Former Eveleth woman's online friend turns out to be her ex, now charged with stalking
For nearly a year after her divorce, a former Eveleth woman opened up to a man she dated online, sharing intimate details of her personal life and struggles with her ex-husband.
Then, prosecutors say, she got a surprise. Her ex-husband was the man on the other end of the computer.
Brian Matthew Cornelius, a 36-year-old Sturgeon Lake man, created an elaborate online persona under an assumed name and with borrowed photographs to strike up a digital relationship with his former wife who now lives in West St. Paul, according to charges filed Tuesday in Dakota County District Court.
Prosecutors say Cornelius went so far as to arrange to watch her through a webcam and persuade her to skip a court appearance in which she was seeking an order for protection against him, Phone calls for Cornelius and his most recent attorney of record were not returned Thursday.
Cornelius and the woman were married in 2000 in Minneapolis and divorced in 2011 when they were living in Eveleth, according to court records. They have two young children together and have sparred in court over custody issues.
He faces two counts of gross misdemeanor stalking.
According to the charges:
About three months after her divorce, the woman met someone through an online dating website who went by the name “Aaron Carpenter.” The two of them struck up an “extensive” online relationship, exchanging e-mails, text messages and other electronic communications.
The woman “confided intimate details of her life and daily activities” with Carpenter, including her difficulties with Cornelius. She also let him see her in her home via a webcam, the complaint said.
In March 2012, after an alleged physical assault by Cornelius, the woman told Carpenter about her plans to get an order for protection against her ex-husband.
Carpenter persuaded her to skip the court date, and the request for an order was subsequently dismissed.
In August 2012, the woman discovered Cornelius was masquerading as the man online, the complaint said. An order for protection was granted later that month and is still active.
West St. Paul police Investigator Shawna Curtis said the woman pieced the situation together after Cornelius started showing up in places she told Carpenter she would be.
Carpenter also started saying things only Cornelius would know, Curtis said.
It’s not uncommon for men who are estranged to keep tabs on their former partners or try to make illicit contact online, she said.
Cornelius’s ex-wife confronted him with her suspicions, and he admitted to using images from Google and Facebook to create the online persona of Carpenter, according to the complaint.
The woman told police she felt “terrorized by Cornelius,” is “constantly fearful that he is watching her” and doesn’t feel safe in her own home.
David Kendall, assistant West St. Paul city attorney, said the legal basis for the stalking charges “is basically the fact that he created a persona on the Internet to keep tabs on her and kind of induce her into revealing her day-to-day activities.”
In a court document filed in November in St. Louis County Court over custody issues, Cornelius makes reference to a protection order “based on allegations that I set up fake online personalities in an attempt to stalk her,” but does not elaborate.
Under the terms of that order, which is active until August 2013, Cornelius is not to have contact with his ex-wife except to facilitate phone calls with their children.
He has no criminal history in Minnesota outside of a few traffic violations.
His first court date on the stalking charges is set for July 1.
News Tribune reporter Steve Kuchera contributed to this report.