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?