alt.sex.sadomasochism.deathOn October 13, 1996 at 9:15am, Sharon Denburg Lopatka, a suburban wife and mother, age 35, boarded a train in Baltimore, Maryland. Nearly twelve hours later she arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina where she was met by Robert Glass, age 45. Lopatka had met Glass, who worked for the Catawba county government, on the Internet. Glass and Lopatka drove about 80 miles to his trailer located in Collettsville in Caldwell County.
On October 25 police found Sharon Lopatka's body buried in a shallow grave near Glass' trailer. Her ankles and wrists were bound with rope, there were scrapes across her breasts and neckline and there was a rope around her neck. John Butts, North Carolina's chief medical examiner estimated that death occurred on October 16. The cause of death was strangulation. Or to use the lifestyle vernacular, Lopatka's was a "breath control" death: she died from asphyxiation while having sex.
Robert Glass was arrested and charged with Sharon Lopatka's murder.
In the popular media the crime was sensationalized and used to suggest that the internet is a very dangerous place peopled by perverts and predators. The predictable calls for censorship went out. A debate ensued that focused considerably on our children and how the overt sexual content of the internet was impacting them.
In Sharon Lopatka's death a lot of fears were crystallized. Some have suggested that the media's sensational handling of the event is an example of the continuing gender wars. In a message posted to the USENET news group alt.folklore.urban, Stephan Zielinski writes:
I claim that men are afraid that women, particularly women in their families, are going to use the computers to make acquaintances all over the world and consummate them, resulting in the total disintegration of individual mens' personal lives. [September 7, 1997].
Zielinski cites several national news stories that focus on women's negative use of technology such as the mother who hit her son with a computer keyboard. There is also the story of Sandra Hacker, a Cincinnati mother who locked her three kids in a room for days so they wouldn't disturb her while she trolled the internet. (What is it about the city of Cincinnati, it has more bad karma than any other American city: Pete Rose, Marge Schott, Jerry Springer, the tragic Who concert, the pathetic handling of the Robert Mapplethorpe show...Talk about a repressed city)
Censorship and technogynophobia are but two of the issues the Lopatka event invokes. It is also a story of sexual sadomasochism and how our culture's attitudes towards sex and things erotic appear to be creating havoc in the hearts and souls of our citizens. (Our repressed attitudes about sex, of course, make the subject of sex and erotica incredibly interesting and fascinating. The conspiracy to keep sex suppressed so that it is not overtly dealt with may in this country have more to do with our economic philosophy than our moral or ethical tenets. As everyone knows intuitively "sex sells." If we return things sexual back to their original and natural place in the scheme of our lives, it will no longer be such a useful tool to stimulate us to spend our money.)
It appears that Sharon Lopatka engineered her own death. Several months before her demise she began an online relationship with Glass. She was looking for someone to convert her fantasy into reality. Lopatka described how she wanted to die: with her arms and legs bound, she wanted her partner to asphyxiate her as she sexually climaxed, presumably during intercourse.
Individuals who have experimented with the sexual technique known as "breath control" claim it significantly increases the power of the climax. Did Lopatka really want to die as she experienced an orgasm? Her online correspondence with Glass (and others) suggests she did. Why? Was she depressed and suicidal or was she looking for the ultimate turn-on/turn-off experience? There are less complicated ways to commit suicide. Why did Sharon Lopatka decide to end her life in this way?
Lopatka seems to be a model sexual masochist. Professionals in this area suggest that sexual masochists are frequently victims of childhood abuse. The feelings of love mixed with abuse are combined in an alchemy that in adulthood merges sexual feelings with abuse. Or, as Richard Von Krafft-Ebing defined the disorder in Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), masochism is the "association of passively endured cruelty and violence with lust."
Sharon Lopatka was born into an orthodox Jewish family. Her father was the canter at the Beth Tfiloh synagogue, one of Baltimore's oldest and largest orthodox congregations. She graduated from Pikesville (Md) High School where, according to published reports, she had many friends. She played volleyball and field hockey, and served as a library and nurse's aide. A high school friend remembers her:
She wasn't an outcast or anything of that nature. She was about as normal as you can get. I think making her this weird loner is just some media thing.
A neighborhood friend who published a decorating guide with Lopatka has this to say about her dead friend:
What I want to people to know is the woman I knew was not crazy in the slightest. She was always a happy person, always bubbly even. This person who was killed was not the person I knew.
