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Illustration by J. Longo

Illustration by J. Longo

To Her Neighbours She Seemed Quiet and Unassuming

Online, She Asked to be Tortured and Killed

In 1996, the olden days of online hookups, Sharon Lopatka found the man of her dreams on the Internet.

Granted, her dreams were unconventional.

Sharon Lopatka set out to look for someone to kill her. So she posted an Internet message to the discussion group lia:

“Want to talk about torturing to death?”

Her message continued:

“Hi my name is Gina. I was wondering if anyone out there would want to talk about the subject mentioned above with me. I kind of have a fascination with torturing till death … of course, I can’t speak about it with my friends or family. Would love to have an e-mail exchange with someone – If you’re interested … e-mail me at: [email protected]

“I hope you all don’t think I’m strange or anything … I just want to talk about it.”

This disclaimer seems to have been a lie, just like the name she gave. She is certainly dead. Her body was found in a shallow grave outside the caravan where one of her e-mail correspondents, Robert Glass, lived. He was charged with her murder. His lawyer claims he killed her by accident, during an episode of sex with strangulation.

She had taken a train from her home in suburban Maryland to Glass’s caravan in rural North Carolina three days before. She told her husband Victor that she was visiting friends; she also left him a note saying: “If my body is never retrieved, don’t worry. Know that I am at peace.”

So far, it sounds like an everyday tale of American weirdness.

Much of her participation on the Internet was as a rather desperate seller of home improvement tips: a kind of low-rent Jocasta Innes. One of the two small Web sites she ran started off like this:

“Home Decorating secrets seen in the posh homes from the New England states to the Hollywood homes can now be yours. Never published before! Quick easy ways to decorate your home. Thousands of decorators will be furious when they hear that we are giving away their professional trade secrets (unknown to all outside the industry). For the first time in print these secrets and tricks of the trade can now be yours.

“How to glamorise your walls without messy wallpaper or hiring expensive decorators.

“Easy sew and no sew home decor projects that anyone can do! Transform any room in your house into a decorator’s showcase!”

This kind of greedy, resentful consumerism is familiar from thousands of small ads in the back of American magazines.

But out on the wilder reaches of the Internet, Lopatka took it further.

Already fat, she advertised in a group whose fetish was cannibalistic sex, for someone to force-feed her until her weight reached 475 pounds. “I am not interested in e-mail correspondence or a phone feeding. What I would really like is the REAL thing! I am willing to be force-fed to meet my goal if necessary. I am also willing to relocate if that’s what it takes to find the right feeder. I am hoping someone out there will help me out and share in the most erotic experience of their life.

“I don’t want to break up any marriages,” this post concluded, with her customary surrealism, “so if you’re married, please don’t respond to this post.”

All varieties of sex were for sale 24 hours a day in Sharon Lopatka’s world. She could provide nearly anything anybody desired at any time.

With a tapping of her fingers on a computer keyboard, she became 5-foot-6 and a shapely 121 pounds. A few more taps and she was an aggressive 300-pound dominatrix who promised the love of strict discipline. When she tapped again, she became “Nancy Carlson,” a screen actress prepared to star in whatever type of sexual video her fans cared to purchase.

Ultimately, according to police, Lopatka had her own strange desires. To achieve them, she sat at her computer typing furiously for hours at a time until finally she found a man behind her computer screen to grasp.

Several weeks after meeting him on the computer, her last wish would come true. She arrived in the foothills of North Carolina while the foliage was still colored with brilliant oranges and yellows and reds to meet him in person. And, police say, fulfilling her desires, she was bound with rope, made to bleed and then strangled before her nude body was dumped into a shallow grave.

“If my body is never retrieved don’t worry,” she had written to her husband, Victor, before catching an early train from Baltimore to North Carolina. “Know that I am at peace.”

Sharon Lopatka was?35?when she was killed. The man police arrested and charged with murder Robert Glass, 45, a computer analyst for the Catawba County government. His attorney maintains that Lopatka was killed accidentally, during rough sex.

But after digging up Lopatka?s body about 75 feet from the front door of Glass? mobile home, and after studying messages that Lopatka and Glass had sent each other using their computers, police said the two had carried out a disturbing fantasy in which the man promised to kill her.

According to police, Lopatka hopped on the train fully expecting to be tortured and killed.

But beyond her correspondence with Glass, it appears Lopatka used the Internet to present herself as many different people, some of them extravagant, some of them isolated, some of them eccentric and most of them with unconventional sexual interests that she was more than willing to share, for a price.

Her former classmates, her friends and her neighbors say that outwardly she was neither a strange loner nor a freakish deviant. They knew her as a kind member of an influential Baltimore family whose patriarch was a cantor at Beth Tfiloh, the Baltimore region’s largest Orthodox Jewish synagogue. They knew her as a normal work-at-home wife in Baltimore’s outer suburbs whose greatest loves were country crafts, children and dogs.

