When 32-year-old Mark Drybrough logged into the user group alt.suicide.methods he was at the end of his rope. Suffering from chronic fatigue and bouts of severe depression, even getting out of bed each day was a struggle. It should come to no surprise that Drybrough had difficulty maintaining steady employment and often took to the internet as his only solace.
When Drybrough decided to start posting to the alt.suicide.methods group he was in search of comradery and a few empathetic ears who understood his daily struggles. He would eventually find the comfort he so deeply craved in a user going by the name Li Dao.
Li Dao claimed that she was a young nurse working in a hospital emergency room and often provided advice to users of the group who were seeking suicide method advice. Over time Li Dao and Drybrough took their friendly online banter through the group into a private email conversation.
In their conversation, Drybrough explained his physical and mental ailments and how life had simply become too much for him to bear, as well as his fear of committing the ultimate act of desperation. Li Dao responded with her own email, expressing that she too had been planning to commit suicide but had no definitive plans on when or how she would do it.
After several of these email exchanges, Li Dao revealed that she had helped comfort another person who wanted to commit suicide but didn’t want to die alone. She claimed she had convinced this person to set up a webcam and allowed her to watch as the person on the other side of the camera breathed their final breaths. She told Drybrough she could set up a similar scenario with him.
Weeks after Drybrough had been speaking with Li Dao, his sister Carol went to check on her brother. On the outside of the door, a handwritten note read “Do not go upstairs.” Carol proceeded to break into the home and go up there anyway. There she found her brother had hung himself. On his computer, she was able to log into his email where she discovered the conversations with Li Dao and the police stepped in to investigate.
By then Li Dao, also known as falcongirl and Cami D., had been back on various suicide user groups searching for her next victim. Family of the late Drybrough reached out to administrators of these groups and warned them of Li Dao’s manipulation tactics and one administrator had agreed to work as an informant for police. Even while under investigation, the user known as Li Dao was able to convince at least one other member of the group into committing suicide.
This time under the name Cami D., the user reached out to an Ottawa, Canada woman named Nadia Kajouji. Like Drybrough, she convinced Kajouji to take their conversation on the chat into a private email conversation. She bragged how she had watched a man in the UK commit suicide on webcam and how she was glad she could be there to comfort him in his final moments. She told Kajouji that she would be willing to enter a pact with her where they would both commit suicide on camera, but Kajouji was desperate and said she couldn’t wait.
Struggling with school, having suffered a miscarriage from an unplanned pregnancy, and a recent breakup with her boyfriend had become too much for her to bear. Rather than the webcam scenario Cami D. suggested, 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji threw herself into the icy waters of the Rideau River. She believed that her online friend, Cami D., was also planning to kill herself that night.
As administrators began befriending more users of the group, they discovered that Li Dao/falcongirl/Cami D. had entered into suicide pacts with dozens of users, some who were under the impression that the kindly nurse they had befriended through the group was also planning to end it all on the same night.
Then, just as suddenly as this mysterious user appeared, all contact from Li Dao/falcongirl/Cami D. stopped. One user who had been speaking with the nurse at the time she had stopped responding to messages eventually did hear back from someone claiming to be the woman’s mother. She said that her daughter had hung herself, making the woman believe that she had failed her friend for not also killing herself on the day they had agreed upon.
Several months later Li Dao came back from the dead, confirming what many active users and administrators of the group had already suspected; Li Dao/falcongirl/Cami D. was a fraud. One administrator, who had also been working with the police, engaged Li Dao in a private conversation. It was through these email exchanges that investigators were able to trace the IP to a Minnesota address.
On March 26th, 2008 Faribault Police were asked to do a welfare check on the residence after they received word that someone there had entered a suicide pact with a user within the online group. No one was home at the time, but they were eventually able to get in touch with the person behind the online profile, William Francis Melchert-Dinkle.
Melchert-Dinkle discussed the suicide pact he had entered into with Nadia Kajouji, as well as a man in the UK, and said that he believed they both must have killed themselves. He told investigators that he had stopped using the groups after his daughter discovered his online activities and told him that she believed his conversations had been inappropriate.
Melchert-Dinkle admitted that he had also felt that the conversations were inappropriate and had refrained from any further contact with members of the group based on ethical and legal reasons. Police were able to place him under arrest based on Minnesota’s laws on assisted suicide.
He was found guilty and sentenced to 360 days in jail on May 4, 2011. That ruling was later overturned and he was retried in 2014. This time he was sentenced to three years in prison, but a judge allowed him a suspended sentence as long as Melchert-Dinkle served his original 360-day jail sentence and agreed to abide by the terms of his probation for 10 years. He has since been released, but his lawyer continues to appeal his conviction.