The ‘gentle soul’ Jemma Rayner met through internet dating soon started menacing her with e-mails and calls. Days after his conviction, she reveals her chilling struggle to shake him off.
Anyone entering the pizzeria would have picked him out immediately as an arty middle-class type: shaven head, lanky body, green eyes. A gentle soul, I decided, after we’d talked for a few hours and he’d made me laugh with stories about his distant past in an anarchists’ commune. No, nothing alarming about him at all.
He was my first internet date and I had arranged to meet him in a public place - just as you’re supposed to do. It turned out he was a former theatre director, poet and landscape gardener who was now divorced and living in genteel impoverishment in north London. When he suggested a second date I was enthusiastic.
His profile on the Guardian Soulmates dating website - under the username Mystic - had caught my eye: he was “ethereal and sensate”, he had written, and naturally he claimed to have a mystical side. He loved America in midwinter, railroads and phones attached to walls. And, happily, he seemed to share my love of poetry and thrillers (declared on my own profile) and liked the fact that I was looking for a “fearless companion”.
But, in the psychopath’s woman however, excitement seeking may be seen as the liking of the “exciting edgy guy” or maybe just the outgoing lifestyle they both share. She doesn’t have to be a sky diver to have excitement seeking traits. She might simply like a guy who is powerful, dominant, and in control (which definitely describes the psychopath). She might like a guy who is equally as exploratory as she is, but the excitement seeking in him may be him riding a speeding motorcycle around curves of a mountain without a helmet just to feel the risk and the wind. She might find that “Johnny Depp” kind of guy “exhilarating” because he grabs life and runs with it.
Little does she know that this extraversion in him is not merely “edginess” or “adventurous” but is full blown pathology. People who are high in excitement seeking hate monotony. One thing is for sure in the psychopath’s women; just like they do not like a boring life, they do not like boring men. And as we know, psychopaths are anything but boring.
The attraction is sparked from shared extraversion. Psychopaths need (and seek) women who find their social dominance and extraversion sexy or desirable—because other women would only sense the extraversion as dangerous or overpowering. It takes a strong woman who wants to grab life and run with it, to find extraversion in a man non-threatening and even exciting!
We have explained why the issue of both of them being extraverts becomes two powerful magnets pointed towards each other. There is an undeniably strong pull. Although he is dominant, so is she. She tends to be an outgoing woman, which is also why she is confused about how someone as strong as herself ended up in a pathological relationship where she was dominated.
Women continually ask, “I’m so strong—why would I tolerate this?” Or “How could someone like me end up in a relationship like this?”
Sandra Brown, MA - WOMEN WHO LOVE PSYCHOPATHS
In retrospect, of course, I see the irony implicit in my romantic shopping list: Mystic was indeed fearless - to the point that it took two court cases finally to expel him from my life. The last one was on Wednesday, at Highbury Corner magistrates’ court in north London. I couldn’t bear to attend; I know the result only because a policeman called me to say Greg Downing had been found guilty of harassment and breach of a restraining order and conditional discharge.
It’s not that I was reckless. Before the second date with Mystic Greg I had tried to do some research on him - not easy, as he was American and had lived abroad for most of his adult life. All I discovered was that he had a job teaching adults; so the next time we met I asked him outright whether he had ever been convicted of a criminal offense.
He replied, in his mid-Atlantic drawl, “only for jay-walking” - and kissed me. And he said we could be each other’s muse. I took a deep breath, decided to trust him - and our relationship became, perhaps too quickly, more intimate.
To keep women from being able to think things through and to respond to red flags, the psychopath induces fast paced relationships, whirlwinds of dating intensity, and uses emotional suffocation techniques. Most women found themselves unable to slow down the race to the altar, to their beds, or into their homes. Since psychopaths are extraverts, they are likely to be persistent (if not forceful) in their pursuit of women.
While this may seem just “dream-like” to her, it’s pure manipulation and planning on his part. Couple his plan to fast-forward the relationship with his poor impulse control and you have a relationship rushing ahead at the speed of light.
Sandra Brown, MA - WOMEN WHO LOVE PSYCHOPATHS
Then, after we’d been seeing each other for a few weeks, little warning flags started to pop up. One day, over dinner, Greg announced that he wanted to retrain as a counsellor for people who’d been abducted by aliens. I nearly dropped my forkful of tofu curry (like me, he was a vegan).
Since psychopaths rarely behave in the beginning how they are going to behave later on, women get the positive behaviors up-front that they learned “works” when luring women into a new relationship. Psychopaths largely “learn” these skills through mirroring or mimicking since they are not part of their true emotional repertoire. Some psychopaths say they have learned how to lure... so they understand the linguistics (what to say to her), behaviors (how to act), and romantic gestures (what women like). Then he adds his own irresistible charm and vortex-like suction to draw her in.
Sandra Brown, MA - WOMEN WHO LOVE PSYCHOPATHS
Later, he told me 9/11 was a CIA conspiracy.
