Their other lives, the ones they had invented in the cold glow of
computer screens, the ones they made forbidden and thrilling late at
night over the clippity rhythm of their keyboards, those lives died
with Sharon Lopatka.
In the end, the electronic alter egos were ethereal. What was left was
the common reality of a sordid killing, and Robert Glass wondering
what to do with Lopatka's limp, heavy body.
Sharon Lopatka left Maryland's Carroll County to find her death in
rural North Carolina at the faded, ramshackle trailer home of a man
she had met on the Internet. Her death=97the police call it
murder, the attorney for Glass calls it an accident, exposed the
fanciful second lives victim and killer had created for themselves on
the computer network.
Both were known by their friends and co-workers, those who
saw them in the flesh, as solid citizens, respectable neighbors, if a
bit hooked on computers.
But others, scattered about the world and peering through
computer screens, would see Glass and Lopatka only as
"Slowhand" and "Nancy," whimsical aliases with wild, even
dangerous electronic personae.
"I don't know about this Internet," mused David Flaherty, the
genial Caldwell County, N.C., prosecutor who will try Glass for
murder. "I think I'm not letting my kids anywhere near it for quite
=46rom Hampstead, Md., to Lenoir, N.C., to the national airwaves
last week, the incident was being viewed by critics as evidence of
the evils of the Internet. The electronic network lets anyone take
on a fictional identity for conversations from mundane to sexual,
with virtually no responsibility.
"If you want to be tortured and killed, you can. Go to the right
place on the Internet," conservative talk radio personality Rush
Limbaugh opined on the air.
But others, such as Al Cooper, director of the San Jose Marital
and Sexuality Centre, cautioned against "demonizing" the Internet
when it "has done so much to help people with their sexuality."
=46or those who have trouble making the first move, "the Internet
can be a good first step" toward communicating with other people
about difficult subjects such as homosexuality, said Cooper, who
has an online advice column.
Sharon Lopatka did more than that. A Berkeley, Calif., woman
said she and other bondage enthusiasts corresponded with
Lopatka and concluded that the woman was seeking someone to
"Want to talk about torturing to death?" asked one message
posted Aug. 22 to a "chat room" dealing with necrophilia. "I have
kind of a fascination with torturing till death . . . Of course, I
can't speak about it with my family."
Tanith Tyrr, a self-described sex rights advocate, said in a
telephone interview yesterday she and others corresponded with
the sender, who revealed herself to be Lopatka.
"She was going into chat rooms and asking to be tortured to death,
for real," Tyrr said. She said several men corresponded with her
but stopped when they concluded that she was serious.
Investigators said Glass engaged in raw, sexual and violent
conversations with Lopatka by e-mail. Police say the two
exchanged messages describing the violence Glass would inflict on
Lopatka. In court papers, they say Lopatka left her home Oct. 13
to meet Glass, expecting to act out those descriptions of her death.
She told her husband, Victor, that she was headed to visit friends
in Georgia for a week, according to police. When he called
Maryland State Police to file a missing person report, troopers
read a letter, left behind near Sharon Lopatka's computer, saying
she wasn't coming back:
"If my body is never retrieved, don't worry. Know that I am at
If Sharon Lopatka wanted a degrading place to die, she found it in
the dingy home of Robert Glass.
There is no shame to be living in a trailer. The patchwork of rural
life puts fancy brick homes next to mobile homes, neighbor by
But even by tolerant standards, the home of Bobby Glass six miles
into the countryside from Lenoir was a blight. Rusty toys and
rotten rubbish littered the lawn. Four puppies of promiscuous
breeding chewed anything in sight. The investigators who went
inside said dirty dishes were amid jumbles of computer disks and
Every time he drove from his cluttered trailer, Glass passed a
reminder of how far he had fallen: the stately house of his late
father, on Glass Road a half-mile away. Joe Glass was a beloved
civic figure, who helped bring to the area the Ruritan Club, a fire
station and the ambulance service. He lived in an antebellum
mansion with huge white columns and "G" carved in each wooden
shutter. Since his death, the place has fallen into disrepair, guarded
by an immense wasp's nest hanging on the front door.
