Love and Murder…Online

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.

The aftermath:

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. Beware.

Thank you for your interest in this article. I often receive requests for further information on these articles. Please understand my knowledge of this topic is limited to what you’ve read in this article. I have no plans to update or expand these articles. I am currently focusing on my fiction writing career and am no longer writing or researching for non-fiction articles. If you’re interested in seeing what else I write, please check out the My Fiction page on this website or visit my Amazon Author Page on amazon.com. 

Sources

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.

Marinesniper and Talhotblond IMs from ABC 20/20

47 thoughts on “Love and Murder…Online

    • I do not have children, but I can’t imagine doing this to my child. I wouldn’t want to promote my baby as a sex symbol. This case shocked me, and I just knew I had to write about it. Thanks for stopping by.

  1. Oh my goodness! I did not see that one coming! How on earth did this mother get those photos of her daughter to begin with? It seems that there should be something she’s guilty of here, at least with CPS if her daughter was a minor. I have not had any weird online issues like this — probably because I don’t share a bunch of personal information with people I don’t know in real life. I have that same rule for my kids.

    • In the documentary I mentioned in my sources, it was implied that the mother took many of the pictures without her daughter’s knowledge. There was even a video (taken by the mother) of the daughter wearing very short skirt and having some sort of mishap where her undies were exposed. The mother had then sent this video to men online. Aside from the pictures the daughter didn’t know were being taken, the mother could have just offered to take “cool pics” for her daughter and kept a copy of the digital files for herself.

      As for CPS, I hadn’t thought of that. Some accounts say the daughter was seventeen when all this started. If that was the case, I don’t know why they didn’t get involved. Perhaps the daughter was actually eighteen, which I guess would be the correct age for it not to be child pornography. I would think the daughter could have pressed defamation charges. From what I was able to understand, however, the daughter was just embarrassed and wanted the whole thing to go away. Can’t say I blame her.

      Spooky, huh? Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Wow! Great post, Catie, and what a bizarre story! I was just going to skim it until later, but I had to read the whole thing. Creeepy!

    • Glad you enjoyed this Greg. The twist of this story–that Jessi was not even Jessi–shocked me. I knew right away I was going to write about the super creepy case. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. What a creepy story. It makes you think about the relationships that can be taken advantage of online!

    • If it doesn’t make you think about what could happen to you online, you’re not thinking. I am hard to shock, but this story really shocked me. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. At the beginning I started thinking of the movie “Catfish” and knew someone was not going to be what anyone expected, but holy freaking twist on a twister, sister, Dorothy is Auntie Em and the man behind the curtain is more lizard than wizard! Feel sorry for poor Brian, and yeah Mary should have been charged with SOMETHING.

    • You are the second person I’ve seen mention “Catfish” being similar to this case. I have not seen it, but I am now curious enough to give it a try.

      Your reaction to the twist in this story is nearly identical to mine. My first exposure to this case was the documentary “TalHotBlond.” The documentary did not reveal that Mary was pretending to be her young daughter Jessi until the final third of the film. So it was a surprise. The twist was really what inspired me to write about the case.

      I am sad Mary got away with what she did. I can see where and why she is protected by the law. While she bent it, she did not break it. The sad events caused upheaval in her life, but she most certainly did not pay the same price as the two men to whom she was lying.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. That is beyond wild. I remember (way back in the day) being on AOL and seeing all kinds of freakishness – posers, trollers, etc. – fantasy players (actors). Nothing to this degree though but having both sides posing young and turning out to be old is no surprise, really breaks my heart for the 23-year-old that died and the woman should be tried. I’ve made sure my girls were all well-trained on the dangers of the net before getting online and when I told them this story they were wonderfully freaked out, which is a good thing in this case.

    Thanks for a great post, Catie.

    • Like you, I have been online since “back in the day.” I have seen lots of scary freaky freaks. And I’ve seen some crazy crap go down. The internet is a spooky place. It’s better than any haunted house.

      I, too, am heartbroken not only for the kid who got killed but also his parents. Can you imagine how sad they feel? I also find it ironic that the person who died as a result of all this was the only one who was telling the truth about who he was.

      And I really glad your daughters were appropriately freaked out by this case. Have you ever had them watch Hard Candy? It’s an indie film that is a few years old but will scare the pants off you and make you think twice about every person with whom you strike up a conversation.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Too weird, Catie. That was quite a shocker that she turned out not to be who she said she was either. But to use her daughter like that…all I can say is there’s a special place in hell… In my younger days, I met some people from online. They were all who they said they were physically. All but two were really good guys. The other two weren’t horrible, they just weren’t the personalities they portrayed online. I’m still friends with some of them. There were some creepy ones that raised the hair on the back of my neck so I stopped talking to them online and fortunately never made the mistake of meeting in person. I’m a pretty suspicious person (comes with the job territory) anyway, so those that I met had already been vetted every way I could first. :-) It’s a scary world out there.

