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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Messenger Romance And ........

Every morning of every weekday for 12 years, Thomas Montgomery punched in at the Dynabrade factory in Clarence, a small town in upstate New York. He strapped on his goggles and stood at his machine until the late afternoon, churning out components for power tools. After work, he walked the family dog, Shadow, and took his two daughters to swim practice. He became such a regular presence at the local swim club that he was named its vice president. He tried to be a good father and a decent husband to his wife of 16 years, Cindy. There were a few things he enjoyed — poker night on Fridays with the guys, playing Texas Hold 'Em on, and the Dynabrade euchre tournament, which he dominated for two years in a row. For the most part, though, life was uneventful.

Which may be why Montgomery looked at himself — a 45-year-old former marine with a reddish mustache, bulging gut, and disappearing hair — and decided to become someone else. That person, he wrote on Dynabrade stationery that he stored in his toolbox at work, would be an 18-year-old marine named Tommy. He would be a black belt in karate, with bullet scars on his left shoulder and right leg, thick red hair, and impressive dimensions (6'2", 190 pounds, and a "9" dick"). Emboldened by his new identity, Montgomery logged onto Pogo in the spring of 2005 and met TalHotBlondbig50 — a 17-year-old from West Virginia, whose name, he later learned, was Jessica.

He began instant-messaging "Jessi," who later also went by the handle "peaches_06_17," and the lies flowed easier with every press of the Return key. His mom had died of cancer when he was 12, he told her, and his father was a military man. At 17, Tommy had raped a cheerleader, and his life became so hopeless that he enlisted in the Marines. After a stint at boot camp in June to train as a sniper, he was headed to Iraq. Montgomery concocted elaborate ruses to maintain Tommy's cover story, creating a second identity as Tommy's dad, Tom Sr., who bore a striking resemblance to the real Montgomery. Tommy's access to the Internet was supposedly limited because of his military duties, so Dad, as Jessi soon referred to him, began shuttling messages between the two lovers. He also told Jessi to send any mail and packages for Tommy to him, because he had contacts in Iraq and could get them to the young marine quickly.

Tommy's tales of hard luck drew Jessi in. He was in need of comfort, and Jessi provided it, saying she was proud of him despite his mistakes. Tommy responded by telling her that she was "the best thing that ever happened to him." As their intimacy grew, he sent her a picture of a young marine, claiming it was himself, and confided that he planned to commit suicide in Iraq; she made him promise to stay alive for her. They talked on the phone when they could. But if Jessi couldn't reach Tommy, she sometimes IM'd Tom Sr. to talk about her lover. Jessi also emailed Tommy photos of herself, care of Tom Sr. She lived up to her screen handle, whether she was running her fingers through her flowing blond hair or wading in a pool in a yellow bikini or showing off her long tan legs in a denim miniskirt.

Jessi fell for Tommy, and Montgomery did, too — or, at least, for the idea of himself as Tommy, a young man on his way to a future with the prettiest girl around. Tommy told Jessi that he'd had their special motto — the Marine saying "Always and Forever" — tattooed on his arm, along with her name encircled by a heart. Jessi, for her part, crafted video montages of herself for Tommy that were set to power ballads like Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Lonestar's "I'm Already There."

Jessi's photos provoked the couple's first major blowup: Montgomery became convinced she'd sent her pictures to other online admirers and accused her of betraying him. To apologize, Jessi sent him a snail-mail letter, enclosing one of her G-strings and a sterling silver "key to my heart" chain. She signed off the missive with "T&J" inside a heart. Tommy forgave her, but Montgomery, in his role as "Dad" and occasional intermediary, did not. She defended her mistake, writing in frustration that Tommy "has let it go why wont you." Tom Sr. wrote, "because u will hurt him and hes an idiot and will believe ur lying ass."