I have seen N's hold truly odd beliefs and base expectations on them, and become truly confused and shattered when those bizarre expectations do not come to pass. I knew an N who believed if she had certain thoughts for a certain amount of days she would win the lottery. ... I have seen N's fully expect jobs that they hadn't a chance of getting; expect whole careers to materialize without skills or practice; expect relationships with people they barely knew, etc. - and to be truly stunned when these things don't happen. This is all besides their penchant for paranoia and conspiracy theories and medical quackery and "unusual" religious practices/beliefs.
Having spent much of 2002 working on documentaries about the aftermath of that Al-Qaeda attack, I knew there was no way I could be involved with someone who peddled such a ridiculous theory. True, I had enjoyed getting to know Mystic Greg, but our views were incompatible. So I gave him the heave-ho.
I thought that was the end of it. First, there were e-mails regretting the end of our brief relationship. They pleaded for another chance, insisting we’d both regret it if we didn’t try again.
Foolishly, I responded, not wanting to be unkind.
Nothing I wrote gave him grounds for hope but the e-mails continued, gradually becoming stranger, darker, more sexual. One, written when he was strung out on caffeine (he said), wound its way through phone sex, obesity and voodoo. It frightened and disgusted me.
The psychopath is also likely to play mind-games with her about the trust and distrust issues. Even if she catches him, he is likely to allege she didn’t see what she saw, didn’t read what she read, and didn’t hear what she heard.
Sandra Brown, MA - WOMEN WHO LOVE PSYCHOPATHS
Then the phone calls started, several a day. I told him again and again that it was over. But he didn’t stop. There were frequent calls in the middle of the night from a withheld number. When I picked up, there was silence on the other end of the line. After four silent calls at two in the morning, I rang him at 8am and asked him what he thought he could achieve through this harassment.
“Closure,” he said, “I want closure. I need to meet.” I said that wasn’t possible. “Well, in that case,” he said, “I want you to buy me a gift subscription to Soulmates. I want to meet someone new. It’s the least you can do.”
I refused this extraordinary request and put the phone down. By then I was finding it impossible to concentrate on work. I had a bar put on the line so that nobody could call from a withheld number. I also called the police, who took my concerns seriously: within 10 minutes I had been contacted by the telephone investigation unit, who took a statement over the phone.
But as soon as I’d put it down, Greg called again and left the following message: “I have to speak to you - you can either call me or I am just going to come over. I am sorry, this is just the way things are. Get back to me if you want or I will come round in about two to three hours. I’ve said my piece and I will either talk to you or come over.”
Seriously alarmed, I phoned the police again who immediately warned him that if he came near me he would be arrested. Greg had agreed to “leave town” and not contact me, they told me. But on the same day he e-mailed and phoned - ostensibly to apologise.
What a narcissistically defended person seems to do instead of apologizing is to attempt a repair of the grandiose self in the guise of 'making reparation' with the object.
At this point I decided to let the website know what was going on. But whom should I contact? There was no name; no phone number; nothing at all on the website about its safety policy. I sent an e-mail to the only address I could find. No response. I sent another. Nothing. I sent a third.
At last: a reply dropped into my inbox from Guardian Soulmates Support. It thanked me for my three e-mails but said:
“We don’t generally get involved in offline disputes between members, simply because we have no way of establishing the truth of any allegations made.”After more anxious e-mails from me, my anonymous Soulmates contact claimed that he had tried to call the police but hadn’t got through to the right officer.
For a week or so the calls ceased. I went to Wales with my family. Halfway through the holiday, on a fine August morning, Greg phoned seven times. Furious that he felt he had the right to disrupt my life, I cracked and dialed his number. I asked him to leave me alone. What he said chilled me: “You’re not at home, are you?” When I phoned the police again, the investigating officer ticked me off for contacting Greg and failing to report his earlier calls: “I don’t like it when they disrespect the police. Come in and give a statement.”
Back in London, the night before I went to the police station, Greg phoned me four times. After midnight the phone rang for 20 minutes. The next day he was arrested and apparently broke down under questioning - “blubbing like a baby”, as the officer put it - and admitted that he had been convicted of a similar offense in America some 10 years earlier and had been served with a restraining order.
Such was the efficiency of the community safety unit at Islington police station that Greg appeared in court a day later. He was found guilty of harassment, given a conditional discharge and served with a restraining order not to contact me. I contacted Soulmates, this time asking it to remove him from the dating website.
There was no answer for five days - during which Greg was able to contact other women who were unaware of his history.When I e-mailed Soulmates yet again, my anonymous respondent asked for a crime reference number and said details would be checked with police.
I noticed that the subject line of my e-mail had been altered: “Harassment from another member” had been replaced with the anodyne “I had a bad experience on this site”.
Six days on I was given the name of the person who would be dealing with my complaint - but no phone number, despite numerous requests. Finally, more than two weeks after I had first told Soulmates that Greg had been found guilty of harassment, his details were taken off the website.
I then fired off a complaint about its negligent attitude to members’ safety. Seven weeks after I had first contacted the site about my concerns, a real person with a name and phone number finally contacted me. Kate Morgan Locke, MD of Guardian Ventures, was profusely apologetic: there had been “a catalogue of mistakes”, she admitted, and the website would be changed to include information on harassment and a page for reporting incidents.
