In this “detailed and absorbing” (The Boston Globe) true crime book, discover the many mysteries behind the secret life of the brilliant and well-liked Boston University medical student who came to be known as the Craigslist Killer. How was he able to conceal his dark side to all who knew him, even his sweet and trusting fiancée? What was his motivation to use the online bulletin board to find his victims? And what were the clues—pieces of an astonishing puzzle—that led Boston police to arrest the clean-cut, all-American young man with no criminal record who was in reality an out-of-control thrill seeker hiding a lethal sexual life?
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About the Author
Maria Cramer is a reporter for The Boston Globe who covers numerous crime stories, including the case of Clark Rockefeller, who gained international attention in 2008 when he kidnapped his daughter from a Boston Park and was later connected to the 1984 disappearance of a California couple. She lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
A Sweet Blonde
It was Trisha Leffler's first visit to Boston.
Her flight from Las Vegas landed at around 6 p.m. on April 9, and she caught a cab to the hotel she'd booked on Hotwire.com the Westin Copley Place in Boston's upscale Back Bay, a mecca of shopping for locals and tourists alike. But Trisha wasn't in Boston to shop, see the Red Sox, or walk the Freedom Trail. She was there to work, and after settling into her room taking a shower and throwing her dirty clothes on the floor she logged onto her new computer and placed an ad on Craigslist.
For the uninitiated, Craigslist.org is an online bulletin board and the go-to site for just about anything you might desire. For anyone under thirty, it's a way of life, a permanent way station on the Internet to be checked whenever you're looking for an apartment, a job, a coffee table, a book club, a nanny, or a hookup. It's a friend when you're bored, a counselor when you're blue, a release when you're sexually frustrated. It is its own universe. Craigslist is not only the dominant online bulletin board it's the only one most people can name. More so than even Google or Microsoft, Craigslist is master of its domain.
The ad Trisha posted that evening was simple but not direct. It meandered around the main point but, if you came across it, listed in the board's erotic services section, you knew what was being offered. "It basically said, if you'd like to come spend some time with a sweet blonde, give me a call so we can spend some time together," Trisha recalled. "That's basically the ins and outs of it."
Trisha, a twenty-nine-year-old resident of Las Vegas with a criminal record for soliciting prostitution, put her cell phone number in the ad, then sat back and waited. She'd come a long way from her Mormon roots. Trisha, a bleached blonde, was raised a Mormon in Utah, but by the time she was in her early twenties, she was living full-time in Las Vegas. She began to sell her body, but it wasn't always easy, not when the next batch of younger and more enticing hookers arrived almost daily. So she branched out, and sometimes hit the open road. When she got some money together, she would travel to a different city based on two criteria: it had to be new and interesting, and it had to provide some work.
That's how she found herself in Boston on the evening of April 9. It was now late on Thursday night, bleeding into Friday morning, but it was a drinking night, and for certain guys alone, or bored with their wives and girlfriends it was the perfect night to spend some time alone in a hotel room with a "sweet blonde" who made no demands. And Trisha is a nice person, if a little lost in the world. Her best friend seems to be her tiny Pomeranian named Pixie. She's put on a few extra pounds over the years, but her calling card is her easygoing nature, and it's not hard to understand why men enjoy spending time with her. She's vulnerable, agreeable, and quick to laugh.
She waited for the call that was sure to come, because if Trisha knew one thing, it was this: men in Boston were no different from men everywhere else. Sure enough, her cell phone rang. A few guys were interested but there was nothing definite. And then a man called who sounded more serious. Trisha could tell from his questions.
What part of town are you in?
In a hotel?
Yes, the Westin.
What kind of work do you do?
I'm a student.
Okay, so you wanna come by?
Trisha had noted in her ad that she had different rates. You could spend a half hour or an hour with her, your choice. "He asked me how much it was for the half hour and the hour and I told him it was two hundred dollars for the hour," she said.
Okay, an hour sounds fine.
Okay, so call when you get to the hotel and I'll tell you what floor I'm on.
