HOW THEY CAUGHT THEIR STALKER
Reader's Digest India|August 2021
An elusive hacker humiliated a group of high-school girls. Then they teamed up with a determined detective to set a digital trap
Stephanie Clifford

BELMONT, NEW HAMPSHIRE (population 7,200) is an old mill town in the northeastern United States surrounded by lakes and forests. A hardware store and a hair salon are about all Main Street has to offer. At the local police department, a donation box is stuffed with change and dollar bills to support Vito, the department’s dog. “We don’t have a lot of people who are rolling in the dough,” says Raechel Moulton.

For years, Moulton, 42, was the town’s only detective. She grew up about 32 km away, in Concord. A bold kid, she would stride up to uniformed police officers to ask them about the things on their belts. When she was in fifth grade, an officer came to her school to run a drug-awareness course. That’s when she decided she was going to be a cop.

In high school, Moulton enrolled in a law-and-policing course, during which she was assigned to ride along in a patrol car with a male officer. He told her that women shouldn’t become cops. That cemented her ambition. In 2005, she was hired onto the Belmont police force. “This job picks you,” she said, sitting straight-spined in the police department, her brown hair pulled back in a tight bun.

Crime in Belmont tends toward opioids, thefts and burglaries. But before long, Moulton was fielding complaints from parents and staff at Belmont High School about teens sending nude photos, often to people they were dating.

Channeling the officer who inspired her as a fifth grader, Moulton offered workshops at the high school about safe online behaviour. She warned students that a nude photo might get sent around to unintended viewers or uploaded online. The results weren’t all she hoped for. “One girl told me, ‘What I got from your class is, as long as my head isn’t in the picture, it’s OK,’ ” Moulton says.

In the spring of 2012, after Moulton had been promoted to detective, a student walked into the police station and said that someone she hadn’t met and knew only as Seth Williams had been texting and hounding her for naked photos. When she wouldn’t send any, he broke into her cell phone account— she wasn’t sure how—and found some nude photos. Then he copied and sent them to her friends. Hoping it would make Seth stop pestering her, the girl gave in and sent him an explicit photo. But he didn’t stop.

A few weeks later, another Belmont High girl showed up at the station. A guy was harassing her too. Then more girls came in. Some were ashamed, some were in tears, and some were accompanied by furious parents. Moulton had an epidemic on her hands.

IN 2011, MAY was a 16-year-old student at Belmont High when her family moved to a nearby town and she enrolled in a new school. “I wasn’t that popular, I guess you could say,” May said.

So when she got a Facebook friend request from someone named Seth Williams, whose profile photo was cute, she accepted it. They exchanged numbers, and he began text ing. He said nice things and seemed to want to get to know her. He’d ask about her favourite ice cream flavour and her pets.

When he asked for photos of her body, she hesitated. “I still was like, no guy shows me this attention,” she said. “He actually seems like a nice guy. Maybe it’ll be OK.” May sent him a photo she thought was fun, of her rear in jeans, plastered with handprints from her freshly painted room.

He wanted more. She sent him a picture with her in underwear, then one of her bare bottom. When he demanded a full nude, she told him, “No. That’s where I draw the line.”

“No picture, no Facebook,” he replied. When May tried logging in to her accounts, she couldn’t access them: He’d hacked her Facebook account and her email and changed the passwords. She begged him to return the accounts; he refused. She blocked him on her phone; he texted from a different number. She changed her number; he still found her. “He always came back,” she said. “Always.”

One night in the autumn of 2012, a text pinged on her phone. It was Seth, again demanding photos. This time, the text included nude photos of other girls. May recognized a friend from her Belmont days. She called the friend, who urged her to talk to her mother and go to Detective Moulton in Belmont.

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