The Konformist

January 2002

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A Web of Intrigue

The search for Curio leads cybersleuths down a twisted path

By Mark Sauer

September 24, 2000

San Diego Union-Tribune


Armed with a telephoto lens and a laptop computer with a hidden camera, Michelle Devereaux headed south from San Francisco on a mission to find Curio.

Devereaux and her friend Barry camped out for hours at the computer lab in SDSU's Love Library, Curio' s favorite place for launching salvos in her cyberspace campaign. Curio didn't show.

Just when Devereaux was about to give up, however, she spotted a trim, middle-aged woman with longish brown hair sitting amid the forest of computer terminals.

Was it Curio? Devereaux had seen her once, even chatted with her briefly, on a reconnaissance tour of the computer lab a month before. But she had to be sure.

She dispatched Barry with the laptop camera to a vacant machine across from their target with orders to start snapping surreptitiously. Then Devereaux took out a monocular so she could get a long-range view of what the woman was reading on her screen.


Devereaux hastily scribbled a note to Barry: "It's Curio! She's reading an e-mail I sent her last night!" She handed the note to the student sitting next to her: "Would you please give this to that guy over there, the one with the baseball cap that says ' Psycho' ?"

The kid looked at her like she was crazy, but did as Devereaux requested.

A dozen or more people from San Diego to Washington State and beyond -- all victims of Curio' s Internet missives -- had been trying to unmask the notorious cyber crusader for nearly five years.

Now Devereaux had her in the cross hairs. But the photos wouldn't be enough. She hatched a plan:

Barry would wait out front with the telephoto lens. Devereaux would pick the right moment and approach Curio; she'd get spooked, head for the parking lot and Barry would photograph her license plate.

Then they'd have her.

It would have worked, too, if Barry hadn't got bored waiting and gone back inside for a soda.

Curio got away on that day last October. The photos of her from the secret camera weren't that clear; nobody recognized the woman staring at the SDSU computer screen.

It would be another eight months before those who have railed against her online, have sued her, have traded implied threats with her and reported her to the police would get the answer to the question tormenting them:

Who is Curio and why is she saying such nasty things about us on the Internet?


Amid her many hundreds of Internet postings, Curio offers several glimpses into her background.

In May 1997 she wrote that she had "worked in many facets of the child-abuse field for 10 years." She had "seen all manner of atrocities committed against children and witnessed all types of adult games played to avoid culpability."

Ten years earlier, Curio learned of a new form of child abuse. "Having a 17-year personal background in the ' occult' has educated me about types of individuals who walk this path.

"My particular interest is in the subject of ritual abuse."

The words "ritual abuse" were often preceded by the word "satanic" in a debate that raged across America for 15 years, from the early 1980s to mid-'90s.

Certain psychotherapists and some police investigators and prosecutors purported to have evidence of underground cults, satanic and otherwise, who had taken control of day-care centers and were abusing preschoolers in blood rituals.

These supposedly involved animal -- and even human -- sacrifice, cannibalism, torture and all manner of sexual abuse.

The ritual-abuse scare rocked the nation. The McMartin Pre-School case in Manhattan Beach in the early '80s was followed by the Dale Akiki prosecution in San Diego and scores of similar cases around the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia. The media stories were endless.

Following the acquittals of the McMartin defendants and Akiki (who won more than $3 million from local authorities in a civil lawsuit), the theory of a satanic-ritual-abuse conspiracy was discredited by mental-health experts and the co.

A 10-year investigation of satanic-ritual-abuse allegations by FBI Special Agent Ken Lanning turned up virtually nothing. Yet certain people persist in their belief in "these heinous crimes against children." Curio claims to be able to document 50 such cases worldwide.

In her zeal to protect "young victims," Curio has posted extensive information about notable individuals who worked hard over the years to debunk the notion of satanic-ritual abuse.

Most of these people have stated their conclusions regarding ritual abuse in public forums and have been questioned in open court, where no one is anonymous.

But now they were being challenged -- libeled, in their words -- by someone who operated at a distinct advantage. Curio (who often went by the full pseudonym Karen Curio Jones) said her anonymity was necessary "for safety reasons" and she protected it fiercely.

That drove her opponents in the Internet "flame wars" nuts.

"You can' t imagine what this does to you until you' ve gone through it," said Carol Hopkins, who is near the top of Curio' s Internet enemies list. "She has disrupted our personal lives, called employers, talked to law enforcement.

