They met on a dating site and now he's dead

By Cleve Wootson

Hailey Bustos has been charged with murder in the death of Adam Hilarie, whom she met on a dating site. Photo / Auburndale Police Department.
Hailey Bustos has been charged with murder in the death of Adam Hilarie, whom she met on a dating site. Photo / Auburndale Police Department.

There was no reason for Adam Hilarie to believe anything but the obvious: He had just been on a promising first date with a pretty girl.

Hilarie had met Hailey Rose Bustos on PlentyOfFish, which bills itself as the largest dating site in the world.

He'd picked her up and they went bowling in Winter Haven, Florida, at Cypress Lanes, which offers shoe and lane rentals for a quarter on Thursday nights, and specials on pizza and beer.

A few hours later, the pair ended up at his place, where they talked a bit more and met his flatmate.

Then, Hilarie dropped his date off at home.

Bustos sent the single father a text afterwards: She'd had a good time, she wrote to Hilarie, and wanted to meet up the following night at his place.

The next night, her real intentions became clear, police told the Washington Post.

Bustos, 18, brought three men with her to Hilarie's place, including two career criminals on probation for violent felonies. At least one of the men, police said, had a gun.

When Hilarie, 27, responded to the knock on the door, the men overpowered him and dashed inside, police said.

The struggle ended in the kitchen.

"Hilarie was begging for his life, he was not putting up any kind of fight, and was telling them that he had a 5-year-old daughter," according to arrest reports obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

Hilarie was shot in the head and collapsed on the kitchen floor, Auburndale's Deputy Police Chief Andy Ray told the Post.

As Hilarie bled out, Ray said, the suspects went downstairs, pulled their car to the front of the apartment and began stealing the dead man's Xbox, iPhone and TVs - valuables Bustos had spotted the night before.

A witness told investigators that Bustos had been involved in at least one similar robbery before, Ray told the Post.

For her role in the deadly robbery of Adam Hilarie, Bustos was paid US$50, police said.

Johnny Jackson told the Post that Hilarie, his brother, took Bustos to the same bowling alley the siblings used to go to as kids.

Nobody was more important to Hilarie than his daughter, Lajaya, he said. "He really loved his daughter," Jackson said. "That was his world."

Jackson said he didn't know how long his brother and Bustos had been talking on PlentyOfFish. He estimated Hilarie had been on the site less than two months, because that's when Hilarie broke up with his last girlfriend. The brothers had talked about the site, because Jackson is also a member.

"Half of the profiles, they don't even put their real name," Jackson said. "I see girls on there that their occupation is getting money. I stay way away from them."

Ray, the deputy chief, said it's unclear if Bustos used her real name. At a news conference, he said he suspected she was experienced with the scheme.

"Her comfort with the way this went, didn't seem like it was her first time," he said. "If she hasn't done it before, then she has talked to people who have done it."

Andrew Warner, Gary Gray and Joshua Ellington have been charged in the death of Adam Hilarie. Photo / Auburndale Police Department.
Andrew Warner, Gary Gray and Joshua Ellington have been charged in the death of Adam Hilarie. Photo / Auburndale Police Department.

Using the lure of Internet love to get money from unsuspecting people is a scam as old as the Web itself. Experts say people are getting better at spotting many of the Internet's longtime scams: They're suspicious of unsolicited emails from the Nigerian royal family, and they ignore the romantic entreaties of beautiful lovestruck women who sound vaguely like badly programmed algorithms.

But the criminals are getting smarter, too. And on dating sites, would-be scammers have a trump card: People are irrational when they're looking for love.

"Romance is by definition quite irrational," Jack Levin, co-director of Northeastern University's Brudnick Centre on Violence and Conflict, told the Post. "And the smartest person can be taken in during the early stages of the dating process. Except now it's more sophisticated and easier for someone to lie and cheat and fabricate because they can pretty much change their identity to make it fit a new reality."

Scammers, Levin said, "are experts at presentation of self. When you're dealing with the Internet, you don't need the resources that you might need in an interpersonal relationship, or face-to-face. But on the Internet all you need really is to be very skillful at presenting yourself as something that you aren't. And it's so much easier for someone to do that online."

It's unclear how many people across the United States have been caught up in so-called romance schemes, although the FBI and the FTC have both issued warnings against them.

"Millions of Americans visit online dating websites every year hoping to find a companion or even a soulmate," the FBI said just before Valentine's Day, adding that "the FBI wants to warn you that criminals use these sites, too, looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into fast money through a variety of scams."

Most victims walk away with lightened pockets and broken hearts. In rare instances, victims - like Hilarie - can lose their lives.

Romance is by definition quite irrational
Jack Levin

In June, robbery victims in Florida told police they had shown up at hotels in Oldmar and Clearwater expecting to meet a woman with the screen name "Curvy Cameron 93." She never showed; instead, two men with guns held the victims up, according to NBC affiliate WFLA.

Detectives told WFLA they feared victims would be afraid to come forward because they would be embarrassed telling people how they got robbed.

That same month, a 36-year-old man was robbed in Ohio after getting together with a woman he met on PlentyOfFish, according to As the victim escorted the woman known as "Nikki" to his car, a man with a gun appeared and the pair robbed the victim of US$300, then ran away.

In November, the Boston Police Department warned daters to be wary of people they met online after robbers targeted victims who thought they were meeting a romantic interest at a specific address.

"When the person arrives outside that location, they are approached by a male suspect armed with a handgun and robbed of their property," Boston police said. "As of now, investigators believe there have been 6 such incidents in the past 5 weeks. . . .

"Members of the public are urged to take precautions when using social media or dating websites because it's possible you could come across a 'Catfisher.'"

- Washington Post

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