The rise of dating apps like Grindr has been a liberating phenomenon for the LGBTQ+ community, but there has been a worrying, accompanying phenomenon: dark and vicious crimes inflicted on gay men. The case of Peter Fasoli is indicative of this. It’s featured in What the Killer Did Next, the true crime series that analyses how murderers behave in the immediate aftermath of their acts, shedding light on the psychology of killing.
In 2013, Fasoli – a 58-year-old man in London – connected with 28-year-old Jason Marshall on a site called Badoo. Marshall visited Fasoli at his home, for what was supposed to be an enjoyable liaison. Instead, Marshall cruelly tortured and killed Fasoli while his victim was tied up during their bondage session. Thanks to a bungled investigation, Marshall managed to escape the country and evade justice for several years afterwards.
As human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell put it, 'This case has echoes of the serial killing of gay men by Stephen Port, and of the way the police failed to investigate those killings properly.'
Stephen Port is perhaps the most extreme and infamous example of a man who used new technology to target his victims in the gay community. The chef, at the time in his late 30s, killed his first victim in 2014 when he approached a young man, Anthony Walgate, on a gay escort site called Sleepyboys and offered him money to meet up. Walgate was given a fatal dose of GHB, a drug that lowers inhibitions and causes feelings of euphoria, and which is associated with 'chemsex', a trend within gay hook-up culture.
Dosing his victims with GHB was Stephen Port’s MO, and thanks to a bewildering lack of attention from the police – despite bodies of his victims being found in exactly the same location in quick succession – the presence of a serial killer of gay men in Barking went undetected for far too long.
Gay rights activists and the bereaved relatives of Port’s victims have pointed to institutional homophobia in the police as being the reason or their lax and uncomprehending attitude towards the glaring evidence that these were not accidental overdoses.
Peter Tatchell compared it to the institutional racism which was uncovered in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, saying: 'If four young middle class women had been murdered in Mayfair, I believe the police would have made a public appeal much sooner and mounted a far more comprehensive investigation. The killing of low-income gay men in working class Barking was treated very differently.'
The threat to gay men could be due to this perfect storm of the easy availability of casual encounters between strangers, the need for many gay people to hook up discreetly without telling their friends and family about what they’re doing, and the potential homophobia or sheer obliviousness among the authorities and the press. (It’s telling that, after the Port case, Met police officers have received special training on the gay chemsex scene.)
The problem of violence and murder within gay communities going unnoticed is an international one. Over in Canada, a seemingly harmless man in his 60s called Bruce McArthur – whose jolly countenance even led to stints as a shopping centre Santa – is now serving a life sentence for the slayings of gay men in Toronto. Remains of the bodies were found in plant pots used by McArthur, who’d worked as a landscape gardener. The gay community was angered by the slow progress of the case, with disappearances within their social circle leading to rumours of a serial killer long before McArthur was snared.
As with Stephen Port, McArthur was active on gay hook-up apps, and his choice of victims worked in his favour. Not only were they originally a marginalized group due to being gay, but McArthur’s victims were also largely of South Asian and Middle Eastern origin, some of whom weren’t 'out' to those closest to them because of cultural worries. Gay immigrants: a far cry from the 'missing white women' famously beloved of the press, and vulnerable to the machinations of McArthur.
And then, back in the UK, there’s the disturbing case of 59-year-old police officer Gordon Semple, who was slaughtered by Stefano Brizzi, a slightly younger chemsex addict he hooked-up with on Grindr one day in 2016. Brizzi, who later killed himself in prison, left a scene of grotesque carnage at his London flat, where he’d tried to dissolve Semple’s body in an acid bath – apparently influenced by a scene in the TV series Breaking Bad. There was also evidence he’d tried to cook and consume parts of Semple’s flesh.
The dating app crimes against gay men keep on happening. In 2018, 54-year-old Londoner Eric Michels was found dead after a Grindr hook up, allegedly after being dosed with GHB. His alleged killer, 25-year-old Gerald Matovu, has been accused of systematically targeting men online, his apparent MO being to render them unconscious and take photos of bank cards and other personal documents in order to defraud them.
Using apps may be the new norm, but the ages-old vulnerabilities of gay men remain. As Peter Tatchell said in the aftermath of Peter Fasoli’s murder, 'Fasoli's killing is just the latest example of an isolated, vulnerable gay man being murdered by a predator using datings apps. It is a wake call to men who hook up online.'