By Jonathan Saltzman, Maria Cramer, and John R. Ellement, Globe Staff
When police chasing alleged Craigslist killer Philip Markoff pulled him over Monday on Interstate 95, the Boston University medical school student was driving south with his fiancée to spend the night at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, authorities said today.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said today that although the couple's destination piqued the interest of police, investigators have not developed a strong link between gambling and Markoff's alleged crimes. Markoff pleaded not guilty today to murder and armed robbery for allegedly attacking two women that he lured to Boston hotels through ads they posted on Craigslist.
"The question on the nature and the extent of his gambling, whether he is a casual, periodic, gambler or a regular gambler -- I don't know the answer to that question,'' Conley said. "That is a matter of investigation. As we explore various motives for the robberies, gambling is certainly a motive that we will look at. But there is no definitive information on that issue.''
Markoff's arrest capped a massive search for a clean-cut man who had allegedly been using the online classified ad service to prey on prostitutes and other women. His alleged crimes include what a prosecutor described as the "brutal murder" of Julissa Brisman, a 26-year-old masseuse who fought back against her attacker. Brisman was bashed in the head and shot three times last week on the 20th floor of the Marriott Copley Hotel, with the fatal bullet piercing her heart.
"The evidence that we have suggests that Julissa put up a pretty tough struggle and it's in the context of that struggle that she lost her life," Conley said.
Markoff, a second-year medical student, was charged with fatally shooting Brisman on April 14 and with the armed robbery and kidnapping of Trisha Leffler, 29, a prostitute who was tied up at the Westin Copley in the Back Bay on April 10.
Brisman had advertised her masseuse service on Craigslist; Leffler had also advertised through the website.
Markoff was arraigned today in Boston Municipal Court and ordered held without bail on a charge of murder. Judge Paul Leary also set bail of $250,000 in the Westin case.
Markoff, who appeared in court wearing a blue-and-white-striped shirt, khaki pants, and tasseled loafers, did not speak, but blinked and breathed rapidly as he watched the proceedings.
Conley said police had tracked Markoff through his contacts via e-mail with Brisman, noting that Markoff had opened up a new e-mail account the day before he allegedly killed her. Police put Markoff's home under surveillance, then saw Markoff, who matched the description of the killer, and "the case just begins to build from that," Conley said.
A search of his apartment yielded a firearm, restraints, and duct tape, and other items that authorities were not prepared to disclose, Conley said.
"He probably thought he was going to get away with it. He thought he was too smart for us," said Conley, who credited both high-tech techniques and "shoe-leather" police work with the success of the investigation.
Markoff's attorney said his client had "nothing to hide."
"He has the support of his family. He's bearing up," said John Salsberg. Salsberg also said, "He has no gambling problem that I'm aware of."
This morning, Markoff's fiancée, Megan McAllister, defended him in an e-mail she sent to ABC News, according to "Good Morning America's" website.
"Unfortunately you were given wrong information as was the public," McAllister wrote in the e-mail. "All I have to say to you is Philip is a beautiful person inside and out and could not hurt a fly! A police officer in Boston (or many) is trying to make big bucks by selling this false story to the TV stations. What else is new?? Philip is an intelligent man who is just trying to live his life so if you could leave us alone we would greatly appreciate it. We expect to marry in August and share a wonderful, meaningful life together."
Philip Markoff at a BU Medical School ceremony in 2007. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
Markoff was charged in two crimes whose brazen nature and swanky locale shocked Boston residents, drew national attention, and exposed the seamy world of prostitution fostered by the anonymity of the Internet.
A similar attack occurred in a Warwick, R.I., hotel Thursday. Police there said they were confident their case was linked to the Boston cases.
"Because of the critical nature of the ongoing investigation, there will be no comment on specific areas of evidentiary interest," said Warwick Police Chief Stephen M. McCartney. "We remain confident that there is strong connection here with the Boston incidents."
Conley again asked other women who advertise services on Craigslist to step forward if they have been victimized by Markoff.
"Our priority is to hold him accountable for each and every one of these crimes, not to hold you accountable for offering services on Craigslist," he said.