Start here, and scroll below for the updates. The postings are meant to coincide with what's on TV.
• May 3, 2006 |
Meet more of these men from Ohio (Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent)
One of the most interesting things to watch in these investigations is the difference between what one of the potential predators says to me during my interview with him and what he says when the police interrogate him. Take Jay Reffner for instance. He’s a computer specialist at a university who shows up at our rural Ohio house after making a date to meet a 15-year-old girl who said she was a virgin. But instead of meeting her, I walk into the room. He’s sweaty, nervous and says he’s no pedophile. Later, when I ask him if he brought anything, he admits he has condoms with him. Moments after Reffner walks out of our undercover house he’s arrested. And it’s not until then that we find out some very interesting things about his background. He tells detectives his father is actually a police officer and his mother is a prosecutor in a nearby community. Reffner’s mother will actually represent him when he appears in court.
Behind the scenes of our investigation in Greenville, Ohio it is the very definition of hurry up and wait. On Saturday, the second day in our undercover house, a nine hour period goes by with not one man showing up. We start to wonder if word has gotten out around town. It seems it has and about a dozen local men who had made dates to meet a teen are no shows. As it gets later in the evening, the men who had been chatting with Perverted-Justice decoys from farther away start to arrive and there is a steady flow of visitors again. Too steady. Once again we have men arriving at the same time. In one case one guy leaves the front door and is arrested just as another man is walking in the back door.
There is one man who never actually made it to our house, but gets arrested anyway. This made for a pretty wild scene. 52-year-old Glenn Mitchell lives in Indiana and he was chatting on line with a decoy who said he was a teenage boy. There is an explicit conversation about sex and Mitchell says he’s going to drive to our location in rural Ohio. He gets close, but it’s late and dark. Del the Perverted Justice decoy talks to him several times on his cell phone and learns he’s having some trouble finding the place. As it ends up, Mitchell gets turned around and starts driving down the wrong side of a road. He gets stopped by police. Perverted Justice calls the sheriff’s deputies set up near our house and lets them know what’s going on. They call the officer who made the traffic stop and ask him to let Mitchell go. Perverted Justice thinks he still might come. It’s too late though. Mitchell is spooked and starts to head back to Ohio. It is not too late for police to have Mitchell arrested though. He’s picked up in Indiana on unrelated charges. Darke County, Ohio detectives get a warrant and search his home. They say they find material that indicates Mitchell might have been involved with minors in the past.
When I tell people what sometimes goes on in our undercover houses they often shake their heads in disbelief. Here’s an example: After a lengthy, sexually charged chat between a decoy posing as a 13 year old girl and a 47-year old man named Kevin Westerbeck, Westerbeck shows up at our house late on Sunday night, the last night of our investigation. He’s short, less than five feet tall. As he enters, the decoy tells him she has to change. Westerbeck offers to watch, but instead sees me. He insists he would really never have had sex with an underage girl, but we know something about Westerbeck’s background. It turns out that just four days after he walked into our house, he was scheduled to walk into the big house. That’s right. Westerbeck had recently pleaded guilty to the crime of soliciting.
It’s been another emotionally and physically draining investigation. It’s strange though, even in rural Ohio, where there were long stretches where no one shows up, time seems to pass quickly. Maybe it’s lack of sleep, maybe it’s adrenalin, but these shoots always seem to go by fast.
Next we’ll take you to southwest Florida. If you think you’ve seen everything you could possibly imagine in Ohio and the previous investigations, just wait.
The next 'To Catch a Predator' airs Wednesday, May 10, 9 p.m. on Dateline NBC. Click here for and for .
• May 3, 2006 |
On his way to jail, but not before he stops by the Dateline undercover house (Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent)
Each of the 18 men exposed in our Greenville, Ohio investigation has an interesting, if not dark backstory, but there is one man you’ll meet tonight who demonstrates how sometimes, the threat of getting caught is surpassed by the drive to meet a teenager home alone.
The man is 47-year-old Kevin Westerbeck. By day he’s an auditor for the U.S. military. But at night we know he’s been cruising Internet chat rooms as “changeforthebetter2006” and having explicit online conversations with our decoy who says she is 13 and a virgin.