Robert Glass, 45, is more quiet and introverted and is not the
public figure his father was.
Every workday morning, he drove 42 miles one way to the
modern government complex in neighboring Catawba County for a
$38,281-a-year job as a county computer programmer. He sat in
the locked basement with eight others and helped program the tax
rolls and the voter tabulation system and tracked the gas
consumption of the county vehicles. Over 16 years, he had a
"good work record," said a county spokesman.
"He knew his computers." said his estranged wife, Sherri Glass,
35. They were his passion at home, too. "He had an
IBM-compatible with 66 megahertz, 8 megabytes RAM, a
gigabyte hard drive, things that some people would drool over."
Investigators say Lopatka arrived in North Carolina on Oct. 13, at
least six weeks after she first started corresponding with Glass and
12 hours after she left her car at Penn Station in Baltimore and
boarded a train. Glass met her in Charlotte and drove her the two
hours to his home.
They passed through a place defiantly rural, where convenience
stores advertise ammo and chicken feed, where serpentine roads
have wonderful names such as Greasy Creek, and where most
stop signs carry holes from target practice.
In some ways, Lopatka, 35, had been trying to get away for years.
Her home in exurban Carroll County was not far, in miles, from the
place where she grew up, the predominantly Jewish enclave of
Stevenson in Pikesville, just outside the northwest boundaries of
Baltimore. Culturally, however, she had moved far away from her
Her father, Abraham J. Denburg, was the longtime cantor for the
Beth Tfiloh Congregation. When a 29-year-old Sharon, the oldest
of four daughters, married Victor Lopatka, a Catholic from Ellicott
City, in 1991, she considered it an act of rebellion, friends said,
but her parents considered it an embarrassment.
"It was her way of breaking away," said Sara Weinberg, who said
she knew Sharon Lopatka in high school.
Hampstead feels like a onetime farming community awkwardly
retrofitted as a 1990s suburb. New convenience stores and a
dusty clock shop share a stretch of its narrow main road, and new
patches of development interrupt broad fields.
The Lopatkas' small tract home is at the end of a cul-de-sac, down
a long rutted dirt driveway outfitted with a prominent and new "No
Several merchants and some of Lopatka's neighbors said they
knew the nice, heavyset woman by sight but didn't get beyond
"She came in once a week to make copies and receive faxes. They
all had to do with her business," said Ann Lloyd, of the Pack 'n Ship.
Her business ideas came from a $39 "Making Money" kit
advertised by an Arizona company outlining ways to profit by
running Internet advertisements and by leasing 900 numbers.
Lopatka leased two and wrote ads for a fee, advertising her
business on the World Wide Web as "Classified Concepts
Unlimited." She had four Social Security numbers.
Promising "phenomenal results," she told visitors to her Web page
that she would rewrite their ads for $50: "Sit back, and then
literally watch the orders pour in."
On another Web page, she advertised a psychic hot line,
proclaiming "Vilado=97America's favorite warlock, will cast a spell
for you!" Vilado Dion, the ad says, is "from a small town in Manila
where magic and the mystical sciences are commonly used in
Vilado, it appears, was invented.Lopatka's other uses of the
Internet were not so whimsical. Tyrr, who frequents the electronic
"chat rooms" for bondage and discipline, said she exchanged
correspondence with a woman who gave her name as Gina108.
Later, she said, the woman gave her name as Sharon and provided
a telephone number. That number is the telephone number to
Lopatka's house in Carroll County.
Tyrr said she is gathering information on Lopatka in an attempt to
make clear that her fellow bondage enthusiasts declined Lopatka's
entreaties to participate in her death. "I hope I can mitigate at
least some small portion of the outcome by making it possible for more
people to understand why, and hopefully learn from the mistakes
that were made here, including mine," Tyrr wrote on an electronic
bulletin board Friday.
She said in the interview that her attempts to counsel Lopatka over
the Internet were rejected.
Tyrr said Lopatka responded: "I want to surrender completely. I
want to die.' She was trying to get into the [bondage] community
to find someone who would do it for real. I wrote her and even
sent her information, trying to show her there is a difference
between fantasy and reality."
