Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Internet Assisted Suicide - The Story of Sharon Lopatka

A Sadomasochistic Soirée

 

In August 1996, Bobby and Sharon became acquainted while visiting the various sexually oriented Internet chat rooms. Bobby displayed a fetish for inflicting pain, whereas Sharon exhibited a desire to be tortured. In an e-mail message to Bobby, Sharon asked him to fulfill her fantasy. She wrote to Bobby that she wanted to be bound and strangled as she approached an orgasm. Bobby responded to her message by describing in depth how he would fulfill her wish. E-mail correspondence between the two lasted for several months. An investigator of the Lopatka case, Captain Danny Barlow of North Carolina’s Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department said “if you put all their messages together, you’d have a very large novel.” Police were able to recover almost 900 pages of e-mails from Sharon and Bobby’s computers.

On the morning of October 13, 1996, Sharon drove her blue Honda Civic to the train depot in Baltimore, Maryland, telling Victor that she was going to visit friends in Georgia. Instead, she boarded the 9:15 a.m. train to Charlotte, North Carolina. At about 8:45 p.m. that evening, she arrived in Charlotte where Bobby was waiting. Together they drove 80 miles from the station in his pickup truck to his trailer home in Lenoir, North Carolina. The events that followed later became a source of speculation among investigators.

The Daily Telegraph reported that in the note that Sharon left for Victor, she said that she would not be returning and told him not to go after her killer. She also wrote, “If my body is never retrieved, don’t worry: know that I’m at peace.”

Judge Beal
Judge Beal
On October 30, 1996, South Coast Today reported that after the police department’s newly developed Computer Crime Unit found substantial evidence in Sharon’s computer linking her to Bobby Glass, police in North Carolina monitored Bobby’s trailer for several days. It was hoped that Sharon would be found alive at his residence, but she was not seen during the stake-out.

On October 25, Judge Beal issued police a search warrant for Bobby’s trailer. Investigators arrived at Bobby’s home while he was at work. The property surrounding the turquoise trailer was littered with rotten garbage and abandoned toys. The interior was equally dirty and cluttered. Still, they found items belonging to Sharon, as well as drug and bondage paraphernalia, child pornography, a pistol and thousands of computer disks.

Bobby Glass's trailer, Sharon's grave and dogs
Bobby Glass's trailer,
Sharon's grave and dogs
Seventy-five feet from the trailer, an officer discovered a fresh mound of soil. After digging only 2 ½ feet beneath the mound, they found Sharon’s decomposing remains. Caldwell County investigator, D. A. Brown, told The Washington Post that if the body had been buried in the woodlands behind the trailer, “we would have never found her.” That same day, police arrested Bobby at his workplace. According to Capital News Service, the Lopatka case was the first time a police unit captured a murder suspect based primarily on evidence obtained from e-mail messages.

While in custody, Bobby was interviewed about the events surrounding the alleged murder of Sharon. He told investigators that for several days he and Sharon had acted out their violent sexual fantasies in his trailer. He confessed that Sharon had willingly allowed him to tie her up with rope and probe her with objects around the house. Bobby also admitted that Sharon allowed him to tie a rope around her neck and tighten it as she climaxed during intercourse. But Bobby claimed to have accidentally strangled Sharon to death, while in the throws of violent sexual play, according to his lawyer Neil Beach. Bobby was later quoted as saying, “I don’t know how much I pulled the rope ... I never wanted to kill her, but she ended up dead.”

Bobby Glass in custody (The Charlotte Observer)
Bobby Glass in custody
(The Charlotte Observer)
The body of Sharon Lopatka was sent to Dr. John Butts, North Carolina’s chief medical examiner. The autopsy report stated the cause of death as strangulation. Other tests showed some inconclusive evidence of sexual torture or mutilation. Butts believed that Sharon died three days after she arrived in North Carolina. In an interview with the Associated Press, on November 1, 1996, Neil Beach said that the autopsy reports supported his client’s claim that the death was accidental. “It is hard for me to believe the woman was tortured for three days if the medical examiner of North Carolina couldn’t find any indication of that ... It’s much easier to understand or picture an accident occurring during sexual activity than it is to conjure up an image of this man as a cold blooded, premeditated killer,” Beach said.

Search warrant affidavits released by police stated that Sharon intended to meet Bobby specifically to be tortured and killed. Capt. Danny Barlow considered a death under such circumstances to be deliberate, not accidental. According to police, the e-mails written under the pseudonym “Slowhand” detailing how he was going to kill Sharon provided further evidence that the death was premeditated. Bobby was charged with first-degree murder and held without bond in the Caldwell County Jail. On October 26, Superior Court Judge Beverly T. Beal issued a gag order to those directly involved in the case.

Regardless of the court order, the media obtained enough information to sensationalize the Lopatka case. Most of the news stories focused on the dangers of Internet-mediated meetings. Sharon’s death spawned debates and discussion groups worldwide. Many called for censorship of the Internet to prevent such deaths and to protect children. Conversely, anti-censorship activists argued that the Internet was a useful tool, allowing people to express themselves more freely and to voice their ideas, thoughts and views in an open forum, often anonymously.

The Mardi Gras phenomenon is a term used by psychologists to describe the ability to mask oneself and assume a variety of personalities, allowing one to speak and act freely with little or no consequence. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent on the Internet, where users can express themselves freely and anonymously in online chat rooms and news groups.

 

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