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Thriller Thursday: The Facebook Killer

In my debut novel, Into The Dark, the heroine faces a stalker who will stop at nothing to possess her. Stalking is a very real–and very terrifying–crime, and I’m devoting the entire month of October to profiling stalking crimes.

Social media is an awesome tool. It’s not only a key for an authors brand, but a new way to make true friends. The world has changed with the advent of programs like Twitter and Facebook, but for all their wonderful benefits, the social networking sites have a negative side. They are wonderful tools for stalkers.

Ashleigh Hall and Peter Chapman

In October of 2009, the body of seventeen-year-old Ashleigh Hall was found in a ditch in close to a restaurant on the outskirts of Durham County, England.

A loving older sister, well-liked by her peers and looking forward to a career as a child care professional, Ashleigh was active online. Like most teenagers (and plenty of adults), her smart phone and Internet relationships were an important part of her life.

According to prosecutors, Ashleigh suffered from low self-esteem and was an easy victim for someone like Chapman.

According to her mother, on the night of her murder, Ashleigh had spent the evening chatting via MSN.

She asked if she could sleep at a friend’s house. It was a bit last-minute but I said ‘Yes, okay, as long as you are home by 10.30 the next morning. She threw some clothes in a bag and went downstairs. I was upstairs putting the young ones to bed. Ashleigh opened the door and shouted: ‘See you tomorrow mum’. I shouted to her to make sure she was home by 10.30. She said ‘I will’ and that was it. I never saw her again.
–Andrea Hall (source)

Chapman sent Ashleigh a text message saying his father would pick her up, and then again when he’d arrived.

Once he got her in the car, he attacked. He bound her and taped her mouth shut, and then raped her. Ashleigh suffocated to death.

When she didn’t come home the next day, Ashleigh’s mother began questioning friends and found out a boy she’d been talking to on Facebook.

Andrea Hall said her daughter was brought up never to talk to strangers and that included the Internet. Ashleigh had about 400 friends on Facebook, but her mother insisted she knew every one and couldn’t understand how she got to be friends with someone she didn’t know. Over 30 phone calls to her daughter went unanswered until Ashleigh’s phone was answered by a police officer around 8p.m. Her daughter’s body had been found.

Chapman was a registered sex offender and arrested by chance when an alert for his car was issued after he’d failed to comply with requirements of his sex registration. He eventually confessed to the murder.

I killed someone last night. I need to tell somebody from CID where the body is. It hasn’t been reported yet. –Peter Chapman

A history of sexual abuse

Peter Chapman was brought up by his grandparents. His history of sex offenses started when he was fifteen. Four years later, in 1996, Chapman was sentenced to seven years in prison for raping two prostitues at knifepoint. He was released in 2001.

In 2002, he was questioned over the rape and kidnapping of another prostitute, but the case was eventually dropped.

Chapman’s meek and mild manner were a mask for an extremely cunning individual.

The truth is he is anything but meek and mild. He is a devious and dangerous individual and could well be responsible for other, similar offenses.
–Detective Inspector Mick Callan, Durham Major Crime Squad

In the fall of 2009, Chapman used a picture of a bare-chested teenaged boy to create the Facebook identity of Peter Cartwright. He soon had nearly 3,000 friends, and most were females between the ages of 13 and 31. According to investigators, Chapman then attempted to redirect the female friends to private chatrooms. He also created a questionnaire to eek the more intimate details from his new friends. Sixteen girls replied and some even sent him provocative photographs.

When he was arrested for Ashleigh’s murder, Chapman had profiles on at least nine different sites and two other identities: a fifteen-year-old student from Liverpool and a nineteen-year-old. He trolled for sex on all the sites and had many girls expressing interest and sending pictures and suggestive messages. He described himself as tall, slim, and physically fit.

In reality, Peter Chapman was skinny, had a shaved head, and was missing several teeth.

He was sentenced to life for the rape and murder of Ashleigh Hall and must serve a minimum of 35 years before he’s considered for early release.

Andrea Hall implored for stronger regulations on social networking sites like Facebook.

