Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Illicit List: Crime and Craigslist

Craigslist: The Internet's Back Alley

Not long ago, prostitutes were restricted to offering their services on seedy street corners or in shady bars, or through oblique ads in the back pages of alternative newspapers. Now many have gone high-tech, taking their businesses online. Internet sex ads now populate supposedly clean and family-friendly commercial zones with thinly veiled solicitationsand create an environment where sex workers, their clients and even innocent bystanders can find themselves in serious danger.

Using transparent code words, sex workers advertise themselves on popular classified ads sites such as Craigslist, with its obviously questionable "Erotic Services" category.

Or they cruise the sites' dating sections, such as Craigslist's "Casual Encounters", to proffer paid attention to the lonely. An entire codebook has evolved online to express the various forms of contraband offered:

Erotic Services ad from
Erotic Services ad from

Cracking the Craigslist Code

420: marijuana
Bareback: unprotected sex
Discreet: if a practitioner promises secrecy, there's probably something unsavory or illegal going on
Donations: refers to a sex worker's fee
English: BDSM: bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism
Erotic massage: massage with, typically, a "happy ending" at the very least
Erotic services: massage, escorts ... and usually some level of sexual contact
Escorts: theoretically dates for hire, but escorts usually offer or will negotiate sex too
Extras: sex acts to be negotiated
French: oral sex
French lesson: prostitution
Full-service massage: sex
Greek: anal sex
In-call: indicates the customer must go to the worker's place of business or hotel
Out-call: indicates the worker will go to the customer's location
Party and Play, or pnp: sex and drugs, usually methamphetamine
Party favors: drugs
Roman: group sex
Roses: dollars; refers to a sex worker's fee
Sensual: there's a fine line between sensual and sexual, and many Craigslist vendors cross it
Shrubs: Marijuana
Skiing: using cocaine
Skittles: ecstasy
Snow: cocaine
Tina, or Tina Turner: crystal methamphetamine
Without an interpreter: unprotected sex

Even more troubling, predators can take advantage of the site's anonymity to lure their prey, either the naively innocent or the vulnerably culpable, with false ads.

In the pages that follow, we'll explore the Internet's dangerous back alley by looking at three recent deadly encounters all initiated on Craigslist:

  • Philip Markoff allegedly robbed at least three online-advertising sex workers, killing young one woman in Boston.
  • New York journalist George Weber was murdered after looking for sex online, allegedly by a young hustler.
  • Michael Anderson posed as a young mother looking for a nanny to lure unsuspecting Katherine Olson to her death in suburban Minnesota.

Law enforcement officials across the US are calling for the site to crack down on its illegal trade or be shut down.

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'