Googling can really mess things up.
November 5, 2010 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Having googled up some seriously unflattering information that may or may not actually be about a guy I sort of thought I might like, I don't know where to go from here.

There's a guy I see for a few hours once or twice a month at meetups. He's funny and smart, and I kind of like him, despite the fact that I know he doesn't work and is in some sort of therapy, which aren't immediately compelling qualities in a guy. They're also not immediately disqualifying given that he seems nice and normal.

I googled his very common first name along with his uncommon last name, and the only result that came up was a news story from a decade ago. Person with the same name as this guy was apparently being tried for attempted murder of a total stranger at a university not far from where we now both live. Having tried to kill someone would be immediately disqualifying.

Which would potentially jibe with 'doesn't work' and 'is in some kind of therapy'. But of course, it might not be him at all -- it's just one random google result.

I don't think I can really ask. Even if the answer is 'Nope', asking the question 'Say, you didn't happen to try to murder someone did you?' would not be acceptable.

He doesn't really talk about his therapy situation, so while I could see asking if we ever went out on an actual date, I don't think I could ask before an actual date, and that's when I'd want to know.

So where do I go from here? Let it go? Try to verify?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why try to verify? You sort of thought you might like the guy. Without having already declared an interest (even to yourself) in him, trying to get him to verify this might just seem nosy.

And since trying to kill someone *is* a disqualification on whether you do decide that you actually like someone....just let this go. Until you develop genuine feelings of interest and compassion in him as a person separate from your curiosity, there is no reason to pursue this.
posted by motsque at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

All signs here for me (it happened near where you both live, hes jobless, and hes in therapy) point to yes he did it, so cut your losses and move on.
posted by wheelieman at 8:42 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unless you were already well into a relationship with the guy, I'd say drop it and don't get involved with him. He already had two strikes against him by your measure by being without a job and in therapy, so "maybe kinda sorta tried to kill someone" would be the final straw.

Sure he may be a nice guy, but there's more of them out there who have never had their names come up in a background check as an alleged attempted murderer.
posted by inturnaround at 8:44 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

He doesn't sound like a terrific prospect even without a history. I don't think being in therapy is an automatic disqualifier in and of itself, but the combination of factors just doesn't feel right.

There are probably guys out there you'd be interested in who are functioning in the world and don't raise these three red flags all together.
posted by Miko at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to date him (and honestly, you don't sound that keen), then let it go.

If you want to date him then sure, try to verify whether this is him. The information you need is in the public record (for, among other reasons, situations like yours).

And while you're at it, you might want to find out if he was found guilty, which seems somewhat relevant, and which you (and the people answering this question saying "he did it") don't know either.
posted by caek at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

If you Google my rather uncommon first and last names, you'll get results for people who are not me but who you could very well think are me. An almost-stranger would probably have no way to distinguish between the two.

Once you start trying to verify this, you'll want to believe it. Then, you'll start seeing connections where they don't exist and confirm to yourself that, yeah, this dude tried to kill someone because of tenuous connections A, B and C. And then you won't want to see him.

I'm not saying that you're being a terrible person and judging him and whatever. You're doing what, in the Internet age, is due diligence and have clearly stumbled on something unsettling. I'd suggest getting some calm, cool, non-drama-prone friends to take a look at your "evidence" and help you make a decision.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aw, babe. You know what would be more of a disqualifying thing for ME, personally? Not attempted murder, but being unable to ask a romantic partner about something major like that.

(Well, okay, maybe attempted murder WOULD be higher on the list, but hear me out here.)

The number-one thing that I personally look for in a prospective partner is the POSSIBILITY of total honest, open communication. Any layers of obfuscation/bullshit are a killer (no pun intended), especially early on.

If anything interfered with that possibility - whether the person's characteristics OR something huge and unbreachable like that - I'd move on.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:48 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

My name is relatively uncommon - there are six of us on Facebook. If you Google me, you won't find much info about me personally, since I'm cagey about where I use my full name online.

However, you sound less than keen, and he sounds like he's at the very least trying to get himself together. So relax about it.
posted by mippy at 8:49 AM on November 5, 2010

i am old and married and out of dating mode for years so i may be more cautious than some others, but give this one lots of time. lots and lots of time. Personally i would look for more information. Attempted murder is different than finding out someone writes bad checks or is a dead beat dad. You spend a limited amount of time with him in a controlled environment at this point so it might take awhile to gather a true picture of his character and personality.

would he have been an adult at the time? If so, your state may have a court database online that could give you more information - possibly age of the person tried for the crime etc - that could help you narrow down the likely hood this is him.

oklahoma's is under oklahoma district court records. was the person in the article convicted of said crime?

do you know why he doesn't work? lots of people have been laid off through no fault of their own. Not grounds for dismissal and understandable. Someone who has been out of work for an extended period of time and whose last job was at a convenience store - not good and more perplexing. Grounds for disqualification in my opinion.
posted by domino at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2010

Do the ages connect? Most news stories will say "Bill Smith, 42, is accused..." Asking his age is innocuous enough.
posted by salvia at 8:59 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also: many, many states have online court records (PA's in particular are excellent; NJ obfuscates a lot of stuff). If you do have a full name and appropriate age, and live in a pretty liberal state vis a vis records, you could confirm with, say, 75% certainty for yourself.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2010

Being jobless and in therapy defines quite a few people out there in the world right now. It's the google result that you should look deeper into. A background check would confirm or deny what you want to know.

