She barely remembers meeting him, but a chance encounter with a stranger led to weeks of terror for a south St. Louis woman.
Now, that man is behind bars and the victim is urging other women to come forward.
Robert Merkle, 48, is charged with two counts of harassment after police say he threatened women with rape online.
One woman told 5 On Your Side she met Merkle at a public discussion meetup group.
"There wasn't anything intimidating, and there wasn't anything gross. He reached out to the organizer of that same discussion group and asked about my attendance," said Angela, a victim who asked we not use her last name.
He then began sending her and her friends messages on the meetup website.
"[He] mentioned that specific group that he had been looking for me there with the intention to rape me and it went into some details of that desire," said Angela.
Angela said several other women have contacted her online to share similar stories.
"Stories popped up," said Angela. "In those messages, it was a dating website, and he specifically said he was interested in dating women who'd been raped. He's asking, 'Have you been raped because that's what I'm looking for?'"
Merkle is actually charged with two counts of harassment- involving Angela and another woman he met on a dating site.
He's scheduled to appear before a grand jury in January.
Anyone who's been harassed by Merkle is advised to contact the St Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
We found some information for victims of online harassment and threats from the National Center for Victims of Crime.
- Victims are encouraged to keep a log of all stalking behaviors including e-mails and phone messages. The log, as well as any gifts or letters the stalker sends the victim, can be collected and used as evidence.
- Get a new, unlisted phone number. Leave the old number active and connected to an answering machine or voicemail. Have a friend, advocate, or law enforcement screen the calls, and save any messages from the stalker. These messages, particularly those that are explicitly abusive or threatening, can be critical evidence for law enforcement to build a stalking case against the offender.
- If possible, have a phone nearby at all times, preferably one to which the stalker/harasser has never had access. Memorize emergency numbers, and make sure that 911 and helpful family or friends are on speed dial.
- Treat all threats, direct and indirect, as legitimate and inform law enforcement immediately.
- Vary routines, including changing routes to work, school, the grocery store, and other places regularly frequented. Limit time spent alone and try to shop at different stores and visit different bank branches.
- When out of the house or work environment, try not to travel alone and try to stay in public areas.
- Do not interact with the person stalking or harassing you. Responding to stalker's actions may reinforce their behavior.
- Consider obtaining a protective order against the stalker. Some states offer stalking protective orders and other victims may be eligible for protective orders under their state's domestic violence statutes.
- Trust your instincts. If you're somewhere that doesn't feel safe, either find ways to make it safer, or leave