Online Killers is a bit of a cheat. Although it profiles 19 criminals, and the Internet can be tied in to each one, not every one of them used it to “stalk the web for … victims.” For example, Darlee Routier, convicted of murdering her two young sons, did not use the Internet to find her victims. However, she has a large band of supporters united by the ‘net who believe her claims of innocence. Graham Coutts murdered Jane Longhurst, but he didn’t find her on the ‘net. What he found were thousands of pages of violent porn and necrophilia that fed his fantasies.
The 11-year-old girl nicknamed “Nevada” did not stalk her 12-year-old victim (Satomi Mitarai) on the Internet; they were friends, but a few posts by Satomi so enraged the violence-obsessed “Nevada” that it resulted in Satomi’s vicious murder.
It could be argued that sites that encourage or aid and abet suicide use the Internet to find victims, and that Sharon Lopatka might never have committed suicide if not for their “helpful hints” and sanction. In this case, the Internet sites were designed for the advancement of self-destruction, but did not actually “stalk the web.” Their “victims” are suicidal; their mission is to support and enable those who are so inclined. Protected by freedom of speech, they disseminate information that fragile psyches shouldn’t receive. (I suspect that suicide chat rooms are not run by suicidal or death-with-dignity people, but death cultists who get their kicks by contributing to the death toll.)
Online Killers attracted my interest with its inclusion of cannibals. While the subject is revolting, I recently viewed Grimm Love, a film inspired by Germany’s Armin Meiwes, who trolled for victims on the Internet. Online Killers, which includes the Meiwes case, and several other sources prove that the film is a rather faithful adaptation. The book also proves how frustrating the law can be, as demonstrated by Armin Meiwes’ conviction and sentencing.
Murderous and murdered imported brides, terrorists, long-distance love affairs, and violent fantasies fueled by Internet images are all included in Online Killers. It is a sad litany of the abuse of a system that can be beneficial, but is easily exploited. Although the authors offer us summaries of a variety of crimes, they seem more interested in casting light on a very dark world. The statistics that chart the growth of sites dedicated to sex, necrophilia, violence, and cannibalism are astounding, and very frightening. Those who are satisfied minding their own business (most of the time) will be shocked by the abundance of antisocial sites — unless, of course, their own business happens to be antisocial activities.
Both the introduction and appendix are heavy-handed presentations of facts, statistics, and appeals for something to be done. There is also a contradictory sense of resignation to the idea that nothing can or will be done. That individuals’ rights to privacy and free speech outweigh the lives of victims of predators using the Internet. These points are made repeatedly throughout Online Killers.
The final chapter (before the appendix), “Men and Women Behind Bars: Internet Lovebirds,” focuses on convicts who use the Internet to prey on naïve members of society. Inmates looking for pen pals or friendship find it easy to hook up with gullible people who will send them money. One such inmate, Robin Lunceford, has managed to amass over $1.8-million through the use – or abuse — of a “dating” service, Women Behind Bars. It may be a legitimate service, but it amazes that so many men could be fooled by the supplied picture of Ms. Lunceford, which is actually a publicity shot of supermodel Laetitia Casta. Do they really believe that woman is behind bars and interested in them? Sometimes the willing suspension of disbelief should be classified as a personality disorder. To be fair, women also fall into this same trap, believing that some murderous thug is actually in love with them and can be redeemed by their love. Stories of these scam artists provide much needed humor at the end of a book filled with dreadful people doing horrible things.
Online Killers serves as a collection of cautionary tales for those so trusting they put their faith in complete strangers — manipulative predators who use their victims’ weaknesses to destroy them. For every person who finds “the one” through an Internet connect, there are so many others finding the wrong one. Not a problem if they’re smart enough to keep things in cyberspace, but emotions seem so much stronger than intellect at times, and people give in to the temptation to meet the person who is so charming, with whom they have so much in common. After all, “Why would he or she lie?”