After Chapman’s sentencing, Facebook issued a statement urging users not to meet anyone they’d been communicating with online unless they knew who they were, “as there are unscrupulous people in the world with malevolent agendas”. (source)

Shortly after her daughter’s murder in 2009, Andrea Hall issued the following statement:

“No one can imagine the hurt and devastation that has hit our family. Ashleigh was loving, honest, caring and well-liked. Everybody loved her. She was a person who brought light into the lives of others.

“Ashleigh was in her last year at college on a child care course and hoped for a career as a child minder or nursery nurse. All the kids liked her, in the fact the whole community was fond of her and they have shown that love by rallying round to support us in our time of need.

“She was the eldest of four children and her sisters – Olivia, aged six, Ellie, four and one-year-old Evie have been distraught. To have Ashleigh taken from us in such circumstances is beyond belief and I don’t want other families to suffer what we are going through.

“Tell your kids to be careful on the internet. Don’t meet someone without telling your family where you are going. Don’t trust anybody and don’t put your children on Facebook or other sites if they are under age.

“We have learned a terrible lesson. All we ask now is that people help the police in any way they can. We don’t want any other child to be a victim.”

As a mother, this is terrifying. Overloaded with hormones and teenage angst, younger females are especially susceptible to predators like Chapman. My nieces, aged 13 and 14, are on Facebook and have been for quite some time. Both are beautiful girls with way too many friends and access to things they don’t need to have. I can only hope they are careful.

Is Facebook to blame? Should they–and other sites–monitor accounts more closely? How can we protect our children against men like Peter Chapman?

Pictures and Source

30 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: The Facebook Killer”

  1. I think we are all so vulnerable. I wouldn’t think there would be much we could do about a stalker especially if we were unaware. When I think of how many times I am working alone in the yard with the doors open! I think we just have to live our lives….

    • Yes, we are. It’s so scary, especially when you’re a parent. I do the same thing – I’m terrible about locking the doors during the day. We live in a really safe area, but all it takes is once.


  2. You know, FaceBook *could* monitor things more closely… and then another site would spring up. Or people would meet via Craigslist, or something else. I don’t know that it’s any social media site’s responsibility so much as it’s common sense and education. If we’re single, we fantasize about meeting someone who’s our soul mate, who understands us, and is at least moderately attractive. When we meet someone who seems to fit the bill – even if it’s online – we WANT it to be true, sometimes wanting it enough that warning signs are missed.

    Never meet a stranger anywhere but in public, NEVER get into the car of someone you don’t know. Bring a friend (or two) when meeting someone for the first time. If the other person is NOT a creep, s/he will understand.

    • You’re absolutely right. There will always be another way, and it’s definitely about common sense and education. We’ve got to teach our kids to be aware of everything and to trust us enough to communicate. Great rules, Beverly.

  3. This is scary stuff, Stacy. If I had a young child I doubt I’d let her be on these sites until she was at least in her teens, and then with an eye over her shoulder.
    What a sad end for Ashleigh.

    • Yes, it is. I wouldn’t, either. I think teens have way too much access to this stuff, and it’s not good for social development.

  4. Shannon Esposito

    So tragic. I agree with Beverly, though. It’s not really up to a social media site to protect us or our children. I know children are secretive, especially as teenagers and completely ruled by hormones, but it is still up the the parents to monitor their child’s activity online and off. If I had a teenager now days, they would not have a facebook page that I didn’t have access to. Privacy be damned.

    • No, it’s not. It’s up to us not to be friends and be parents instead. I think so many of us worry whether or not our kids will like us and think we’re cool that we get caught up in that instead of thinking abut what’s really important. Thanks.

  5. Hmm. Internet is such a big part of most people’s lives these days. My 22 year old was cyber bullied when she was still at school, age 16. Three other girls were writing stuff like “We all hate xxxxx. Let’s stab her in the %$%$$£ head.” It was a very difficult time.
    My 11 year old has been asking to join facebook. She’s very aware of ‘stranger danger’ but I’m not going to take the chance. It’s very easy to run a fake ID online. This guy was easily able to lure young women and he probably would still be active if the poor girl hadn’t suffocated. I personally think known sex offenders should be subject to some sort of cyber monitoring (cable, wireless, phone internet access etc). It would be invasive, big brotherish and a lot of work for the authorities but prevention is more effective than cure in this case.

