The Strange World of Online Suicide Newsgroups

What constitutes a cry for a help by a suicidal person?

In the past, someone might have found a similarly depressed friend, or called a suicide hotline, or written the pain into a diary. But in the past decade, the suicidal got a new option: they could log onto a newsgroup online and get advice from strangers.

It's a strange community. Most of the people who visit, for example, alt.suicide.methods, are not malicious. They tend to be depressed and seem to find solace in the shared experience of misery. Some are do-gooders who want to save lives.

But in a deep investigation, GQ's Nadya Labi found that at least one community member had much darker motives. A Minnesota man who went by several pseudonyms over the years appears to have actively encouraged dozens of people to kill themselves, Labi reports. But that was before a couple of do-gooder online sleuths tracked him down and convinced police to look into him.

A few months later, Sergeant Haider and a colleague caught up with him at his home. After introductions, the police told the nurse that they wanted to talk to him about Internet-related issues. According to the officers, Melchert-Dinkel responded, "I think I know what you mean." When asked to elaborate, he said that he and his wife worked in health care and had had discussions with people online that had gotten inappropriate. Police say Melchert-Dinkel then told them that his wife wasn't involved in the discussions but that using the online monikers Li Dao, falcongirl, and Cami, he'd advised people online about suicide methods.

He admitted that he would instruct them on how to hang themselves by placing the knot behind the left ear, because "that would be the most effective position for compression of the left and right carotid artery, which would cause unconsciousness in ten to fifteen seconds, brain death, and total death in ten to twenty minutes." According to the coroner's report, Mark Drybrough's neck had a deep ligature groove that rose toward the left and back of his neck. Melchert-Dinkel admitted that he claimed online to have watched via Webcam as someone in England hanged himself. Despite his repeated requests to watch victims by Webcam, however, he insisted that he'd never done so. According to the police, they have no evidence that Melchert-Dinkel watched his victims. The investigating officers say Melchert-Dinkel estimated that he'd made about a dozen suicide pacts with people around the world and encouraged dozens more to commit suicide, though he knew of no more than five who'd actually gone through with it. At one point, he characterized his motivation as the "thrill of the chase." But he also said that he told his victims that "it was okay to let go, that they would be better in heaven."

He said he felt terrible about what he'd done and that his daughters had told him that his discussions weren't right. At Christmas, as the police were narrowing in on him, he said that he'd stopped advising people about suicide.

Read the full piece at GQ.