"I killed my husband."
It's certainly not a great pickup line. Even when divulged during a heart-to-heart after hours of getting-to-know-you conversations, it doesn't exactly go over well. Men and women alike have sworn off potential love interests for far less. I live with my parents. I have five cats. I smoke. Any such confession might send scores of singles back to the dating drawing board. Yet for Kevin Leland, a Vermont man looking for love and friendship on the dating site OkCupid, murder wasn’t a deal breaker…at first.
Of course Christine Billis, the woman who made the murderous admission to Kevin, didn’t advertise her treacherous past online. "I was attracted to her sense of humor," says Kevin about what first drew him to her OkCupid profile. "Also, she was a videographer, and she said she was interested in celibate Christian dating, like me. It seemed like we had a lot in common."
Granted, it's pretty difficult to discern a person's deviant nature based on a dating profile alone. Even the "Cannibal Cop" of New York, Gilberto Valle, came off as a stand-up guy in his profile, also on OkCupid. The married NYPD officer, who was accused last year of planning to kidnap, rape and cook women, described himself as a "true gentleman" and mentioned that he’s the kind of guy who will "open doors and pull out chairs for you." No red flags there. James Holmes, the man accused of the shooting deaths of 12 people in a suburban Colorado movie theater, however, was a little more forthcoming with his profile. "Will you visit me in prison?" he asked prospective daters. If only Kevin had received such forewarning from Christine.
So, with his interest piqued, Kevin began chatting with Christine—instant messaging for hours the very first night. Soon, they progressed to talking on the phone. Unnervingly, it was during their second call that Christine revealed her jarring confession.
"We'd been talking and everything was going well, but I wanted to make sure I really knew her," explains Kevin. "I wanted to know about any downside." He led the way, admitting that he could be violent at times, getting into fights when provoked. Christine revealed that she had a similar violent streak, and eventually the conversation turned to the topic of her husband’s death.
"She told me, 'I did it. I did it on purpose,'" Kevin says about the moment Christine admitted that the 2009 death of her husband had not been an accident, as first presumed. "She was sobbing, and [the confession] just came out between cries," he says.
Christine’s husband, Charles, had died when the family car struck a tree off a stretch of Vermont highway. She'd been driving, and though she was treated at a nearby hospital after the crash, none of her injuries proved life-threatening. At the time, investigators believed that a medical episode had caused her to momentarily lose control of the wheel, and the whole incident had been a tragic accident.
After Christine told her new online suitor the truth—that she had intentionally driven into the tree—Kevin says they both prayed over the phone. Then, amazingly, they made plans to meet in person.
"That first time we hung out, I drove to her house which was about an hour or two from my place," says Kevin. "We took a walk and she brought me to the scene of the wreck. It's strange, but she was kind of proud of it."
By now, you must be saying to yourself, What was he thinking? If it's surprising that Kevin didn’t call the police immediately after that first confessional phone call, and if it's boggling that he would agree to meet up with Chrisine to visit the crime scene, then it may be altogether mind-blowing to know that Kevin didn't alert authorities right away. In fact, he waited another two months.
But why? Turns out, despite her dramatic past, Christine had formed a bond with Kevin, a platonic one, but a true relationship nonetheless. Kevin even got to know Christine's two younger daughters (she has a third grown daughter who wasn’t living at home), and developed genuine sympathy for Christine's plight.
"She told me that her husband had been abusive, and I thought, if he was beating her up, maybe her actions were justified," Kevin explains. "I didn't call the police right away because I wanted to meet her," he says of giving a domestic violence survivor the benefit of the doubt. "I was still checking things out. I thought maybe she wanted to come clean, and I could help her."
However, Christine's secret began to weigh on Kevin. He started asking more questions about the abuse she had suffered, but from what she revealed, it began to seem like there hadn't been anything severe enough to justify violent retaliation. "She said things like, 'Oh, he’d yell at me to clean the house,'" says Kevin. "But in reality, she was a hoarder, so I could understand if he wanted her to clean."
He says there were other revelations that helped to change his mind about her motives. From what Kevin could gather from their many conversations, it seemed Christine had been intent on collecting insurance money from her husband. But the final straw came in a shocking moment when Christine threatened Kevin following a falling out. "One day she said to me, 'I'd hate to have to drive you into a tree.'"
It didn't take long for Kevin to discreetly record Christine confessing to the crime and hightail it to the police. Unfortunately, though, Kevin was told his recording wouldn’t hold up in court because there had been no warrant issued to obtain it. The police agreed to set the bureaucratic cogs in motion so that he could procure another confession—this one legally sound—but the process would take an additional six months. That meant half a year that Kevin would have to spend with Christine, all the while the authorities hovered in the background, waiting to get what they needed.
For Kevin, his online dating foray had officially transformed into a bona fide sting operation. OkCupid, used by so many to arrange dinner plans and discuss the merits of long walks on the beach, had proven a crime-solving tool.
And that's when another strange thing happened. Forced by the nature of the situation to continue spending time with Christine, Kevin found that...he actually enjoyed her company. "It wasn't phony; it was still genuine," he says, though he never wavered from his mission to help carry out justice.
Eventually the police got what they needed and charged Christine in June 2011. Kevin even drove her to the police station. At her arraignment, Christine found out that Kevin had been the informant. The two haven’t spoken since. Last year, she was sentenced to 7 to 15 years after pleading guilty to an amended charge of manslaughter (dropped from first-degree murder).
Cautionary tales of online dating are nothing new; in fact, they're all over popular culture. Whose mother hasn’t forwarded an article warning about the monsters trolling around cyberspace? In fact, there's a service you can sign up for, MyAKA, which helps protect your safety by giving you a second phone number to offer up to prospective dates (you even get a free week-long trial).
Just last week, Lifetime premiered a new Original Movie called The Husband She Met Online, which tells the tale of a woman who falls prey to a psychotic criminal she meets on the web. Even Kevin's personal saga is set to get the TV treatment sometime this fall on the Investigation Discovery channel.
Yet, Kevin doesn't see any reason to swear off online dating altogether. He still has an active OkCupid profile and he's hopeful about meeting someone, on the web or otherwise. He’s not letting one scary situation—no matter how extreme—get in the way of his pursuit of love. He’s just being much more careful now.
Despite his optimistic outlook, there's no doubt that Kevin has been unlucky in love. When asked if his relationship with Christine ranks as his all-time worst dating experience, Kevin hesitates. "Mmm...it makes the top three," he says with a laugh.
We’d hate to hear the other two.