If someone dies during sex after having sought out someone who would kill them during sex, what is an appropriate punishment for the person who kills them?
Back in 1996, a young woman named Sharon Lopatka turned to the internet for the same reason many turn to the internet today: to find something she couldn’t find in her day-to-day life. While the web wasn’t as advanced or developed in those days, it still served as a moderately decent tool for bringing folks from different areas—who shared common interests—together.
Finding herself in an alt.sex newsgroup one day, Lopatka posted this question: “Want to talk about torturing to death? … I hope you all don’t think I'm strange or anything.”
In a fascinating recent column, the New York Daily News followed what happened to Lopatka from the time she posted that message to her untimely death in 1996.
Lopatka’s story started out as a fairly ordinary one. She was described as an overweight and ‘normal as normal can be’ woman who was born to a father that spent three deades as a cantor at an orthadox congregation. In 1979, at the age of 18, she finished high school and began working one of a long series of odd jobs. At 29 she did what a lot of folks who were approaching their 30s did back in those days – she got married.
For all intents and purposes, Lopatka’s story was a pretty ho-hum, boring one right up until the 1990s.
Things changed after she got married.
As noted by the Daily News, while her husband was more of an outdoorsman, a person who the locals would frequently see up and about town, Lopatka turned into something of an internet junkie. She stayed at home and ‘became a cybergeek, staring day and night into the blue glow of her computer screen.’
Initially Lopatka’s interest in the web centered around possible business opportunities. She purportedly did her very best to make a living off websites, doing everything from editing and writing to setting up a psychic hotline. Over time, though, her interests changed.
After five years of marriage, her Internet interests had grown darker. She began offering her used panties for sale and became a regular visitor to alt.sex newsgroups and sex chat rooms. Using screen names like NanConcentric and Gina108, her posts focused on edgy, illicit themes like sexual torture and snuff sex.
When a newsgroup Samaritan expressed concern, Lopatka sniped, “I did not ask for you preaching to me.”
Things took turn a turn for the worst in 1996, when Lopatka hooked up with a man from North Carolina named Bob Glass. She and the 45-year-old divorced data entry clerk found a common interest: violent sexual fantasies.
On Oct. 13, 1996 Lopatka rode the Amtrak Crescent from her home in Baltimore to Charlotte, where she finally met up with Glass. A week after her departure, her husband notified the police of her absence. An inspection of Lopatka’s computer led investigators straight to Glass. On Oct. 25, after finding Lopatka’s body buried near his trailer, they arrested him for murder.
Lopatka had died of asphyxiation.
When authorities began their investigation into Lopatka’s death, they stumbled upon something interesting: 870 pages of graphic messages between the deceased and Glass describing their violent sexual fantasies. Among the findings: Glass describing in detail how he was going to kill Lopatka, and the latter essentially inviting it.
Before her death, Lopatka left her husband this note: “If my body is never retrieved, don’t worry. Know that I’m at peace.”
When Glass was taken to court for his part in Lopatka’s death, he offered a somewhat predictable excuse: it was an accident. He killed her during sex while choking her with a nylon rope.
“I don’t know how much I pulled the rope,” he told investigators. “I never wanted to kill her, but she ended up dead.”
Glass ultimately pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He got four years and five months for the crime. He was supposed to get out of jail in March of 2002, but he died of a heart attack two weeks before his release.
While this case is ancient history and has been for a long time, it does present several interesting questions. Should Lopatka’s killing have been treated like any other killing, despite the fact that she expressed a desire to die in a violent sex act beforehand? Is it the fact that Glass buried her body and failed to report it to the authorities that makes this a truly egregious crime? And, perhaps most importantly: how much legal freedom should people be given to act out their sexual fantasies if the only people they can harm are themselves?