Man Tried to Use Craigslist to Lure, Kill Woman, Police Say

Craigslist crimes, including Philip Markoff and Michael John AndersonABC News Photo Illustration
Craigslist crimes, including Philip Markoff and Michael John Anderson

A Seattle man was charged with conspiracy to commit murder on Wednesday after police say he posted an ad on the Web site Craigslist looking for a woman to have sex with and then kill.

The ad appeared in the "casual encounters" section of the Seattle Craigslist personal ads with the title, "A strange desire."

According to police, Shawn Tyler Skelton, 24, posted the ad, saying he wanted to have sex with a woman and then kill her. "Serious inquires only," the ad said, according to the police affidavit.

Police say they set up a sting, exchanging e-mails with Skelton and arranging for him to meet a supposed victim at a local motel, after a Craigslist employee reported the ad.

Police claim that in their e-mails with Skelton, he negotiated the amount of money he would be paid and alluded to the way he would kill the victim. Police say they arranged to meet him at a motel, where he was arrested Monday on suspicion of attempted murder after he arrived at the motel with a knife, a length of heavy chain and two long shoelaces.

Skelton allegedly confessed to planning to go through with the murder after he was arrested, police say.

The King County Prosecutor's Office charged Skelton with conspiracy to commit murder in the second degree. He remains in the King County jail on $1 million bail, with arraignment scheduled for May 13.

If convicted as charged, his sentence could range from 92 to 165 months in prison.

Latest Allged Crime to Use Craigslist

The arrest comes amid a series of high profile incidents involving the popular Web site, known for its sometimes anything goes atmosphere. Boston police have accused Philip Markoff, 23, of using Craigslist to lure two women to upscale hotels, where he allegedly robbed them and killed one of them. Investigators believe Markoff contacted the alleged victims through Craigslist ads in which they offered erotic massages. Markoff, who has been dubbed the "Craigslist Killer" by the media, has pleaded not guilty.

Earlier this month, Michael John Anderson, 20, of Savage, Minn., was sentenced to life in prison for killing Katherine Ann Olson, who had responded to an ad for a nanny that Anderson placed on the site. And New York radio reporter George Weber was stabbed 50 times in his Brooklyn apartment earlier this year, allegedly murdered by a man who answered Weber's ad on Craigslist offering $60 for "rough sex."

The incidents have caught the attention of law enforcement, who say many of the site's "erotic services" posts are nothing more than prostitution ads. In an effort to curtail prostitution, Craigslist reached a settlement with 40 state attorneys general in November to require strippers and escort services to pay a fee with a credit card to post ads.

This week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accused the company of violating the agreement by failing to develop an effective screening process to prevent the posting of illegal ads. In a letter, Madigan urged the company to immediately shut down the "Erotic Services" section of the site, saying, "it is clear that the erotic services section continues to facilitate the exploitation of women in Illinois and in states across the nation."

She also demanded to know how much money the site is making off its "erotic services" ads.

Craigslist Founder: No Plans to Change 'Erotic Services'

Craigslist has also recently been criticized by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Cook County Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart has called Craigslist "the largest source of prostitution in America."

In a statement, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said, "We look forward to meeting with Attorney General Madigan to discuss any and all ideas she and others may have for further eliminating illegal activity from Craigslist, while preserving all of the functionality and positive attributes that are valued by the overwhelmingly law-abiding Craigslist community of users."

In an interview last week with ABC News Craigslist founder Craig Newmark denied that the site facilitates prostitution and said he has no plans to change the "erotic services" section.

Buckmaster told Nightline that the Craigslist community -- about 50 million people use the site a month -- has a low incidence of crime. "Now the risk is not zero, and no occurrence of violent crime is acceptable," Buckmaster said.

"I'm very proud that our site is composed of people who are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good. I am very proud that there is very little crime on our site, proportionately," Newmark said. "Compare that to any other American community, look at the numbers."

Personals Draw Big Audience

Newmark's online service allows users to post advertisements for everything from yard sales to massage services. Every major city in America has its own Craigslist, and there are hubs overseas. Most of the postings are free, and there are separate sections for jobs, apartments and social events, in addition to the "casual encounters" and "erotic services" sections.

Peter Zollman, a classified industry analyst, said Craigslist, which charges for real estate postings from brokers in New York City and for some job listings, made about $81 million last year. It agreed last year to charge $5 for "erotic services" ads and donate the money to charity.

Personal ads, such as the one allegedly posted by Skelton, are free.

"Personal ads are critical to Craigslist because they draw an audience, they're part of the Craigslist ethos, it's part of what you go to Craigslist for," said Zollman. "It's a very freewheeling kind of place, and people have come to expect that from Craigslist. That's one of the reasons they don't want to give them up."

Craigslist allows users to flag inappropriate items on the site. "If you see something that's wrong with our site, you can flag it for removal, and if other people agree with you they can flag it also. And if enough people flag the ad, it will be removed automatically," Newmark said in an interview last week with "Nightline"

"Every section on Craigslist is based on community feedback. People in law enforcement and related areas told us that they want us to isolate some of the, some kinds of ads in their own particular categories," he explained. "For example, we have erotic services, because that concentrates legitimate erotic services in one area, so people know what they are going to see when they get there. This has been reinforced very strongly recently by the law enforcement."

Seattle Police: Suspect Used Craigslist to Find Potential Victim

In Seattle, undercover police officers say they responded to the ad, asking if the suspect would be willing to kill someone. According to a police affidavit, Skelton said he was looking for someone who wanted to be killed but was open to killing an unwilling participant for money.

Court papers say Skelton lives with his girlfriend and her great grandmother. A woman who answered at a phone number listed for Skelton said she did not know him. His lawyer did not return a call for comment.

A woman who answered the phone at the suspect's home Tuesday and identified herself as the man's girlfriend and the mother of his child told the Seattle Times that he is innocent.

"He didn't do anything," the woman told the paper. "If he was doing anything, he was trying to figure out a way to get money. He had no intent to go through with it."

Suspect Has Prior Record

"They offered him money and we're broke, living at our grandmother's house," she said. "He actually has a lot, lot, lot of mental issues that need to be dealt with ... But he's not really the person they're making him out to be," she said. "He's a good person, an amazing father, and I love him and support him."

According to court records, Skelton was convicted of indecent exposure in 2001. He was also arrested in November for allegedly exposing himself to a college student. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Thursday.