Welcome to Freaky Friday. Our topic is true crime. We’re going to talk about an online romance gone wrong.
You can find anything online, including love. Maybe that should be especially love. Online, you can be anybody—skinny, beautiful, rich, deposed royalty…young. And you can say anything.
There’s nothing wrong with it…unless things get out of hand. Then, sometimes people get hurt in real life. That’s what happened with the internet love triangle I’m gong to share today. This one has a bizarro twist, so wait for it.
It all started with online gaming for Thomas Montgomery. The 47-year-old father of two found he enjoyed playing Texas Hold ‘Em on Pogo.com. It made sense. Montgomery was the resident euchre champ at his workplace—the Dynabrade factory in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York.
It was no big deal that Thomas Montgomery enjoyed playing cards online. The big deal turned out to be the people with whom he chatted between games.
Thomas Montgomery met Jessi, a 17 or 18-year-old West Virginia native, whose online handle was talhotblond. Jessi shared semi-revealing pictures of herself—a lot of them—to prove she was who she said she was.
Thomas enjoyed chatting with Jessi so much that he created a new persona. 47-year-old Thomas became 18-year-old “Tommy,” a US Marine. Thomas’s handle was marinesniper.
Thomas Montgomery had actually served in the Marines in his younger years and used those experiences to enhance Tommy’s character. He also used his old Marine photo as “proof” he was who he said he was. “Tommy” was a sympathetic character who had lost his mother to cancer when he was 12-years-old.
Thomas must have done a good job because Jessi fell in love with “Tommy.” The two had racy chats on Pogo, MySpace and Yahoo, and Jessi sent Thomas care packages that included her underwear. ”Tommy” and Jessi talked on the phone twice a day—before and after Tommy’s made-up military duties.
Tommy asked Jessi to marry him, and she accepted. In early 2006, the real Thomas Montgomery had indicated to his c0-workers he was planning to leave his wife of many years for another woman. A logical question might be, “How is this gorgeous young girl going react when this balding, middle-aged guy shows up to marry her?”
Thomas did the reasonable thing. He deployed Tommy to Iraq. After all, Tommy was in the Marines, so that worked for the storyline. Thomas created a new character in his one-man online soap opera. This character was Thomas, who was “Tommy’s” father. So, then, Jessi was chatting with the father of her fiancé relayed messages between the two lovebirds.
Thomas Montgomery’s original intent when he created Tommy’s father was to use this character to break off the relationship with Jessi. But he didn’t. He kept talking to her. Jessi kept sending care packages full of her underwear and who knows what else.
The deception could have gone on forever had Thomas Montgomery’s wife, Cindy, not intercepted one of Jessi’s care packages to “Tommy.” Cindy wrote Jessi a letter telling her “Tommy” did not exist. She told her “Tommy” was really a 47-year-old father of two girls. Montgomery’s wife even included a family picture with herself, her husband, their girls, and the family dog.
Jessi couldn’t believe she’d been duped. She began contacting people on Thomas Montgomery’s “friends” list at Pogo and found Brian Barrett, who worked at the Dynabrade factory with Thomas Montgomery.
Jessi and Brian began a smear campaign against Thomas Montgomery. They called him a child predator and outed him as a liar to all the chat rooms and message boards where he hung out. The duo eventually got Montgomery kicked off a few of his online hangouts.
When they weren’t busy embarrassing the dickens out of Thomas Montgomery, Jessi and Brian Barrett struck up an online romance.
Brian Barrett was known outside the online gaming world as an all-around nice guy. Brian loved baseball and had been a good athlete in high school. He graduated high school in 2002.
In 2006, at 22-years-old, he was doing factory work at Dynabrade and working to complete a college degree. He’d recently bought a new truck, paying cash with money he’d earned at his job. In short, he was doing what most people are doing at twenty-two, starting out and deciding what direction they want to take.
Things progressed between Brian and Jessi, and Thomas Montgomery got angrier and angrier. He and Brian had an open rivalry—over the same woman—at work. Throughout all this, it is important to understand that Jessi was still communicating with Thomas Montgomery via email–even though she knew his real identity.
