A Boston medical student accused of targeting women who advertised exotic services on Craigslist was ordered held without bail Tuesday on charges that he sought to rob a masseuse, but bashed her in the head and shot her through the heart when she fought back.
Philip Markoff, 22, a second-year medical student at Boston University, said nothing during a brief appearance Tuesday in Boston Municipal Court where he was ordered held on charges including murder, armed robbery and kidnapping.
Authorities refused to comment on reports that Markoff might have been seeking money to pay gambling debts, but a Connecticut casino confirmed it was cooperating in the investigation.
Markoff, a second-year medical student at Boston University, appeared in court Tuesday on charges including murder, kidnapping and armed robbery. Dressed in a wrinkled button-down shirt and khakis, he said nothing during the brief hearing and was jailed without bail.
Prosecutors say they traced an e-mail address used to set up an appointment with masseuse Julissa Brisman of New York City to Markoff, who was on his way to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut with his fiancee when he was arrested Monday afternoon.
Brisman was found dead April 14 in a Boston luxury hotel. Markoff is also charged with robbing and tying up another woman who advertised massages on Craigslist on April 10. Authorities say he was the man seen on surveillance video near where Brisman was found and where a woman was robbed in Rhode Island.
'Brutal, vicious crime'The slain woman's father, Hector Brisman, was in court but left without commenting.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said authorities searching Markoff's home in Quincy found a semiautomatic weapon, restraints and duct tape — evidence he called "critical, powerful."
"This was a brutal, vicious crime — savage, and it shows Philip Markoff is a man who is willing to take advantage of women, to hurt them, to beat them, to rob them," Conley said. "He probably thought he was going to get away with it. He thought he was too smart for us."
Prosecutor Jennifer Hickman said in court that Brisman had been bashed in the head and shot three times at close range, including once through the heart. She said Markoff and Brisman had been in contact by cell phone and on the Internet to set up an appointment.
Conley said he believes Markoff's original motive was robbery.
"It's hard for me to get into his mind. The evidence that we have is Julissa put up a pretty tough struggle and it's in the context of that struggle that she lost her life," he said.
"There may be other victims out there, and if you are, we want you to come forward," Conley added. "Our top priority is holding Philip Markoff accountable. He's a predator."
Hickman said Markoff and the woman he allegedly robbed on April 10 also initiated contact on Craigslist and set up a meeting after midnight. The woman told investigators she met Markoff and then let him into her room at the Westin. When she shut the door and turned around, he was pointing a gun at her stomach. He bound her hands and mouth.
"The individual went though her purse, went through her wallet and took over $800" and other personal items, Hickman said.
Boston police refused to comment on reports citing unidentified law enforcement sources that Markoff was a problem gambler. But the casino said it was helping investigators.
"We do not release information publicly concerning individual patrons; however, we are aware of this situation and are cooperating with the appropriate law enforcement authorities," the casino and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said in a statement.
Markoff's grandfather, Jerome Markoff, a lawyer from Arnold, Md., said he was shocked.
"This is not my grandson. I know my grandson," he told The Boston Globe. "I hate to see a rush to judgment ... He's a wonderful boy, just absolutely wonderful, and couldn't be better. I'm proud of him and proud of his abilities as a medical student. He always wanted to be a doctor."
Markoff's grandfather did not immediately respond to a call from The Associated Press. Police said his grandson has no prior criminal record.
Markoff is also suspected in the attempted robbery Thursday in Warwick, R.I., of a stripper who had posted an ad on Craigslist. She was held at gunpoint before her husband entered the room and her attacker fled.
Markoff's mother, Susan Haynes, declined to comment through a receptionist at her apartment complex in Sherrill, N.Y., where Markoff went to high school. In the 2004 Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School yearbook, Markoff was listed as a member of the bowling and golf teams, the National Honor Society, history club and youth court.
'Philip is a beautiful person'
Markoff lives with his fiancee, who claims police have the wrong man. Markoff has no previous criminal record.
“He could not hurt a fly,” Megan McAllister said in an e-mail to ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “All I have to say is Philip is a beautiful person, inside and out,” she said in the e-mail read on Tuesday’s program.
McAllister said she and Markoff expect to be married in August "and share a wonderful, meaningful life together."
James Kehoe, one of Markoff’s best friends during his first two years as an undergrad at the University at Albany, described the suspect as “a great guy.”
“He was one of my best friends in my dorm,” Kehoe told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira. “He was one of the people that I felt I could really get along with. I felt like he was smart, an intellectual, nice, friendly guy.”
'A guy's guy'Kehoe said that as he thought back on the two years during which he was close friends with Markoff, he realized that his friend did not pursue relationships with women as other college men do.
“One of the things that kind of struck me about him was that he was for all intents and purposes a guy’s guy. I rarely saw him out with women,” Kehoe said. “One of the normal things people do in college is find someone of the opposite sex to connect with. That was not something he wanted to do.”
Kehoe said when he saw images of the suspect in the attacks taken by hotel security cameras, there was no doubt in his mind that Markoff was the man pictured.
“I just saw one picture. It didn’t take more than that,” Kehoe told Vieira. “It was him.”
Michael Bernard, who lives in Markoff’s building in Quincy, was shocked to recognize his neighbor on television reports of the killing.
'Doesn't make sense'
“He was smart, he carried himself well, he was clean, a good looking guy,” said Bernard, a retired electric company worker. “He seemed like the type that would have it all. It doesn’t make sense.”
Two of Markoff's neighbors told "Good Morning America" on Tuesday they were stunned by the accusations.
"I can't even put it into words, the disbelief I'm feeling right now," neighbor Jonathan Uva said. "This is a great guy, I met him a few times, saw him in the hall everyday, (he) always said, 'Hey, how you doing Jon, what's going on.' Just a total disconnect from what we're hearing in the news."
Another neighbor, Mike Dye, told the show he had Markoff over to his apartment complex for parties, including a Super Bowl party. "He seemed like he was really outgoing," Dye added.
Authorities said Markoff is originally from upstate New York. A Facebook profile matching Markoff's identity, including his photograph, lists him as a 2007 graduate of State University of New York-Albany and in the 2011 class at BU.
A Boston University spokeswoman told Boston radio station WBZ-AM that Markoff had been suspended from the medical school after his arrest.