“I guess some people have some kind of inner thing going on that you just never know about,” said Debra Walker, Lopatka’s neighbor. “I think we knew them as well as anyone in the neighborhood. She was just like anyone else you know, and that kind of scares me in a way, to think you really never know somebody.”

One attraction of the internet, beyond its efficiency, is that users can remain anonymous. Lopatka took advantage of that feature until her death.

“Hi! My name is Nancy,” reads a message that Lopatka posted in an area of the Internet where sexual erotica is the main topic.

I am 25 have Blonde hair, green eyes am 5’6 and weigh 121. Is anyone out there interested in buying … my worn … panties … or pantihose..???? This is not a joke or a wacky internet scam. I am very serious about this. If you are serious too you can e-mail me …

Other messages appealed to those with foot fetishes and to men who get sexually excited by seeing women pass out.

But when Lopatka lost her life she also lost her anonymity, and she was none of the things she claimed to be. She was, in fact, dark haired with dark eyes and a heavy face. She was 5-foot-10 and 189 pounds when she died, according to her autopsy report. And far from the wild video star she claimed to be, she lived her life quietly in a ranch-style home on Indian Court, a cul-de-sac in the quiet, hilly town of Hampstead, where children play tag in front yards, dogs tease mail carriers and where deviancy is a failure to join recycling efforts.

When Lopatka graduated from Pikesville High School in Baltimore in 1979, her name was Sharon Denburg, and she had many friends. She was a member of the volleyball and field hockey teams. Her junior and senior years she was a nurse’s aide, a library aide and a singer in the school’s chorus.

“She wasn’t an outcast or anything of that nature,” said Steven Hyman, who attended school with her. “She was about as normal as you can get. I think making her this weird loner is just some media thing.”

She married?Victor Lopatka, a handsome and fit construction worker…. Her marriage to a Gentile did not go over well with her family, and according to the newspaper?The Jewish Times,?her family now refuses to publicly acknowledge that she once belonged to them.

Despite the fallout, the couple apparently lived happily, in a home typical of Hampstead…. She started her own businesses on the Internet, including one selling psychic advice and another encouraging people to make money by placing advertisements and leasing 1-900 phone numbers.

Sharon Lopatka made a new friend, Diane Safar, who lived nearby, and the two of them put together a 30-page booklet last year on home decorating and country crafts. It was called “Dion’s Secret of Home Decorating Guide.”

“Here we were decorating our houses one day and talking to each other for advice, and we just said, ‘Hey, we should put this stuff in a book,'” Safar said. “We put it together and then we went around to ladies’ groups and churches selling it. It was fun.”

“What I want people to know is the woman I knew was not crazy in the slightest,” Safar said of her friend. “She was always a happy person, always bubbly even. This person who was killed was not the person I knew.

Sharon Lopatka, of Hampstead, Md., was found in a shallow grave near the Caldwell County, North Carolina home of Robert Frederick Glass in 1996. (STEPHEN CHERRY/AP)

Sharon Lopatka, of Hampstead, Md., was found in a shallow grave near the Caldwell County, North Carolina home of Robert Frederick Glass in 1996. (STEPHEN CHERRY/AP)

… From one of Lopatka’s postings on the Internet, Oct. 1:

Hi! My name is Nancy. I just made a VHS video of actual women … willing and unwilling to be … knocked out … drugged… under hypnosis and chloroformed. Never before has a film like this been made that shows the real beauty of the sleeping victim …

On Aug. 2:

DO YOU DARE ENTER … THE LAND OF THE GIANTESS??? Where men are crushed like bugs … by these angry … yet gorgeous giant goddesses.

And again Oct. 1:

Let me customize your most exciting Bondage fantasy for you … on VHS … to watch and enjoy privately in the comfort of your own home … Prices start at $100.

There is no evidence that Lopatka ever made any videos.Let me customize your most exciting Bondage fantasy for you … on VHS … to watch and enjoy privately in the comfort of your own home … Prices start at $100.

In all, over several months she posted more than 50 messages on various parts of the Internet, in areas with addresses such as fetish-feet, amazon women-admirers, sex-bondage, and sex-weight gain. One message was posted to alt.torture, and most were hawking sex videos that she claimed she would either star in or produce.

… “The attraction to the Internet to so many people is you can be whoever or whatever you want to be,” said Paul Jones of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. “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.”

Sometime in September,?while hunting through the Internet, she entered a chat room and became fascinated by a person who presented himself as having a fetish for torture. He was a good lover, according to his messages, born on Valentine’s Day and prepared to fulfill Lopatka’s wishes.

Bob Glass, aka "Slowhand," was found guilty of killing his Internet lover. "I never wanted to kill her but she ended up dead," he said. (CARROLL COUNTY TIMES)

Bob Glass, aka “Slowhand,” was found guilty of killing his Internet lover. “I never wanted to kill her but she ended up dead,” he said. (CARROLL COUNTY TIMES)

Police say the man was Glass, whose computer name was “Slowhand.”

