Local News

woman knew

Posted October 30, 1996 12:00 a.m. EST

— Sharon Lopatka's alleged killer may believe her death was unintentional, but the Maryland woman apparently foresaw her own demise before heading for North Carolina.

While sifting through hundreds of pages of e-mail as well as other evidence, investigators said Tuesday that Lopatka expected to be sexually tortured and killed by a man she had met over the Internet.

Lopatka's body was found Friday in a shallowed grave beside a Caldwell County mobile home when Robert Glass lived. She had been strangled to death, according to a preliminary autopsy.

Glass, a 45-year-old computer systems analyst for nearby Catawba County, was charged with first-degree murder on Saturday. A probable cause hearing has been set for Nov. 18.

``There's no way to know precisely what was in her head when she came here,'' said Caldwell County Sheriff's Department Capt. Danny Barlow. ``The only thing we can see is the e-mail messages and there they discussed in detail as to what they expected to happen when she got here.''

Lopatka, 35, of Hampstead, Md., wrote a note to her husband before leaving their home 2-1/2 weeks ago. She wrote that she was going to visit friends in Georgia and that she would not be coming back, say investigators.

Lopatka also ``asked her husband not to go after the one who did this to her,'' according to a search warrant affidavit made public Tuesday.

``If my body is never retrieved, don't worry, know that I'm at peace,'' her note said.

But Lopatka had planned all along on going to North Carolina, according to police.

Tuesday's revelations were the latest information on a relationship investigators say formed on the Internet, grew through e-mail correspondence and ended in murder.

Glass has indicated to investigators that Lopatka's death was inadvertent, said Caldwell County District Attorney David Flaherty Jr. Asked whether Glass called Lopatka's death an accident, the district attorney told The Charlotte Observer that that was a ``fair characterization.''

Investigators are still sorting through 870 pages of e-mail communications found on Lopatka's computer, said Sgt. Barry Leese of the Maryland State Police. Caldwell County investigators are doing the same thing to Glass' home and business computers.

The recovered e-mail messages reveal that Lopatka previously had used the Internet to approach someone else about killing her, Leese said. That individual refused to comply with Lopatka's death request, Flaherty said.

Sheriff's department Lt. Tim Marley, lead investigator in the case, said it's too early to tell from preliminary autopsy results if she had been sexually tortured, The News-Topic of Lenoir reported.

A partial list of items seized by investigators at Glass' home included computer equipment and disks, a box containing ropes and wires, drug paraphernalia, bed clothing, luggage, a .357-Magnum pistol, magazines, photos and cameras.

Glass and Lopatka met through the Internet, where Lopatka, who had three Social Security numbers, operated World Wide Web pages for a business she ran out of her home. Glass separated from his wife of 14 years earlier this past spring.

Investigators believe they met in a sexually oriented ``talk group'' or ``chat room'' on the computer network, Leese said.

According to the affidavit to search Glass' home, the e-mail messages contain conversations between ``Nancy,'' the e-mail nickname for Lopatka, and ``Slowhand,'' the e-mail nickname for Glass.

Messages from ``Slowhand'' ``described in detail how he was going to sexually torture ... and ultimately kill her,'' according to the search warrant application sheriff department investigators used to locate Lopatka's body.

``Whether she expected it to happen or not, if you kill someone you commit murder. You have intent communicated precisely,'' Barlow said.

Attorney Neil Beach, appointed to represent Glass, called the search warrant affidavit misleading.

``I don't believe he's guilty of what he's charged with,'' Beach said.

Lopatka left Baltimore by train on Oct. 13 and was picked up by Glass in Charlotte, investigators said. Her husband, Victor, reported her missing on Oct. 20.

The Maryland State Police were investigating Lopatka's disappearance when they discovered e-mail messages on her computer linking her to Glass.

Caldwell County Sheriff Roger Hutchings said his investigation and the autopsy results indicate that Lopatka died Oct. 16 and had stayed at Glass' residence prior to that.