Read an Excerpt
A Date With Death
By Michele R. McPhee
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Michele R. McPhee
All rights reserved.
Standing shirtless, Philip Markoff stared into the bathroom mirror of his comped hotel room in the Pequot Towers at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut and the words spilled out.
"I can't believe the bitch scratched me."
Markoff knew he shouldn't touch the sores, but his fingers involuntarily traced the angry red marks left on his chest by two acrylic fingernails, dug into his skin with unexpected strength and ferocity. For a small girl, she did some damage, Markoff thought to himself, staring at the wounds. At six-foot-three and 205 pounds, the twenty-three-year-old Markoff was solidly built but for the soft girth around the belly, extra weight he and many of his fellow Boston University medical students packed on as a result of a grueling schedule of study and hospital internships that left little time for the gym or healthy meals.
As he peered into the mirror, Philip noticed his blond hair was still tousled from the baseball hat he had been wearing earlier that night. The worn-out cap was his idea of a disguise. Not surprisingly, it would later prove to be not much of one.
With water from the tap, he smoothed down his hair, still worn in the same style he sported in high school, and then looked up again. His close-set blue eyes locked in on the scratches. Set against his pale-white skin, the red marks especially stood out, appearing deeper than they actually were. He used his meaty index finger to trace the wounds again and forced blood to the surface. As he absentmindedly smeared the blood together from the marks that criss-crossed his lower neck and upper chest, Philip Markoff forced his mind to focus on what to do next.
Focus is what was desperately needed now if he wanted to avoid capture.
It wasn't supposed to have gone that way, not by a long shot. A woman who advertises herself through the Internet as a masseuse who specializes in "hand stress relief" was very low risk, no risk really, when it came to going to the cops if she got ripped off. When he had tried the same thing with another prostitute at another swank Boston hotel a few days earlier it had gone off without a hitch. Or so he thought.
But this time, things went off the rails. Completely. What caused this little girl to fight back? He had a gun for christsakes! Why did that bitch scratch me? It was not supposed to go this way.
After it was over and a young woman lay dead in a room on the twentieth floor of the Marriott Copley Place hotel, Markoff left the hotel with his hat pulled as far down his face as his nose would allow. As he calmly walked through the lobby, he sent text messages to someone on his BlackBerry. Nonchalantly. As if the beaten, bloodied body upstairs did not matter at all. Then he scurried back to his apartment in the nearby suburb of Quincy.
He had no idea if anyone was following him or if anyone saw him arrive home shortly after midnight on April 15, 2009. But his first inclination was to get out of town. Panicked and bleeding from the scratches on his upper chest, Markoff pulled off his black zip-up jacket and hid the cell phone he had used to contact the masseuse. No one he wanted to hear from would be trying to contact him on it anyway. It was a throwaway, a prepaid disposable cell phone. He took off his loose black jeans and stuffed them in a laundry basket. The blue polo pullover he wore that night was never recovered. He then haphazardly stuffed some clean clothes into a duffle bag and headed south on Interstate 95.
He figured it was time to lay low for a while and he thought he had the perfect place — Foxwoods. It had certainly become a familiar place in recent months, his home away from home. He had visited nineteen times in the past three and a half months already this year.
Founded as a super bingo hall in 1986 and expanded under the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation as a full-fledged casino six years later, the sprawling 4.7-million-square-foot resort in the woods of Ledyard, Connecticut, has grown into one of the largest casino resorts in the world. Millions of visitors flock to Foxwoods each year trying to capture "the wonder of it all," as their annoyingly catchy jingle used to intone, and beat the odds at one of its 380 gaming tables and 7,200 slot machines.
So at first blush, the perpetually crowded Foxwoods might seem a reasonable place to get lost in for a while.
But upon closer inspection, Markoff hardly could have chosen a worse place.
Instead of disappearing off the grid for a few days, Markoff, though not a suspect in the murder of the young woman found bloodied and beaten, half in an expensive room of a tony Boston hotel with her head in the hallway, was nevertheless under constant surveillance. The casino's sophisticated security systems recorded his every move, every dollar spent, every sip of soda. For a guy who wanted to vanish he could not have been more visible.
Markoff did not get the free room because he was a high roller. In fact, Markoff was strictly small-time, just another college frat boy who frequented the place from one of New England's colleges. He wore a weathered baseball cap, khaki pants and a button-down polo shirt, the uniform of all too many students who were living in Boston doing little other than pissing through their parents' money, their own trust funds or in some cases, their college loans.
