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Everybody in the New York sex trade had heard the stories about Craigslist. Like the one about the two bodybuilder types who liked to set up meetings with masseuses, and then flash fake police badges before robbing the women. She knew well the changes the site had brought to the business—how it created an electronic version of a 42nd Street back alley, with scams and cheap whores galore. But none of this prepared her for what she found one night in April when she spotted one of her girls surfing the web.

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Clicking on a link, Davis navigated to breaking news out of Boston: A masseuse had been shot three times on the 20th floor of a Marriott hotel. There was a blurry security-camera image of the man the press had already dubbed the Craigslist Killer, and below that a picture of the victim, a sultry-looking woman with long light brown hair. Craigslist is full of creeps. It was a simple idea that changed everything: a no-frills hippie flea market updated for the Internet age, a place to go to buy a toaster, rent an apartment, or score some meth and hook up with random strangers for the afternoon.

It helped to nearly destroy the newspaper industry in America, and it transformed the sex trade.

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Soon Craigslist was everywhere, a self-governing global community of online buyers and sellers, a for-profit business that operated more like a public service. Today Craigslist is an indispensable resource for tens of millions of people worldwide: With 40 million posts a month and sites in cities and 50 countries, it is one of the icons of Web 2.

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Yet it only employs 30 people, and the whole operation is run out of a ramshackle Victorian house in the Sunset District of San Francisco. Which is why the brutal murder of Julissa Brisman capped a perfect storm of negative publicity for the embattled Web site.

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And two days after the Brisman slaying, he allegedly struck again, this time in Warwick, Rhode Island, holding at gunpoint a stripper who advertised lap dances on Craigslist. Police arrested Phillip Markoff left. The bad news for Craigslist mounted.

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And in early May convicted sex offender John Steven Burgess pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to involuntary manslaughter in the death of year-old Donna Jou. Burgess said he plied Jou with alcohol, cocaine, and heroin after meeting her on Craigslist, then dumped her body in the ocean when she overdosed. This was the first time a law enforcement official had tried to hold Buckmaster personally responsible for the criminal activity associated with the Web site. Craigslist was being attacked from every direction.

There have always been criminals willing to exploit the latest advances in technology, but the crimes linked to Craigslist of late have become increasingly frequent and bizarre. From murderers, rapists, and child molesters to flimflam men and blackmailing femme fatales, the site stars a cast of characters straight out of a James Ellroy novel.

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Trusting strangers is the basis of Craigslist. He has counted at least eight killings connected to the site. In the past two years the rest of the site has become a virtual playground for fences, petty thieves, con men, and even the occasional bank robber. Last autumn in Monroe, Washington, someone placed an ad for a dozen laborers to dig ro. The men turned up for work dressed, as the ad had instructed, in identical outfits: blue work shirts, yellow vests, respirator masks.

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Meanwhile, just across the street, another man dressed the same and carrying a pump sprayer walked toward an armored car outside of a Bank of America, sprayed the armed guard in the face with a chemical, then grabbed a bag of money, ran down the street past the startled laborers, and jumped into the nearby Skykomish River.

Police say the man who posted the ad was using the laborers as decoys in case he was chased.

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Eventually, year-old Anthony Curcio was arrested for the robbery. He called himself Lorenzo and said he had a side business—a pizza chain that had gone belly up. He needed Susan to help him sell the restaurant equipment on eBay and Craigslist, and got her to open up a Pay-Pal in her name. She received tens of thousands of dollars in offers for the various ovens, prep tables, and refrigerators.

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Then she got a call from somebody who knew Lorenzo saying there was no restaurant equipment. I feel like such a fool. My life is a mess because of this guy.

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In response to the media storm engulfing Craigslist, CEO Buckmaster defended his company, claiming the percentage of criminals who operated on his Web site was tiny compared to the overwhelming majority of trustworthy users. What Craigslist ignores is the outsize impact of even a small of criminals: One con man posting on Craigslist can scam scores of people with a single ad. Take Sean Church, international drifter, one-time DEA informant, former jailbird, consummate con man.

Just three rooms with unique architectural details like a natural stone wall and a quaint Romeo and Juliet balcony that overlooks the lush courtyard. The price is 50 Euro per night one person or 60 Euro per night two persons.

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Then he downloaded a picture of a cozy-looking interior from a magazine, clicked on a button, and, presto: Within minutes the ad was up and running. Immediately Church was inundated with queries. On receipt of the money, Church e-mailed a fake invoice.

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The scam was so lucrative that Church repeated it with phony apartments in Madrid, London, and Washington, D. By the end of the summer, Craigslist users had caught on. When I got to the address, the place was actually owned by a French couple. Church was feeling the heat.

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It was time to skip town, so he booked a flight to Toronto. But he needed a place to bunk once he arrived in Canada, so he went—where else?

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Church e-mailed the owner and received a reply from someone claiming to be an African minister who needed to rent out his apartment because he had urgent missionary work to attend to in West Africa. Church let out a laugh.

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It was the old African-missionary-apartment swindle, one of the most popular cons on the site. Someone was trying to scam the scammer. Much vaunted, that is, by Buckmaster. The Chicago investigators posted two .

Buckmaster insisted that the company works hand in glove with law enforcement to track down criminals misusing the site and that the Erotic Services section mainly consisted of postings for legal mas-seuses, lap dancers, and escorts. Kristin Davis, for one, was well aware of the risks of advertising on Craigslist.

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Before she was busted last year on charges of money laundering and promoting prostitution, Davis made tons of money using the site: All the traffic kept three locations with 12 girls busy 18 hours a day. Davis set up an overseas call center to handle the volume of replies she received.

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Still, Davis worried constantly about the safety of her girls. This past November Craigslist entered into an agreement with more than 40 state attorneys general along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to instigate new measures that would help stamp out any illegal activity on the site. Jim Buckmaster claimed that the new measures led to an immediate 80 percent reduction in postings in the Erotic Services section.

But according to some, prostitution on the site soon rebounded to become as rife as ever.

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Frustrated with his lack of progress, this March Dart filed a federal lawsuit against the company, claiming it knowingly facilitates prostitution. Buckmaster claimed to be mystified. Newmark insisted the Erotic Services section would remain open for business.

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In the end Craigslist caved. On May 13, Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan announced that Craigslist had agreed to shut down Erotic Services and replace it with a new Adult Services section monitored by the Craigslist staff. Only those offering legal services—lap dances and the like—would be allowed to post.

So if Brisman had managed to evade the monitors with a deceptively worded post, Philip Markoff would have still been able to commit the crime. In fact, in June—just weeks after Craigslist closed Erotic Services—a year-old from North Carolina allegedly used the site to enlist a man to rape his own wife.

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So the question remains: Will Adult Services be Erotic Services redux, nothing more than a name change? The Craigslist Crime Wave Young dude looking for a good time.

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