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A Pretend Web Romance, Then a Real-Life Murder

Date: 2007-01-08

He told her he was a young marine, recently back from Iraq.

She said she was an attractive 18-year-old woman eager to meet men, even if they were far from her West Virginia home.

As with many relationships born on the Internet, neither was telling the truth.

In reality, the man was Thomas Montgomery, a 47-year-old married father of two teenagers, who had spent the last 12 years working at a factory in this suburb of Buffalo. His cyber-lover from West Virginia was also in her 40’s, the police say, but had adopted her daughter’s identity, including the younger woman’s e-mail address and Web page, as her online persona.

Still, no one would have been hurt had the real world not collided with the pair’s middle-aged fantasies.

Instead, a 22-year-old co-worker of Mr. Montgomery’s was shot dead one September night as he left the power-tool plant where they were employed. Mr. Montgomery was arrested in November and charged with second-degree murder.

“The uniqueness of this case is that everybody appeared to be misleading everybody else, and the whole situation which resulted in a violent death was unnecessary,” said John J. DeFranks, Erie County’s first deputy district attorney. “Ironically, the only person telling the truth here was the victim.”

The killing of Brian Barrett, the part-time factory worker who was a student at nearby Buffalo State College and an aspiring teacher, stunned the rural town of Lockport, where he had lived with his parents.

“He was kind of an easygoing, quiet kid,” said Tom Sarkovics, the athletic director and Mr. Barrett’s baseball coach at Starpoint High School in Pendleton, outside Lockport. “He’d do anything you asked him to do, never complained about running, never complained about drills.”

According to the police, the men’s colleagues at the tool plant, Dynabrade, said that Mr. Montgomery frequently bragged of his online relationship with the supposed teenager from the time it began in May 2005.

Then, last spring, Mr. Barrett also was drawn into corresponding with the woman. Neither man made any secret of the situation.

“It was noted by fellow employees that there was a rivalry between the two over what they believed to be the same woman, for an extended period of time — months,” said Dennis Rankin, chief of the patrol services division at the Erie County Sheriff’s Department.

Mr. Barrett’s involvement sprang from a dose of reality, Mr. DeFranks said. For one thing, Mr. Montgomery’s wife found an e-mail message from the woman — whose name the police have not released — and wrote to her, revealing that he was not the recent Iraq veteran he claimed to be.

In addition, Mr. DeFranks said, Mr. Montgomery had told the woman that he had a friend named Brian and she was able to contact him.

“This woman took it upon herself to locate the person online and started chatting with him,” he added.

Unlike the other two points in the triangle, Mr. Barrett did not feel the need to create a fictitious identity.

Late on Sept. 15, after finishing his work shift, Mr. Barrett was sitting in his car when he was shot with a .30-caliber weapon in what Chief Rankin described as a “sniper shooting.”

“We have someone who heard the gunshots and witnesses who saw someone in the area,” Chief Rankin said. “We could tie that to the time that Mr. Barrett was last at work, which was moments before the shot.”

After learning of the connection between Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Barrett and the woman in West Virginia, investigators searched the computers of all three and compiled hundreds of pages of correspondence, Mr. DeFranks said, much of it of an “adult nature,” as well as threats made by Mr. Montgomery toward both Mr. Barrett and the woman.

Mr. Montgomery, a stocky man with a swirl of dark blond hair and a bushy mustache, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month before State Supreme Court Justice Amy J. Fricano, who ordered him held without bail pending a hearing on Jan. 10 and warned him not to contact the woman.

Mr. Montgomery’s lawyer, John J. Molloy, declined to comment on the case.

In the hundreds of messages exchanged, there was no indication that either man planned to meet the woman, leaving investigators struggling to understand why someone would kill over a relationship that existed only in cyberspace.

“I can’t speculate on that,” Mr. DeFranks said. “It is what it is.”

The woman in West Virginia, whose true age became known to Mr. Montgomery only after his arrest, does not face any charges.

“She was doing absolutely nothing wrong,” Chief Rankin said. “She obviously didn’t realize what was going to happen, or that there would be a ‘love triangle.’ ”

He added: “Mr. Barrett was a completely innocent person who was, from all appearances, a fine, upstanding young man who was putting himself through college. He was simply looking for a friendship on the Internet and ended up dying for it.”




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