The Longform Guide to Craigslist Crime.

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Nov. 25 2014 9:45 PM

The Longform Guide to Craigslist Crime

How murderers, drug dealers, and bike thieves take advantage of the online classifieds site.

170026416
Be careful, or it might end up on Craigslist

Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from 70 of the world’s best magazines, including Slate.


Murder By Craiglist
Hanna Rosin • Atlantic • August 2013

How a serial killer and his teenage accomplice used listings for “the job of a lifetime” to lure their victims, all single men, to the backwoods of Ohio.

Advertisement

“Davis wasn’t the only person to answer the Craigslist ad. More than 100 people applied for the caretaker job—a fact that Jack was careful to cite in his e-mails back to the applicants. He wanted to make sure that they knew the position was highly sought-after. Jack had a specific type of candidate in mind: a middle-aged man who had never been married or was recently divorced, and who had no strong family connections. Someone who had a life he could easily walk away from. ‘If picked I will need you to start quickly,’ he would write in his e-mails.

“Jack painstakingly designed the ad to conjure a very particular male fantasy: the cowboy or rancher, out in the open country, herding cattle, mending fences, hunting game—living a dream that could transform a post-recession drifter into a timeless American icon. From the many discarded drafts of the ad that investigators later found, it was clear that Jack was searching for just the right pitch to catch a certain kind of man’s eye. He tinkered with details—the number of acres on the property, the idea of a yearly bonus and paid utilities—before settling on his final language: ‘hilly,’ ‘secluded,’ ‘job of a lifetime.’ If a woman applied for the job, Jack wouldn’t bother responding. If a man applied, he would ask for the critical information right off the bat: How old are you? Do you have a criminal record? Are you married?”

Who Pinched My Ride?
Patrick Symmes • Outside • January 2012

Inside the underground economy of stolen bikes.

“Stolen bikes suffer many fates. In the Bay Area, they are often sold at flea markets, particularly in Alameda, just south of Oakland. In Portland, within hours of being taken, a few will appear at pawn shops just outside city limits, where documentation rules are lax. But just as they do in New York City, which shut down most ad hoc bike dealers years ago, the majority end up online, either on eBay or on Craigslist, the black hole of bicycles.

“But how do you tell which ones are stolen? A Brooklyn bike-shop owner whose store had recently been robbed of 22 bikes pointed me toward ‘Bobby from Bay Ridge,’ one of the most prolific sellers on the site. In a phone conversation, Bobby said he could find a bike in my size within a few days—which sounded almost like a snatch-to-order. But after riding the subway to outer Brooklyn, I found him—he’s not really named Bobby, and he does not live in Bay Ridge—to be less than sinister. He was middle-aged and living on a leafy block, with a garage full of used bikes. ‘I buy ’em at police auctions,’ he said, mostly in New Jersey. I picked out a 1970s ten-speed—a Schwinn Continental, which would become Bike Three. It hardly had a scratch on it, meaning it was no New York City ride.

“I flipped it over to look for a serial number, which is often carved on the bottom of a bike frame. Bobby blanched but recovered quickly. ‘It’s legal,’ he said. ‘The police check ’em all before auctioning.’

“Police departments do check all the bikes they recover against databases, but it’s a pointless exercise. The vast majority of bike thefts aren’t reported or are reported with no serial number. Bobby was just a cog in the machine.”

My Roommate, the Diamond Thief
Brian Boucher • New York • January  2006

A New Yorker finds an unlikely house guest on Craigslist.

“In his bed, I discovered a laptop and a bulging manila folder that seemed innocuous enough, though I couldn’t help but look inside. There, to my total shock, were scraps of torn-up preapproved credit-card offers I’d received in the mail and tossed in the trash. That wasn’t all. On a sheet of notebook paper, he’d scribbled the names, addresses, and phone numbers of my family members; my mother’s maiden name; the date my parents had married; and the name and address of a contractor I was working for, apparently copied from a pay stub. He even had the name and number of a woman I’d met at a party. Equally alarming were notes on my credit-card information, along with my sign-in names and passwords to various Websites.

“In an instant, I felt like an idiot, a sucker, the Jersey boy I am. Why had I trusted this stranger? I burned with shame and anger as I pictured him listening for me to leave for work in the morning so he could methodically search my trash and boot up my computer. A ghostwriter? What a moron I’d been. I’d never seen him write a word. But who was he? I searched everything in the room. A letter from JetBlue addressed to a Brandall Platt confirmed a flight to Oakland, California, in November 2003, the time of one of his previous absences. There were photocopies of Social Security cards and California driver’s licenses of a Charles Brown and an Andre Holmes and others. From the photocopies, I couldn’t tell whether the pictures were of my roommate. I found nothing bearing the name ‘Don’ had given me: John Williams.”

Killer@Craigslist
Maureen Orth • Vanity Fair • October 2009

An early investigation of “Craigslist Killer” Philip Markoff.

“He was Andy and she was Morgan. Both were fake names. They never actually spoke to each other; all their communication was by e-mail or text message. He used a disposable Trac phone that would be hard to trace; her friend and employer pretended that she was Morgan when setting up their meeting via cyberspace. He found her listing as a masseuse in the Craigslist Erotic Services section last April 13, a Monday. She said she was visiting Boston for three days—she had a room on the 20th floor of the Boston Marriott Copley Place, an upscale Back Bay hotel. Using the e-mail address AMDPM@Live.com, he initially answered to the anonymous address provided by Craigslist. Her replies came back from massagesbymorganboston@yahoo.com.

“At 4:37 p.m., he wrote, ‘I myself am visiting Boston and was looking for a 10 pm or later appointment tonight or tomorrow. Unfortunately, I will not be free any earlier.’ Later he e-mailed again: ‘Morgan, I can still make it tonight but I am thinking tomorrow at ten would be better for me.’

“My Wednesday appointment moved later,’ the masseuse, whose real name was Julissa Brisman and who worked part-time in a New York tanning salon, answered. ‘I could do it tomorrow night or we can do 10:30 or 11 tonight if you wanted to see me later tonight. Let me know what you prefer. Morgan.’

“At 7:03 p.m., her fate was sealed. ‘Hey, Morgan: 10pm tomorrow is best for me. Thank you, Andy.’ The next night he used the Trac phone to say that he had arrived early—at 9:41 p.m.

“Mary Beth Simons (not her real name), who owns the tanning salon where Brisman worked and who acted as her screener and intermediary, took the call and texted Brisman that she had told him to come up on the hour.

“A few minutes after 10, all pretense and politesse were dropped. Julissa Brisman was dead.

Heroin.com: Selling Junk Online
David Shapiro, Joe Coscarelli • Village Voice • April 2011

How Craigslist dealers do business.

“Only a man named ‘Kai,’ however, appears to sell heroin openly on New York's Craigslist pages. And he's not very subtle at all.

"Want to “nod out”? Ride the “H” train,’ reads one subject line. The body of that advertisement offered ‘H, d@pe, diesel’ for purchase ‘anywhere in Manhattan public or private.’ Sometimes he throws in the term ‘Papaver Somniferum L.,’ the Latin name of the plant that opium and poppy come from. For good measure, Kai insists in his ads that he's not law enforcement ‘and you shouldn't be either.’

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.


  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 25 2014 3:21 PM Listen to Our November Music Roundup Hot tracks for our fall playlist, exclusively for Slate Plus members.