At one point in the conversations, Westerbeck grows suspicious and asks the decoy if she’s a cop. She says no and before long Westerbeck is walking down our driveway and into the back door of our undercover house.
The decoy says she has to change clothes. Westerbeck offers to watch her. Instead, he meets me and I ask him to take a seat on the stool near the bar.
He’s a short man, less than 5 feet tall. It takes him a moment to hop up on the stool. I ask him about his intentions and he tells me he just came over to talk. His online chat contradicts that and so does something else.
It turns out the Westerbeck is scheduled to turn himself in to authorities in Ohio in just four days -- to start serving a prison sentence after recently pleading guilty to soliciting another teen online.
He finally admits “I’m stupid, I’m weak” but he still says he wouldn’t have actually had sex with the girl.
As surprising as it might seem that someone would do this after already having been caught once, wait until you hear what we found out after we talked to him. Just this week we learned that Westerbeck pleaded guilty to molesting an underage female relative. Stay tuned.
More of the Ohio investigation of 'To Catch a Predator' airs tonight, Wednesday, 9 p.m.
The blog entries below were posted to coincide with what was airing on television. Start here, and scroll below for more entries.
• April 26, 2006 |
Another investigation in full swing (Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent)
By the time you start watching “To Catch a Predator IV,” Dateline will have exposed some 90 men who chatted up someone they thought was a young teen and then made a date, usually for sex. There’s a tendency to think that this is a crime that takes place in and around big cities. In a few moments you’ll see that apparently no place is immune, not even small town America. When I first drove up to the house we used in tonight’s story, I was struck by how rural the area was. It was nice, big enough, but surrounded by farmland. For the first time, I wondered if we had made it too difficult for men to find us. When men like Alonzo started to arrive I get the sense he’ll be just one of many. I watched from a TV monitor as Alonzo walked into the basement back door of our undercover house. He set the beer and wine coolers he’s brought on the bar. Then, he turns around and starts fiddling with his pants. I’m not quite sure what he’s up to, but I decide it’s time to confront him. Whatever his plan was, it involved unzipping his pants. Seconds later he’s sitting down trying to explain his way out of the trouble he’s in. I’ll let you be the judge as to how effective his defense is. Another investigation is in full swing.
Each time we do one of these investigations, we learn something new. Here in rural Ohio, we have decided to incorporate an element we’ve not tried before: We hired a 19 year old actress, Emily who looks much younger than she is. I am sure you’ll agree that she could easily pass for 13. Emily’s job is to appear live on a Web cam and interact with potential predators who might try set up a date with her. This proves to be far more complicated than we had anticipated. First, there are technical problems with the Web cam and then we had to work out how Emily would appear on the camera while Perverted-Justice contributor Del Harvey would actually chat as the decoy. As we struggled to make this work, men keep showing up at our door. It took a while to smooth things out, but we finally got it all together. As you’ll see in a little bit, it’s very effective.
As you can imagine, we try as much as possible to know the backgrounds of the men before they walk into the house. This helps us to ask the right questions and to protect ourselves from someone with a history of violence. I must tell you though, out of all of these investigations, this was the most polite group of men I’ve confronted. Only one of 18 ran. Most sat and answered as many questions as I could ask. Their online chats and their motives may have been gross and illegal, but once confronted, most didn’t put up much resistance-- either with me or later when, after leaving the house, they were arrested by the Darke County Sheriff’s Department. Some even talked about religion and how they had sought guidance from pastors.
Behind the scenes during these investigations we often wonder out loud about whether or not there will come a day when no one will show up. Based upon what we saw in Ohio, I don’t think that day is coming any time soon. I am stunned as a sixth grade teacher walks into our undercover house to meet someone who told him she was a 13-year-old girl home alone. I say “stunned” not only because of what he does for a living, but also because he admits to me that he has seen our past computer predator stories. He’s even talked about them with his fellow teachers. That says a lot about the addictions and compulsions some of these men have. The teacher admits he was worried about his Internet habits and he says he considered the possibility that he was walking into a set up. In spite of all that, he drove two hours on a Sunday afternoon to come see us.