    • Isn’t it totally weird? And I do agree with you. There is a special place in Hell. When I was researching this, I read an article that talked about the psychology behind what Mary did. It mostly showed her behavior was/is sociopathic.

      I should probably be more suspicious of people. In some ways, I am. But they can still surprise the hell out of me. So that probably means I am not suspicious enough. LOL

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks again for the Facebook tag.

  7. I saw this on the ID channel!! Just when I thought there was only one twist, along comes another twist!
    I have also met people on line, one guy used a picture of himself from ten years prior…

    *sigh* Truth is always stranger than fiction.. I feel so sad for Brian and his family. Poor kid.

    • There are some true stories that are crazier than fiction could ever be. Like you, I feel bad for Brian. He was a young man who was manipulated by people older and more experienced than himself, and it went too far. I need to look for this on ID channel. I watch less of that than I used to, but they have some pretty good shows. :D

      Thanks for stopping by.

  8. on ,
    Dave said:

    I have never met any creeps online. I have never posted pictures of my family or myself. I just hope that my kids understand that privacy is becoming lost and that it has value.

    That is one far out story. It’s almost unbelievable. I wonder why Montgomery wasn’t convicted of murder. How can you plea bargain what he did? How horrible is it that Mary compromised her daughters privacy like that? I don’t think that Brian is completely innocent. He started a smear campaign against a co-worker with a woman that he didn’t even meet let alone know. All this Insanity and murder and yet neither of those men so much as touched the pinky of a talhotblond. With a handle like that, what were those idiots thinking?

    I guess some people with flawed characters get on the net to stir up some excitement in their hum -drum lives and things just get carried away.

    • Good for you for being so careful online! It is easy to get lulled in to telling people more than you really should. You are so right that privacy is becoming a thing of the past. In many ways it is a real shame.

      I really don’t understand why Montgomery was given the opportunity to plea bargain. The police had a great deal of evidence (including DNA) tying him to the crime. It is very likely he would have been convicted without entering a guilty plea. So, anyway, I don’t know the answer either.

      As for Brian, I don’t think he was completely innocent. I do, however, believe that he got in over his head because he was young and inexperienced. He was manipulated by a woman who was old enough to be his mother. Someone so young didn’t have a chance. It’s a shame he paid such a high price for being young and dumb.

      I think the internet hides crazy in a way it can’t be hidden in real life. When you meet someone in person, you have visual cues, even if it’s just body language, that something may not be quite right. Online, all you have is what people choose to tell you. And, if they are a talented storyteller, they can tell you one heck of a lie.

      Thanks for stopping by, Dave. I always enjoy your comments. They make me think–which never hurts.

      • on ,
        Dave said:

        This story reminds of your “femme fatale”-psychopath post.

  9. SCARY!! I’ve not had an online instance yet where I felt uncomfortable, but I also keep most things VERY private. For instance, I never post where I’m GOING to be; I only post WHERE I have been. After the fact. I’ve heard too many horror stories of people’s homes being robbed while they’re out — because they were silly enough to publish where they would or wouldn’t be. This online world is scary. We have to be careful.

    • I think the people who get hurt online are the ones who don’t hold their cards close to their chests. It’s easy to reveal too much online or to get sucked into saying stuff you wouldn’t say in real life.

      I have had to get onto my daddy for posting on Facebook when he and mom are going on vacation. He just doesn’t think about how many people see that stuff. He’s talking to his siblings and his cousins with whom he grew up. He can’t imagine that anybody would mean him any arm.

      You said it best: the online world is scary. Better safe than sorry.

  10. Holy Cats! That the woman feels justified in her actions freaks me out more than the jealous actions of the murderer (I am NOT condoning murder at all). He was coming from a place of insanity caused by romantic feelings, where was she coming from? I wish she could’ve been brought up on child trafficking charges or something. And her poor daughter! To have that trust ripped from you and then constantly be wondering how her own mother could do that? Disgusting.

    • Mary Shieler’s response to the whole incident amazed me. In one of my sources, the author said she reacted as though she’d done nothing more than been the cause of a fender bender in which no one was harmed. You’re right about the murder. He was unstable to be sure, but his actions were based on a deception. And can you imagine how that poor daughter feels? So embarrassed, I’m sure. It’s a horrible deal for everybody who got sucked into it.

  11. This is truly creepy. What a horrible mother and tragic story. I’ve not had any really frightening experiences online, but I don’t got into chat rooms and I’m cautious of who I’m talking to. I’ve heard of a love triangle formed via Internet dating, but this one is all new to me. Great job!

