On April 10, everything changed. The "Craigslist Killer" began his seven-day crime spree. 7 days of rage - watch the full video here
His first victim was a woman from Las Vegas who was fleeing that city’s crackdown on vice.
"I just picked a city and went to it. I've been doing it for the past two years," Leffler said of choosing Boston. Her line of work? "I was escorting."
In this case, a traveling escort. Trisha Leffler, 29, checked herself into the Westin Copley Place Hotel. No surprise, she went right to where the money is - the Back Bay area of the city, known for its fancy hotels, exclusive boutiques and hip restaurants.
When asked how much money she can make in this field, Tricia told "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Peter Van Sant that being an escort is quite lucrative - she can make thousands of dollar a week.
Tricia said she immediately went online to Craigslist, the Web bulletin board, and placed an ad in the erotic services section. She said after submitting her ad with the headline "Sweet Blonde," she started getting phone calls right away.
"What Craigslist does is basically provide services and these prostitutes have been providing services for years. And if it’s not the Yellow Pages, it's gonna be Craigslist. They find a means to advertise their services," according to Joe Moura, a Boston-based private investigator and "48 Hours" consultant.
Moura said that by acting as her own boss, Tricia was increasing her risk.
"If there’s a street prostitute, she’s gonna have a pimp down the street or across the street on the corner who’s protecting her. Somebody using Craigslist getting a fancy hotel in Boston, she’s on her own."
But that April night, when Tricia saw the man who answered her ad, she said she felt perfectly safe. "He looked nice, he looked young. Good looking, obviously."
Once the door was closed, this good-looking young man pulled out a very dangerous-looking gun.
"I backed up a little bit. He just said, 'If you do everything you're asked, no harm's gonna come to you.' He said, 'Lay down, put your hands behind your back.' When he started to walk towards me, he put the gun back in his pocket."
The man put on some black leather gloves and took out some plastic zip ties.
In an exclusive interview with "48 Hours Mystery," Tricia explained, "He knelt down with one knee in between my legs. I’m thinking like what does he want? I’m shaking. I’m scared. It dawned on me later that he could have very well killed me."
Tricia's attacker wanted money. "I had about $800 in cash, he grabbed that, put that in his pocket," she said.
As he took her credit and debit cards, Tricia said he made no attempt to disguise his face. But he was intent on getting his phone number off her cell phone.
"Was he wearing his gloves when he did that?" Van Sant asked Tricia.
"No," she replied.
"Well, how dumb is that?"
Dumb, and, as it turned out, he was more than a little weird.
He picked up a pair of Tricia's underwear from the floor and put them in his pocket. "If he would've looked at my face, it would've been, like, "What the hell are you doing?"
At that point, she explained, the gunman began walking around the hotel room looking for something.
"And he said, 'Come here.' And I went in to the bathroom and he basically tied me to the doorknob. I got really scared. He took a knife out of his pocket and cut the phone lines. He came back over to me and taped my mouth. He put three pieces of tape over my mouth."
Tricia noticed that he had yet to put the gloves back on, meaning that his fingerprints were all over that tape.
After he left the room, she quickly broke free from the zip ties, but worried that he may still be nearby.
"I'm worried he's listening through the door. I look out the peephole. There's nothing - there's nobody out there. I open the door very slowly, stuck my head out, looked both ways. Nobody was in the hallway. I crept down the hall to see if he was maybe standing by the elevator. [There's] nobody by the elevator.
"I’m still shaking. I’m still nervous," she continued. "So I went back to the room, grabbed my room key, shut the door and went and knocked on the next-door neighbor's door.'Can I call security? I've just been robbed at gunpoint.'"
From the start, Boston police took Tricia Leffler seriously.
"They didn’t say, 'You’re not supposed to be doing this' - anything like that. They were very respectful towards me. They wanted to catch the guy," she told Van Sant. "The next day, when I went down to the police station to look through some photos, they had a surveillance photo of the man that I described."
Stills taken from a hotel security camera were the first shots of the man who became known as the Craigslist Killer.
View Surveillance Photos
Van Sant asked Joe Moura, a private investigator, "Wasn’t he aware that there were security cameras that people could track him down if something did go wrong?"
"Sometimes, because there’s security cameras everywhere, it’s almost like they’re not there. He figured the crime was so bold, he was gonna walk out, she’s not reporting it, nobody’s gonna be checking video if he was here or not. He figures it’s a clear-cut case. He's outta here," Moura explained. "The thing about this young lady is that she did come forward and actually helped in the investigation."
Tricia remained in Boston, waiting for the police to release her cell phone. On April 15, they called. "We need to talk to you. It's really important," she recalled. "Five minutes later, [there's] a knock at the door. And then they handed me a photograph. And I said, 'Wow, this is a really good picture of him. Where did you get it from?' And they just stopped and looked at me and they were, like, 'Is that him?' I said, 'Yeah, this is him. Was this before he came up to my room?'
"They said, 'No, this is taking from a different hotel.' And they said.' He murdered another girl last night.'"
Boston Globe reporter Maria Cramer covers the crime and police beat. She is also a "48 Hours" consultant. Last spring, she found herself at the center of a white-hot story.