No, the room was "comped" as part of a promotion. Markoff, a regular at Foxwoods, had applied for and received a Wampum Card and the free room came with it. The suite was nothing fancy; a standard room with scratchy comforters loudly emblazoned with multi-colored designs, a mini-bar, fridge and dresser, along with two queen beds and a flat-screen TV. In fact, he had stayed in similar rooms on his previous visits. He even applied for a line of credit ... using his mother's address in upstate New York, of course. No need for that kind of paperwork following him to Massachusetts. Now it was April 15 and Philip Markoff was back at Foxwoods once more.
This visit, however, wasn't strictly to feed his gambling jones like the other times. On this trip, his freedom was at stake.
Markoff had the TV on in the background as he washed up in the bathroom. He was listening to the local news, wanting to know whether reporters had converged on the Marriott Copley hotel yet. A white woman shot dead in the ritzy hotel was a crime that was not going to stay quiet for long. It was going to be a big fuckin' deal for both the media and the Boston cops. He was certainly no criminal mastermind but he knew that much.
And once cops gathered all the facts, it was only a matter of time before the homicide was linked up to the carbon copy robbery of the hooker at the Westin Copley Place, another Boston hotel, two nights earlier.
Both women had checked into their rooms alone. Both women came without any real luggage. And both women had advertised their availability for sex: one was a masseuse who specialized in "happy endings," or sexual release. The other was a hooker from Las Vegas with a long criminal history.
And once the cops connected the crimes, the next question would be could they tie Markoff to them. For all he knew, they already had. For all he knew they were taking the elevator up to his room right now.
Before he could make his next move, Markoff needed to know if the police had surveillance photos of the suspect who had shot the petite masseuse dead at point-blank range or if any incriminating evidence had been left behind. So he'd clicked on the television.
The newscasts that first night made no mention of surveillance pictures or evidence linking anyone to the murder. In fact, investigators did have surveillance photos, and they were pretty good ones at that. They had also quickly linked the murder to the robbery that had occurred on April 10. But the detectives were keeping that information to themselves for the time being. As far as Markoff knew, he was safe.
Markoff cleaned and covered his scratches. The injuries were only superficial but they nevertheless held the potential for ending his life as he knew it. The skin that was no longer on his chest and neck could very well be under the masseuse's fingernails just waiting for a medical examiner to remove them and make a DNA match. Markoff would have known all about DNA and autopsies through his studies. If they matched DNA from the crime scene to his, he was done.
Why did she fight back?
She was the one who put up a fight, the one who would eventually lead to his being arrested and humiliated. The one whose murder would uncover and make public in 36-point headlines a dark side he had managed to keep secret from his fiancée, Megan, from his family and friends and fellow students and even, in some ways, from himself.
Eventually, it would all come out; and it would all be used against him. The least of his worries should have been the skin under the woman's fingernails.
If the police could put it all together, Markoff could anticipate a rough time in the BPD interrogation room, not to mention an international media frenzy splashing his guilty secrets all over the world. His promising future as a doctor would certainly be smashed. His upcoming nuptials, which already gave him a sense of impending doom when he thought of the August 14 wedding day, would certainly never happen.
But as he checked in at Foxwoods, his secrets at least for now still his own, Markoff had a more immediate problem. How was he going to explain the marks on his skin to Megan, his fiancée?
At least for a day, he tried to put that question out of his mind. He took the elevator from his sixth-floor room to the casino level below, patting his pants pocket to make sure that the bills he had stolen from his victim the night before were still wrapped in a rubber band in his pocket. Comforted by the feeling of the cash, the bulge that assuaged his panic even if just for a minute, Markoff tried to bury the anxiety, the dread, and he went down to a blackjack table at the resort's latest addition to its sprawling compound — the MGM Grand. He slapped down $700 and traded the cash for seven black chips, each worth $100.
Then he sat down at a blackjack table, placed the pile of black chips on the felt. Less than two days removed from leaving a hotel where a 25-year-old woman was fatally shot, he started to gamble. Less than four days since a woman who could not only identify his face, but had given cops his fingerprints, had accused him of stealing $800. And at least for the time being, his luck did change. Over the next two days, Philip Markoff beat the house odds and parlayed his stolen loot into what to him was a small fortune, $5,300. At least for another day, he was living the Foxwoods dream.
