeing those ads posted throughout our personals and services categories and wanted to see them collected in one space and put behind a warning screen,” says Buckmaster. “And having them in one place has allowed them to be monitored more closely, by both our staff and law enforcement.”

Others in the online classified trade back Buckmaster’s assessment. Carl Ferrer, cofounder of Backpage.com, the online classified partner of New Times owner Village Voice Media, points out that even if Blumenthal’s demands were met, they wouldn’t safeguard against people posting elsewhere.

“If you eliminate erotic services, the content will just migrate to miscellaneous services and other categories,” Ferrer says. “Then it becomes a whack-a-mole strategy.”

There’s also no evidence that overall rates of prostitution or murder have increased in correlation with Craigslist’s ascension, says Zollman, of the AIM Group. “There have always been hookers. There have always been people who sell drugs and other illegal things. But to call these ‘Craigslist-related crimes’ is no fairer than calling car accidents ‘GM-related deaths.’ ”


On a cloudless afternoon last Sunday, May 3, about 700 of Katherine Olson’s friends and family gathered at Grace Church, a colossal house of worship in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The last time this group had been together was at Katherine’s funeral, but those gathered on this day eschewed black clothing in favor of pastel-colored spring attire. There were no tears among the congregants, no Kleenexes hastily passed. This was to be a day of celebration.

When it came time to begin, five members of the Olson family took the stage to subdued applause. Trailing behind in a black suit worn over a tieless maroon dress shirt was Craig Newmark. After a brief introduction by Sarah, Newmark approached the podium, grabbed the microphone, and leaned over his prepared remarks.

“I am really, really humbled and really honored to have been invited here today to speak at this tribute to Katherine, extended by the whole Olson family,” Newmark told the crowd. “I was personally sickened and horrified when I heard about this tragedy. I started Craigslist around 14 years ago as a way to give back to the community.”

Rolf stood behind Newmark, gazing thoughtfully at the crowd.

“Despite the billions of times well-meaning people have helped each other through Craigslist, it has been devastating to see that it can also be used by bad people to take cruel advantage of others and bring a senseless end to a beautiful young life,” Newmark continued. “The most recent crime in Boston has been a grim reminder of that.”

It became clear he wasn’t speaking just on behalf of Katherine but also on behalf of reason and personal responsibility in the age of the internet.

“I’m saddened that we met under these circumstances, but I am truly inspired by the Olson family, and I extend my love and friendship to them,” Newmark concluded. “And I applaud everyone’s effort to let Katherine’s light continue to shine.”

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