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Online dating fatal for man, 56

Date: 2006-10-30

The Web site for one Brazilian marriage agency invites prospective male clients to ``make your dreams come true!''

There are hundreds more Web pages with the same theme: Your exotic dream girl is just a few clicks away. The ease of Internet dating is hard for many to resist.

But the hope of finding that special someone online turned into tragedy for one San Bruno man who threw caution to the wind and met a woman who now is a suspect in his kidnapping and murder.

Raymond James Merrill, 56, a carpenter and musician who lived in a modest, two-bedroom house on Jenevein Avenue, flew to São José dos Campos in the Brazilian state of São Paulo in March to meet with his long-distance love, whom he had met online.

Authorities in Brazil believe that the woman and two men drugged Merrill over six days and coaxed him to reveal passwords for financial accounts, which they fleeced of nearly $200,000, according to his sister, Marcia Sanchez Loebick.

Merrill was then strangled with copper wire and his body was driven to the edge of town, doused with diesel fuel and burned, according to his sister. Sanchez Loebick helped investigators identify the remains, though she has yet to hear official confirmation.

``He was buried in a cemetery there as an indigent,'' she said Tuesday. ``I had to send my DNA down there, a blood sample, plus dental records.''

Sanchez Loebick, 60, who recently moved to Cleveland from Felton, was in the Bay Area to pack up Merrill's belongings and ready his home for sale.

Merrill, who was born in San Francisco and graduated from Crestmoor High, inherited the home after his mother died in 1992. His sister said he used the equity to make some savvy investments and buy properties in Santa Rosa and Las Vegas.

``He wasn't a millionaire, but he had a good amount of money in the bank,'' she said.

He also had a penchant for Latin women, Sanchez Loebick said. She said Merrill's ex-wife is Latina and his long-term girlfriend until a few years ago is Mexican. When those relationships soured, he apparently turned to his computer to find a new companion.

Merrill met Regina Filomena Rachid through a Latin singles Web site last fall and flew down for a visit in November, Sanchez Loebick said. He made another trip in January.

In the course of their relationship, Merrill gave Rachid extravagant gifts, including a $20,000 car, $10,000 for a Botox treatment license, a computer and college tuition for her daughter, Sanchez Loebick said.

When thousands of dollars went missing on his credit cards during the trips, family and friends really became concerned.

``He had filed fraud disputes,'' said Merrill's sister.

Yet he wouldn't say whether he suspected his new girlfriend, Sanchez Loebick said.

Merrill did tell a close friend he was planning to confront Rachid during his fateful final trip -- even as he packed a diamond ring.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer verified with the U.S. Consulate that Rachid and the two men are suspects in the killing. Rachid and one of the men are in custody.

``There was plenty of red flags, but he ignored them all in the chance that this might be a romantic connection,'' said Bill Rauch, 54, a friend and fellow carpenter. ``They played him like a fiddle.''

Sanchez Loebick last spoke with Merrill when he visited her and her husband in Felton days before he made his last visit to see Rachid.

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