For gay men, early “chat rooms” offered a place to talk to hundreds of people about topics that many avoided with family, friends and co-workers.
In the mid-1990s, Craigslist was formed in California and swept the country offering simple, free connections arranged by users — whether to sell a sofa or start a relationship. These days, Smith and West live on a cul-de-sac in Alexandria, help care for three foster children and are looking to adopt.
On Thursday, the Washington area Craigslist page displayed more than 850 ads for men seeking men in its “casual encounters” section.
“People are looking for a higher level of transparency,” said Britanny Carter, an analyst at the market research firm IBISWorld.
Still, Craigslist and similar bulletin-board sites remain a popular venue for people who seek relationships in secret and for men seeking sex with other men.
“It’s the dark side of the business, but it’s the truth.” Indeed, in Prince George’s County, a trial is pending against a 24-year-old man accused in two rapes at gunpoint of women he met online in 2014. Few details of Messerschmitt’s personal life have been released publicly by police, and a family spokesman declined to comment.
“I have lost everything,” Messerschmitt’s wife, Kim Vuong, said earlier, “my husband and my best friend.” The roots of online dating go back to the mid-1990s.
“You will have a person say, ‘They came into my room and took my laptop.’ And you can tell you’re only getting half of the story.
But you can’t force the whole story from them if they don’t want to give it,” said De Coster, who investigates sex crimes. But police and online dating experts point out that Craigslist personals ads are, in many ways, simply an extension of those in print publications.
Like couples all around the region, Loren West and Dustin Smith followed the tragic story of David Messerschmitt. The intellectual-property lawyer was found stabbed to death inside a room at a boutique hotel in downtown Washington. “I feel so bad for his wife,” Smith said.d they are gay men, who met online, and are now married.
Then more became clear: The February evening he went missing, Messerschmitt had texted his wife saying he’d be home soon; hotel surveillance video showed a mysterious figure climbing a staircase toward his room; court records revealed Messerschmitt, 30, had posted on Craigslist seeking sex with men; police thought he was targeted in a robbery that went bad. “In this day and age, you never really know who you’re meeting,” Smith said.
The ads also were used by people offering and seeking prostitution.
In 2009, a man dubbed the “Craigslist Killer” was charged with fatally shooting a woman in Boston whom he met on Craigslist.
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