The two latched onto each other. So far, investigators who have recovered messages from their computers have nearly 900 pages of notes they wrote to each other.

“If you put all their messages together, you’d have a very large novel,” said Capt. Danny Barlow of the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department. “It would be very thick, and I think you could say it would have a very sad ending.”

On Oct. 13, Lopatka drove her blue Honda Civic about 45 minutes to Baltimore’s Pennsylvania station…. She had informed her husband she was going to Georgia to visit friends.

But according to Barlow, she instead hopped on the 9:15 train to Charlotte, arriving there at 8:45 p.m. Police say Glass met her there in his pickup truck at 9 o’clock…. He drove them from the lights of Charlotte to the unlit backroads of Caldwell County, about 80 miles away.

Robert Glass lived alone. His wife, Sherri, had left him about six months earlier, taking their three children with her. He was a computer wizard, always most comfortable in front of a keyboard and screen. But he was far from a hermit. He was a member of the Rotary Club, and his family is well known throughout the rural county. His sister is a church organist.

He subscribed to America Online, which provides access to the Internet, and on his profile he claimed to love photography, music and model railroads. In a space reserved for personal quotes he had written: “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”

Back in Maryland Victor Lopatka was concerned. After discovering a note from his wife, he filed a missing person report Oct. 20. He provided e-mail messages from Slowhand.

On an application for a search warrant, investigators said the messages “described in detail how Slowhand was going to sexually torture the missing person and ultimately kill her.”

Police thought it almost unbelievable that the woman would actually hop aboard a train with her own murder as her final destination, so they kept surveillance on Glass beginning Oct. 22, hoping to find some sign she was alive.

“He went to work every day, just kept up his routine,” said Barlow, the detective. We watched him day and night and there was absolutely no sign of her.”

On Oct. 25, police obtained their search warrant for Glass’ home. They went through his belongings while he was at work, finding items, according to Barlow, that belonged to Lopatka.

One officer noticed newly turned dirt a short distance from the front door of the trailer. Barlow and another officer began digging. About 21/2?feet down, they hit a knee. They arrested Glass at work.

“The cause of death is consistent with strangulation,” said Dr. John Butts, the chief medical examiner for North Carolina

When Lopatka’s body was dug up, her wrists were bound with rope, as were her ankles. She had scrapes on her breasts and neckline. And there was a rope around her neck.

… Police removed boxes filled with thousands of computer disks from Glass’ trailer. They also removed bondage paraphernalia, drug paraphernalia, a pistol, magazines, cameras and videotapes along with Glass’ computer, a Cybermax.

Lopatka’s father-in-law, John Lopatka Jr., had little comment other than to say that the family has been shattered.

“Too much has come out already about this case,” he said. “The respectful thing to do would be to leave us alone…. This is a tragedy, nothing more and nothing less.”

Among Lopatka’s final messages?posted on the Internet is a note addressed to people who had sent for the videos, failed to receive them and posted their own notes, calling the advertisements a fraud.

I’m just one person trying to fill all these orders,” she wrote. “I don’t even have time to HAVE A LIFE.

And elsewhere she posted this:

Let me customize your most exciting TORTURE fantasy for you … on VHS … to watch and enjoy privately in the comfort of your own home. A film designed by you … with scenarios of your choice. Films are shipped in plain envelopes to protect your … privacy.

Out on the groups where the couple met, reactions to the story have been mixed. Some people see it as a terrible warning about the necessary boundaries between fantasy and reality. For others, the fantasy goes on. Someone signing themselves “Perro Loco” (Mad Dog) said he had corresponded with the killer. “He’s a compassionate man,” he wrote on 2 November. “But was unfortunately stupid for not insisting that Sharon … Lady L bring her hard disk with her for him to wipe … Not to mention that he should have taken her somewhere ‘safer’ to ‘do’ her.”

All of this is so very much nastier, and more genuinely depraved, than anything most of us can imagine, let alone encounter in our everyday lives, that it is easy to feel that the Internet, or portions of it, are uniquely dangerous.

Glass admitted only to the murder in January 2000, and before that he insisted that the woman`s death occurred by chance – he had only admitted to using a string to her neck, to decide how hard to tighten it during sex. Initially, he was charged with murder, but that was not the only accusation against Glass – ?a lot of child pornography was found on his computer, which added to his prison sentence. However, Glass he died of a heart attack in February 2002.

On the Internet, the joke goes, no one knows that you are a dog – or a fat, miserable suburban wife. No one even knows whether you’re serious about being killed and tortured. Perhaps you don’t even know yourself.

Sex Torture | Lopatka, suspect ‘talked’ for weeks Sex, torture, bondage …

The horrifying history of people who used the internet for murder – io9

Sharon Lopatka: A Maryland Woman’s Case of Violent, Internet …

Web of death | Crime Hunter | World | News | Toronto Sun

Death of Sharon Lopatka – Expand Your Mind