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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.

Overweight and awkward, she stood in stark contrast to her tall, thin husband. He wore tight biking shorts while peddling the hilly streets surrounding their Hampstead home in Carroll County, or running with his black Labrador retrievers, first Hank, then Zeke.

Sharon Lopatka drove around the neighborhood in an electric-blue Honda Civic, rock music blaring. And she began experimenting with the Internet, trying out a series of get-rich-quick schemes.

Lopatka had big plans when she came to computer whiz Michael Hughes about a year ago to find out about setting up Internet ads, says Hughes, a former "webmaster" at Baltimore Resources, an alternative health magazine.

He says she bought two Web pages, costing $50 to $75 per month, to advertise a pair of 900 numbers -- a psychic hot line and a classified ad writing service.

"She was really starry-eyed and taken by the idea of the Internet and having a Web page," Hughes recalls. "She appeared to be very easily manipulated and prone to being swayed by just about anything. It seemed like she was looking for something."

Weeks before her rendezvous with Glass, Lopatka exchanged e-mail messages with another man over the Internet, arranging to meet him in New Jersey to be sexually tortured and then slain, law enforcement sources say. But when she went there, he backed out, the sources say.

Investigators aren't sure how Lopatka found Glass in cyberspace, but hard-core, sex-related Web sites are not unusual on the Internet. And sexual messages -- often with violent content -- are appearing increasingly in "chat rooms" and on "newsgroup" bulletin boards.

In December, for example, someone left sexual and murderous fantasies about actress Jodie Foster in a Los Angeles chat room. The messages were removed, and the author was not found.

In another case, a University of Michigan student corresponded by e-mail with an Ontario man about his fantasies of raping, torturing and killing a classmate. The messages were discovered after the student sent his fantasies to a public Internet file.

And apparently the first Internet-related slaying -- in which a man is accused of luring his victim through a gay chat room on America Online -- occurred in January in East Windsor, N.J.

The hundreds of e-mail messages between Glass and Lopatka -- conversations about sex, torture, bondage and death -- began in late August, law enforcement sources say. They continued until Oct. 12, the day before she drove to Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore and took the Amtrak Crescent to Charlotte, N.C.

She told her husband she was going to visit friends in Georgia. But she left what amounted to a suicide note, telling him "not to go after the one who did this to her" and that if her body is never retrieved, not to worry, because "I am at peace," court records show.

On Oct. 20, Victor Lopatka filed a missing-person report with the Maryland State Police, providing investigators with a few pages of the e-mail between his wife and "slowhand."

Investigators tracked "slowhand" -- also the nickname for rock guitarist Eric Clapton -- to an Internet provider called Wave Communications in Hickory, N.C. They subpoenaed records for "slowhand" and traced Glass to his trailer.

Glass was at work when investigators arrived at his trailer with a search warrant Oct. 25. They noticed a mound of freshly dug dirt about 70 feet from the trailer. Three-and-a-half feet down, they found Lopatka's body.

"We were surprised he would bury the body right there in front of his house," says Caldwell County Sheriff Roger L. Hutchings.

Authorities arrested Glass at his office, where they later executed another search warrant, removing files and computer correspondence. He remains in jail without bail.

The next night, Sherri Glass was preparing dinner, wondering why her estranged husband had not arrived for his weekend visit with the children. The phone rang with the news of his arrest.

"I said, 'What, my Bob killed someone?' I just couldn't believe it," she recalls. "I never thought I'd find my husband in a situation like this. I keep trying to figure it out, but I can't."

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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