Body in N.C. is Md. woman Man she met on the Internet charged in slaying

October 29, 1996|By Jackie Powder and James M. Coram | Jackie Powder and James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

North Carolina authorities confirmed yesterday the identity of a Hampstead woman who police claim was killed by a man she met through computer e-mail conversations.

Sharon R. Lopatka, 35, whose body was found Friday in a shallow grave near Lenoir, N.C., appeared to have been strangled, said Capt. Danny Barlow of the Caldwell County Sheriff's Department.

Robert Frederick Glass, 45, a government computer systems analyst in nearby Catawba County, was charged Friday in the slaying. Lopatka's body was discovered in a 6-foot-deep pit in the yard of Glass' mobile home and her belongings were found in his residence.

Glass, the father of three who has been separated from his wife since March, is being held without bond at Caldwell County Detention Center. He appeared at a hearing yesterday in which a District judge appointed an attorney to represent him.

Police say Lopatka and Glass established a relationship through electronic mail four to six weeks ago and had arranged to meet Oct. 13 in North Carolina. Lopatka, of the 1700 block of Indian Court in Hampstead, traveled by train to Charlotte, N.C., where Glass picked her up, Barlow said.

Maryland and North Carolina police would not comment on the subject matter of the computer communications between Lopatka and Glass or how they first began exchanging e-mail messages.

Glass could have left messages at Lopatka's business Web site or they could have met in an electronic "chat room" or subscribed to a news group and left messages that included their e-mail addresses. More than 10,000 news groups are on the Web on subjects ranging from restaurants to romance.

Sgt. Barry Leese is a supervisor with the Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit who recovered Lopatka's e-mail conversations with Glass from her home computer. He said people who engage in electronic correspondence should assume they are communicating with strangers.

"They're basing their information about a particular person on a typed set of characters," Leese said. "People can very quickly take up new identities on the Internet. You believe you're dealing with a law-abiding citizen and you could be dealing with somebody of the criminal mind."

Leese said that state police computer investigators worked with the Internet service providers used by Lopatka and Glass to retrieve the electronic correspondence between the two computer users.

"It's a new technology -- a way of taking old crimes and putting a high-tech spin on them," said Leese, who typically investigates computer crimes dealing with child pornography, drugs and white-collar crime.

Police began investigating the Lopatka case Oct. 20 when her husband, Victor, reported the woman missing after finding her car parked at Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station. Sharon Lopatka's family and friends had not seen her since Oct. 13, when she said she was going to visit friends for a week in Georgia, state police said.

State police identified Glass as a suspect after recovering Lopatka's e-mail conversations with him, Leese said. Based on that evidence, North Carolina authorities were able to obtain a search warrant for Glass' home in Lenoir, a city of about 14,000 about 70 miles northwest of Charlotte.

Until this weekend, a Bob Glass page with a picture of a bespectacled, bearded man was part of Catawba County's page on the World Wide Web.

The page, which was being used by news media as a source of information about Glass, was pulled from the county's Web site because it contained "inaccuracies," said Dave Hardin, the Catawba County public information officer.

Everyone in the county's information systems office had

individual pages with pictures, Hardin said. The pages contained short biographical sketches and mentioned a personal detail such as the employees' favorite books. But Glass' page concentrated mostly on his technical skills as a computer analyst, Hardin said.

Lopatka, who lived in Hampstead for seven years, ran a computer-based business called Classified Concepts Unlimited from her home page on the Internet, writing classified ads for a fee.

The introduction to her Web site reads: "Stop Here! We're Going to Help you Make a Fortune." The business claims to be "the leading classified ad writing agency in the nation today," and promises customers that it can write a classified ad in a national magazine or newspaper that will bring "phenomenal results for their service or product."

Lopatka co-wrote the book "Secrets of Home Decorating Guide" with Diane Safar, a friend who lives in Hampstead.

"All I can say is she was a very good friend of mine, a wonderful person," Safar said yesterday.

Neighbors said that Lopatka and her husband got married in their home and were a quiet couple. They had no children and didn't socialize with other families in the community.

"She seemed very nice, she always smiled and waved," said a neighbor who did not want to be named. "But in a neighborhood filled with kids they had a different lifestyle than I have," the woman said.

Pub Date: 10/29/96

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