It’s that distinctive ping from your phone – a new message on one of the many dating apps available.
It’s where the adventure begins.
Watch more in the video above
Is there the promise of romance? Does their bio tantalise? Are those pictures real and recent?
Dating has always carried inherent risk, but in the modern days of digital dating, not everything is as it seems.
It was Christmas Eve 2019 and 25-year-old Kevin Bacon – not the actor – but a hairstylist and psychology student at the University of Michigan was hoping for an early Christmas present.
He’d been chatting on the gay dating app Grindr with a handsome man twice his age. The man wanted to meet and was only a 30 minute drive away in semi-rural Morrice, Michigan.
Although he was known by a few other aliases, the man’s real name was Mark Latunski. He was a killer and a cannibal.
Not long after Kevin stepped through the front door of Latunski’s home, he was slaughtered.
What happened next was even more appalling and rare.
A cruel end to a young life
Around 5pm on Christmas Eve, Kevin told friend and roommate, Michelle Myers, he was off to meet a man he’d been chatting with on Grindr, but didn’t tell her where.
At 6.12pm he sent her a text message saying he was having fun and not to wait up. It was the last time she heard from him.
Kevin, full of hope, walked into a nightmare.
His father Karl, said, ‘Evil does exist and it touched us.’
Kevin Bacon is missing
When Kevin didn’t appear at the traditional family Christmas Day brunch, his father rang Myers.
She checked his bed, which hadn’t been slept in. There was no sign of his car and he wasn’t answering his phone. It was out of character – Kevin was a reliable and a good communicator.
Something was very wrong, so his parents contacted the Clayton Township Police.
Late on Christmas Day police ‘pinged’ Kevin’s phone and found it, along with his wallet and some clothing, in his car left in a Clayton Township car park. There was no sign of Kevin or his car keys.
When they unlocked his Grindr conversations they found his arrangement with Latunski.
Not the first incident
A check on Latunski revealed a bizarre incident at his home about a month before.
A neighbour had called police after seeing a young man running from the house, clad only in a leather kilt. With winter snows looming it was not a sensible outfit.
The man had blood on his face and was screaming for help.
He told police he’d met Latunski via a dating app. While the sex was consensual and included him being chained up, he became ‘spooked’ by Latunski’s behaviour and escaped, but wouldn’t press charges.
A gruesome scene
Acting on the information found on Kevin’s dating app, Michigan State Police knocked on Latunski’s front door in the early hours of December 28.
Checking on Kevin’s welfare, the troopers asked Latunski if they could search the house and he complied.
In the basement, they found a hidden room.
Kevin Bacon was inside – naked with a rope wrapped around his ankles, hanging upside down from a ceiling beam. He was dead and his testicles had been sliced off.
Latunski admitted he’d stabbed Bacon in the back of the neck then slit his throat, then cooked and ate the testicles.
A long history of mental health issues
The greatest peril of online dating is what you don’t know about the person you’ve arranged to meet.
Latunski had an ex-wife and four children, a current husband and a long history of mental health issues.
He’d been committed at least four times for mental health problems.
Husband Jamie Arnold told the media they’d separated in September 2019 because of Latunski’s promiscuity and increasingly erratic behaviour.
Latunski had spent Christmas Day with Arnold and some friends.
“He appeared to be normal, he never exhibited any signs that anything was wrong,” Arnold said.
He dropped Latunski home that night but didn’t go inside.
Michelle Myers was Kevin’s closest friend, confidante and roommate.
She posted on Facebook: ‘Kevin could brighten up any room he walked into. He loved talking about hair, makeup, fashion, and music. He LOVED Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Jeffree Star’.
Kevin’s father Karl told the media his son was, ‘a good person, he was compassionate, he cared for the people he met, he cared for the people he worked with. He loved everybody.’
The appalling prospect of murderous cannibals is thankfully rare, but there have been a few in recent memory.
Plating up penis
In 2001, Armin Meiwes from Rotenberg, Germany advertised for a ‘well-built young man who wanted to be eaten.’ Bern Brandes replied.
The two met at Meiwes home and after Brandes had taken 20 sleeping tablets and drunk half a bottle of schnapps, his host chopped off his penis then fried it.
Both men then dined.
Meiwes later stabbed Brandes in the neck, dismembered him and put the pieces in his deep freeze. He later defrosted and cooked parts of Brandes with garlic and olive and allegedly accompanied by a bold South African red wine.
It was an horrific tale of killing and cannibalism between consenting adults.
US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer raped, murdered and dismembered 17 men between 1978 and 1991.
He would meet men at gay bars and shopping centres, luring them to his home (or often his grandmother’s home) with promises of money or sex. Dahmer would then give his victims alcohol laced with drugs before strangling them.
When his Milwaukee home was searched, police found body parts in a refrigerator, the closet and a vat.
Dahmer had cooked and eaten parts of his victims, keeping other parts as trophies and acidifying the remains.
In 1994, just months before he was beaten to death in prison, reporter Stone Phillips asked Dahmer why he ate parts of his victims.
“It made me feel like they were a permanent part of me,” he replied.
An Aussie cannibal
Back in Australia, Katherine Knight pleaded guilty to the murder of her partner John Price.
After stabbing Price, Knight skinned and decapitated the corpse. Police found body parts served up with vegetables in the kitchen – she had intended on feeding them to his unsuspecting children.
The abattoir worker became the first woman in Australia to be sentenced to life in jail without parole.
Insane or not?
Knight, Dahmer and Meiwes were all found to be legally sane.
However, in Latunski’s case, the judge has allowed an insanity plea and he’s in custody awaiting mental health evaluation.
Perils of online dating
Australia has plentiful cases of dates using an app that ended in dreadful experiences.
One recent case was that of Ratu Bose in Melbourne, who used a fake name on his Tinder profile. He purported to be a former French soldier and LA-based bodyguard.
He conned, terrified, brutalised and raped two women.
In August 2019, Bose was sentenced on multiple counts with the judge directing he serve a minimum of 9 years before being eligible for parole.
Dating apps are now mainstream but don’t forget the risks. Make the first meeting in public and somewhere you’re both comfortable.
If you do decide to meet someone at their home, put safety before embarrassment and tell someone you trust where you’re going and who you’re meeting.
Read more of Duncan McNab’s investigations here
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