If it's about dating or not dating this guy, then do it. If it's purely curiosity at this point, then don't.
posted by marimeko at 9:09 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do any of the articles have pictures of the accused?
posted by elpea at 9:11 AM on November 5, 2010

I think Occam's Razor says it was the same guy, given that you have three very key data points that match up:

1) Uncommon name the same.
2) Location -- the crime was nearby where both of you are now
3) Current behavior -- not working and in therapy, a possible sign of mental illness/inability to conform to society/inability to get job because of criminal record, which all point to a criminal history.
posted by yarly at 9:18 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are starting to like him, or even think you might start to like him someday, I'd go ahead and do more detective work now and try to settle the issue for yourself. It's much better to figure out whether he did what you think he might have done before you develop some kind of crush on him. If it turns out he did it, then you can keep your distance and avoid getting involved.

(Though he doesn't sound like that great of a guy anyway.)
posted by Maximian at 9:23 AM on November 5, 2010

You may also want to just see if you can figure out what the verdict was, or at least what the evidence was. Being tried for attempted murder does not (necessarily) equal attempted to murder someone. And you can imagine that if someone was wrongly accused of trying to kill someone, they might still be in therapy over it...
posted by brainmouse at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Here is something that would work: "Hey, you're interesting enough that I Googled you! Do you know what comes up if you do that?" See what he says.
posted by anildash at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

There's no way I can think of to find out for sure without just getting more deeply involved in a potentially bad way. Maybe it's unfair, but I've been burned often enough to know that in your shoes, I would withdraw from interacting with him and forget about a romantic relationship. I would only reconsider if I really, really liked him or already had some stake in dating him. At this point, there are still plenty of other fish in the sea.
posted by Nixy at 9:31 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, it's probably him. I WANT to second anildash because that question certainly would get to the bottom of this, but if it IS true, I'm kind of scared for you. Dude just randomly murders people? What? Don't ask him anything!
posted by SkylitDrawl at 9:33 AM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Your description of him basically boils down to "Well, I don't NOT like him, I guess. He seems a bit crazy though". You're not interested. Leave the guy alone.

By the way, unless I'm missing something, I don't think this question is about how to verify whether this guy is the person in the story. That's the easy part, but it may involve the use of a telephone: the OP gets off Metafilter, Google for ages and pictures, and if that doesn't work they call the courthouse, who will give them information on the public record that allows them to answer the question in a few seconds, all without him knowing about it and things getting awkward.
posted by caek at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hmm. A couple of years ago, if you googled my common first name and not-so-common last name, you got a young woman who lived in the same city as me, was also a grad student, and was deeply involved in anti-abortion activism. It confused the heck out of my students. And before I figured out what was going on, some of the things they said to me, assuming I was an ardent anti-abortion activist, confused the heck out of me. I always wondered what weird questions she was getting because of me. We've both moved since then, but for a while I had a very strange googleganger.

So yeah, it's probably the same guy, but I don't think you can know for sure unless you do some more research or ask him.
posted by craichead at 9:56 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be cautious about reading too much into that newspaper article. My first name is common and my last name very rare. Last time I checked (a couple of years ago), putting my name into google returns two boring hits about me and a handful of newspaper articles about some guy with my name and roughly my age who was convicted for a string of thefts. So this sort of coincidence can happen.
posted by metaBugs at 9:57 AM on November 5, 2010

There is a reason that things like this are in the public record. Contrary to what other people in the thread have implied, there is nothing busybody-ish or weird about looking at information that is in the public record. It's there because our society has decided we all have the right to know these things. Looking at things in the public record is not prying into someone else's private business. It's not private.

And, IMHO, you're not being paranoid and overly dramatic to want to find out if a potential date has a criminal record, being concerned by an indication that he might have a serious one, and wanting to find out if that indication is right. Members of demographics who are less at risk of being physically harmed by their SOs might think, "what's the big deal/why make such a fuss/you're being dramatic" but it *is* a big deal.

Even if you don't decide to pursue anything romantic with him, I think it would be wise to try to verify since you see him fairly regularly anyway, and it sounds like you are developing a friendship, at the least.

If you want to verify, here is some information in the public record that you can get, depending how much effort you want to put into it:

In many states, mug shots are public record, and you can get them from the police station where this person was arrested.

Many trial transcripts are in the public record, and you can often order them. If this went past just an arrest to a trial, you will be able to read the testimony in it.

You may just be able to call the police station and request the age/date of birth of the person who was arrested. I think this was mentioned upthread, but a lot of states have online databases of people who have been arrested in the past X amount of time, that include dates of birth.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:05 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Even unusual names often aren't unique.
Sometimes entirely innocent people are brought to trial.
Sometimes attempted murder charges can arise from situations that a lot of people would consider justifiable self-defense.

