Lopatka, slaying suspect moved in different worlds Paths crossed online, ending in death, arrest

November 03, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Kris Antonelli, Jay Apperson, Ellen Gamerman, Anne Haddad, Suzanne Loudermilk, Jackie Powder and Debbie M. Price contributed to this article.

LENOIR, N.C. -- She was a former FBI employee, the cantor's daughter who grew up in Baltimore's Orthodox Jewish community and ran a pair of fledgling businesses on the Internet.

He was a computer specialist for Catawba County, N.C., a father of three who lived on the family farm and loved to cultivate vegetable gardens with his children.

Sharon Rena Lopatka, 35, and Robert F. Glass, 45, lived a world apart and probably would never have met, if not for the Internet. But in the anonymous realm of cyberspace, the two lonely hearts found each other and began what police say was an electronic-mail fling that delved deeply into fantasies of sexual torture and murder -- and ultimately came true.

"All of this strikes us as weird," says Capt. Danny R. Barlow, a veteran investigator with the Caldwell County Sheriff's Department.

Glass is charged with killing Lopatka, who apparently died of asphyxiation, and burying her body near his broken-down, blue-and-white mobile home. Glass' attorney, Neil D. Beach, says Lopatka died accidentally during consensual sex, and that Glass will plead not guilty to the murder charge.

Investigators say it appears Lopatka orchestrated her death over the Internet. They say hundreds of sexually explicit e-mail messages culled from Lopatka's home computer show that she agreed to take a twisted sexual fantasy a step further at the hands of someone she met face-to-face three days before her Oct. 16 death.

The secret Glass and Lopatka shared stunned Baltimore's insular Orthodox community, which held tight to details of her life -- and was reluctant even to acknowledge the date of last week's funeral.

And it brought the national news media and tabloid television shows to the town of Lenoir, population 14,000. The case has generated so much publicity that a judge issued what longtime courthouse lawyers are calling the county's first gag order in at least 30 years.

Despite their vastly different pasts, Glass and Lopatka had a few things in common, according to court records and investigators, family members and friends. They felt alone. They were secretly obsessed with sex. And they found solace on the Internet.

Long before he became known in cyberspace as slowhanave.net, Glass was fascinated by computers. He parlayed that fascination into a career, working as a county data analyst.

Born on Valentine's Day, 1951, Glass grew up in Lenoir in the state's western foothills, where his father worked for a furniture maker and his mother taught elementary school.

The town is home to Broyhill, one of the nation's top furniture makers, and the scent of freshly cut timber fills the air. It's a place where the theft of a jack-o'-lantern from someone's front porch makes the local newspaper.

A burly, bearded, bespectacled man, Glass lived what was from all appearances an uneventful life. He graduated from Lenoir High in 1969. Among his hobbies were computing, music and model railroads.

Sherri Glass, a sweet-faced, soft-spoken woman with brown hair and glasses, was 19 and working the register at a Burger King in Lenoir when she met him. He ordered a steak sandwich, medium fries, a medium Dr Pepper. Six months later, he found the nerve to ask her out.

In 1982, Glass married Sherri, now 35 and a part-time secretary at the local community college. They lived in town before moving five years ago to the farm, where they planned to build a house.

But there was trouble in the marriage that would lead to a separation in April. She says he didn't love her anymore, and Glass was becoming more intrigued by the world that was

opening up on the Internet.

She says her husband sat before the screen of his 486 IBM-clone personal computer and often stayed late into the night.

"I knew he had a computer interest when I married him," she recalls. "But it got so that he was totally into computers. He didn't care about anything else."

She says her husband was never violent; she saw no sign of kinky sex habits. Once, she found a magazine with drawings and photos of nude women. She chalked it up to "normal guy stuff."

But what Robert Glass was doing was far from normal guy stuff.

It was the last week of August when he met someone calling herself nanconcentric.net on the Internet. It was Lopatka.

She grew up as Sharon Denburg in the shadow of Beth Tfiloh, a Pikesville synagogue where her father, Abraham J. Denburg, was a cantor for nearly three decades. Friends say she kept kosher and she kept the Sabbath.

Between November 1985 and May 1987, Lopatka worked for the FBI in the Washington-based unit that helps identify fingerprints and other clues to criminal cases. Last week, the bureau wasn't talking about Lopatka's short tenure there or why she left.

Lopatka's apparent rebellion against the restraints of her religion culminated in her April 28, 1991, marriage to Victor Lopatka, a man outside her faith who is a construction supervisor for Gilligan Development Inc.'s Diamond Hills community in Westminster.

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