Each day, more information is filtering out regarding Philip Markoff, the 22-year-old medical student accused of being "the Craigslist killer." Most of that information, good and bad, is coming from those who knew Markoff personally.
We live in an era where you can't afford to hesitate: the court of public opinion is swifter and more damning than ever, thanks to our rapid methods of communication, and the accused often find themselves in a weird state of media hysterics, with both supporters and detractors rushing forward to tell their version of an as-yet unsolved story. With each detail released about "the Craigslist killer," the media storm grows, as we are, for some reason, drawn to the darker sides of one another, desperate to know what happened, and how, and if there was anything that could have stopped such a tragedy.
Naturally we begin to cast characters in such a story: here, we have a "clean cut" accused murderer and his "blonde bombshell" fiance, a perfect storm of Lifetime movie scandal, intrigue, and beauty: these educated, seemingly "normal" people, the public exclaims, aren't supposed to be in a situation like this! How strange! How creepy! How do we make sense of such a thing?
It begins with the interviews: Markoff's supporters and detractors quickly jumped in front of microphones, granting interviews and sending emails depicting their view of the alleged killer: his fiance, understandably, continues to send out emails proclaiming Markoff's innocence, insisting that the two will marry, as planned, in August, and move on with their lives. My first reaction to McAllister's emails was one of pity and slight annoyance: I had already decided that Markoff was guilty and creepy, based only on what I'd read, and couldn't understand why McAllister would continue to support him. But when you put yourself in that situation, and imagine how you'd react, if it was YOUR fiance being accused of such unspeakable things, it's a bit easier to understand McAllister's position.
We continue to build up our own version of the story through bits of information given by minor characters: William Forte, a member of a wedding band hired to play the Markoff-McAllister ceremony in August says the wedding is definitely off, claiming that "a family member of Megan's told me there is no possibility of this wedding taking place this August." A jail source tells the press that Markoff has told his brother and sister-in-law to "move to California" as there is "more coming out," about the case.
Markoff's friends support him, noting that he was "very easygoing," "completely average," and "dorky, but so many of us are." Others remember him in a much different light, recalling that he "had issues with people of color, had issues with women," and that he gave off a "creepy vibe." Everyone, it seems, has a memory that solidifies their stance on the situation: to those who remember him as kind, shock and disbelief are their overall reactions to the crime. For those who remember him as weird and creepy, the details of the crime seem to make sense.
I went to school with a man who is currently awaiting trial on charges that he killed several people. The last time I really ever talked to him was during a musical theater production in 6th grade, where we were dancing partners. We went to high school together, but we barely saw each other, much less interacted with one another. Yet as soon as the story broke, all I could say to people was, "I just remember that he was so nice in 6th grade. Just a really nice person." The evidence against this person is fairly damning, and yet my brain immediately reverted back to 6th grade, in a weird attempt to make sense of a completely senseless situation. Was he still the same person he'd been when I knew him at age 12? Is anyone? No. But that didn't stop me from attempting to process the news in such a way.
Whether or not Philip Markoff is guilty, the fact remains that when a story like this breaks, everyone's memories spill out in order to create a composite picture of the man in the handcuffs; we are constantly seeking the signs, the defense, the point at which we should have, could have, must have seen something. We are so hardwired to view people in a certain light that we'll shift our thinking to suit whatever purpose makes us feel a little safer, a little more aware.
The circus surrounding Markoff won't end anytime soon, but perhaps the most tragic part of this entire story is that the voice that should be heard right now is being drowned out by a wave of tabloid frenzy: the voice of the victims in this situation, the women who were attacked, and the family of the woman killed by "the Craigslist killer." "The feeling of losing my daughter in this way and the pain she must have felt will haunt me for the rest of my life," says Julissa Brisman's mother, Carmen Guzman, "She won't live to see her dreams. We will hold Julissa in our hearts every day."
August Wedding For 'Craigslist' Killer Is Off, Says Wedding Band [People]
Clean-cut Craigslist Killer Suspect Philip Markoff Gave Off "Creepy Vibe" [NYDN]
Mother Of Craigslist Victim 'Devastated' By Loss [CNN]
Friends Defend 'Easygoing' Phil Markoff [Boston Herald]
Accused Craigslist Killer Tells Kin, 'Forget About Me' [Boston Herald]