Another neighbor remarked:
I think we knew them as well as anyone in the neighborhood. She was just like anyone else you know, and that kind of scares me in a way, to think you really never know somebody.
The internet has been described as the world's largest singles bar (Toronto Globe.) But a part of the online environment is evolving into a large asylum for those afflicted with the so-called multiple personality syndrome. The ability to be anonymous and the ease in which one can assume many personalities not only attracts those afflicted but may in fact be responsible for the literal increase in the incidence of the syndrome. Sharon Lopatka seemed normal to those that knew her.
In an online message Lopatka described herself as she attempted to sell merchandise::
I am 25 have blonde hair, green eyes and weigh 121. Is anyone out there interested in buying my worn panties...this is not a joke or internet scam.
The real Sharon Lopatka was 35, with dark hair and dark eyes. She was 5'10" and weighed 189 lbs. At the time of her death Lopatka was married and living in a ranch-style house in a cul-de-sac in the Balitmore suburb of Hampstead. A commentator has said that deviancy in the town was defined as "a failure to join recycling efforts."
Sharon's marriage to Victor Lopatka, a construction worker who was not Jewish, created a breach in Sharon's relationship with her family. Her marriage to someone outside the faith would have been deemed a betrayal by her orthodox Jewish family. Is the source of Lopatka's masochism to be found in the guilt she might have felt for this transgression?
Isn't the Judeo-Christian tradition almost singularly responsible for our views on what is appropriate and moral with regard to sexual behavior. That sexual code is simple and explicit: sex for any reason other than procreation is wrong. This makes casual sex, homosexuality, masturbation, cunnilingus and fellatio sinful. And nothing could be more sinful then a sex act that culminates in the exact opposite of procreation.
In this light, Lopatka's death seems less a liberated fantasy, and more an act of revenge on her family. Her pain must have been extraordinary.
And what of her accomplice, Robert "Bobby" Glass. Does he fit the profile of a sexual sadist? Did he have an orgasm as he tightened the rope around Lopatka's neck and suffocated her. Several months before his session with Lopatka, Glass and his wife Sherri had separated after nearly fourteen years of marriage. Since 1980 he had worked for Catawba County as a computer network administrator. He was a member of the local Rotary Club. In his American Online user profile he said his motto was "Moderation in all things, including moderation." But the E-mail messages and other data investigators downloaded from his Cybermax computer suggest Bobby Glass had another side to his personality.
The human tragedy here is of course now measured by the pain, guilt and suffering the surviving family members are confronted with. The Lopatka and Glass families and friends are certainly searching for some meaning in all of this.
Would a culture that transformed its destructive sexual morality into a more open and honest attitude, be better able to help those whose hearts are complicated? And sexuality is very surely a matter of the heart which is why, in one way or another, it is so connected with the emotion of love.
But how does such a transformation occur in a society where millions of dollars are spent convincing citizens that a certain type of toothpaste will make them sexually appealing and therefore lovable?
Sharon Lopatka's death does not provide us with an answer. She is just one of the "fellaheen" on the edge reflecting some light on a world in pain.
Update- February 15, 2000
On January 27, 2000 Robert Glass, the man accused of killing Lopatka pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after the prosecutor, North Carolina Assistant District Attorney Andrew Jennings, dropped the murder charge. Glass told the prosecutors that Lopatka "accidentally" died on October 15 while the two were having sex. According to prosecutor Jennings, Glass later explained that Lopatka had looped a nylon cord around her neck. "I don't know how much I pulled on the rope...I never wanted to kill her, but she ended up dead," Jennings quoted Glass.
According to the coroner Lopatka's death was the result of strangulation. Lopatka and Glass engaged in a form of sexual experimentation known as "breath control." Knowledeable sources explain that "breath control" during sex deprives the brain of oxygen and this causes a heightened orgasm. After Lopatka's death Glass buried her in a shallow grave near his trailer in Lenoir, North Carolina. She was discovered by the police ten days later.
Glass' plea agreement was also connected to additional charges of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Apparently authorities had found images on Glass' computer that depicted children having sex.
While the family of Lopatka approved of the plea agreement a statement by her relatives declared that Glass "took advantage of [Lopatka's] situation. He could have walked away. He debased not only her but her body after she was dead."
Caldwell County (NC) Superior Court Judge Claude Sitton sentenced Glass to prison for 36-53 months for the manslaughter of Lopatka and 21-36 months for possession of the juvenile pornography.
Sharon Lopatka Links