    • That’s so sad about your daughter. That kind of crap happens way too often. So much easier for kids to bully when they don’t have to do it someone’s face. I wouldn’t let my 11 year old join Facebook. I think 13 is too young. These girls are growing up way too fast anyway. Facebook just exposes them to that much more. I do agree about the cyber monitoring, but I’m not sure there is an absolute way to do that. Thanks!

  6. Scary stuff. I think anyone can be vulnerable online and meeting new people. But I don’t think it’s any social media site’s responsibility to police it. It’s common sense and being aware. And I completely agree with Shannon – it’s up to parents to know what their kids are doing. It’s much more important to be a parent than it is to be a friend.

    • I agree. It’s SO EASY to fake who you are online without any technical knowledge. And no, it’s not. We’ve got to be aware and teach our children to be as well. I agree with Shannon as well – we have to be involved in our kids lives and worry less about their privacy. Thanks.

  7. I don’t think Facebook should be held responsible for stuff like that. If we insist on making them responsible, no telling what sort of “security checks” we’ll have to submit to. That aside…

    What a tragic story! I feel so sorry for both the victim and her family. How sad. Thirty years in the pen is too kind for this guy. You know it?

    • I don’t either. It is awful, and I felt so bad for the mom. Despite what she said, she no doubt felt guilt as any parent would. It’s just a sad situation all around, and yes, it is. He shouldn’t get out, period.

  8. Social media has opened up a whole new area for sex offenders to prowl. All a parent can do is try to instill common sense into their children and hope. Restricting their access to Facebook and other sites can possibly cause rebellious behavior and a disregard for safety.

    • Yes, it has. And there is no way to deny them access to it. I think you’re right – it’s up to the parents to be parents, not friends, and make sure the child is safe. Thanks.

  9. People prey on eachother, it’s one of the most basic facts of life. I don’t think it’s easy to look at something like this and want to lock our children away in a basement to protect them from all that crazy things in the world. I know that was my first instinct. Probably wouldn’t be a very interesting life though? So I think education…being aware of the dangers, and being taught to be responcible for their own safety would be a good route.

    Either way, very good post. I’m looking forward to the rest of the stalking series.

    • That’s very true. It was definitely my first instinct with my daughter. I want to protect her from everything, but I also don’t want her to be scared of everything and everyone. It’s a hard balance to strike. Thank you very much – I’m glad you enjoyed.

  10. Facebook is not to blame. These lunatics just adapt to whatever’s available. People, including teens, just need to be careful. How heartbreaking this story is! I am utterly appalled that this man is eligible for early release after 35 years. Don’t you think that’s not enough for this girl’s life?

    • I don’t think so, either. I think we’ve got to teach our children to be careful and leery of strangers online just as we do in person. And instead of worrying about invading their privacy, monitor their online interactions closely. I don’t think it is at all. But I don’t believe in second chances for first degree murder. I think it should be mandatory life sentences.

  11. It’s so easy to feel safe connecting with strangers through screens and keyboards, but evil people will use any tool to invade. Sad but true.

    • Absolutely. I would never consider lying to someone about who I was, but for some people it’s natural and the Internet just made it that much easier. Thanks.

  12. jillrkemerer

    This terrifies me and breaks my heart. I wish we lived in a world where predators didn’t exist.

  13. Super scary stuff, Stacy, but I don’t think it’s Facebook’s job to monitor the site. Even if they did, people would start screaming that their privacy is being invaded, etc. Ultimately we all need to be more cautious of our vulnerability in life and online. There are predators out there waiting for someone to be too willing, too trusting. It’s terrifying at times, but like Susie said, we have live our lives. Still, it’s a shame a beautiful young woman was taken from the world too soon. Same with all the victims of senseless crimes. Trust your gut, that’s what will make you less vulnerable.

    • I don’t either, and I agree, we do all need to be more cautious. It’s so important to be just as aware of our surroundings online as we are when we’re walking in a parking lot at night. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. This is so terrifying to read! I worry sometimes about how much I’ve put “out there” on the Net.

    I’ve just discovered your blog and can’t wait to read your book! I love thrillers, my favorite genre to read. Great to meet you!

    • I do, too. Scariest thing is that sometimes your name and address can be available even when you don’t realize it. My husband is always double checking me, lol. Great to meet you as well! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the book:)

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