Officials investigate unwelcome e-mail

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The routine checking of office e-mails Wednesday led to a shocking discovery of child pornography at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri.

The unsolicited e-mail depicted a girl, aged 8 to 10 years-old, engaged in an explicit sexual act, Cape Girardeau Police Sgt. Barry Hovis said. The arts council reported the e-mail to police, who are investigating whether it had a local origin or was sent as "spam," a message delivered electronically to thousands or millions of computer users.

"We all get spam and things we don't want through our e-mail," said Rebecca Fulgham, Arts Council executive director. "This was a very graphic picture that came up before you even opened it."

The employee checking e-mails, Dora Hastings, deleted the images on instinct, Fulgham said. After she reported it, Fulgham said she called the council's Internet provider and then the police.

Officers were able to retrieve the message from the delete file.

The e-mail is being checked to determine its origin, Hovis said. Every e-mail is stamped with a header that links it back to a point of origin. Those headers, however, can be masked or altered by sophisticated computer users.

Sending child pornography over the Internet is both a state and federal crime.

There were four total images included in the e-mail sent to the arts council, Fulgham said.

The council has computer software to block spam e-mails, but to do so the software needs to be able to recognize patterns in the subject line that tip it off.

"There wasn't anything in the subject line to indicate it was anything but a legitimate e-mail," Fulgham said.

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