"Take a chance, make it happen. Pop the cork, fingers snappin'. Spin the wheel, round and round we go. Life is good, life is sweet, grab yourself a front row seat and let's meet and have a ball. Yeah, let's live the wonder of it all ... Meet me at Foxwoods."CHAPTER 2
In 2005, Boston's alternative weekly newspaper, The Phoenix, dubbed the Boston Police Department "The Worst Homicide Squad in the Country." It based that damning headline on the fact that the BPD homicide detectives were making arrests in only about a third of the city's recent murders, and of that, nearly 27 percent of the cases that went to trial ended in acquittal, compared to a national average of only 6 percent.
Based on those statistics, the odds may have seemed like they were tilted in favor of any wanted man, like Markoff, getting away with murder. But this wasn't your run-of-the-mill street killing and whether the BPD was in fact the "worst homicide squad in the country" or not — and most crime reporters in the city believed that the cops were not the problem that led to the negative story — the last bet Markoff wanted to make was that he could outsmart a veteran detective during what was sure to be a no-holds-barred interrogation.
The Phoenix was notoriously liberal and had a reputation in Boston for cop-bashing. In fact, many in the upper echelons of the Boston Police Department believed that the homicide unit was hampered by a glory-seeking district attorney named Dan Conley who heaped all the blame for a low clearance rate on the over-burdened detectives who were restricted by his policies when it came to issuing arrest warrants and prosecuting cases. Conley was the city's top prosecutor, thereby the top law enforcement official in Boston. Conley was a career elected official, one some lifelong Massachusetts residents might call a "hack." A hack in the Bay State was a lifelong politician who, once elected, had little worry about upcoming reelections because it was next to impossible to unseat an incumbent, especially a Democratic one. Consider that Edward "Ted" Kennedy was a United States senator for 47 years before he died in 2009. His colleague John Kerry has been a U.S. senator since 1985 and shows no sign of leaving. Congressman Barney Frank has also served Massachusetts for decades. Even the mayor of Boston, Thomas M. Menino, was elected to a historic fifth term in office in 2009. He had been running City Hall for fourteen years when he won again in a landslide victory, making him the longest-serving mayor in Boston's history. The incumbency stronghold was shaken on January 19, 2010, when Massachusetts voters sent the first Republican senator to Washington, D.C., since 1997. That man, Scott Brown, was a pro-law-enforcement candidate and many saw his election as a way to regain some control over the liberal ways in which criminals were coddled in the Bay State.
Conley, in fact, had his eye on Menino's seat and spent much of his career as the head of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office raising money for his campaign coffers to mount that run.
As a result, Conley was despised by many Boston police officers and had garnered a reputation for bolstering his own statistics for "wins" by only prosecuting sure things and shelving cases that were not easily proven. The tension between the police and the prosecutor's office made it difficult to put bad guys away in Beantown. Another factor was the plethora of woefully inept judges, who, ironically, were appointed by the career politicians. The career politicians were known to use the campaign contributions made by attorneys to their reelection coffers as a gauge as to what kind of judge the contributor would make for the Massachusetts judiciary. Many of the judges were there because of politics, and not because of their qualifications. Most of the Massachusetts judiciary did not even bother to post resumes on the court's official website. No need. They were accountable to no one and they had some of the best pensions in the state. The only civil servants who earned a better pension than the judges were the politicians. Like Dan Conley.
All of it together created a belief for many in Boston that one might be able to get away with murder, or at least have a better than 50-50 shot at it.
But the day after 25-year-old masseuse Julissa Brisman was murdered, Philip Markoff had an even more immediate concern than outsmarting the Boston Police Department and its much-criticized homicide squad.
He had to figure out how to justify the scratch marks that crisscrossed his chest to his fiancée, Megan McAllister.
The only way, of course, was to lie.
It would not be the first time he lied to his fiancée. Actually, he had become quite astute at making her believe pretty much anything he told her. It's not that Megan McAllister was stupid. In fact, she too planned on attending medical school. The key for Markoff was he had learned how to make Megan McAllister feel special. And he worked hard at it. He would bring her breakfast in bed. Nearly every Friday night, he'd buy fresh flowers. He helped her clean their apartment without being asked and caressed her head as they fell asleep. He was affectionate and attentive. A million little acts of kindness. What he got in return for all his effort was Megan McAllister's unwavering love, loyalty and trust. In fact, the depth of Megan's love for Philip would go on display for all the world to see less than a week later.
Excerpted from A Date With Death by Michele R. McPhee. Copyright © 2010 Michele R. McPhee. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.