"I got a call from my editor on April 15 telling me that there was a report of a woman shot at the Copley Marriott in Boston," she told "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant.
The dead woman was 25-year-old Julissa Brisman, an aspiring model from New York City.
Cramer said she knew immediately that it was going to be a big story. That’s because the police had connected Julissa’s murder to the robbery of Trisha Leffler just days before.
Both women had advertised in the erotic services section of Craigslist and had been restrained with plastic ties. And, once again, surveillance stills from the Marriott showed a tall, blond, preppy-looking man leaving the scene of the crime.
"Give me a sense when you first saw the first released photographs of this suspect, what did you see in that picture?" Van Sant asked Cramer.
"You saw a very relaxed looking guy. He was looking at his Blackberry, texting, looking like he had just left the hotel bar and was heading home," she replied.
Van Sant said, "In some ways, that makes it all the more insidious, all the more disquieting for people living here."
"What frightened a lot of people," Cramer continued, "are these pictures of a person that doesn’t seem to have a care in the world."
The attacks could not have come at a worst time for Boston.
"What we had goin' on here was the Boston Marathon," private investigator Joe Moura explained. "Because it connected to Craigslist, everybody’s imagination went wild."
Cramer said, "It basically created a frenzy - not only from the media, but from the police, because you had the possibility of a serial criminal here.
The media labeled him the "Craigslist Killer" and now all eyes were focused on the 20th floor hotel room of Julissa Brisman.
"48 Hours Mystery" producer Paul LaRosa, along with Cramer, has written a new book about the case called "Seven Days of Rage.” It is published by Simon and Schuster, a division of CBS.
Excerpt: "Seven Days of Rage"
About the Book
"Police believe that the attacker immediately pulled a gun on her. He got at least one plastic tie on her wrist. At that point, she fought back," LaRosa explained. "Her killer shot her right at the front of her room. When he opened the door to flee, she fell outside the room."
"The cops said he didn't have to kill her," LaRosa continued. "Once you hit somebody in the head with a gun butt they go down."
A guest from New York City was staying in a room just down the hall from Julissa. The witness, who we’ll call "Jill", told LaRosa what she saw and heard:
"Jill was in her room reading a mystery novel and all of the sudden, she starts hearing a commotion down the hall. Eventually, she poked her head out the door. And what she saw down the hall was a woman who was half in and half out of the doorway; she wasn't moving. Jill decided at that point, she was going to call security. The guard bent over, started moving the hair away from the woman on the floor and he saw a lot of blood," LaRosa said.
"Once he saw the blood, the guard said, 'Get in your room.' [Jill] stayed in the hallway and watched to see what was happening. The security guard started talking into his walkie-talkie. He said, 'This is an emergency. We need paramedics.'"
Less then an hour later, Julissa Brisman, only a week away from her 26th birthday, was pronounced dead at Boston Medical Center.
Later that night, cops called her mother, Carmen, in New York City. Carmen called Mark Pines, a photographer who was helping Julissa in her career, and also a family friend.
"She just told me that Julissa had died. You can't go back from a statement like that; it's definitive," Pines recalled. "We just started crying. More than words, we needed to share feelings at that point. The details - I didn't care about the details at that point. My heart was so broken that all I could do was cry."
For her family and Julissa’s many friends - her murder was a tragic end to a life just beginning to turn around.
"What we know about Julissa before this was that she was a party girl. She was living the high life in New York," said Cramer. "She was a young, beautiful girl in New York City and she took full advantage of her youth and her beauty to, you know, live it up."
But at the time of her death, Julissa had stopped drinking and radically changed her looks.
Pines said the change was evident. "She would smile with her whole face. She'd smile with her mouth and her eyebrows at the same time, and she had eyes that were, like, just - they had this incredible, cock-eyed optimism. She had this amazingly positive, optimistic thing in her eyes, you know?"
Pines featured Julissa in a video about cell phones and wrote a song about her.
Julissa was trying to get her modeling and acting career going, but in the meantime, there were bills to be paid. So she began to offer what’s known in the trade as sensual or erotic massages.
"Her services are advertised as massages, and from what I’m told by those close to her, they did not include full services," said Cramer, who further explained the service did not involve sexual intercourse.
When asked by Van Sant if Julissa was a prostitute, Cramer replied, "No. Not from what I’m told. She was disgusted by it. That said, she was definitely operating in a world that could become dangerous."
With two victims plucked off Craigslist - one dead and one terrorized - critics blasted the site as a virtual bordello filled with all-too-real prostitutes.
"People say, rightly so, that sex and crime were always around, even before the Internet. You could go in the back of a newspaper and see a lot of ads for women who would have sex with you. And that’s true," said LaRosa," but the Internet makes it so much easier."
Writer Maureen Orth investigated the Craigslist Killer story for Vanity Fair magazine.
"They’re creating huge cyber cities that are absolutely unpoliced. You can walk into your room any time of the day and just click on or not," she said. "Craigslist has a huge number of categories - M for T, men for trannies; T for M, trannies for men; rice queens, white guys who only like Asians; burritos, white guys who only like Latinos. I mean, these are all up there, all the time."
All the time - and the Craigslist Killer knew that all too well. Just two days after Julissa’s murder, he dipped into Craigslist yet again to find his next victim.