Friday, September 25, 2009

Seven Days of Rage

by Paul LaRosa

My new book on the Craigslist Killer case“Seven Days of Rage” – was just published and here’s what bothers me most about the feedback so far: the idea that it's somehow okay to murder and attack prostitutes. All three of suspected killer Philip Markoff’s victims were sex workers. One describes herself as an escort, another as a stripper, and the dead woman – Julissa Brisman (photo left) – told friends she gave erotic or sensual massages.

I expected criticism when the book was released because, as I’ve learned from writing three previous true crimes books, there is always criticism. Usually, the flack is directed at me for making oodles of money off these cases (definitely not true), and this time I expected that a fair number of people would be offended that the book was written and released well before Markoff stands trial. I understand the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” but I was not troubled by it in this instance because, frankly, I’ve never seen or heard of such damning evidence against a defendant as there is against Markoff. His lawyer, a good one, is going to have to pull a Houdini to get his client out of this one.

What gets to me is the large number of viewers and readers who posted comments in the forums of both “48 Hours Mystery” and the Boston Globe (I co-wrote this book with Globe police reporter Maria Cramer), who think the Craigslist Killer’s three victims deserve what they got because of what they did for a living. Certainly, by choosing to be sex workers, they were inviting trouble, but does that make Markoff’s alleged crimes any less violent and cruel because of what his victims did for a living? To many people out there, the answer is ‘yes’ as if these women were somehow less than human.

It's so easy to pass judgment when you've never met these victims. But I've spoken to Trisha Leffler, the Craigslist Killer’s first victim (photo right), quite a bit as I prepared the book and television program. I can tell you that, although I believe she’s misguided in her chosen line of work, she’s a sweet person who keeps her word. And she is all too human – she lives with her parents, has trouble meeting her car payments, and is trying to make ends meet these days by selling scented candles.

As for the Craigslist Killer’s only murder victim, Julissa Brisman, well, all you have to do is look at her mother’s face to realize that she too was a real person who meant a lot to her family and friends – whether she was a sex worker or not!! Julissa’s mother Carmen is heartbroken and has taken down all the photographs of her daughter that once adorned the walls of her New York apartment. She can no longer bear to look at them and thinks about what happened to the precious girl she raised as a single mother. The holes on the walls, where those photos once hung, are a very sad reminder of the toll murder takes no matter what line of work the victim happens to be involved in.


"Seven Days of Rage: The Deadly Crime Spree of the Craigslist Killer" is Paul LaRosa's fourth true crime book. In addition to being an author, Paul is a long-time producer for CBS's 48 Hours.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a really good book. I love this blog. Always feel like it keeps me up on what's new! I'm going to pick this one up.

FleaStiff said...

Sex worker?
I think we've always had conflicts in whether prostitution should be viewed as victimless or not. Alot of people are concerned about neighborhood deterioration caused by streetwalkers but cops vigorously go after those who only walk Cyberstreet.
Differences? Yes. Low class, common vulgar drug addicts walking the streets are indeed different than upscale call girls. So too are there differences between a fantasy masseuse and a full service masseuse. Just as there is a difference between a Dedicated Woman and hookers who pick pockets or steal credit cards or do drugs, there are differences between the Johns as far as social class.

The craigslist killer brought behavior that belongs in the dark alleys of ghetto slums into the upscale world of fine hotels. That is an offense to society as well as an offense to the relatively upscale hookers.

In the sixties in NYC's 9th precinct cops didn't even take rape complaints that were not accompanied by mutilation. Then the women's liberation movement forced changes. Now there are hordes of upscale hookers and their rape complaints are processed with any police condemnation of their occupations. Progress?
Probably, but the numbers of prostitutes have sure mushroomed.

Not Buying It said...

Whether or not you're making "oodles" of money, you're certainly profiteering off misery and tragedy, as are the other "true crime" writers on this site. If this time around "oodles" of people buy your book, I assume you'll give all the money to the victims, right?

Kathryn Casey said...

Not Buying it....

This has always confused me: No one faults the TV magazines for covering cases, although they bring in lots of money for the networks through commercials. I don't hear a lot of squawking about newspapers, magazines, or network news covering cases, although the companies and those who report the cases all make money. But an author who writes a book is assumed by many to be taking advantage of a crime for personal gain and somehow misusing the victims?

Perhaps you don't understand what goes into a true crime book? I can't speak for everyone here, but I spend a year on my books. I go to long trials, where I pay my own expenses, stay in hotels, eating out (often a sandwich, because I can't afford restaurants), in the courtroom all day and driving around interviewing those involved all evening.

The trial ends, and I continue interviewing. For most of my books, that means 100 people I have to talk to, everyone willing to talk to me. I track down documents, track down sources, work really hard, and then I have months of organizing and writing ahead. The point is: I work really hard on my books.

Now, I don't know what you do, but maybe you're well enough off to work free? I can't. I have a family and bills to pay. I doubt that Paul, Diane, or any of the other writers on this blog can either. For the most part, we don't make a lot for our efforts. Sometimes, to be honest, I wonder if it's worth it.

So why do I do it? First, I think someone should. When you write a book, you have the time to really delve into a case, to discover not just what happened, but why it happened. If we better understand why people commit these terrible crimes, we're better at solving them, preventing them, and putting them in perspective. Maybe we can even see more clearly what it is in our society that fosters such tragedies.