"I want the real thing. I didn't ask for you preaching to me," Tyrr
said Lopatka responded.
The Caldwell County coroner concluded she died Oct. 16, of
asphyxiation. A rope was found with her body and may have been
the means of her death, according to the district attorney. What
happened during the three days she was in North Carolina is yet
Neil Beach, the attorney for Glass, said his client went to work
during those days as usual. Beach said Glass told investigators the
woman died when a rope they were using during sex strangled her.
"He said it was an accident," Beach said Thursday, before a
judge imposed a gag order on the lawyers.
Lopatka was a large woman, a burden for the short and paunchy
Glass to carry. If he had hauled the body to the woods behind his
home, "we would have never found her," said Caldwell County
district attorney investigator D.A. Brown.
Instead, he did not get her off his lawn. He dug a hole a dozen or
so yards from his children's swing set, along a path to the spot
where he dumped and burned garbage.
When Victor Lopatka came to Maryland State Police, they moved
quickly to track the e-mail messages on his wife's computer to
Glass in Caldwell County.
But by then, she was already dead.
On Oct. 25, when Glass was at work, the Caldwell County
sheriff's department descended on his property with a search
warrant. As investigators sorted through the trailer's jumble, Capt.
Danny Barlow strolled the lot and stumbled on the fresh grave.
"Anybody could see it had just been dug," he said. When they
unearthed Lopatka's body, they radioed the go-ahead for Glass's
arrest. Investigator Brown caught the computer analyst coming out
of the men's room at the Catawba government center. Glass said
nothing when they put on the handcuffs. "Very cool," observed
The next very day, a Saturday, the county fired him and took
the computer analyst's picture off the Catawba County's "home
page" site on the Internet.
One person who has a key to the secrets that led to the killing is
Sherri Glass, the defendant's wife of 14 years and mother of their
three children, girls ages 10 and 7 and a boy, 6.
She is a polite, soft-spoken woman with a vulnerable air. She just
wants to do right, she said. She went to church, tried to get herself
an education and still struggles to keep from slipping into country
It hurts her, she said, that people in town=97even some of her
family, are somehow blaming her for the killing. They say if she
hadn't left her husband in April, hadn't taken the children, he would
not have fallen victim to his secret vices.
"They don't really know everything," she said grimly.
"I left . . . this is hard to say . . . but I left because he said he
was no longer attracted to me. I still loved him. But when I went to
hug him, he would push me away. When I said I loved him, he said it
back in a way that he really didn't mean it. The final straw was
when the kids asked me why Daddy didn't love me anymore,"
Sherri Glass said.
She is scrupulously balanced in describing her husband. She talks
admiringly about how good he was at his job, how intelligent he is,
how he urged her to take on challenges even when she had no
confidence in herself.
Ironically, computers were one of those challenges. Whereas
Robert Glass was largely a self-taught whiz, Sherri Glass learned
about the machines in the community college where she got a
business degree. She wanted to have something in common with
"Computers became his life. He ate, slept, everything about
computers," she said. "He would stay up almost all night on the
Internet. I'd have to drag him out of bed in the morning."
One day when he was away, Sherri Glass began snooping in her
husband's computer, curious about what kept him up so late. With
ome tinkering, she found e-mail "chat sessions" he had saved and
"I don't know why he logged [recorded] those chat sessions. I
don't think he thought I could get in here and find them," she said.
"He was always . . . I knew he had some magazines around. I just
thought men were like that. As long as he kept them hidden from
the kids, I didn't say anything."
Her husband had never been abusive, she said. But the messages
were raw, violent and disturbing. She refuses to say what was on
them. She is not sure who they were from or whether there was
more than one correspondent. But she needed to discuss them
"One night, I cooked him all his favorites. He was in a mood to
talk, for a change. So I asked him about it. I quoted something he
had said on the chat session. All the color drained out of his face.
He knew then that I knew. I guess he underestimated my abilities
on the computer.
"I have been confused by this. He's such a nice, gentle person," she
said. "If he did do it . . . I really can't see him doing something
like that, killing someone, or meaning to, even after all I read. But
there's this other side to him, a side of him I didn't know."
