Boston P.D. to Gays: Beware Predators on Hookup Sites, Apps
A Boston Police Alert published in the May 29 edition of the New England GLBT newspaper Bay Windows cautions users of gay hookup sites, as well as patrons of bars, that a string of robberies apparently targeting gay men has been reported in the Boston area.
"After meeting in person and being invited to the victim’s home, the suspect allegedly drugs the victim and robs the home," the alert says. "No assaults have been reported."
The alert also says that there may be more than one individual behind the robberies.
Boston Magazine noted in a June 3 article that attacks and robberies targeting gay men are nothing new. "In the gay community in general, it predates [hookup sites and mobile] apps - even the Internet," the article quoted gay news blogger Rob Wilson of BosGuy.com. "Quite often, and maybe guys of a certain age are more sensitive to this, but even something like leaving the bar, you had to always be careful. There were certain bars in Boston that you knew you had to leave with friends."
Wilson added that he knew one man who had been victimized by a perpetrator he met in a chat room. "[T]he guy must have given him a date rape drug, and he woke up hours later and his apartment was basically cleaned out," Wilson told Boston Magazine.
The man behind Grindr, which in recent years has become practically synonymous with hookup apps, responded to the robberies with a statement encouraging users of his, and similar, services to follow basic safety rules. The statement was issued even though Grindr was not specified as an app through which the perpetrator(s) came into contact with the victims.
"Just like when you meet someone at the bar, you need to be careful, keep your eye on your drink and make sure your friends or loved ones know where you are," Grindr CEO Joel Simkai, who founded the service, said in the statement.
Perpetrators of anti-gay violence have found hookup sites and chat rooms to be comparatively easy avenues to identifying and initiating contact with potential victims. In October of 2006, four men used an Internet chat room to coax a gay man, 29-year-old Michael J. Sandy, to an isolated spot in Sheepshead Bay, an area of Brooklyn. The men beat Sandy and attempted to rob him; Sandy fled, but was struck and killed when he ran into traffic. The alleged assailants were tried on hate crimes charges.
In another incident that took place in New York, a resident of Queens, Michael Pecora, was found stabbed to death in his apartment. Police later arrested Alexys Fermaintt, who allegedly had been hired by Pecora online for sex and companionship.
One Internet service in particular, Craigslist, was associated with several high-profile crimes. In one instance, New York newsman George Weber solicited a heterosexual teenager to participate in rough sex sessions for a fee; the young man he hired, 16-year-old John Katehis, a bladed weapons enthusiast, stabbed Weber an estimated 50 times. Weber’s body was discovered two days later.
Similar predations have, from time to time, taken place in the heterosexual milieu. Most notorious was the so-called Craigslist Killer, a serial murderer who hired a female massage therapist through the popular online service, and then shot her to death in a hotel room on Apr. 14, 2009. A student at the Boston University School of Medicine, Philip Markoff, was arrested in connection with the case; Markoff was also charged in the robbery of a female professional escort in Boston, and the attempted robbery of an exotic dancer in Warwick, Rhode Island.
It was believed that the perpetrator had contacted all three victims through Craigslist. A claim was also made by at least one man who said that Markoff had answered a Craigslist ad looking for "males for transsexuals" and had sent explicit photos of himself.
The Boston area robberies did not entail sexual assault or beatings. Still, the police alert reiterated the need to follow basic precautions. "Boston Police urge individuals to use caution in their online and in person relations, and to be alert when drinking beverages in public," the alert said. "Please call Boston Police with any tips or information to 1 800 494 TIPS or text CRIME (27463)."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.