Trisha maintains that there was no talk of sex, and no explicit promises were exchanged. "He was just gonna pay me for my time," she said. "And about a half hour or twenty minutes later, he called me when he got to the Westin."
Hey, I'm the guy who called.
Are you here?
Yes, what floor are you on?
Ah, thirteen, my lucky number.
Trisha employed the routine she always uses when meeting a client for the first time; giving the man her floor number but that's all. She meets the client at the elevator and sizes him up. "If I don't feel comfortable, then I'll just walk away from the person. That way, they don't know exactly what room number I'm in," she said. "If I'm not comfortable, I just tell 'em, 'No thanks.' "
Trisha was done up in a short black, jersey-knit dress that showed off her curves. She walked down the hall to the elevator bank, and the moment the doors opened, she liked what she saw. "He was tall, a good-looking guy," she said. "When I first laid eyes on him, I was comfortable because, you know, he was a regular-looking guy. It didn't look like he had any other tendencies other than just spend a little time and leave. I just said, 'Hi,' and he said, 'Hi,' and I motioned for him to follow me. I didn't really wanna talk out in the hallway."
The man was dressed in a black leather coat, dark jeans, and a tan shirt. He had blond hair and light-colored eyes, and Trisha estimated that he was in his late twenties.
"So we went into the room, and as soon as I closed the door and I had turned around, he was standing there just inside the door. That's when he pulled out the gun. I immediately started shaking. My heart started beating real fast."
Trisha later said that the gun was black and "definitely not a revolver. It was a semiautomatic and it looked to be a pretty big caliber." Remaining as polite as ever, the man ordered Trisha to lie down on the floor. She knew one thing it was best to remain calm. She did what he asked. The guy was well over six feet and towered over Trisha, who is five foot two and weighs about 135 pounds. "He put the gun back in his pocket and stepped behind me, and he kneeled on the ground with one knee in between my legs and told me to put my hands behind my back, which I did. And then he tied me up, one hand at a time."
You don't have to do all this. You don't have to tie me up. I'll give you whatever you want. You don't have to tie me up.
If you just be quiet, no harm's gonna come to you.
At that point, the good-looking stranger pulled on a pair of black leather gloves. "In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, it's a toy and it's not loaded," she said of the gun. She was reassured by the guy's gentlemanly manner. "He was very calm. He didn't tell me to shut up, he told me to be quiet. I guess you could call him polite. He didn't call me names or swear at me."
Where's your money?
In my purse.
He mistakenly picked up Trisha's makeup case from the desk.
No, my purse is in the top drawer of the entertainment center.
She had $800 in cash. "He immediately went for the money, took it out, and put it in his pocket. Then he knelt down on the floor and rifled through my purse. He took out my wallet, taking each credit card out, and asking me what kind of credit cards they were."
It was Trisha's habit to carry gift cards. Some had money on them, some did not, but she liked to carry them so that if she was ever in a bind, she could call a friend to put extra cash on the cards. For her, it was easier than carrying regular credit cards. She did have one bank debit card, which caught the man's eye.
What's your pin number?
"My adrenaline was rushing so much, I couldn't think of a lie, so I gave him the pin number."
That better be the pin number or there's gonna be a problem later.
This tall guy, who had remained calm throughout the robbery, put all the cards and Trisha's wallet in his pocket. Suddenly, she was worried, not so much about getting killed but about getting home. Without her ID, getting back to Vegas getting anywhere was going to be a major hassle. It's funny the things that go through one's mind at a time like this. Without thinking, Trisha blurted out:
Can you please leave me my ID so I can get home?
"And he took it out and studied it for a good minute like he was memorizing my address and then threw it down with all the rest of the stuff."
So far, so good, thought Trisha. She decided to push her luck.
Can you please leave me at least one credit card?
I thought you said there wasn't any money on them.
There's not but I can have people put money on it so I can get home.
Which one do you want?
The one ending in 7649.
The stranger cleverly slipped that one into his pocket and threw down a different one. Then he picked up a camera a Sony Cyber-shot lying with her stuff and asked Trisha if it was hers. It was. She didn't see him take it right then and there, but later she realized it was gone. Now that the guy had all her money, her two American Express gift cards, and her debit card with her pin number, Trisha wondered what was next, and thinking of the possibilities made her very nervous. "I'm still shaking but his demeanor was actually pretty calm, like he had done this before. He seemed to know what to look for."
