Imagine the horror of going to your teenager’s bedroom one morning only to find her missing. Her bed hadn’t been slept in and her clothes are gone.
In 2000, that’s what one mother in Florida faced. Her only child had conspired against her and ran away. And worse, she later discovered that her daughter had left the country—without having a passport. From the moment I read this news story, I was hooked and had to know more about how such an atrocity could happen. The teen’s trail might have gone ice cold, but her mother pushed authorities in a direction.
She knew where to start looking.
Only six months earlier, the girl had received a computer for a gift—a thoughtful present from a mother who wanted the best for her child. But this gift soon brought a virtual menace into their home. A charming and anonymous stranger lured the 14-year old girl to Greece—a man she’d met in a teen chat room. We’ve all heard stories like this. But after researching the facts behind this case, I was amazed at the audacity of this Internet predator.
And I wanted to shed light on the shrewd tactics of online predators in my upcoming book—Evil Without A Face (Feb 2009, Avon, $7.99)—the first book in my Sweet Justice series.
The online predator not only manipulated the teenager in Florida, but he also convinced law-abiding adults to cooperate with his schemes. These people thought they were helping an abused kid, but they didn’t know the facts, check with her family or contact local law enforcement. This stranger duped an employee of the local phone company into arranging for a private cell phone to talk to the girl directly. His slick manipulation scored him a purchased airline ticket (without a direct connection to him) and a clandestine ride for the girl to the airport. But after he bribed a child pornographer to acquire an illegal passport for her to leave the United States, the girl was out of the country before her mother knew she was gone.
And the chase to save the girl was on—a mother’s worst fear.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. This happened in 2000, before the added airport security measures were implemented after 9/11 in 2001. The girl would never have been allowed on a plane without proper ID. But after contacting a source in the airline industry, I was shocked to learn how many children travel unaccompanied and without a valid ID on domestic flights these days. So this extraordinary Florida case became the framework for my novel, Evil Without A Face. And I chose to set part of the story in the unique venue of Alaska where I had lived for ten years.
My novels have the feel of being ripped from today's headlines because real crime inspires me. Who says crime doesn't pay? Violence is like the ripple effect on the surface of still water. The wake radiates out from the victim and touches many people. In my books, I give a voice to the many victims of crime.
In Evil Without A Face, an illusive web of imposters on the Internet lures a deluded teen from her Alaskan home and launches a chain reaction collision course with an unlikely tangle of heroes. A new kind of criminal organization becomes the faceless enemy behind an insidious global conspiracy. And the life of one young girl and countless others hang in the balance. This is the initial driver to my new series. With an international setting, these thrillers will focus on the lives and loves of three women—a bounty hunter operating outside the law, an ambitious vice cop, and a former international operative with a mysterious past. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders.
And their brand of justice is anything but sweet.
After researching the case in Florida, I became more concerned for naïve kids socializing in cyberspace—young people like my nieces and nephews. Savvy online criminals lurk in anonymity and carry on without fear of repercussion. I’m an active member of MySpace and Facebook and know how they operate. But these social networks aren’t the problem—the criminals are. And as you’ve seen in the headlines and on TV, the online community has become a real hunting ground for predators.
Why not? It’s easy pickings.
For the most part, the Internet is an invaluable tool. And it breaks down the barriers between countries, allowing many of us to have international friends. But the anonymity of cyberspace attracts all sorts of users with criminal intent. Terrorists have found new high-tech ways to recruit online and they have duped some Internet users into funding their activities or have resorted to outright stealing through subterfuge. And since crimes that cross over jurisdictions and international borders are harder to prosecute, offenders often get away with their schemes. That's why I wanted to write Evil Without A Face and dole out my brand justice. After all, who couldn’t use a liberal dose of ‘Sweet Justice’ when reality becomes stranger than fiction?
How has your use of the Internet changed over the years? Have you become more suspicious of certain behaviors from online strangers? And if you have children who use online resources, can you share some tips on how you keep them safer?
After Jordan Dane sold her first 3-books to Avon/HarperCollins in auction, her debut title – No One Heard Her Scream – held more significance. Everyone heard her scream! Prior to selling, Jordan received 33 national writing competition awards. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now is following her passion to write full time. Take a front row seat to suspense with Dane’s back to back releases from 2008—No One Heard Her Scream, No One Left to Tell, & No One Lives Forever, and her Sweet Justice Series, Evil Without A Face, February 2009 and The Wrong Side of Dead, November 2009.