When I asked why Greg hadn’t been suspended immediately, she told me: “There was no clear way for someone to flag up a more serious issue than a browser not working - and thus what happened to you wasn’t recognised as a serious incident.”
Thankfully, the website was indeed quickly revamped. So, several months later, reassured by all the security procedures that had been put in place, I decided to try my luck again. There were several immediate replies - one of them from a man with a blurry photograph who called himself “Serpentine” and said he was a foreign correspondent who had worked for both The Guardian and The Times. He described himself as “suffused with wit, intelligent, but never pedantic”.
I thought he sounded rather full of himself - especially when he described remodeling a friend’s garden Japanese-style - but I had worked with foreign correspondents before and found most of them to be great fun. So I gave Serpentine the benefit of the doubt and e-mailed him back.
Because of his work as a journalist, he said that was concealing his profile from “all but my favourites because I’d like to exercise a little discretion and not risk anyone who knows me reading my profile”. Fair enough, I thought, making a note of his real Christian name: Dominic. I was sufficiently intrigued to Google Dominics linked to The Guardian and The Times, but couldn’t find anyone who fitted his self-description.
Then his profile disappeared. A week or two later he was back as “Sirocco” - with his change of username explained away as a “technical hitch at Guardian headquarters”. He said he had been busy covering the American elections. I asked if Dominic was his real name. He e-mailed back, saying: “Today my name is Dominic; tomorrow my name is Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice” - at which point I decided he was a jerk and didn’t bother to reply.
Then came another e-mail, with a poem by Keats, saying he had been riding in the Forest of Dean. And more poems in e-mails that grew ever longer as mine became shorter. Eventually, tiring of his e-mails, I asked him to phone instead. He e-mailed to say that he was about to visit his sister in America: “She’s battling with stomach cancer and we’re all very, very concerned about her.”
(Just read some of the exposes here - Nathan Thomas, Ed Hicks, Gareth Rodger, Robert Darden... etc - to see how COMMON this sort of excuse (LIE) is to weasel out of something for a Cyberpath - Fighter)
Then, one Sunday, he phoned. “I’m calling from my sister’s place,” he said. I asked how she was and he said she was better. And he laughed - a slightly unhinged laugh that I thought I recognized. “Greg,” I said, “is this Greg?” There was a long silence before he replied: “No, my name is Dominic.”
He insisted that he was a well established journalist, now doing travel writing, gave me his surname and told me to Google him. (The name checked out; it was only later that I discovered he had assumed the name of a real and blameless travel writer.) But I had a sick feeling in my stomach. When I tried dialling 1471, Dominic’s number was withheld. Could Greg be back?
The next day I asked the head of security at Telecom Express (the company that handles safety issues for Soulmates) to check Sirocco’s billing address. A few hours later I had my answer: “Dominic” was Greg Downing. I felt violated. I was also horrified that he had invented a new identity to harass me again. He had evaded all the security procedures by giving a false name, false e-mail address and false photo. But he had used his real credit card. (William Michael Barber, yidwithlid and Ed Hicks did/ do this one -- as do others)
Greg was picked up the next morning, appeared in court and was granted bail. The police, again admirably efficient, came round within hours to install a panic alarm in my home. The fact that they considered this necessary frightened me more than anything that had gone before. When the case went ahead last Wednesday, he pleaded guilty; he will be sentenced on January 14.
I certainly hope he is no longer a menace to anyone: Soulmates has contacted all the other women whom Greg had e-mailed through the site to warn them about him.
But how many more Gregs are out there, creating false identities and then stalking their victims under the cover of dating websites?
Would I try internet dating again? Probably not. But, while I was being cyberstalked, through the same website I met someone else - and he seemed rather wonderful. Nothing has occurred since to change my mind. We’re offline now, we see each other regularly and our cyber identities no longer exist.
Jemma Rayner is a pseudonym
Small talk and online lies (between Jemma & Dominic)
2.25pm, November 8 2008
Dear Jemma, Dominic here. Apologies for the delay in getting back to you. My profile was twice wiped clean owing to a technical hitch, would you believe? In any case, the past few days have been frenzied. I was in the office covering the election on Tuesday and that extended over into Thursday with barely a breathing space. How are you?
2.43pm, November 8
Hi Dominic, I’m very well, thanks. Hope you are well too - must have been fun, covering the dawn of a new age. What a great man he seems to be.
Anyway, do get in touch soon - Jemma
2.55pm, November 8
Dear Jemma, I would have preferred a woman in office, but it is a landmark, no doubt about it. I look forward to Oprah standing in 2012.
3.20pm, November 8
Ah yes, but why not Condi? Is Dominic your real name, btw? Or is it an alias? I promise not to tell anybody - honest.
4.24pm, November 8
Dear Jemma, Why not Condi indeed? Though I see her as a little inflexible for high office
. . . Today my name is Dominic; tomorrow my name is Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice . . .