Early this year, Sergeant Bill Haider, a 25-year veteran police officer, knocked on the door of a seemingly typical Minnesota suburban home.
He mustn't have known what to expect. For nine months, he'd been investigating claims by Celia Blay, a British woman who'd e-mailed the Minnesota police suspecting someone in their state was carrying out a grim modus operandi online – posing as a young girl, finding suicidal people in chat rooms and forums, and persuading them to join “her” in a suicide pact.
The investigation wound through chat rooms, e-mail accounts and photos, eventually leading Sgt. Haider, of the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, to the home on a quiet lane in Faribault, Minn., on Jan. 7.
There, he spoke with William Francis Melchert-Dinkel, a 46-year-old father and nurse who, according to an affidavit Sgt. Haider would file six days later, admitted to using a number of e-mail addresses to persuade five people to kill themselves.
He's the same man being investigated in relation to the suicide of Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji, 18, last year. It's not clear if she's among the five he mentioned, but her family has said a male nurse in Minnesota tried to coax the teen to hang herself.
But Sgt. Haider's affidavit alleges that Mr. Melchert-Dinkel admitted to having successfully persuaded the suicides in at least five cases.
“Melchert-Dinkel believes he has advised and encouraged approximately 5 persons to commit suicide via the Internet...” Sgt. Haider's affidavit says. He admitted using two e-mail addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, as well as the alias Cami, all “to advise, encourage and create suicide pacts, typically via hanging, with persons on Internet ... for the past four or five years,” it alleges.
The affidavit, filed Jan. 13, was unsealed this month in Minnesota court. Obtained by the St. Paul Pioneer Press and viewed by The Globe and Mail, the document lays out for the first time the specific allegations levelled against Mr. Melchert-Dinkel, who two months ago was named as the subject of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Ms. Kajouji's suicide.
In many cases, Mr. Melchert-Dinkel arranged to watch suicides live on a webcam, but never did so, the affidavit says.
One 2007 e-mail exchange is included in Sgt. Haider's affidavit, which was filed to secure a search warrant to allow investigators to pore over Mr. Melchert-Dinkel's home computer, which he voluntarily turned over.
In the exchange, “Cami” writes another person, “Lucille,” saying the two of them will commit suicide together and describing details on how to tie a proper noose.
“The decomposition of the body over 1 week will make for a terrible scene for anyone who discovers you :(. I can also die on Friday the 20th too!!,” wrote Cami. “I'm very much at peace too and have everything taken care of as far as arraingements (sic)… being highly Christian, I want spiritual songs played as it is my journey to heaven that begins then.”
Minnesota police subpoenaed Yahoo Inc. to subscriber information for Cami's e-mail, which came back to a “Mr. Bill Melchert-Dinkel,” in Minnesota. It added up with what Ms. Blay had been telling officers, and led Sgt. Haider to Mr. Melchert-Dinkel's home for a “knock and talk,” the affidavit says, where he claims Mr. Melchert-Dinkel has confessed.
Mr. Melchert-Dinkel has stayed quiet on the allegations. He didn't respond to Globe inquiries left when his name was first released.
At the time, Ms. Blay told The Globe and Mail that she was concerned last year by postings by both a Falcongirl and a Li Dao on a popular suicide message board. She began tracking the comments, and posting warnings to other users.
“It is really creepy stuff,” Ms. Blay said at the time. “If you read the chat logs, it makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck. [This person] certainly knows how to push the right buttons.”
Ms. Kajouji's family have said they've spoken with Minnesota investigators about the case. A British woman, Elaine Drybrough, has come forward saying Mr. Melchert-Dinkel coached her son Mark to kill himself. Mark Drybrough hung himself in his family's Coventry home in 2005. His mother has also been speaking with Minnesota police.
Although Mr. Melchert-Dinkel has been identified by police as a subject of the ongoing investigation, he hasn't been charged with any crime. Aiding suicide is a criminal offence in the state.