Table of Contents
In memoriam Jane Longhurst
“The attraction of the internet to so many people is you can be whoever or whatever you want to be. If you want to be Walter Mitty, you can be Walter Mitty. If you want to be out of the mainstream sexually, you can find company on the internet.”
—PAUL JONES, INSTITUTE FOR ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY IN THE HUMANITIES, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
In April 2009, newspapers and TV news shows around the world reported that police had arrested the suspected murderer of Julissa Brisman, a 26-year-old masseuse from New York, who was shot to death and robbed in a posh Boston hotel. There was reason to believe that the murder was related to assaults on two other women in New England hotels over the past 18 days.
Serial murders of sex workers are nothing new, of course. Jack the Ripper became notorious for such crimes in Victorian-era London, and Ted Bundy achieved worldwide infamy by confessing to 30 murders of young women from Washington
state to Florida in the 1970s. But the Boston killing of Ms. Brisman captured media attention because of a startling difference: the perpetrator had met all his victims via an online classified advertising site—a concept that neither the Ripper nor Bundy could possibly have imagined. While few readers may recall the name of this defendant (whom we will not identify here because his trial remains pending), his news media
nom de guerre
, the Craigslist Killer, has become a household phrase.
Reports of the Craigslist killings alerted many people for the first time of the very real evils that had been lurking in cyberspace for some time. The case heightened public awareness that “cybercrime” involved much more than “phishing” for bank account and social security data. Suddenly, the world realized that standard and seemingly harmless chat rooms, social networks and dating agencies could be alligator-infested cyber-swamps populated by real live rapists, homicidal maniacs and worse. What’s worse than a homicidal maniac, you may well ask? Well, how about a cannibal who delights in sharing his victim’s cooked flesh with . . . his victim. You’re about to meet him. Read on!
In fact, the Craigslist Killer was not the first or only murderer to be so labeled by the news media. Since October 2007, when the monicker was first used as a nickname for a murder defendant by the
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
, at least seven other “Craigslist Killers” have been convicted in the United States. It may be that the term suddenly caught on only in the 2009 Boston homicide because we, the public, have lately come to realize that this and other violent cybercrime problems have grown so widespread that we need new words to discuss the unspeakable.
Cybercrime in all its manifestations is often—and no doubt accurately—said to be the fastest-growing field of criminal enterprise
throughout the world. Besides the all-too-familiar fraud and identity theft schemes flooding from internet bases in some African and Eastern European nations where internet law enforcement is either lax or complicit, crimes that are increasingly aided, abetted and enabled by internet access include: classic confidence games such as Ponzi, Spanish prisoner and lonely heart scams; homicide in its diverse manifestations; assisted suicide and pact suicide; human corpse abuse; sex slavery; suicide bombing and other terrorist acts. Imprisoned convicts are continually devising original ways of soliciting money and sympathy from behind prison walls. Hate groups ranging from Al Qaeda to the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation have found the internet to be by far the most effective means for recruiting like-minded would-be terrorists worldwide. And then there is what many experts believe to be the most all-pervasive and corrosive of all computer-based crimes—child pornography. Deemed to be so heinous that even in countries like the U.S., where garden-variety hardcore sex tapes are protected by the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech clause, the justice system treats “kiddie porn” along with torture, snuff and necrophilia images, as beyond the pale. Yet all are just a mouse-click away from almost any place in the world.
Cyberspace is a strange place, full of both happy and spine-chilling surprises. For instance, there were certainly some unpleasant surprises in store for luckless 28-year-old Trevor Tasker. This Englishman from North Yorkshire has understandably given up using the internet since discovering his new love was a 65-year-old pensioner with a corpse in her freezer.
After meeting her in a chat room, the excited Trevor flew to South Carolina to meet Wynema Faye Shumate, who had posed as a sexy 30-something on the web. After hooking him
with sexy chat, she had reeled him in with a semi-nude photo. Unbeknownst to her suitor, however, the shot had been taken some 30 years earlier.
Trevor’s shock on first setting eyes on his prospective lover turned to abject horror when he discovered that Wynema had put her dead housemate in the freezer. She had kept Jim O′Neil, who had died of natural causes, in cold storage for a year while she lived in his house and spent his money.
Sweet Wynema had also lopped off one of Jim’s legs with an axe because, somewhat inconveniently, he was too big to fit into the freezer. For the record, Shumate pleaded guilty to fraud and the unlawful removal of a dead body, and was given a year in prison.
