Detroit police warned women today against setting up meetings with strangers over the Internet after three of four murdered women found in the trunks of burning cars have been linked to a nationwide site similar to Craigslist, according to police.
“We felt it’s imperative to alert the public that deciding to meet unknown persons via the internet can be extremely dangerous,” Detroit police chief Ralph Godbee said. “We implore people to be careful, let someone know where they’re going, who they’re with. If you’re arranging something, do it in a public place.”
The three women had offered escort services on backpage.com, according to police.
“With the vast increase on utilization of social media on the Internet we must continue to be vigilant in identifying any website which may potentially pose a threat to individuals,” said Godbee.
Backpage.com is an Internet bulletin board with listings for everything from child care to auto parts and forums on numerous topics.
The web site said today it was cooperating with police and had given investigators information about “ads that the suspect or others posted on numerous web sites,” according to a statement from Backpage.com legal counsel Steve Suskin, posted by the Detroit Free Press.
Suskin said there were ads on 15 web sites not connected to Backpage.com.
“Backpage.com shares the concerns of law enforcement and the community that every effort be made to stop violent criminals from using the Internet to commit their crimes,” the statement said.
On Dec. 19, a 23 and 24-year-old were found dead in the trunk of a 2009 Chrysler 300 that was parked in the driveway of a vacant dwelling, police said. There were no outer signs of trauma to the bodies. The victims have been identified as Demesha Hunt, 24, and Renisha Landers, 23, who are cousins.
Their mothers insisted the cousins weren’t escorts, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“These were good girls. They were not on the streets. They had homes,” said Landers’ mother Chikita Madison.
“That was nothing that they were into,” Hunt’s mother, Denise Reid told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s nothing that I would even say, `Oh, yeah. Maybe.’ It’s absolutely not.”
A 28 and 29-year-old women were found four blocks away in a 1997 Buick LaSabre on Christmas morning around 1 a.m. The Detroit Fire Department responded to a vehicle fire, and after extinguishing the fire, found the bodies in the trunk, badly burned.
Godbee said he is stopping short of saying there is a serial killer involved in the case.
“This tie for us is disconcerting. I can’t tell you how to characterize, but we’re stopping short of calling this any kind of serial pattern,” said Godbee.
Craigslist.com took down its “adult services” section after several widely publicized cases, including the so-called “Craigslist Killer” case, in which Phillip Markoff was charged with the armed robbery and murder of a masseuse he had hired through the web site, and the armed robbery of two other women he also found through the site. Markoff committed suicide in jail awaiting trial.
ABC News’ Dean Schabner contributed to this report.