Markoff, a 22-year-old second-year medical student at Boston University and graduate of the State University of New York at Albany, has been charged with murdering Julissa Brisman, whom he met on Craigslist, a classified ad Web service. He has also been charged with kidnapping and armed robbery. Other victims have survived, and police suspect there may have been even more. Markoff will have his day in court, but police have said they are confident from the records on his computer they have found the right man.
Markoff appeared in public to be confident, successful and well-adjusted. He was engaged to be married this August, and his fiancee, Megan McAllister, was clearly deeply in love with him. She described him to ABC News in an e-mail published Tuesday as "a beautiful person inside and out." She said she was still convinced he was innocent and that he "wouldn't hurt a fly."
It sounds like McAllister had never seen Alfred Hitchcock's horror-film masterpiece "Psycho." The last words of murderer Norman Bates in his "Mother" persona at the end of the movie are precisely that, followed by the image of a car being wrenched out of a swamp with one of his many victims inside.
The mainstream electronic U.S. media are worse than useless in educating the public about national-security threats, domestic or international, but give them a good, juicy murder story with a twist or a colorful angle and they are all over it like flies on a piece of rotting meat.
The Craigslist case is no exception. Already, everyone who ever accidentally stepped on Markoff's toe during his school or college years has been energetically milked for impressions and information, and a revealing two-sided portrait has emerged. Many of Markoff's friends and acquaintances found him completely normal, but others picked up on a hostility toward women and African-Americans.
Not every person with prejudice issues against women or people of other races is going to be a predator or a murderer. Provided society is not radicalized by murderous political movements like Nazism, almost none of them will be. And since most people in society, thankfully, never dream of being armed robbers, rapists or murderers themselves, it never occurs to them that the person working beside them on the assembly line or in the next cubicle making slightly off-color but common jokes might be. And usually they're not.
After the event, it's always much easier to appear wise and perceptive looking back in time. In 1981, Peter Sutcliffe, a long-distance British truck driver and gravedigger, was revealed to be the notorious Yorkshire Ripper who viciously murdered 13 young women. The profiles used to try to identify him by the Yorkshire police were not up to FBI or Scotland Yard standards, to put it mildly. They were completely wrong. Yet when Sutcliffe was arrested, it emerged that his sense of humor and behavior were so twisted and bizarre that he had actually been nicknamed "the Ripper" by his workmates. None of them, of course, actually dreamed he really was the killer.
It used to be that confidence tricksters, unscrupulous fortune hunters and more violent predators hunted in the classified sections of major newspapers. Now they have transferred their activities to the far more fruitful fields of the anonymous Internet. As police forces around the world know, it has become a hunting ground for pedophiles as well.
There are always going to be Markoffs out there. All too often, like the infamous Ted Bundy, who was all too late in the day fried in a Florida electric chair, they will be handsome, charming and personable. When the inevitable TV movie was made about Bundy's killing spree -- which included the murder of at least 29 young women and possibly as many as 100 -- he was played by Mark Harmon, who now plays heroic federal agent Jethro Gibbs on "NCIS."
Harmon was the perfect choice for the role, just as Dean Cain, who played Superman in "Lois & Clark," was equally inspired casting to play Scott Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his young pregnant wife Laci, because both actors are famously nice guys in real life. Their successful performances taught the grim lesson that evil does not usually come dressed up like Jason or Freddy but hides behind the facade of the cheerfully smiling guy next door. That's just the way it is.