    • I knew you’d enjoy this one! We both look at a lot of true crime cases. Few of them actually shock me. This one did. It horrified me that the whole thing unfolded based on a deception. The online world is as dangerous as the frontier in pioneer days…just in its own way.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  12. For ME, this was the best story I’ve seen in your posts – hands down. It caught me totally off-guard when you revealed what Mary Shieler was doing with her daughter’s life and the photos. What a great movie this would make – surprise ending and everything. Thanks for this. Superb.
    Patti

    • I am very happy you enjoyed it, girl! As soon as I saw the documentary, I knew I had to post about it. You should totally watch the documentary. The name is Talhotblond. It is almost as entertaining as a movie.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Beware Facebook, that’s all I can say.
    I have a friend who got involved with a sociopath there, and he and another person (a woman) have literally HUNDREDS of fake profiles that they are using to infiltrate groups that my friend frequents. It’s the creepiest thing you can imagine. They go out of their way to friend people that she’s friends with to spy on her.
    Not only that, but they have ‘killed off’ some of their fake profiles, causing a lot of people grief thinking that they were real people, they have romanced people and broken their hearts, including a couple of teens that I know online.
    There is reason to believe that they’ve even set up funds to help pay for some fake profile’s ‘child’s’ illness/surgery, etc. If there was more info you could go to the FBI with that.

    This story chilled me to the bone. The internet is a sociopath’s wet dream come true. That woman should be drawn and quartered. A sociopath will think nothing of destroying another emotionally. I’ve seen it on FB over and over.

    sad. :

    • Thank you for sharing your friend’s Facebook story. I absolutely, positively believe you. There are some crazies out there. Once you get into their clutches, it is very hard to disentangle yourself. If your friend has not reported these people to Facebook, please encourage her to do so. They should be able to see if the people have multiple accounts and their activity on all accounts. If they are involved in something shady, Facebook should know.

      I cannot agree more that the internet is a sociopath’s wet dream. It is a great place for predators to do their thing.

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for subscribing to my blog. :D

      • I’m not sure, but I think they are still gathering info on the pair.
        Not only that, but eharmony matched me with someone in Australia, who was my best friend’s fiance – at least, until she realized that he was a psychopath! I reported him to EH AU, and they investigated his criminal record, and he’s out of there. What would have happened if I’d fallen for him and gone to AU to visit him? Bloody terrifying.

  14. Thanks for posting this story. I guess it’s another case of “truth is stranger than fiction. What a bizarre mess… and what a tragic waste of a young life.

    • This story is definitely a case of truth is stranger than fiction. I think elements of this story would make a great suspense novel. LOL And I agree that it was a tragic waste of young life. Brian Barrett paid a high price for being young and impressionable.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  16. That is creepy. I sensed something was off about “jessi”, but to be using your own daughter. *shakes head*.

    • It hit me that something was off about “Jessi” when she continued to talk to Thomas Montgomery after his wife outed him as a liar. But I thought she was just naive. When I learned Jessi was the mother was pretending to be the daughter…I was speechless.

      Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  17. You sucked me in, Catie. Incredible story. Truth certainly is stranger than fiction. As mom to a young woman, I cannot imagine what sickness this Mary character had to do that to her daughter. Ick!

    My husband has always warned me about chat rooms. Now I see why. The internet can be a blessing, but a dangerous curse as well.

    • The story wasn’t shocking to me until I realized that Mary was impersonating her *daughter* online and using actual pictures of the daughter to send to strange men. Ick is right.

      Chat rooms are a good place to stay away from. The anonymity the internet provides is just enough to draw the crazies out, IMHO.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • I thought that exact thing as I wrote this, David! This is such a weird story, unimaginable behavior to most of us. Thanks for stopping by.

  18. This is a case of truly certifiable people. *Gasp* I figured the “Jessi” was faking when she cancelled the trip and would not let Brian visit her. I’m stirring around now wanting a “why” for a mother’s depravity? Was she competing against the daughter? Secretly lusting after her? Then to smear Thomas like that, but keep talking to him?! Now my head aches. Great post, Catie!

    • There are sociopaths who walk among us. They’re scary because they’re charming, they look just like the rest of us, and they can make themselves sound just like the rest of ourselves. A sociopath can take over your whole world before you know it. I think that’s what happened to both Thomas Montgomery (who was ripe for the picking) and Brian Barrett.

      So glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :D

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  20. on ,
    Kimberly Stuart said:

    This is why me and my husband are very strict on the internet for our daughter.

    • I don’t blame you a bit. I recently watched a (fictional) movie called Trust. It was about this teenage girl who met a pedophile online who was passing himself off as a teenage boy. He convinced her to meet him in person and manipulated her into having sex with him. I don’t have children, but what I saw in this movie would almost convince me to have the internet shut off if I did have a child.

      If you’re interested in Trust, here’s the IMDB page for it:

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1529572/

  21. on ,
    1tiss2 said:

    I just watched the documentary “talllhotblond” and it was so disturbing on so many levels. I don’t understand why Mary Shieler hasn’t been charged with identity theft and stalking of her daughter–to say the least. She has culpability in this young man’s murder. She destroyed a young man and her own family. She has no remorse and is a dangerous psychopath! She is the type of person that prisons are made for.

    • on ,
      Catie Rhodes said:

      It’s a sad situation, to be sure. Thanks for commenting.