Somewhere around this time, Thomas told Jessi that he was suicidal. At Thomas’s urging, Jessi agreed to dump Brian. She dumped Brian on the eve of a trip he’d planned to North Carolina, a trip that was supposed to give the online lovers a chance to meet face-to-face. When Brian returned from his trip, Jessi reconciled with him.
Thomas Montgomery was at the breaking point. On the morning of September 15, 2006, he sent Jessi a series of threatening Yahoo messages. She ignored them. Montgomery called Jessi screaming and ranting. Jessi hung up on him.
That evening, when Brian Barrett got off work, Thomas Montgomery shot him three times with a .30 caliber rifle. Because it was a Friday evening, Brian Barrett’s body was not discovered until the end of the weekend. Coworkers told police about the rivalry between Montgomery and Barrett. Montgomery was immediately the primary suspect.
Police were worried about Jessi. They thought perhaps Thomas Montgomery had gone after her. After police figured out where Jessi lived–via stuff she had posted online–West Virginia State Police were dispatched to check on her.
The West Virginia State Trooper went to the address he’d been given for Jessi and knocked on the door. It was answered by a middle-aged woman. The trooper knew he was looking for a young woman and asked for Jessi. The woman said that was her daughter wasn’t there. Upon further questioning, the woman admitted that she was Jessi.
Let me repeat that. This middle-aged woman had been posing as 18-year-old Jessi. No wonder she didn’t mind continuing to talk to Thomas Montgomery after his true identity had been revealed.
Jessi’s mother—Mary Shieler—had used her daughter’s identity online to have sexy chats with both Thomas Montgomery and Brian Barrett. The pictures she had sent to Montgomery, Barrett, and other men were of her daughter. Yes, really.
All this craziness—which had ended in murder—was over a woman who herself had created a fake online identity. The real Jessi didn’t even know her mother was circulating provocative pictures of her online and using them to attract men.
Brian Barrett’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Thomas Montgomery, Mary Shieler, and Dynabrade. They are working to create new internet accountability laws.
Thomas Montgomery entered into a plea bargain in which he pled guilty to first degree manslaughter and was sentenced to twenty years in state prison. He is currently serving out his sentence in Attica State Prison in upstate New York.
Mary Shieler’s aftermath:
When police confiscated and searched Mary Shieler’s computer, they found hundreds of images of Jessi in various poses. They learned that Mary had sent Jessi’s photos to men other than Brian Barrett and Thomas Montgomery.
In the eyes of the law, Mary Shieler committed no crime. She assisted in neither the planning nor the commission of the murder. She was not charged with anything.
According to an interview with Mary Shieler’s then-husband, Tim Shieler, he never understood the entirety of the situation until Mary had to travel to New York to testify in Thomas Montgomery’s trial.
Tim Shieler got an inkling that something big had gone on, but he couldn’t figure out what had happened. The real Jessi looked up the case online, and that was how they found out about Mary’s online activity.
Mary and Tim Shieler ended up divorcing. As of 2009, Mary and the real Jessi were estranged.
Mary said she kept talking to Thomas after she found out he was using a fake identity because talking to her kept Thomas from talking to actual 18-year-olds. She has never apologized for what she did.
If you’ve been online any amount of time you’ve probably met your fair share of weirdos. Some of them are just jerks, but some are truly dangerous.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy my fiction. Please take a moment to check it out either on my Looking For More? page or on my Amazon Author Page. I write both horror and paranormal mystery fiction. The topics I research for this blog serve as my inspiration.
I got the idea for this post from a documentary I discovered completely by accident. The name of the documentary is Talhotblond. It was directed by Barbara Schroeder. This documentary is really worth watching. Click here to watch the trailer.
TruTV: “Thomas Montgomery: Bizarre Love Triangle” by Kristal Hawkins. This accounting has a great sources page. Most of the sources are clickable news articles.
Talhotblond: Portrait of a Mother from Hell by Kenya Cullum.