"She makes all sorts of unsubstantiated claims. There are a lot of crazies out there and some may be willing to act. It is truly frightening."


Carol Hopkins was a natural target for Curio.

A former school administrator, Hopkins was an outspoken member of the 1991-92 San Diego County Grand Jury that blasted the child-protection system after investigating wide-ranging allegations of zealous social workers removing children from their homes without cause.

Hopkins later formed the Justice Committee and publicized what she identified as false allegations of child abuse here and around the nation. Curio blamed Hopkins and two San Diego Union-Tribune reporters (Jim Okerblom and the author of this story) for ending official interest here in satanic-ritual abuse:

"In my opinion, Carol Hopkins, Mark Sauer and Jim Okerblom misreported on and gave a one-sided portrayal of ritual abuse for the county of San Diego nonstop for approximately six years," Curio wrote in a post revealing Hopkins' recent move to Mexico.

"Her criticism of me on the Internet was constant," Hopkins said. "She accused me of protecting child molesters, insinuated I was a child molester, claimed I don' t believe child abuse exists. Curio was a big factor in my decision to give up the Justice Committee.

"I moved to Mexico for a fresh start and then she tracks me down here. I' ve learned that nobody escapes the Internet."

Another of Curio's favorite subjects is Elizabeth Loftus, professor of psychology and adjunct professor of law at the University of Washington in Seattle.

An internationally known expert on the workings of memory, Loftus has written numerous articles and books decrying the idea that trauma associated with child sexual abuse acts to repress the memory of such horrible events.

And she has testified for the defense in many trials (including the Akiki case), explaining how memories -- especially those of young children -- can be manipulated, even by well-meaning people.

According to Curio, Loftus "colluded with" Hopkins to write the critical grand-jury reports, a claim both women denounce as absurd.

Loftus said she recently was invited to deliver the keynote address at a convention of the New Zealand Psychology Society and arrived to find herself the center of controversy.

Accusations that she conspires to protect child molesters, many fueled by Curio's Internet postings, led to a story in the Wellington Evening Post and stoked the talk-show fires.

"I spent most of my time defending myself against misrepresentations," Loftus said. "People attending my speech were met by individuals with 27-page booklets -- much of it compiled from the Internet -- accusing me of all sorts of vile stuff.

"These kinds of things can have a life beyond the time and geographical borders we' re used to thinking of."

But if Hopkins and Loftus consider Curio a tireless nuisance, Michael Aquino considered her a threat to his safety and that of his family.

Aquino said that is why he filed suit in San Diego Superior Court against a local Internet provider in a failed attempt to learn Curio's identity.

It seems inevitable that the retired Army intelligence officer from San Francisco would loom large on Curio' s radar screen.

He was, after all, a top official in the late Anton LaVey's Church of Satan and founded the Temple of Set, a quasi-religious institution that many consider satanic.

In the late 1980s, Aquino was investigated in a McMartin/Akiki-type case centering on allegations of satanic abuse at a day-care center at San Francisco' s Presidio military base.

Aquino, who was a lieutenant colonel, was questioned because of his satanic beliefs. Neither Aquino nor anyone associated with him was ever charged, much less tried and convicted, in the Presidio case -- a point Curio concedes.

But that hasn't stopped her from insinuating he abuses children in satanic rituals.

"My basic interest was to identify an anonymous person who, because of his/her obsessions and delusions, might pose a threat to the safety of myself and my family," Aquino said.

Curio claims that Aquino was booted out of the Army as a result of the Presidio investigation.

Aquino, who adamantly denies any involvement in the Presidio day-care center or satanic-ritual abuse, said that in addition to the Bronze Star (1970) and many other military awards, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1994 following his voluntary retirement from the Army.


In the beginning, Michelle Devereaux said, she was not a target of Curio but a compatriot.

Devereaux, 43, has two grown sons, a plethora of tattoos and body piercings and an extraordinary knowledge of cyberspace after 20 years in the computer business.

She also once believed she had been abused by a satanic cult herself.

"Curio and I were coming from the same place -- I spent eight or nine years in therapy, all the while researching satanic-ritual abuse," Devereaux said. "It wasn't until 1999 that I exited the cloud of unknowing."

Curio, she said, "sealed it for me that this stuff is all a bunch of crap. When she came along doing her Internet thing and saying all this stuff about these people, I finally realized how crazy it all was.

"I feel sorry for her on one hand. But she' s vicious. And she' s got her supporters. She was really hurting people. I decided to get involved."

