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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Women Missing and Murdered - Online Dating and Personal Safety

The day after Valentine’s Day of 2013, national news reports indicated a spike in new online dating memberships. Once somewhat frowned upon, looking for love online has become socially acceptable within the last ten years.

"It has been ten years since the New York Times declared it socially acceptable to meet your date on the Internet," wrote Ann Friedman in a 2013 article titled "Perils of Online Dating." According to Friedman, one-third of America’s 90 million singles have used online dating services. While some find love, get married, and live happily ever after, some have met with tragedy.

2011 Disappearance of Robyn Gardner Remains Mystery
Robyn Gardner missing August 2, 2011 after a trip to Aruba.
Robyn Gardner vanished while vacationing in Aruba.

Maryland resident, Robyn Gardner remains missing after meeting Gary Giordano, 50, online. Robyn, 35, had met Giordano on an online dating site, developing a friendship prior to her disappearance on August 2, 2011, while vacationing in Aruba.
Robyn had considered Giordano a friend and even her close friends knew of Giordano as an acquaintance. Robyn accepted an invitation to travel to Aruba with Giordano where she mysteriously vanished while staying at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino in Oranjestad. Her family continues to desperately search for answers.
When Giordano reported Robyn missing, he told authorities he had been snorkeling with Robyn off Baby Beach on August 2. He explained he tapped on Robyn's leg when he noticed the tide begin to pull them out to sea and proceeded to return to shore. Once on land, Giordano indicated he noticed Robyn was gone.
Weather reports indicate the waters off Baby Beach on the southeast end of the island of Aruba, to be mild the day of Robyn's disappearance.
When questioned by authorities, Giordano's answers failed to add up and his lack of concern apparent when authorities arrested Giordano. While the search was ongoing, Giordano attempted to return to the U.S. Police arrested at the airport.
Robyn's friends and family all agree that Robyn would never go snorkeling. Robyn's younger brother Andrew Colson told the Daily Mail, "she just wouldn't want to ruin her makeup or get her hair wet."
Gary Giordano met Robyn Gardner online.
Two days after Robyn's disappearance, Giordano contacted American Express (AMEX) regarding a $1.5 million life insurance claim. Giordano had taken out a insurance policy with American Express Travel Insurance that would pay upon the "accidental death" of Robyn. AMEX informed Giordano the policy was only in effect during the time they were in Aruba and there had not been a determination as authorities were still in the early stages of search efforts for a missing person. 
In June 2012, Giordano filed a suit in the Cook County Circuit Court against Chicago based AMEX Assurance for $3.5 million due to failure to pay on Robyn's life insurance claim. Robyn remains missing.
Looming Questions
  • Why did Giordano tell Robyn's mother he would stay and assist with the search, then brusquely try to leave?
  • Why did Robyn post portentous message, "This sucks," on her Facebook wall at 2 a.m.the day she vanished?
  • Why did Giordano fail to show any worry or emotion in the days following Robyn's disappearance?
  • Why did Robyn's Gmail account indicate she had been online for two days following her disappearance?
  • Why did Giordano contact AMEX on August 4th, only two days after Robyn's disappearance and ask if the policy also covered search costs?
Witnesses that were approached by Giordano on the beach following Robyn's alleged snorkeling accident report the following:
  • One witness reported Giordano had a cut on his throat similar to an injury one would sustain after being scratched by a fingernail.
  • Another witness reports she saw blood on the beach.
  • Yet another witness reported she noticed Giordano was sweating when he told her his girlfriend was lost while snorkeling but the witness said his shorts were not wet.
Robyn's disappearance remains a mystery and many questions raising suspicion of Giordano's connection, remain unanswered, however speculation points to Robyn Gardner as one of many people who have fallen victim to an online predator.

Tragedy Hits Home in Central Michigan

Leigh Swanson was found murdered after a date with a man she met online.
Leigh Swanson met her killer online.
November 30, 2012, Michigan law enforcement announced the body of Leigh Swanson had been found in the woods, approximately 10 miles northwest of Midland. Her cause of death was a fatal gunshot.

Swanson, 45 years old, had met a man on an online dating site according to her mother, Beverly Kane. Kane said her daughter had expressed that she had a "bad feeling" prior to going on the date. 

On November 18, 2012, Swanson called her mother from the man’s home indicating everything was fine and she would be home soon. She never arrived and at the time, no one knew whom she had gone on the date with.

After Swanson was reported missing, authorities traced the Swanson's call to a house in Edenville Township, dispatching deputies to the location. When deputies approached the front door, they heard a gunshot from inside. Ordering anyone inside to come out with their hands over their heads, a man exited the home holding a cell phone in his hand. The man had been on the phone with 911 reporting his son had just shot himself inside. Police later found Swanson’s body in a wooded area on a neighboring property.

While the positive stories about online dating far outnumber the bad, the harsh reality is that online dating can also put people at risk. Following are some tips that can help keep you safe.

Protect Yourself

  • Always meet in a public place. Never invite the individual to pick you up from your home or accept an invitation to theirs.
  • Use the online dating site email system to communicate. Remember, the more information you give out the easier you are to find. Even providing a private email address gives someone enough information to find out who you are and where you live.
  • If you decide to meet personally, attempt to obtain as much verifiable information about the person prior to the meeting, such as name and phone number.
  • Make sure you let someone close to you know who you are meeting, where you are meeting, and as much information about the person as possible. You can even have your friend call you during the date. This gives your friends and family peace of mind but also sends a clear message to the individual you are with that others know where you are.
  • Do your homework. It is not unreasonable to conduct a background investigation on a potential mate and could lessen the danger to yourself and those you love.
  • No matter how comfortable you feel with the person, never leave your food or drink unattended.

While I am not discouraging anyone from online dating, I do encourage you to take every precaution necessary to protect yourself. We must not permit tragedies or the lives of victims to be in vain.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adult, serving as CEO until 2010. Kym has spent 20 years working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media, to include expert appearances on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, John Walsh, Lifetime, Montel, and Anderson Cooper Live. Kym is now a freelance writer and serves as an expert in the field of missing persons and victim advocacy. Kym is currently Director at Missing Media Solutions.