Ex-nurse 'entered into false suicide pact with Briton'

American befriended at least 50 other vulnerable people by posing as woman on internet chatrooms

An American former nurse charged with encouraging a British man to commit suicide by entering into a false internet suicide pact with him was in contact with at least 50 other vulnerable people and also targeted children, the British woman responsible for tracking him down said last night.

William Melchert-Dinkel, from Minnesota, was charged by US authorities with encouraging Mark Drybrough, 32, from Coventry, to end his life. Mr Drybrough hanged himself in 2005.

Mr Melchert-Dinkel was also charged with encouraging a Canadian teenager, Nadia Kajouji, 18, to kill herself. She drowned in a river in Ottawa in 2008. Mohamed Kajouji, Nadia's father, said: "He's an evil man, to do all that. He should have given her a way out, not put her in a corner and tell her, 'there's no hope for you, there's nothing you can do to get better'."

Mr Melchert-Dinkel, 47, himself a father, is said to have befriended vulnerable people by posing as a young woman on suicide chat rooms. He would then try to persuade them to commit suicide while he watched. Often he would offer advice as to how people should end their lives, prosecutors say.

He might still be operating were it not for the tenacity of a 64-year-old grandmother from Wiltshire. Celia Blay yesterday described the events that helped her unearth Mr Melchert-Dinkel's alleged crimes.

She said she became determined to bring him to justice when she discovered that he was in contact with an internet user who claimed to be just 13.

Mrs Blay, speaking to the IoS, said she first came across suicide chat rooms by accident four years ago. She was logged on to an academic medieval site when a new user appeared with an unusual user name. "On academic sites people use their own names," she said. "I was curious, so I clicked on the person's profile and it brought up the other sites they used, one of which was a suicide site."

Mrs Blay befriended the user, who was a girl aged 17, but two months later the girl entered into a suicide pact. "I was very shocked," she said, "because I'd only just managed to convince her that she was actually depressed, and could be treated. She was a very naive 17-year-old.... The problem at that age is that you can get depressed very easily. She said she didn't want to let this other person down, so I tried to trace them to talk to them about it." Unfortunately, the trail went cold.

By chance, however, the users of the site decided to swap notes and discovered that many of them had entered into a pact with a user called Li Dao.

Mrs Blay and a friend who had contemplated suicide, and therefore knew the emotions involved, set up a sting operation to discover Li Dao's identity. Her friend entered into an email correspondence with Li Dao – and fell under his spell so far as to buy a rope and alcohol. Fortunately for the would-be suicide, "Li Dao" walked past a web cam during an exchange, revealing himself as a middle-aged man. He had previously sent a photograph of his wife – and children – claiming to be her.

But he sent an email using his genuine email address by mistake and Mrs Blay managed to trace his address and telephone number. She contacted West Midlands police because he claimed to have convinced two people in Birmingham to commit suicide. "They asked for evidence on floppy disc, then said they couldn't read the disc. I've no evidence that they ever investigated [the matter]." The FBI also failed to respond. But one of her customers – she sells riding whips for carriages – lived near Mr Melchert-Dinkel in Minnesota and knew the deputy sheriff. The police there launched a year-long investigation.

"It was very fortunate," Mrs Blay said. "The problem now is whether they can successfully prosecute. The law is very unclear. I know there are at least two 19-year-olds he was in touch with who committed suicide. There are victims in America but their families don't want to be named. I think he was in contact with more than 50 people; not all of them have committed suicide. It was at the point where I realised he was targeting children that I became determined to track him down."

Mr Melchert-Dinkel, who lives in Faribault, Minnesota, will appear in court on 25 May, charged with two counts under a rarely used offence of aiding suicide. If convicted, he could spend up to 15 years in prison.

US prosecutors allege that Mr Melchert-Dinkel told police he had encouraged "dozens" of people to kill themselves, and "characterised it as the thrill of the chase". He also told police he stopped the internet chats after Christmas 2008 for moral and legal reasons. He said he "felt terrible" about advising others to commit suicide.

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