Sharon Lopatka. Photo / Carroll County TimesWARNING: Contains distressing details
On October 13, 1996, 35-year-old Sharon Lopatka left her modest home with a goal to never return. A note to her husband Victor Lopatka read: “If my body is never retrieved, don’t worry: know that I’m at peace.”
Unbeknown to her husband, Lopatka had been harbouring a deadly desire that she had only expressed in the darker corners of the internet.
Lopatka eventually found a man who shared her interests, recently divorced computer analyst Robert “Bobby” Glass. Not long after meeting Glass, Lopatka would be discovered in a shallow grave.
Lopatka was a secret extreme fetishist, but nothing in her life signalled that.
Raised by Orthodox Jewish parents, former classmates described her as “as normal as you can get”. She married her husband Victor soon after graduating from high school, a coupling many perceived as being more one of convenience than young love.
Nevertheless, the couple appeared to live a quiet, content existence in the small US town of Hampstead, Maryland.
An early internet entrepreneur, Lopatka started an online advertising business in 1995 which initially involved writing copy for classifieds and selling home decorating guides. It was through her online sales work that she first discovered pornographic chat rooms and the burgeoning online BDSM scene.
Lopatka soon mixed business with pleasure through marketing extreme adult content under the pseudonym Nancy Carlson.
“Nancy” sold and promoted VHS tapes of simulated rape involving women being drugged or hypnotised before being sexually violated.
“Nancy” also had an avid interest in the online feeder/gainer subculture a variant on fat fetishism where participants gain sexual gratification either from gaining weight or watching others stack on the kilos.
Lopatka posted on groups fantasising about having someone feed her till she reached 215 kilos. “I am not interested in e-mail correspondence or a phone feeding,” she wrote. “What I would really like is the REAL thing! I am willing to be force-fed to meet my goal if necessary.”
After becoming a regular on extreme fetish newsgroups, Lopatka began posting requests for someone to torture and kill her.
“I kind of have a fascination with torturing till death,” she wrote. “Would love to have an e-mail exchange with someone.”
It was a request even extreme fetishists found alarming. One user, Tanith Tyrr, spoke to the Washington Post about trying to reach out to Lopatka and dissuade her from her violent desires.
“I want to surrender completely. I want to die,” Lopatka told her initially, and then after Tyrr made repeated pleas for her to seek help, Lopatka replied “I want the real thing. I did not ask for you preaching to me.”
Lopatka eventually connected with Glass, also a regular on extreme BDSM newsgroups.
Glass, like Lopatka, had been living a double life under the pseudonym “Slowhand”, his online persona as an attractive, sadistic dominant seeking female submissives.
Glass’ wife had recently left him due to his obsession with online fantasy.
After six weeks of email exchanges, over 900 pages worth of emails in total, Lopatka and Glass met in person to fulfil their dark fantasy.
Victor Lopatka reported his wife missing to police soon after he discovered her note. In what was something of a first at the time, police tracked down Glass by going through the online exchanges that remained on Sharon Lopatka’s computer.
After monitoring Glass’ home over a number of days, police eventually searched the property, discovering the body of Lopatka in a shallow grave. An autopsy ruled the cause of death as strangulation.
Under interrogation, Glass admitted to fulfilling Lopatka’s torture fantasies, but claimed that her death was ultimately an accident. “I never wanted to kill her,” he said.
Initial reactions to the claims of a “fetish gone wrong” were met with scepticism, with many seeing this as a ploy by a sexual predator to avoid a lengthy sentence. However, once Lopatka’s online activities were fully discovered, the general response shifted to confusion.
“Everything is weird with this case,” Captain Danny Barlow Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department told the Baltimore Sun.
Everyone wanted an answer: what would drive someone to sexually desire their own death?
Autassassinophilia is a paraphilia first identified by sexologist John Money. It describes someone who is sexually aroused by “stage-managing and carrying out the murder of an unsuspecting sexual partner”.
That Lopatka fit the bill of a autassassinophiliac was clear, but what led her to these desires was less so.
Many started to speculate about Lopatka’s unhappy marriage, her weight and other factors which would lead her to self-harm. However, what little we know about Lopatka’s life doesn’t fit the mould of a depressed person fuelled by self-hatred.
“What I want people to know is the woman I knew was not crazy in the slightest,” Lopatka’s friend Diane Safer told the Baltimore Sun. “She was always a happy person.”
One group that was struggling to grapple with the news was the online BDSM community. “I don’t know what they were doing, but it wasn’t S&M,” noted sex educator Nancy Ava Miller, with many in the community wanting to distance themselves from Lopatka’s fate.
And yet there were still some defenders on the more extreme newsgroups. One user, “Perro Loco”, called Glass “a compassionate man” and lamented “he should have taken her somewhere ‘safer’ to ‘do’ her”.
While the moral debates surrounding the case were filled with grey areas, the legal matters were relatively straightforward. It is well-established law that somebody can’t consent to their own killing, except in very limited circumstances such as euthanasia.
Glass pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and sexual exploitation charges, and was sentenced to just over six years’ imprisonment. He would never leave prison, dying of a heart attack after serving just two years of his sentence.
While it may seem that Lopatka’s story is an isolated case, it sits within a long line of cases of people risking their lives in pursuit of extreme sexual desires.
Five years after the Lopatka case, Germany was gripped by the tale of the ‘consensual cannibal’ Armin Meiwes, who met his willing victim, Bernd Brandes, via on online forum called Cannibal Cafe. Meiwes gradually cooked and ate parts of his willing victim.
Meiwes was arrested, charged and ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment for his actions. He has reportedly since become a vegetarian in prison.