LENOIR, N.C. -- Sharon Rena Lopatka and Robert Glass exchanged sexually explicit e-mail messages for nearly eight weeks between August and October and didn't stop until four days before her death in a broken-down trailer 500 miles from her Hampstead home, law enforcement sources said yesterday.
Lopatka, 35, who investigators believe arranged her death over the Internet, used a series of identities in hundreds of e-mail messages to Glass, 45, a father of three who was a computer analyst for Catawba County.
Lopatka called herself "Nancy" and "Sharon" during routine e-mail conversations. But when she talked about sex, torture, bondage and death and began role-playing about strange sexual acts, she slipped into a different identity, a law enforcement source said.
She called herself "Miranda."
New details in the unusual case emerged yesterday as a judge issued a gag order barring those familiar with events in the small town of Lenoir, N.C., from speaking publicly about what they know.
North Carolina Superior Court Judge Beverly T. Beal also ordered that all records filed after he issued his order at noon be sealed and kept from the public. No advance notice was given of the hearing, held in his chambers.
The judge would not talk publicly about his order last night. Glass has been charged with murder in Lopatka's death. Investigators say the messages between the two became increasingly sexual and violent, and they believe she took an Amtrak train to North Carolina to be sexually tortured and killed.
Lopatka left a note for her husband.
"If my body is never retrieved," she told him, "don't worry."
But her body was retrieved last week, in a 3 1/2 -foot deep hole about 70 feet from Glass' run-down trailer, which was stuck in the middle of a weed-filled yard. A ribbon of yellow crime tape was still strung to the door yesterday.
Dr. Robert Thompson, associate chief medical examiner of North Carolina, said an autopsy did not reveal any new wounds or old scars that would suggest Lopatka was tortured. He said he was aware of reports claiming she had been strangled by a piece of rope, but did not find any bruises or marks on her neck.
Thompson said the autopsy did not determine how Lopatka died, but he said findings were consistent with someone who had been asphyxiated.
Investigators yesterday continued to search for clues.
"Everything is weird with this case," Capt. Danny Barlow, a veteran criminal investigator for the Caldwell County Sheriff's Department, said before the gag order took effect.
Based on the autopsy report and other evidence, he said investigators believe Lopatka died on Oct. 16, three days after boarding a train at Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station for Charlotte, N.C., where Glass picked her up.
Barlow would not say whether Glass has confessed or cooperated with investigators. "He has talked to us," was all Barlow would say.
According to court records, interviews and law enforcement sources, Lopatka, who started a business with an Internet site and 900 numbers, began a cyberspace relationship with Glass during the final week of August.
E-mail messages -- retrieved from her personal computer by the Maryland State Police with specially designed software -- became more and more explicit, with Lopatka and Glass writing about bondage and domination. Investigators say the two appeared to be role-playing.
The messages ended Oct. 12, the day before Lopatka headed south. Her husband, Victor Lopatka, reported her disappearance Oct. 20, and the state police started to investigate. The messages led investigators to Glass and his trailer in Lenoir.
Glass' attorney said yesterday that Lopatka's death was an accident and his client plans to plead not guilty to the murder charges.
"It is my understanding that they were involved in sexual intercourse, and she accidentally died," attorney Neil Beach said before the gag order took effect.
If the death was an accident, Beach was asked, why was the body buried?
"If you have a plan for killing someone, you're going to have prior arrangements made for disposing the body," Beach said. "This wasn't the case."
The grave is on land Glass inherited from his father. Glass separated from his wife of 16 years in April and was planning to build a house there, said his in-laws, Fred and Mary Harless.
"He was just as good a person as you would want to meet," Fred Harless said, noting that Glass made two mortgage payments on his house when he was strapped for cash four years ago. "He was better to us in some ways than our own children."
For the Harlesses, this is not the first time the Internet has intruded into their lives. Two months ago, they said, their daughter-in-law met another man through Internet e-mail and moved to Houston to be with him.
"There are good uses for the computer," Fred Harless said, "and there are bad uses for the computer."
Pub Date: 11/01/96