This week law enforcement arrested a medical student accused of being the so-called "Craigslist Killer." Never mind that details were scant, morning television was quick to bring in profiling experts to fill us in on everything going on inside the suspect's head. So we called in an expert of our own.
Artist: Menahan Street Band
BOB GARFIELD: The true crime story of the year so far broke this week as handsome medical student Philip Markoff was arrested in a series of robberies and the murder of an erotic masseuse. The combination of an unlikely good-looking suspect, sex worker victims and the role that Craigslist played in matchmaking the murderer with his prey proved irresistible for cable news and major networks alike. The morning shows in particular sought to answer the question, how could a non-inner-city, non-crack dealer possibly rob and kill? And for the answers, they turned to the experts. Here’s James Alan Fox on The Today Show being interviewed by Meredith Vieira.
MEREDITH VIEIRA: What goes through your head when you look at those images? What do you see?
JAMES ALAN FOX: Well, he is so calm and collected about the whole thing – I mean, a certain degree of arrogance, feeling that these women are appropriate victims for him. These women were sex workers. In his mind, they just didn't have the same rights as everyone else.
BOB GARFIELD: And here’s criminal profiler Pat Brown on Today with Matt Lauer.
PAT BROWN: He is probably a little resentful of the life he’s leading, the pressure he’s been under all his life to do this and to do that, to be the medical student, to go to college. And I'm guessing he’s probably said things before, how he doesn't really like this, but people maybe have maybe ignored a little bit of this.
BOB GARFIELD: And here she is with a slightly different slant on The CBS Early Show.
PAT BROWN: He has a hatred of women and he wants to abuse them and he wants to control them and he wants to do things to them, so he has had this particular method he’s used, which is a robbery, but he could easily go on to sex crimes or anything else. He just loved tying them up and having that power over them.
BOB GARFIELD: Why, absent any direct contact with the suspect, would major news organizations entertain such wild speculation? Joining us is forensic media psychologist James Ritzenbaum, author of Sounddbiting the Hand that Feeds Them: The Art of the Five-Second Quote, and a new book, to be released in June, Serial Fillers. Dr. Jim, welcome back to the show.
JAMES RITZENBAUM: Good to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to begin with your concept of serial fillers. This is a play, I gather, on serial killers.
JAMES RITZENBAUM: Serial fillers are serial killers, but what they're killing is time.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so when at some point this week Matt Lauer asked his guest, who was a criminal profiler, about the time gaps -
MATT LAUER: One of the things that struck me about this as these crimes were unfolding last week is how quickly and how frequently they were unfolding. This was a guy —
BOB GARFIELD: What did you see?
JAMES RITZENBAUM: Obviously, I saw a man whose obsession with time had more to do with himself than the Craigslist Killer. This was all about control, controlling the segment, controlling the viewer, controlling the guest.
BOB GARFIELD: We're looking at that tape right now.
MATT LAUER: Pat, let me just bring you in here, Pat, because one of the things that struck me about this is -
BOB GARFIELD: Lauer is leaning forward.
JAMES RITZENBAUM: No, no, he’s not leaning. He’s lurching. This is a very aggressive, very troubled, very sick man filled with unresolved issues over Katie Couric, and someone should probably dig up his yard. Okay, right here, right here. Turn up the volume.
MATT LAUER: There were like three crimes in a couple of days here. Whoever -
JAMES RITZENBAUM: This is a man crying out for help.
BOB GARFIELD: Crying for help? Really?
JAMES RITZENBAUM: Well, isn't that – is this not working? Nancy Grace ate it up. Do you want something different?
BOB GARFIELD: No, I'm good. Thanks, Dr. Jim.
JAMES RITZENBAUM: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: James Ritzenbaum’s new book, Serial Fillers, will be published by Angstrom Press in June – of – never.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.