In October 2009, 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall was excited to meet 19-year-old Peter Cartwright, a handsome boy she had been chatting to on Facebook.
But Peter Cartwright didn’t exist. Instead, Ashleigh found 33-year-old Peter Chapman, a registered sex offender who’d made a fake profile. Cartwright kidnapped, raped, and killed Ashleigh before dumping her body in a field.
These days, serial killers don’t have to chat up their victims in bars, pick the up hitchhiking, or stalk them in dark alleys.
Today they can seduce and lure their victims into a trap using only their computers — or just their smartphones.
Murderers using social networking to attract victims is nothing new: Before the internet existed, many of them used want ads to entice their prey.
Between 1900 and 1914, Hungarian serial killer Bela Kiss lured his 24 victims by using personals ads published in newspapers. “Want Ad Killer” Harvey Carignan posted bogus job ads before attacking his victims, raping them with a hammer, and killing them.Related: A Look Back At Harvey “The Hammer” Carignan, The “Want Ad Killer”
John Edward Robinson (main photo, above) became known as the “USA’s first Internet serial killer” after his arrest in 2000. Robinson, who described himself as a “Slavemaster” in the BDSM chat rooms where het met his victims, was the first killer known to have targeted his victims online. He promised the women marriage and money to pay medical expenses — and later killed them.
As a private investigator who has seen her share of clients targeted by online conmen — and women — pretending to be people they are not, I’ve listed a few steps that everyone can take to help stay safe online.
1. Profile their profile.
Of course, you can never be 100 percent sure of someone’s identity if you haven’t met them face to face, but there are several red flags that you can look for in an online-dating profile.
If your potential paramour uses a single, tiny, and/or blurry profile picture, ask for more. It’s also a good idea to run a Google image search on the photo. If it pops up somewhere else under another name, there is a good chance that your “date” has stolen someone else’s identity.
Also watch for phrases like “not into game playing” or “not a cheater” — which usually means that the opposite is true — and see if they have a long list of “unacceptable” things about who they will date.
Rants against women or society in general are also not a good sign. It means that they are angry — and that you could be the target.
2. Profile your profile — and don’t give out personal information until you’re ready.
Pretend that you are a bad guy and take a hard look at your online dating profile, and your social-media presence in general.
As I’ve said before, it’s a good idea to remove geotagging from locations, and to check your privacy settings on social media sites like Facebook.
I’ve had more than one client hook up with someone dangerous who claimed to be a “soulmate.” A quick review of her online dating profile and social-media sites showed that it wasn’t hard to pretend to be her perfect man — because she literally had a laundry list of everything that she wanted.
It’s also a good idea to not give out your last name or any information about where you live until at least the third date or meeting.
3. Beware of fake intimacy.It sounds like common sense, but is worth repeating: If you have been chatting to someone anonymously online — even someone you feel super-close to because you have divulged your darkest secrets — they are still strangers.
In fact, many killers choose victims online based on who they believe will be vulnerable.
The Japanese serial murderer Hiroshi Maeue found victims by using an online suicide chat room, and Lisa Montgomery, the “womb raider” who killed a pregnant women and cut out her baby, met her victim in a rat terrier chatroom called “Ratter Chatter.”
When using chatrooms, it’s a good idea to use nicknames that have nothing in common with your real one — and not to open attachments from anyone. They could contain malware or spyware.
4. Don’t assume that you are safe because you are male.
It’s not only women who are victims: Adam Hilarie, 27, was killed by his online date after making a connection on the dating website PlentyofFish. Hilarie met Hailey Bustos on the dating website, and after their night out they headed back to Hilarie’s apartment.
Later, after presumably scoping out the place, she returned to his residence with two other men, and the trio shot Hilarie in the head. Police said that Bustos’ motive had been robbery all along.
5. Remember that serial killers aren’t all motivated by sex.
Sometimes, as in Bustos’ case, the motive is pure greed.
Richard Beasley, the serial killer who used Craigslist to lure victims to his Ohio farm before shooting them and burying them in shallow graves, lured his victims with an ad promising “the job of a lifetime.”
In hindsight, Beasleys’ “interviews” of potential victims should have raised red flags: He only wanted unmarried men with few family connections. In general, anyone trying to isolate you from friends or family does NOT have your best interests at heart.
6. Carry protection.
No, I’m not talking about condoms — though if you’re on the dating scene, obviously it’s a good idea to throw a few into your purse — I mean that it’s a good idea to carry something for self defense.
My personal favorite is keychain pepper spray: It’s simple to use, very effective, and nonlethal. In a fight-or-flight situation, it could buy you the 10 seconds that mean the difference between life and death.
7. Meet in a public place.
Obviously, the point of dating is to eventually end up alone in an intimate situation with the person you’re out with. But meeting them for coffee or dinner gives you an opportunity to bail out in a safe way if things go south.
Never, EVER go home with someone without meeting them first — and always text a (nonjudgmental) friend the name and address of the person you’re out with. Letting them know that you are doing this while you’re still in public could act as a deterrent.
And don’t assume that a hotel room will keep you safe — “Craigslist Killer” Phillip Markowitz robbed and shot his victims, whom he had met online, shortly after arriving at their hotel room.8. Google them.
A brief background check can’t ensure safety — but a click through their LinkedIn page and social-media sites can help you determine if the story that they told you matches information available online.
If you have a last name, property records could help tell you who is living at their address — and if they live alone.
A search of criminal records from counties they have lived in can also be helpful: John Robert Charlton, who killed and dismembered Seattle mom of three Ingrid Lyne inside her own home after he met her online, had a criminal history spanning six states.
9. When in doubt, get out!
Basically, this is another way of saying “trust your gut.” A night out with someone does not entitle them to sex or intimacy.
Whether it’s another drink, a ride home, a kiss, or something more — if you don’t want to do it, get out!
And if you are the type — like I am sometimes — who worries about “seeming rude,” ask yourself what’s more important: Someone having slightly hurt feelings for a few minutes — or saving your life?
Recommended For You:
Main photo: John Edward Robinson [Johnson Co. Sheriff]