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Web pages offer glimpses into shattered lives

Monday, February 13, 2006

BOSTON -- It's like countless Internet photo albums: An adorable baby girl aglow at Christmas, at her baptism, in a skunk costume for Halloween -- joined in some frames by one or both of her smiling parents.

Those pictures of Lillian Rose Entwistle, now heart-wrenching, have a far broader audience than the friends and family for whom they were intended, after she and her mother were slain and her father charged with killing them. The warm images helped catapult the Hopkinton murder from cable news onto the cover of People magazine and newspapers in Neil Entwistle's native Britain.

As Web diaries and personal home pages proliferate, the likelihood that the victim or suspect of a high-profile crime had a life online is increasing. The blogs and photos normally lost in the clutter of the Internet can speak for the dead and hint at the motivation of killers when violence thrusts ordinary people into the spotlight.

"People share their intimate thoughts, writing and rambling," said Lisa Bloom, an anchor for Court TV, who has covered several homicides in which personal home pages shed light on the cases. "You are really looking inside their heads."

Jacob Robida, who was being sought in a hatchet-and-gun attack at a New Bedford gay bar when he killed a police officer, a companion and himself in Arkansas, left behind a Web site decorated with swastikas, bloodied axes and obscenities. "I'm interested in death, destruction, chaos, filth and greed," the 18-year-old wrote.

Myspace.com, the forum where Robida created his site, has more than 53 million users, with 220,000 new members logging in every day. Overall, the online Blog Herald estimates there are about 200 million blogs or Internet diaries.

"Back in the old days one of the first things we looked for in some cases was a diary," said Andy Spruill, a police officer in Orange County, Calif., who works at Guidance Software, a cyber forensics firm. "Now that diary just happens to be online and everybody can see it."

Last year in Vienna, Va., the online musings of a missing 17-year-old college freshman captivated a region for weeks. Taylor Behl's online poems and photographs paint a picture of a naive young woman excited to venture into the world.

"I just graduated from high school," Behl typed one day on her blog. "and ... I love to meet new people."

Prosecutors allege that Ben Fawley, 38, an amateur photographer, killed Behl in September after talking with her online. Investigators found Fawley with the help of his own online postings, including photos of an abandoned shack where Behl's remains were found. His trial is scheduled for May.

Police to review blog

In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, authorities have said they will review Joseph Duncan's blog, called "The Fifth Nail," for possible evidence in the convicted child molester's upcoming murder trial.

On May 11, 2005, Duncan wrote: "I am scared, alone and confused, and my reaction is to strike out toward the perceived source of my misery, society."

Five days later police found the bludgeoned bodies of Mark McKenzie, his girlfriend, Brenda Groene, and her 13-year-old son, Slade. Investigators would later discover the remains of 9-year-old Dylan Groene.

In Craig, a remote island in Alaska, a jury is currently deliberating the fate of teenager Rachelle Waterman. Prosecutors say she conspired with two men to murder her mother, Lauri Waterman, in November 2004.

At age 15, Waterman began a blog she called, "My Crappy Life." She rambled about fights with her parents, and railed against coerced trips to church on Sunday. At the same time, the blog is laced with happy moments, baking Christmas cookies with her mother and academic triumphs.

"I think the Internet allows more insight into the people's lives," said Roxanna Z. Sherwood, a producer at ABC's "Nightline." "It helps us in the media learn about the victims quickly, but at the same time we have to do our independent reporting and sort out fact from fiction."

Police have the same problem.

"People lie a lot," said Hollywood, Fla., police Capt. Tony Rode. "They like to embellish how much money they make, or how tall they are. They touch up photos or take a picture from five years ago and say, 'That's me."'

Another consequence can be saturation media coverage. The Web pages, blogs and photos become fodder for reporters, especially when investigators are sharing few details about a case.

"It's oxygen for what should be a one- or two-day story," said Tobe Berkovitz, an associate dean at Boston University's communications college.

"You go from just an ordinary person in the suburbs to B-roll on the cable news night after night," Berkovitz said. "What it does is it takes a regional crime story and turns it into a national frenzy."


On the Net:

http://www.MySpace.com

http://www.friendster.com

http://www.Blogger.com


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