There's not much to Lenoir, a town of 14,000 at the foot of the
Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Daughters of the Confederacy monument in the town square
watches over another losing battle, this one economic. The
downtown slips silently into the embarrassed embrace of loan
companies, storefront churches and used clothing stores. The
stagnant center is skirted by highways, busy chain stores and
It would not be quite right to say people in Lenoir are surprised at
a killing in their midst, even if they could not have dreamed up this
scenario. Rural America no longer is, maybe never was=97quite so
sheltered as its apple-pie image suggests.
"People think that because this is a small town, these things don't
happen. It's not true. We have people here no different than the big
cities," said Brenda Watson, who owns the Carolina Cafe. "I
wouldn't let my kids walk alone here at night."
Indeed, district attorney Flaherty has prosecuted a half-dozen
murders already this year, "most of them love triangles," he said.
And western North Carolina has long had a reputation as a major
Nor has rural America missed the information superhighway.
When Paul Greer started Wave Communications in nearby
Hickory to offer Internet access a year ago, he expected a few
hundred customers. He got 3,000 and competitors.
Robert Glass used Wave to access the Internet, according to
affidavits in court; Greer will not say, guarding customer
confidentiality. But if Glass used his service, Greer said, he has
records of when Glass was on it and what sites he visited.
Some of his customers do use the sex chat rooms, Greer
"You would consider me uninformed to say that's not going on," he
said. "But so are Mom and Dad communicating with their kids in
college, and furniture makers here transferring their data in a
spreadsheet to Saudi Arabia, and older folks on the geriatric
network. . .. It's a superhighway. It's a new day."
That new day brings new challenges for law enforcement and new
opportunities for crime. Five years ago, it would have been harder
for Robert Glass and Sharon Lopatka to have met. Now, on the
exploding Internet, like-minded individuals easily can connect.
"It used to be you were limited by geography and transportation.
The Internet broadens the potential for contact," said Ron P.
Hawley, who heads the North Carolina State Bureau of
Investigation division probing computer crimes. "It's another place
to 'hang out' for people predisposed to commit a crime."
One Internet hangout, a public bulletin board named
alt.sex.bondage, leaves no doubt of the topic it takes on, and it
was abuzz last week with talk of the Lopatka case.
"That she found someone to do it under the guise" of bondage or
sadomasochism "is going to be the rallying cry of those who would
condemn our lifestyle," complained one communique to the group,
and another likened Lopatka's and Glass's sexual activity to the
thrill of taunting mortality by bungee jumping.
Another visitor typed: "You stupid sick perverts finally killed
The lure of electronic relationships is the ability to invent
yourself, said a Northern Virginia computer programmer who asked not
to be identified. He said he was obsessed with online
dominant-submissive role-playing and broke away because it
"wasn't bringing me any happiness. But it has this tantalizing quality
of promising to."
Sexual dialogue "is there on the Internet if you're looking for it,
but that's not what everybody gets on for," Sherri Glass said. "The
Internet can be good or bad. It depends on what you want. People
try all the time to hit up on you. I have hundreds of names on my
'ignore' list" to electronically block their messages.
Sherri Glass has given up her Internet account, and she left with the
children for a few days. In Maryland, the husband and family of
Sharon Lopatka remain silent, and most of her friends are
tight-lipped. In Lenoir, Robert Glass sits in the county jail,
awaiting trial. A block away, his only sister, Joan Glass, sits
red-eyed and stares at the computer in the medical office where she
"I don't consider my brother an animal, and I don't consider him
violent," she said. She never saw a hint of such behavior, she said,
and is as puzzled as her neighbors.
"There's no understanding to be had here," she said, shaking her
head slowly. "There's no understanding of the taking of any human
life. That's God's place. If my brother did anything, that's between
him and God."
Staff writer Paul W. Valentine, Metro Resource Director
Margot Williams and researcher Mary Lou White contributed
to this report.
=A9 Copyright 1996 The Washington
Dole/Kemp 96 ________________________ Like A Ghost Breeze Through The Eucalyptus Trees, Nostalgia's Wake Of Melancholy Reverie Clouds The Shitty Past With Tear-Jerking Slop About A Time When Mediocrity And Conformity Were Next To Godliness
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