Devereaux became a cybersleuth. She traced Curio's Internet posts to specific computers.

Besides her home computer, Curio posted from computer labs at SDSU, USD and UCSD as well as from Children' s Hospital, Sharp HealthCare Centers, San Diego Public Library, San Diego County Library and local cybercafes.

So determined was she to protect her anonymity, Curio not only favored public computers but also forged her online identity and scrambled her electronic trail.

But Devereaux eventually smoked her out.

"I came up with a way to monitor the Internet so every time she posted, I got paged," Devereaux said.

She had contacted police in San Diego and San Francisco about Curio' s "cyberstalking crusade," yet failed to garner much interest. But Devereaux found a sympathetic ear at SDSU Police headquarters on campus.

"In some of the Internet correspondence, it was alleged that Curio had made threats and might be carrying a gun. That raised our interest," said Detective Susan McCrary.

She and Lt. Eddie Gilbert agreed to work with Devereaux to catch Curio as she posted from SDSU. Devereaux turned over her secret photos and a detailed description of Curio; the computer lab was alerted.

In late May, Gilbert got a sudden call from Devereaux: Curio was posting. "I rushed over, but she was gone," he said.

Then on Tuesday, June 13 at 1 p.m., Devereaux's pager again went off. She called Gilbert immediately; he again hustled over to the computer lab in the center of campus.

And there she was.

"I was in plain clothes with another investigator," Gilbert said. "She didn' t match the photo I had -- she'd cut her hair. But I was pretty sure it was her. I requested back-up from uniformed officers because of the information about a gun.

"(Curio) moved to another computer and I noticed she had signed on as ThomasDylan@hotmail -- one of her aliases. We moved in and detained her.

"She was extremely upset, kind of paranoid, really. She said dangerous people had been after her for some time, that they were out to get her and now the police were cooperating with them."

The officers searched Curio' s bag but found no gun.

"When we asked if she'd been using university computers to harass people on the Internet, she said, ' I post messages and information.' She denied ever harassing anyone in her life, however."

But Curio was anonymous no longer.

Napolis, 44, of La Mesa. She worked for San Diego County as a child-protection-services investigator for many years before leaving that post in 1996.

"She told us she is self-employed now, working in child-custody cases downtown," McCrary said.

The police warned her not to use SDSU computers any longer. "One of our big concerns on this campus is stalking and harassment," McCrary said.

Then they let her go.

Within days of Curio's apprehension at SDSU, state records show, a Diana L. Napolis obtained a marriage and family counseling license from the state of California, enabling her to practice psychotherapy.

Napolis ignored several requests to be interviewed for this story. Whatever motivates her remains pretty much a secret.

But now that Curio has been exposed, no one involved is quite sure what to do.

"It's like the dog who chases cars and finally catches one," Devereaux said. "Now what?"

SDSU police say they are maintaining a file on her and if there's enough evidence of cyberstalking and harassment, they may recommend that the district attorney file charges. California is one of the few states with an anti-cyberstalking law.

"It' s a very gray area, though," McCrary said. "She hasn't made any physical threats. Everything' s been done in a public forum."

But pulling back the curtain on Curio to reveal Napolis has effectively stripped her of her power, Devereaux contends.

That may be enough, Aquino said: "Now that this person has been identified, that ' faceless' threat no longer exists. She is now just another woman with ' satanic ritual-abuse' sexual fantasies."

Carol Hopkins likens Napolis to "the mythical Japanese soldier stumbling out of the jungle still fighting World War II."

"Conspiracy theories about satanic-ritual abuse have been thoroughly discredited by reasonable people, but true believers remain."

She said the Curio case boils down to a civil-rights issue:

Do First Amendment rights of free speech trump the rights of those being accused of a crime (child molestation) to know their accuser' s identity?

"On the Internet now, you can say almost anything you want, and there' s nothing to stop you," Hopkins said. "When we didn't know who Curio was, she had power. To finally learn she's a nobody, why even bother with her now?"

Of course Diana Napolis/Karen Curio Jones has her own opinion, posted on the Internet:

"This is still the United States and I believe it is wrong to try and censor speech just because you don't like the message."


Copyright 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.


Stalking Curio Jones: An Open Letter to the San Diego Union-Tribune

Alex Constantine

Ritual Abuse Victims Advocate Responds to Defamatory Article in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Karen Curio Jones

"Problems for Victims of Ritual Abuse in San Diego, California"

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