Meanwhile, Jessi and Tommy had settled into a routine, talking by phone between 6:30 and 6:40 am and from 3:30 to 3:40 pm, when Jessi was led to believe that her "sweet sexy marine" was off duty. By Christmas, about eight months after they met online, Tommy proposed marriage and Jessi accepted. He sent her poinsettias, and she sent him more G-strings and dog tags engraved with the message TOM & JESSI ALWAYS & FOREVER. Jessi worried constantly about Tommy's safety, writing, "I know your being careful honey and you have the best with you but I also know anything can happen." Anticipating his return from Iraq, Jessi planned for their first night together, expressing nerves about what would be her "first time." She ended on an optimistic note: "Won't be long until its Jessica Blair Montgomery."

Montgomery was consumed by his marathon online chats with Jessi. While at work, he didn't stop talking about her, telling colleagues that he planned to leave his wife and move to West Virginia. In the evening, he would chase his daughters off the computer, planting himself in front of the screen late into the night. Cindy couldn't compete with his new obsession.

For New Year's, Montgomery made a resolution, which he scribbled on his work pad. "On January 2, 2006, Tom Montgomery (46 years old) ceases to exist and is replaced by an 18-year-old battle-scarred marine," he wrote. "He is moving to West Virginia to be with the love of his life." He vowed that he would set aside enough of his imaginary millions to care for Cindy and the girls, even as he fantasized about the life he would build with Jessi. When the new year began, however, he was still stuck in his aging body and stale life. He wrote in frustration, "I wish I would know the exact time I would change to new Tom to prepare for it."

Cindy did not know about her husband's double, or rather triple, life. But she did know that something had changed inside her two-story yellow house. "He wouldn't get off the Internet," she said. "It gave him access to something he wouldn't have had otherwise." Then, in February 2006, she discovered some of Jessi's mementos and unraveled the truth. Cindy's marriage might not have been the happiest, but contending with the layers of deceit she uncovered — not to mention a teenager's lingerie — was too much. "What I cannot believe is that you are living out some bizarre fantasy — as father and son," she wrote in a note to her husband. "If you want to separate — We can... but to continue to lie to me & the kids while she is sending 'your son' gifts in the mail is not acceptable."

The couple stayed in the same house, though Montgomery complained to a coworker about being consigned to the basement. As a mother, however, Cindy felt she had to do something for Jessi. She wrote a letter, enclosing a recent photo of her family. "Let me introduce you to these people," she said, describing her husband, Tom, her daughters, 12 and 14 years old, and herself — the "c," as she put it, in Montgomery's many emails to Jessi from their account named "tcmontgomery1." There was no son, she told Jessi, only her husband, a 46-year-old former marine. "From what I am pulling from your letters you are much closer to [my daughter's] age than mine let alone Tom's," Cindy wrote. "Are you over the age of 18? In this alone, he can be prosecuted as a child predator." Adding that Jessi could be her own daughter, Cindy offered some maternal advice: "Do not trust words on a computer."
IM transcript, April 17, 2006

Jessi didn't know who to believe. Was there no Tommy? Or had Cindy invented the story because she wanted Tommy for herself? Jessi found a friend Montgomery had mentioned who also frequented Pogo: "Beefcake1572," or Brian Barrett, a 22-year-old student at Buffalo State College who worked part-time at Dynabrade with Montgomery and played poker with him.

When Barrett confirmed his friend's trickery, Jessi was devastated. How could her "everything," as she referred to Tommy, be a nothing? She turned to Barrett for solace, playing Lottso, a kind of Bingo, with him in the Princess Priceless room on Pogo and IMing him on Yahoo. Their conversations quickly turned intimate. Soon, in public forums online, she and Barrett called Montgomery a child predator and taunted him. Montgomery was suspended from a game room. She shared her passwords with Barrett, who would log onto her accounts and talk to Montgomery as Jessi to humiliate him. At work, Barrett boasted about his new relationship.

Montgomery was furious. "Half the company" thought he was a "fucking loser and predator," he IM'd Jessi. Parents no longer trusted him with their kids. His life was so destroyed that he appeared to be contemplating suicide. "U can say goodbye forever to me and Tommy," he told Jessi.

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