Craigslist is a website where you can find almost anything: a new apartment, some garden equipment, a ride from L.A. to New York. But throughout the years, an unlucky few have found themselves unexpectedly purchasing danger: robberies, sexual assault, sudden violent death.
“There is barely a day that goes by that I don’t see at least one report—sometimes two or three or five crimes linked to Craigslist,” says Peter Zollman, the founding principal of Advanced Interactive Media Group, which reports on online marketplace companies. Zollman’s organization runs a blog that catalogues Craigslist killings; according to their count, there have been at least 131 Craigslist murders since 2007.
“Craigslist has always created an ethos of anonymity,” Zollman says. “And a wild west atmosphere.”
A&E Real Crime looks at some of the most gruesome Craigslist killers.
Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Michael John Anderson
The first man dubbed “Craigslist Killer” in media reports couldn’t figure out how to talk to women. According to his attorneys, before his 2007 murder, Michael John Anderson was just “a dumb kid”—a socially stunted 19-year-old who had never so much as held a girl’s hand before he made Craigslist his medium for approach.
There, on the online marketplace, Anderson posted numerous classified advertisements. Eventually, he found 24-year-old Katherine Ann Olson, who was looking for a babysitting gig. Anderson had placed an ad claiming to be a woman named Amy, looking for someone to care for her 5-year-old.
[Watch Beyond the Headlines: Catching the Craigslist Killer on A&E Crime Central.]
Shortly after Olson showed up at Anderson’s Savage, Minnesota home on October 25, 2007, Anderson shot her in the back with a .357 Magnum Blackhawk revolver. He stuffed her into the trunk of her car, where she bled to death.
On March 31, 2009, Anderson was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder, among other charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment without the chance for parole. He currently resides at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Oak Park Heights
The gig looked like a dream come true, for a certain kind of drifter:
We need someone to watch our farm down in southern Ohio. Live for free in a double-wide trailer, nothing in the way of duties except to take in the peacefulness of the countryside and…make sure no one steals any farm equipment or perpetrates any mischief.
Pay was $300 per week. But behind the offer lay a murderous plot: Beasley, 53 years old, was seeking victims. Already on the run from the law for operating a brothel out of a halfway house, Beasley turned to hunting male victims on Craigslist—first, to secure fake identity papers; then later, to secure income while on the lam. Because the gig involved a live-in work situation, victims were instructed to bring cash and possessions with them.
Over four months in 2011, this Craigslist Killer shot and killed three middle-aged men (David Pauley, Ralph Geiger and Timothy Kern) with the help of Brogan Rafferty, a 16-year-old accomplice from a broken home whom Beasley had befriended at church.
“He had a jolly laugh, a beard, a belly and even carried candy in his pocket,” Rafferty told The Atlantic. “There was a period when I was younger that I was convinced he was Santa Claus.”
The killing spree came to an end when a fourth victim, Scott Davis, escaped the attempted murder with a flesh wound and reported the assailants to the police.
Beasley was convicted of aggravated murder, attempted murder and numerous other charges, on March 13, 2013, for which he was sentenced to death. He is currently imprisoned at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution in Ohio. Rafferty was given life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on similar charges.
Unlike Anderson and Beasley, things were going reasonably well for Philip Markoff when he turned to a life of violent crime. Only 23 years old, Markoff was already a medical student at Boston University. And he was engaged—to Megan McAllister, 25 years old. They were only months away from being married.
But Markoff had a double life. He was responding to sex worker classifieds on Craigslist and traveling to upscale hotels in the Boston area, where he held the women at gunpoint, tying them up and robbing them.
Ultimately, over the course of a few weeks in April 2009, this Craigslist Killer robbed three women in similar fashion, shooting and killing his second victim, 26-year-old Julissa Brisman, at the Boston Marriott Copley Place.
Police quickly homed in on Markoff as a suspect. They were able to link emails to his apartment, one of the surviving victims identified him as the perpetrator by a photograph and Brisman’s blood was on his shoes at the time of his arrest.
McAllister broke off their engagement shortly after Markoff’s arrest.
But the case never made it to trial. On what would’ve been his 1-year wedding anniversary, on August 15, 2010, Markoff killed himself in his holding cell with a makeshift scalpel, scrawling his former fiancée’s name on the wall in blood as his final act.
For all the gruesome Craigslist murders, there are some signs of a slowdown. After 83 documented murders between 2007 and 2015, Zollman’s group has only tracked 49 in the six years since—a slight decline.
“I’m happy to say that the last few years, there have been far, far fewer killings reported as linked to Craigslist,” he says—crediting, in part, the elimination of the “casual encounters” and “dating” sections of the website.
Of course, part of it might just be diverted traffic.
“Usage of Craigslist has gone down,” Zollman says. “People are using different apps.”