Home Scandal and Gossip $1K: Murdered University of Utah track star was sextortion victim

$1K: Murdered University of Utah track star was sextortion victim

Lauren McCluskey blackmail
Lauren McCluskey blackmail: University of Utah student, a victim of sextortion at the hands of spurned lover, Melvin Rowland (pictured).
Lauren McCluskey blackmail
Lauren McCluskey blackmail:  Pictured, slain University of Utah student and Melvin Rowland (pictured).

Lauren McCluskey blackmail: University of Utah student, a victim of sextortion at the hands of spurned lover, Melvin Rowland. 

A University of Utah student who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend wired $1,000 to an account earlier this month to prevent the release of ‘compromising pictures’ of the pair, investigators said Thursday.

University Police Chief Dale Brophy told reporters that Lauren McCluskey, 21, reported the blackmail to his officers on Oct. 13, nine days before she was found shot dead outside an on-campus dormitory. The suspect in her murder, 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, was found dead later that evening of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a Salt Lake City church.

Brophy said that the track and athletics student had ended her relationship with Rowland on Oct. 9 upon discovering he’d lied to her about his age and was a registered sex offender.

McCluskey initially declined police assistance in dealing with Rowland, but later reported receiving numerous emails and messages using different names trying to lure her to locations in addition to the extortion attempt. Investigators believe the messages all came from Rowland, who Brophy called a master manipulator.

‘If his lips were moving, he was lying,’ Brophy said of Rowland. ‘I don’t think he told the truth to anybody based on our investigation.’

Lauren McCluskey blackmail
Lauren McCluskey blackmail: Pictured the slain University of Utah student and her aggressor- Melvin Rowland.

Melvin Rowland seeks revenge after rejection: 

Rowland was caught on surveillance video at various locations around the University of Utah’s campus during the weekend before McCluskey’s murder. Authorities believe he was trying to confront her.

McCluskey was on the phone with her mother, Jill and walking home to her campus apartment when Rowland abducted her, forced her into a car in a nearby parking lot and shot her to death; her body was discovered by police a few hours later, after her father called 911.

Hours before the killing, Rowland was in McCluskey’s dorm building socializing with some of her friends. He later confronted McCluskey in the building parking lot, dragged her into a car he had driven to campus and shot her multiple times.

After shooting McCluskey, Rowland was picked up on campus by a woman he met online. They went to dinner (why not….), visited the state Capitol and went to her apartment where Rowland took a shower.

The woman called cops when she saw photos of the man being sought for the campus shooting.

Later that night, after the woman dropped Rowland at a coffee shop, police tracked him to the church where he killed himself.

Rowland got the gun by telling an acquaintance that his girlfriend wanted to learn to shoot.

Brophy said it appears the woman who picked up Rowland on campus and the person who loaned him the gun had been duped and will not face charges.

Could Lauren McCluskey’s murder have been prevented?

Police knew Rowland was a sex offender but not that he was on parole, Brophy said. He added that police didn’t start the formal extortion investigation until six days after her Oct. 13 report due to workload issues.

Kaitlin Felsted, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Corrections, said police didn’t make parole officers aware of the complaint filed by McCluskey.

University police didn’t have firsthand knowledge of Rowland’s manipulative tactics or his prior history- which would have led to campus police alerting the Salt Lake City Police Department or the Department of Corrections, which would have considered the harassment accusations a violation of Rowland’s parole.

Of note Brophy said there were no indications from McCluskey that Rowland was threatening physical violence.

University of Utah president Ruth Watkins said outside investigations are being launched to assess campus security and police protocols to determine if improvements can be made to prevent future shootings.

Watkins said so far she has found no mistakes in how police handled the case CBS News repprted.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert said the Utah DOC had approved independent investigations into the handling of Rowland’s parole.

‘Clearly in hindsight, we’re going to say, ‘You should have done this, you should have done that,” Herbert said during a televised news conference, adding, ‘You never know when these things are going to occur.’

Melvin Rowland: ‘Thinking errors’ parole violations.

Rowland was paroled in April when he told the parole board that he was a changed man after being a peer leader in prison had helped him tap into his empathy and learn to follow the rules.

He spent nearly a decade in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to trying to lure an underage girl online and attempted sex abuse charges, according to court records.

After he was charged, a woman came forward to report he had sexually assaulted her after a separate online meeting a few days earlier.

Rowland, a native of New York, was twice sent back to prison for parole violations that included possessing pornography and failure to complete therapy.

He blamed his ‘thinking errors’ for the actions that kept sending him back in prison, according to recordings of parole hearings from 2010 to 2018 released this week by the Utah Board of Parole and Pardons.

Rowland said at a hearing in 2012 that he was a womanizer who manipulated women to get what he wanted.

McCluskey by breaking off her relationship had likely triggered a breaking point for Rowland, who had a history of violence against women.
‘They are often not aware that the most dangerous point of that relationship is when they leave.’ Hamra Ahmad, director of legal services of the New York-based legal nonprofit organization Her Justice, told Refinery29.
‘That’s when the risk increases exponentially because the perpetrator has lost control [of the relationship].’

Brophy said McCluskey met Rowland last month at a bar where he was working security and started dating him. He visited her often in her dorm and made friends with other students in the building.

‘He was very, very good at getting people to trust him,’ Brophy said. ‘Lauren was no different.’