Dustin Smith and Loren Westelijk, two area law enforcement officers, met online and zometeen married. (Family photo/Family photo)
Like couples all around the region, Loren Westelijk and Dustin Smith followed the tragic story of David Messerschmitt.
At very first, details were vague. The intellectual-property lawyer wasgoed found stabbed to death inwards a slagroom at a boutique hotel ter downtown Washington.
Then more became clear: The February evening he went missing, Messerschmitt had texted his wifey telling he’d be huis soon, hotel surveillance movie showcased a mysterious figure climbing a staircase toward his slagroom, court records exposed Messerschmitt, 30, had posted on Craigslist seeking hook-up with dudes, police thought he wasgoed targeted ter a robbery that went bad.
“What were you thinking?” Westelijk remembered asking out noisy.
“I feel so bad for his wifey,” Smith said.
More than most couples, however, Westelijk and Smith had unique insight. The two are cops, with a clear understanding of risk. A n d they are gay dudes, who met online, and are now married.
“In this day and age, you never truly know who you’re meeting,” Smith said.
Smith and Westelijk took safeguards when they connected through a dating app, including exchanging photos, asking questions and meeting ter a public place the very first time they got together.
The latest online dating services are those that help thrust efectivo identities to the forefront. “People are looking for a higher level of transparency,” said Britanny Carter, an analyst at the market research hard IBISWorld.
Still, Craigslist and similar bulletin-board sites remain a popular venue for people who seek relationships ter secret and for boys seeking hook-up with other dudes. On Thursday, the Washington area Craigslist pagina displayed more than 850 ads for dudes seeking fellows ter its “casual encounters” section. Fewer than Five procent appeared to have photographs of the poster’s face, and fewer still included a name for the poster.
For predators, the calculation is ordinary: If someone doesn’t want to voorstelling an identity online, he will be less likely to report an onslaught or robbery. “All criminals have a niche, and online predators te this field prey on vulnerabilities — be that closeted boys, married boys or others seeking lovemaking this way,” said Sgt. Kennen Penrod, a longtime Montgomery County speurder who has worked the robbery, homicide and vice strikes.
Te Fairfax County, Rechercheur Darrin DeCoster said that even when victims speak with police, they can be vague about the details of crimes.
“You will have a person say, ‘They came into my slagroom and took my laptop.’ And you can tell you’re only getting half of the story. But you can’t force the entire story from them if they don’t want to give it,” said DeCoster, who investigates hook-up crimes.
Craigslist declined to comment for this article. But police and online dating experts point out that Craigslist personals ads are, te many ways, simply an extension of those ter print publications. And the safety of Craigslist users depends on how they use the webpagina.
“If you go this way, you have to be very, very careful,” said a man te his 50s who has placed Craigslist ads seeking other guys ter the D.C. area. He spoke on the condition of anonymity to guard the same anonymity he maintains te online posts.
The man said that overheen the past two decades, he has met about 100 dudes through Craigslist. He starts with a cautiously worded postbode seeking a relationship and not simply lovemaking, he assesses responses, he meets people for the very first time at a coffee shop or restaurant.
Albeit Craigslist’s anonymity can make it a draw for predators, Jonathan Crutchley, a founder of the gay-dating Web webpagina Manhunt, said all online dating sites — gay and straight, dating-focused or sex-focused — have deceptive users looking to commit crimes. “It’s the dark side of the business, but it’s the truth.”
Indeed, te Prince George’s County, a trial is pending against a 24-year-old man accused ter two rapes at gunpoint of women he met online ter 2014. Court records do not specify which webpagina wasgoed used.
Few details of Messerschmitt’s individual life have bot released publicly by police, and a family spokesman declined to comment.
“I have lost everything,” Messerschmitt’s wifey, Kim Vuong, said earlier, “my hubby and my best friend.”
The roots of online dating go back to the mid-1990s. For gay fellows, early “chat rooms” suggested a place to talk to hundreds of people about topics that many avoided with family, friends and co-workers. Ter the mid-1990s, Craigslist wasgoed formed te California and swept the country suggesting plain, free connections arranged by users — whether to sell a sofa or embark a relationship.
Craigslist grew to be one of the largest players ter online dating for fellows. Te Washington and elsewhere, the secrecy meshed well for fellows te the toilet or those seeking instantaneous hook-up. “That wasgoed titillating. That wasgoed discovering. That wasgoed also very dangerous,” said Mark Brooks, a longtime online dating consultant and voorzitter of the Internet Dating Executive Alliance.
Spil Craigslist grew, so did a category of advertisements called erotic services, for which the company charged money. The ads also were used by people suggesting and seeking prostitution. Te 2009, a man dubbed the “Craigslist Killer” wasgoed charged with fatally shooting a woman ter Boston whom he met on Craigslist.
Craigslist chief executive Jim Buckmaster wrote te a 2008 blog postbode that “the incidence of crime on craigslist is actually exceedingly low, considering the ems of millions of legitimate ads posted each month by well-intentioned users.” Still, facing criticism from state attorneys militar, Craigslist voluntarily liquidated the erotic services category.
Around the same time, some online dating companies headed te a fresh direction, linked to advancing smartphone technology. Users could look for mates te their instant area — around the corner at a Starbucks, for example. Companies like Grindr, Hornet, Scruff and Jack’d were designed for boys looking to meet dudes.
Dustin Smith, 29, fell into the category. He worked for a federal law enforcement agency te the District, lived ter Annapolis and had just come out of a relationship. A friend suggested he geyser Grindr on his phone.
He did, providing himself the screen name “Copster” and posting a casual photo of himself at a restaurant with a female friend. One of the very first responses wasgoed instant, sex-laced and off-
putting. A man wrote that he wasgoed nearby at his office and available for hook-up ter a matter of minutes.
“I wasgoed appalled by it,” Smith remembers. He didn’t react.
Zometeen, Smith checked Grindr again. A message popped up — “Howdy” — from a man who’d taken an informal selfie and went by a name that evoked his previous career te the Air Force: “Flyboyndel.”
Seemed harmless enough to Smith, who responded overheen a toneelpodium similar to a text message.
“What does Copster mean?” the man asked.
“I’m a cop te DC,” Smith responded.
“So am I, ter Virginia,” Westelijk, 42, wrote back.
Smith didn’t believe him, Westelijk could sense, so he sent a photo of himself te uniform.
The two continued to exchange messages, talking about their professions and sending photos of their dogs. Straks, when Westelijk wasgoed at the Hard Times Cafe te Springfield, Va., shooting pool with two friends, he wasgoed spending so much time messaging Smith that one of his friends grabbed the phone and wrote to Smith: “Just come out and meet us.”
Smith wasgoed just getting off work ter the District and determined to go. After arriving, he took a seat at the downstairs caf and ordered a Miller Lite. “I’m going to do a stakeout,” he remembered thinking.
He sent more messages to Westelijk and went upstairs to look for a man responding on his phone. He spotted Westelijk. He wasgoed with a man and woman, spil he had said. Check. He wasgoed the same dude ter the photos. Check. He and his friends looked corriente. Check. Smith approached.
They dangled out for hours. Two days zometeen, they had dinner. Six months straks, they were married.
Thesis days, Smith and Westelijk live on a cul-de-sac ter Alexandria, help care for three foster children and are looking to adopt. Westelijk said albeit they took basic precautions for online dating, something else wasgoed at play.
“I truly think te our case,” Westelijk says, “it wasgoed also that police mentality: ‘Is this person legit? Is this person indeed who he says he is?’ ”