The only window is high on the wall, over a tall filing cabinet, and opens into a well, below ground level.The space feels like a cave, which has always struck Deery as about right, because her job is to talk dirty online to strange men. She has athletic good looks, with tawny skin, big brown eyes, and long straight brown hair that falls over her shoulders.Police patrolling the precincts of sin do not often find the streets empty.How are they to tell the difference between the casual sinner and the criminal?For this account, both Deery and J were willing to speak openly and at length; transcripts of online chats and police interrogations have also been made available.The story reflects what they said about themselves and their actions, and presents two very different points of view.Shortly before six o’clock on the evening of Monday, September 19, 2005, Deery went to work in her cave, logging on to Yahoo and expertly navigating its public chat rooms.
J had about an hour before his wife would be home from work.One of the many false identities Deery has assumed online is something truly rare, even in this polluted pond—that of a middle-aged mother of two pre-pubescent girls who is offering them up for sex.Baiting her hook with this forbidden fruit, she would cast the line and wait to see who bit. Men began vying for her attention the minute she logged on, night or day.The goal was to identify the latter, hook them, and then reel them in, turn them into “travelers.” Once a traveler took that all-important step out of fantasy and into the real world, his behavior went from the merely immoral to the overtly criminal.When they delivered themselves for the promised rendezvous, instead of meeting a mother and her young daughters they would find a team of well-armed, cheerfully disgusted Delaware County police officers.Her parents sent her to Catholic schools, and her mother, a retired district judge, now jokes that she wants her money back.Her daughter’s beat is in the vilest corners of cyberspace, in chat rooms indicating “fetish” or various subgenres of flagrant peccancy.American courts have long recognized the right of police to invent ruses. Courts and lawmakers become less and less scrupulous about basic fairness.The more frightening and reprehensible the threat, the more license and latitude are given to the police.As a fantasy, her come-on seemed overbaked—not one daughter, but two!It is doubtful that such a woman exists anywhere, and yet men fell for it. The bulletin board over her desk displays mug shots of her catches, very ordinary-looking men, facing the camera wide-eyed with shock, staring at the fresh ruin of their lives. One of the stunned faces in that array belongs to a man I will call “J,” who would spend a year in prison after taking Deery’s bait.