Stay tuned next Wednesday, and we’ll have much more from our house in Ohio. And that Dateline conducted about teens encountering strangers online. It might give you a pause if you think that this doesnt happen in your home or community.
Editor's note: Don't forget to check out and an . Hope you can join us next Wednesday, 9 p.m. for more on the Ohio investigation.
• April 26, 2006 |
We found potential predators in big cities — but what about smaller towns? (Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent)
Having grown up in the Midwest, the surroundings were familiar. I had driven the stretch of I-75 from Cincinnati to Dayton many times over the years. From Dayton, I headed west to a small town called Greenville, home to about 14,000 folks and the location of our next “To Catch a Predator” undercover house. There’s farmland and a quaint downtown. Four people can still have dinner out for less than 50 bucks and you don’t have to look hard for the Wal-Mart and the feed store.
But how hard would we have to look for computer predators? Maybe that sort of thing only happens in or around big cities. Dateline decided to find out.
Once again we enlisted the help of Perverted Justice, the online watchdog group whose volunteers pose as young teens in chat rooms, home alone and willing to be visited by a man after a sexually-charged online conversation. And for the second time now, law enforcement would be set up near our house to arrest the potential predators after I had confronted them.
This time it was Det. Mike Burns and his team from the Darke County, Ohio Sheriff’s Department. As our team set up all the hidden cameras and connected the miles of cable needed for a shoot like this, PJ decoys trolled the chat rooms. From the get go it looked promising. Dozens of men were interested in coming over to meet a 12 to 15-year-old boy or girl. But this environment would prove more challenging than any of us anticipated. Day one went pretty much as expected. One by one, nine men showed up after making a date online for sex.
But on day two, nine hours would go by without a single person showing up. I remarked to my producer Lynn Keller how odd that was, especially since several men had chatted with decoys and promised to be there. It turns out we had a couple things going against us: Word spreads fast in a small town. Somehow news of our investigation leaked out in Greenville and that apparently scared away some guys who seemed so committed just a day before. And there was another issue. It gets really dark in that part of Ohio at night, and without streetlights it’s hard to find your way no matter how strong your addiction or compulsion.
In spite of all that however, men made it in the door. Some traveled several hours and over a state line to get there. In all, 18 made a date and were arrested. I guess when it comes to potential predators online, it doesn’t matter where you are. And based on this investigation, it apparently also doesn’t matter how many times we do this story.
Take the case of a 26-year-old man who chatted online with a girl who said she was 13. It was really Del, a PJ volunteer. When he wanted to see the girl on a webcam, we were ready. A 19-year-old actress hired by Dateline was ready to play the roll. She looks much younger than her age, 13 tops. But it was enough to convince James Rutherford that she was real and ready for a visit. Rutherford types: “I knew you were cute, but damn.” And “I’m not naked with naked with you there now why?”
On that Sunday afternoon, a red Corvette pulled into our driveway. Sure enough it’s Rutherford. The actress waves him in and tells him to have a seat. Moments later I walk out and start asking him questions. Apparently the man has seen our investigations before and doesn’t want to reveal what he does for a living. I ask: Why don't you just tell me what you do for a living?
Rutherford: I'm a teacherHansen: And what grade do you teach?Rutherford: 6th gradeHansen: 6th grade. So you teach kids about the same age as the girl you were coming to see.
It turns out that Rutherford is a sixth grade teacher at a Catholic school near Cincinnati. He also coaches track. He drove two hours to get here. And there’s something else he admits that really illustrates how strong the drive can be for some men to make a meeting with a teen. He admits to me that he has seen some of our previous stories, even discussed them with his fellow teachers.
Rutherford ended up talking to me for some 40 minutes, detailing his addiction to the Internet. He notified his school of his arrest and now, like most of the other men who surfaced in Ohio, is facing prosecution and the prospect of a year and a half in prison.
James Rutherford has plead not guilty. Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator IV” airs tonight, Wednesday, 9 p.m. on NBC.