Disturbing Death in Early Days of Internet Still Haunts
Sharon Lopatka's killing raised debate on 'consensual murder'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2016 10:03 AM CDT
Updated Jul 9, 2016 12:26 PM CDT

(Newser) – The Kernel revisits a disturbing case from the early era of the internet, one in which a woman named Sharon Lopatka expressed an interest online to be tortured until death, met up with a stranger, and was subsequently found dead in 1996. Lopatka, 35, had left a note for her husband in Maryland telling him she would soon be "at peace," and police used her computer to track down 45-year-old Robert Glass in remote North Carolina. Lopatka had traveled to meet him, and police found her buried in a shallow grave on his property. Her hands and feet were bound, and she reportedly had a rope around her neck. Glass insisted her death was an accident during sex: "I don't know how much I pulled the rope," he said. "I never wanted to kill her, but she ended up dead." Glass pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and died of a heart attack in prison in 2002, just weeks before he was scheduled to be released.

The case made big headlines about the idea of "consensual homicide," and the Kernel looks at the arguments that sprang up about it and the darker elements of the then-popular Usenet—a "primitive and more tribal forerunner of Facebook," writes Jeremy Lybarger. One woman who used to chat with Lopatka online regrets what she sees as a failure of the "self-policing" ethos to keep her safe: "In an effort to be inclusive, we opened the doors to predators and harassers, and we silence their victims because the 'community' puts a higher value on fun sexy time than on identifying, excluding, and turning in rapists and abusers." To this day, the debate about what happened between Lopatka and Glass "remains unsettled," but Lybarger finds that the death "did little to change online culture." Click for the full story.