Homicide latest in string of crimes with ties to Craigslist; pol - KMOV.com

Homicide latest in string of crimes with ties to Craigslist; police departments offer safe havens

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) - The body of missing SIUE student Taylor Clark was found just 400 yards from where his red 2007 Nissan 350 Z was parked on Tuesday aftenoon.

Clark had the Nissan listed for sale on Craigslist and met with Michael Gordon, the man suspected of shooting Clark to death, for a test drive of the vehicle, investigators said on Wednesday.

The murder of Clark is not the first time a Craigslist meeting has led to a crime in the St. Louis area. The history of crimes with connections to the online classifieds site in the area includes fraud, armed robberies and murders.

"Certainly the Craigslist ad was an item of concern," Commander Tim Fagan of the Major Case Squad said Wednesday afternoon at a press conference.

On Monday, Peyton McAnelly of O'Fallon, Missouri was sentenced to life in prison for a 2012 robbery turned fatal stabbing after placing an ad on Craigslist. McAnelly and accomplice Avery Cornuelle placed an advertisement for a man seeking another man with the intent to rob the person responding to the posting. Cornuelle was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the crime.

In March of 2014, a man went into downtown St. Louis to test drive a car he saw for sale in a Craigslist post, only to have a gun pulled on him and be robbed by the men who posted the ad.

A similar robbery occurred in July of 2014 in Jennings, where a man was robbed at gunpoint after meeting a man to see a car listed for sale on Craigslist.

“We always tell people to be weary of who you're chatting with online, who you're making deals with and again, go to crowded places and if ever you feel something is suspicious, call police immediately,” Brian Schellman with St. Louis County Police said in July 2014.

A woman was flown to St. Louis, assaulted and robbed of a three-carat diamond engagement ring worth $19,000 after posting it for sale on Craigslist in fall 2013.

Emily Graham, of Wisconsin, was asked "really great questions" by a potential buyer of the ring, who then offered to fly her to St. Louis so they could visit a jewelry appraiser together. Instead, the man took Graham to a deserted warehouse, pistol-whipped her and robbed her of the ring, her laptop, purse and even her shoes.

A Windsor, Illinois man was charged with wire fraud in March after accepting a $12,800 payment for two Bobcat tractors and the buyer never received the tractors.

Even with numerous local crimes tied to the classifieds website, the dangers of the website became even more apparent in last month's list of 86 murders connected to Craigslist across the country

Authorities have warned area residents of the dangers of Craigslist and meeting people from the internet in person. One solution offered is to conduct a Craigslist transaction in a public place, or even at a police station.

“There's ATMs in the lobby of the police station for a reason, go meet there next to the ATM and make the transaction there,” said Ed Postawko of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office in March 2014.

Various police departments across the St. Louis area, including Wentzville and Fairview Heights, have welcomed citizens to conduct transactions from online posting in their parking lots and even their station lobbies.

On Tuesday, the Fairview Heights Police posted on their Facebook page about safety when conducting trades or transactions related to an online posting.

"The 'Safe Exchange' program is in direct response to concerns brought about with on-line purchases from such websites as Craigslist, EBay, and Garage Sales. Although the Fairview Heights Police Department has only investigated a couple of incidents involving transactions which have gone awry, the FHPD's commitment is always to put community safety first," said Fairview Heights Police on their Facebook page.

"It gives both parties a sense of trust. Women and men can go somewhere to exchange specialty and other goods. I think it's great," said Matrecha Yates, who supports the program.

The Facebook post also offered tips to residents looking to buy or sell items on Craigslist or other online sites, including for buyers to ask a lot of questions, never provide personal information online, arrive early and not to go alone. Fairview Heights Police also mentioned additional security cameras installed in their parking lot to increase the safety of residents participating in an online sale.

"The main deterrent is you're at the police department, the second deterrent is we do have cameras onsite and we'll be able to retrieve a lot of data if something does go wrong," said Lieutenant Michael Hoguet of the Fairview Heights Police Department.

On Wednesday afternoon, Columbia, Illinois police tweeted a press release designating the parking lot and lobby of their station as a "safe haven for online transactions," adding that their lobby is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Even before police said Taylor Clark's homicide was related to the advertisement he placed on Craigslist, but the possibility was enough for law enforcement to warn citizens to proceed with caution when buying or selling online.

"People should always be concerned about anything they do, especially if it's online," Fagan said a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Detectives are still investigating the homicide. Gordon is being held on $1 million bond in the St. Louis County Jail.

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