Whatever was coming, Trisha wanted to face it head-on. She was uncomfortable lying on the hotel carpet.
Is it okay if I sit up?
He helped her sit up, but her hands remained tied behind her back.
Where's your phone?
On the table.
He took her cell phone and began going through the numbers, but he was fumbling with it.
What are you doing?
I'm erasing my number.
Can I do it for you?
No, I'll take care of it. I got it.
He still had his gloves on, and after erasing the number, he took the battery out and threw it behind the entertainment center. "He didn't want me to get to it right away," she said. "He started looking around my room a little bit but I didn't say anything to him, and then he picked up a pair of my underwear from the floor and put them in his pocket. He didn't smell them or anything. I thought it was weird but I didn't ask him what he was doing. I didn't care to know. I wanted him out."
The thong panties, left in a pile of dirty clothes, were white and cream colored and had been purchased at Victoria's Secret. "If he looked over at me then, he would have seen the smirk on my face," she said. "I was like, 'What the hell did you do that for?' "
The stranger did not see the smirk but he wasn't ready to leave. He continued to walk around the room, as if looking for something else. He examined her brand-new computer.
Is this yours?
Yes, but it's three years old. You don't want that.
He left it where it was and continued to look around.
Is there a safe in here?
Yes, but there's nothing in it.
He opened it anyway, and then kept circling the room. "I was getting antsy and I wanted him to leave. He was moving furniture around."
What are you doing?
I'm looking for something to tie you to. I need time to get out of here. Or should I just cut you loose?
Yeah, cut me loose. I won't call anyone. I'll give you time to get away.
I don't believe you.
He was playing a game of cat and mouse, and Trisha wanted out. "I started suggesting things he could tie me to, so he would leave. I said, 'What about this, what about that?' but he thought I could move those things. Finally he tied me to the bathroom door and moved away from me."
Trisha couldn't see what he was doing. "I heard him rustling in his pocket for something. I heard the zipper on my suitcase, and then he ended up putting three pieces of tape over my mouth. I noticed at that point he was not wearing gloves and I let him put the tape on me."
Days later she would realize that he had taken a second pair of her underwear, a VÂ€‘shaped pink thong with black bows. It was a new pair she had bought for an upcoming photo shoot.
But at that moment, with the stranger still in her room, Trisha was not thinking about underwear. Her eyes were focused on the huge silver knife with a black handle that the stranger now had in his hand. She suspected the worst, but instead of coming in her direction, the man used the knife to cut the phone lines. "I guess he didn't want me to have a direct outlet," she said. She waited for his next move. Even after everything that had happened, she could not help noticing how tall and good-looking, how normal this stranger seemed. She never would have guessed that he'd be one of the problem ones. He took a long, slow look around the room.
Just stay where you are. In fifteen minutes I'll call security and tell them I heard something in the room. They'll come up and set you free.
And then the man left.
Trisha waited, tied to the bathroom door, her mouth ducttaped shut, her hands tied behind her back. He had, she said, used plastic zip ties for both hands. She did not move. She had to be sure he wasn't outside the door, waiting for her to do something. She didn't want to give him a reason to come back and kill her.
But then, after hearing nothing, "I twisted out of the ties in ten or twenty seconds. I took the tape off my mouth and crumpled it up and waited one more minute."
"I wasn't going to call the cops, but then I thought he might still be in the hotel," she said. If there was any chance of the cops or security catching him, this was it. She stepped into the hallway and looked both ways. Nothing. She grabbed her room key, ran to the nearest door, and pounded. After a moment, a man opened the door.
Trisha was still shaking. The man, a Tennessee doctor in town on business, was hesitant to open the door all the way, but Trisha begged him, "Please, I need to call security. I've just been robbed."
The man opened the door and let her in. It was 12:45 a.m. on April 10. Copyright © 2009 by CBS Broadcasting Inc.