I've been told that a couple of my books are used in college law enforcement programs. The instructors see the value in looking deeper into crimes. I'm sorry you don't.

Do I give to charities? Yes. I hope you do, too. But I see nothing wrong with being compensated for hard work.

Paul LaRosa said...

Of course, I heartily agree with Kathryn. In every book I've written, I've donated money to the victims. It's not a great amount but about 10 percent of what I take home after taxes.

Leah said...

Makes you wonder why people like Not Buying It frequent these sites if they are so appalled by a writer profiting from a person's death. Usually people like that are just jealous that they don't possess the talent or means to make a living through writing. I am a freelance writer as well and I get paid a wide range of different fees depending on the subject and who I am writing for. Sometimes it is as little as $25 an article and as much as $1500. Too many people who aren't writers assume that this type of work is all too easy and that we are paid far more than what our work is worth. That is sipmly not true. I don't think I have ever been overpaid for anything but I have damn sure been underpaid for a lot of my work. In the end it really doesn't matter to me how little I make because what I am writing needs to be written and read, no matter how little pay I receive. To believe that it is ALL ABOUT MONEY is absolutely ridiculous!

California Girl said...

Showing sexist bias in our society as usual. The PATRONS of so-called sex workers are never mentioned. They are never murdered, bothered, usually not arrested or suffer any consequence for their actions. Pretty hypocritical don't ya think?

cheryl said...

Bravo to Kathryn, Paul, Leah and California.

How would "not buying it" even know about these cases if not for watching out for them? Even if he/she were stealthily watching CNN dot com, or any other news outlet, they are supporting some kind of money making machine.

I guess it's okay for a news media outlet to report, but not an actual writer. (duh)

I can only imagine the millions that Paul will make. Poor me, with my opinions that will never be spread as far and wide. Drat me. And drat you, WIC!!

Please excuse my sarcasm.But I'm sick and tired of hasn't beens and wannabes flooding the blogs.

greyhaunt said...

California Girl: Perhaps where you live nothing is done, but I've definitely read of cases where prostitutes murdered the patrons (ever heard of Aileen Wuornos?), and I've heard of places that post websites listing Johns. Heck, down the street from where a friend of mine lives the police used a rental house to do a prostitution sting - and it was the "patrons" not the girls being the ones busted.

No, I'm not saying that its an even split as to which side is more victimized or more wrong in what they do - but society does not turn a fully blind eye to the men either.

Jan said...

I DO squawk about newspapers, magazines, etc. who cover murder cases. There are wonderful conscientious press out there, but there are some who are not. I've had to have a sheriff escort me to my car at times, because someone wouldn't stop harrassing me. I've had the status line of my Facebook page quoted, my neighbors interviewed, my mail carrier questioned, and have noticed a reporter lurking behind a pillar trying to listen to a conversation I was having with my brother. I think that on the whole I would prefer someone to have the time to really find out all the facts in a case, who would write in whole paragraphs and not sensational soundbytes, and who could show the victims as real human beings whose loss has devastated the friends and families left behind. It may be the only way some families are able to have their story told. Murder is a terrible thing, no matter who the victim is or what his or her lifestyle is like. Nothing they did justified taking their life and future.

Cheryl said...

I think they should just legalize prostitution and add a hefty tax. If someone wants to sell their body for profit and someone else wants to pay for it, why should it be illegal? We have to pay for every other service thats provided to us.

The gov't can regulate it, get the girls tested monthly and tax the hell out of it.

This "profession" has been around since the beginning of time and its not going to go away. Who are we to judge these women? What about the men that pay for these services? Should it be ok to go around killing them as well?

We are all human beings and we all have our own stories and reasons for doing what we do. I for one never judge a book by its cover and I certainly hope that no one ever does that to me.

In regards to true crime authors "profiting" from these is the general media, (ie tv and newpapers). these are stories some people want to read about. You don't like it? DON'T BUY IT>

Kathryn Casey said...

I'm truly sorry you've had experiences like that, Jan. I've covered big cases for magazines and heard the same from other victims' families. It's adding heartbreak on top of heartbreak.

Ronni said...

I think maybe some killers target prostitutes because they are easily available. Targets of convenience, if you will. Except for the availability factor, their profession has nothing to do with it. Just a hunch.

It's only recently (within the past five years or so) that I have heard true crime writers castigated for their work. True crime writers are making money from their own skills, time and talents. We need to know these stories in greater depth than we can read in the newspaper. I'd like to thank the writers on this site for sharing their work with us. If anyone doesn't like to read about crimes and their aftermath, they don't have to.

Anonymous said...

Love you like my luggage Paul, but I think a true crime book should be done AFTER the trial.

Even though its obvious that Phil is the perp I think that you would get the most information then and therefore a better book.

Kathryn Casey said...

Thanks, Ronni. Your support is appreciated.

FleaStiff said...

I would imagine that targeting of prostitutes is often due to availability. They get into a car and go to some dark deserted place. If anything happens they may not be missed for quite some time and those that do miss them are not all that likely to go to the police.
I believe Vancouver, BC had a whole bunch of women go missing before a task force was organized.
I doubt that any police or prosecutorial reluctance plays a role, its usually going to simpy be an easy target though I'm sure it doesn't hurt to have the victims be already marginalized.