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Online Love Triangle Ends in Murder

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Internet is known as a breeding ground for illicit affairs between people often hiding behind fake names and handles. But most such virtual relationships are not as dangerous as when "Talhotblond" and "MarineSniper" struck up an online relationship that ended in murder.

MarineSniper was 46-year-old Thomas Montgomery, a married father of two. In May 2005, he posed as a young, handsome Iraq-bound Marine and entered a teen chat room on the popular game site "Pogo."

When 18-year-old Talhotblond started instant-messaging him, he decided to pretend he was 18, too.

"I kept thinking, well, we're never going to meet. I'll just play the game with her," he said.

Before long, the flirtation blossomed into a romance.

Talhotblond's instant messages revealed that her real name was Jessi, who was a softball-playing high school senior from West Virginia. She sent Montgomery photos that lived up to her racy screen name.

"There were some very provocative poses," he said.

In return, Jessi wanted to see what he looked like so he sent her his photo from Marine boot camp.

The picture was 30 years out of date. Montgomery's screen name, MarineSniper, was a nostalgic harkening back to the six years he spent in the military as a young man.

Instant messages recovered from Montgomery’s computer showed that the online relationship began to consume him. He told 20/20 that this relationship "became more real to me than real life."

The feeling appeared to be mutual. Jessi and "Tommy" exchanged gifts, phone calls and love letters.

"There was virtual sex going on in there between her and Tommy," he said.

While Montgomery said the virtual sex made him "feel kind of dirty," he was in too deep to sever ties with her.

Montgomery seemed to be losing touch with reality. He wrote a note to himself, "On Jan. 2, 2006 Tom Montgomery (46 years old) ceases to exist and is replaced by an 18-year-old battle-scarred marine. He is moving to West Virginia to be with the love of his life."

In March 2006, Montgomery told 20/20 that one of his daughters was using his computer when Jessi happened to instant message him. Montgomery's wife, alerted by her daughter, found a trove of love letters, photos and mementos from Jessi, including a pair of red panties. She sent Jessi a photo of her family and a letter.

"Let me introduce you to these people," she wrote. "The man in the center is Tom, my husband since 1989. He is 46 years old."

Montgomery said Jessi was horrified, and broke off the relationship immediately. "She sends me a text message and says, she hates me, you should be put in jail for this," he told 20/20.

Jessi also e-mailed one of Montgomery's co-workers, a 22-year-old attractive part-time machinist and college student named Brian Barrett to see if it was really true.

Brian, who went under the screen name "Beefcake," consoled Jessi online.

Before long, Jessi was sending Brian her photos and the two had become an online fling. MarineSniper was consumed with jealousy.

"Brian will pay in blood," Montgomery instant messaged Jessi at one point.

His messages became increasingly violent, as he was forced to watch their romance blossom in the same chat rooms he used to frequent with Jessi.

But the IMs that came from Talhotblond showed her to be torn—mad one instant and then desperate to return to loving a man who she knew didn't exist.

Jessi eventually rekindled close relations with Montgomery again.

Montgomery knew he was in way over his head, but he couldn't bring himself to end things with her again.

At one point, when his wife actually told him to get off the computer and talk to her, Montgomery couldn't. "I just told her I'll get off when I'm done," he recalled.

Jessi finally told Montgomery they were through, and returned to Barrett again while Montgomery began to go into a downward spiral.

"The obsession turns into jealousy, and then the jealousy turns into betrayal and revenge," said District Attorney Frank Sedita. "You really start to get a, a sense of this person going into an abyss. And it's kind of frightening."

The tipping point arrived when Barrett decided to meet Talhotblond in person.

Montgomery learned of the plan and was incensed.

On Sept. 15, 2006, Barrett was found dead in the parking lot where he worked, shot three times by a military rifle.

“At three in the morning,” Capt. Ron Kenyon told 20/20, “our first concern was talking to Jessi and making sure she was still alive.”

But when police arrived at her home, they were in for a surprise when a woman named Mary Shieler opened the door.

Shieler had been sending messages to Montgomery and Barrett under the name Talhotblond. The pictures she sent Montgomery were actually those of her daughter—the real Jessi—who had no knowledge of her mother's cyberlife.

Montgomery was charged and later plead guilty to the murder of Brian Barrett. He received a 20-year sentence.

Mary Shieler didn't come away unscathed. Her husband divorced her over her deception and her daughter Jessi cut ties too, moving in with relatives in Virginia, where she was attending college.

Mary Shieler also pursued an education at a community college in West Virginia.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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