Back home with his mom afterward, Trevor told the
newspaper, “I’ll never log on again. When I saw her picture, I thought, ‘Wow,’ but when she met me at the airport I almost had a heart attack. I certainly won’t go near internet chat rooms again.”
Well done, Trevor!
And there is a considerably more serious side to our Introduction.
On March 9, 2004, a chilly Tuesday, the BBC reported that Britain and the U.S. were setting up a group to investigate ways of closing down internet sites depicting violent sex.
“Initial steps have now been agreed by the Home Secretary David Blunkett and U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, during a meeting at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington DC,” claimed the feature, adding, “The Jane Longhurst murder case had horrified American officials because websites featuring extreme sexual acts were implicated in the trial of Englishman Graham Coutts, who had murdered the Brighton teacher.”
The sexual deviant Coutts trawled the web—there are more than 80,000 sites dedicated to “snuff” and other killings, cannibalism, necrophilia and rape—and then carried out his horrendous fantasy in real life by murdering Jane. The internet-inspired monster kept his victim’s body in a garden shed for 11 days before moving her to a storage facility, where he committed necrophiliac acts on the corpse.
A senior detective from the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) told Christopher Berry-Dee, who visited New Scotland Yard in 2003, “In a short period of time, the internet has become the most exploited instrument of perversion known to man. It is like pumping raw sewage into people’s homes.”
Also very much to the point is the view of Ron P. Hawley, head of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation division that probes computer crimes: “It used to be you were limited by geography and transportation. The internet broadens the potential for contact. It’s another place to hang out for people predisposed to commit a crime.”
In addition to the countless millions of others hooked up to the web, more than a million people now use wireless technology (Wi-Fi) to access it, and a survey found that more than a third of Wi-Fi networks in London and Frankfurt lacked even basic security measures. It’s not surprising police throughout the world are increasingly concerned about Wi-Fi cyber crime—particularly the theft of bank details from computers. And some criminals, including pedophiles, are known to leave their networks unprotected so they can pretend that any illegal activities were not committed by them, attributing the offenses instead to “piggybackers” who log on to the internet via other users’ wireless connections.
Another assessment of the internet’s potential for crime comes from Yvonne Jukes, of the University of Hull, who claims, with perhaps a little overstatement, “Cyberspace opens up infinitely new possibilities to the deviant imagination. With access to the internet and sufficient know-how you can, if you are so inclined, buy a bride, cruise gay bars, go on a global shopping spree with someone else’s credit card, break into a bank’s security system, plan a demonstration in another country and hack into the Pentagon, all on the same day.”
Used with caution, the internet can be an educational and fun place. In fact, most of us have become so reliant on it that we could not conceive of a world without it. At the same time, we’re aware of the havoc that can be wrought by viruses on e-commerce when criminals or other hackers attempt to sabotage the web. Indeed, a particularly virulent virus—and more sophisticated forms are being developed all the time—could cause a catastrophe costing billions of dollars—one at least as economically devastating as the 9/11 attack on New York’s Twin Towers or Hurricane Katrina’s ravaging of New Orleans.
Most people seem to agree that, on balance, the worldwide web has improved our lives. However, among its defenders are those who claim that the advent of the internet, and even the ever-growing availability of virtual pornography, has in no way increased the overall crime figures, least of all that the medium has sparked an escalation in fraud, sexual and violent crime, or murder.
This book sets out to show that these commentators, well meaning though they may be, could not be more misguided. For the shocking truth is that at no time in human history has crime rocketed to such epidemic proportions over such a short period. A major element in this rise is internet-related crime,
which is increasing exponentially, and we can thank thousands of the webmasters hosting sites and search engines for helping things along the way.
To ignore this simple truth is to deny it. Some of us bury our heads in the sand, citing freedom of speech or civil liberties, wishing to demonstrate political correctness or simply concluding, “Ah well, the web is too powerful now to tackle the problem.” But, if we follow this line of thinking, we will all soon live in a world where anything can happen to us and those appointed to defend our freedoms can do little, if anything, about it.
This brings me back to the well-meaning plans of David Blunkett (the former U.K. Home Secretary has since 2004 been succeeded by four other Home Secretaries in five years, most recently Alan Johnson) and the U.S. Deputy Attorney General to shut down violent pornography sites. The reality is that, despite a massive U.S.-U.K. crackdown in recent years, internet child pornography, much of it appallingly violent and degrading, has become a global epidemic of monstrous proportions. In Japan, for instance, Justice Minister Mayami Moryana has said, “The internet is fueling a steady increase in child prostitution and pornography. It is a multi-million-dollar child sex trade.”