If you don't even know if it's the same guy, and don't even know what the situation was, it seems like awfully sketchy information to base a decision on.

Looking up contemporary newspaper accounts at the library probably wouldn't take that much effort.
posted by Zed at 10:06 AM on November 5, 2010

I would try to find out, but NOT by asking him. If I was regularly interacting with someone who maybe-sorta-kinda tried to kill a complete stranger, I would want to know so that I could be on my guard in case he did something similar in the future.
posted by kataclysm at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask him what college he went to and if it's the same school, then it's probably him.

But I don't think you should bother even trying. It sounds like it's probably the same guy.
posted by anniecat at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having been falsely accused of and tried for murder both sound like excellent reasons why a person might not have a job and might have some issues to work out in therapy.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:50 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

In principle, I totally agree about "innocent until proven guilty."But the assumption of someone's innocence doesn't necessarily have a lot to say about his ensuing relationships.

So let's say it's true that it was the same guy, and he was totally falsely accused and it was a huge railroading and now he can never get hired because it turns up in background checks and he has issues about it that he's in therapy for. What a shitty thing to happen to someone!

And yet, the ultimate question still is "Do I want to pursue a relationship with this guy?" I'd say hey, someone in that situation has had a bad time and that's very unfortunate. But I'm still pretty sure I wouldn't consider them a good candidate for a long-term relationship. That's a lot of trouble on someone's existing plate to opt in for. You have to think about how it would be to be in a relationship with such a person. Would you be drawn into the drama, championing their cause and defending them at every turn? Able to handle it whenever someone you knew stumbled across this information and contacted you, concerned? Comfortable being sole breadwinner as the unemployment continues, maybe for? Comfortable wondering whether his assertion of innocence was really true or whether he got off on a technicality?

Here's a situation where you're really not involved with this guy in any individual way yet. Why bother to go there? It's not like he's the only person you'll ever be attracted to!

Hold out for someone without the complications he presents - even if he's a totally different guy than the one in the news story, why not wait for someone who demonstrably has their shit together and doesn't introduce complications at the outset of your relationship?
posted by Miko at 11:17 AM on November 5, 2010

Having been falsely accused of and tried for murder both sound like excellent reasons why a person might not have a job and might have some issues to work out in therapy.

yeah, what the hell happened to innocent until proven guilty?

This part, at least, is extremely easy to find out (whether or not the person who was arrested was convicted, or what they were convicted of). This is easier to find out than finding out whether it's the same guy that the OP knows. It could take seconds to do.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:21 AM on November 5, 2010

What exactly does "unusual" and "not far" mean?

If you are in a metropolitan area, there could be a few million people that live "not far" from the university in question, which is plenty enough for any number of people to have the same unusual name. Esp if some families with that name have roots in the area.
posted by philipy at 11:24 AM on November 5, 2010

Unless he is the last man in your area, this is clearly a move on situation.
posted by special-k at 11:40 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was dating, one of my general rules was "If I have to guess whether you're a murderer, then we're not really compatible. This rule served me well.
posted by nomadicink at 11:50 AM on November 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

From the OP:
Some deep web research has revealed that the suspected stabber
definitely did the stabbing, and did not stand trial for it, because
he was deemed too psychotic to stand trial and was instead sent to a
mental institution. So I think we can safely say that if the person I
know and the stabber are the same person, I do not want to date him.

Which leaves trying to determine whether the person I know is the
stabber or just has the same name. And it seems unfortunately likely
that he is, given that the approximate age, approximate height, and
approximate geography match, along with the therapy and employment

Unfortunately, none of the press coverage I could find of the incident
includes photos, which would kind of clinch things.

I'm reasonably certain that he's not just coincidentally unemployed
because of a bad economy or whatever -- based on some information from
another member of the group, I believe that he is unemployable because
of whatever has him in therapy. I just thought it might be something
treatable that was not necessarily a deal-breaker like depression or

I didn't want to rush to judgment, because there's a criminal with the
same unusual first name as me who gets all up in my ego searches, so I
know there's the possibility of mix-ups with this stuff.

I don't feel unsafe continuing to be his casual friend in our fairly
structured shared activity. I do wonder if I should say anything to
the organizers of the group we're in.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:21 PM on November 5, 2010

I do wonder if I should say anything to the organizers of the group we're in.

Oh, god no! Don't socially implicate someone in an attempted murder unless you saw it happen with your own two eyes.
posted by griphus at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2010

I do wonder if I should say anything to the organizers of the group we're in.

You need to think long and hard about that one. First you have to be absolutely sure you're right, like say pulling police records and seeing his picture on it. Mind you, I'm not sure if that's even possible to do, but you get my point about how sure you have to be about this?

Then there's the question of where you have the moral right to invade his privacy like that. And the question of whether doing it will spark an episode of some sort, putting him and others at risk. I'm not sure if that's even an issue, because I'm not trained that branch of medicine and even if I was, I have no idea what his particular background and triggers are, if he has any. It's a tricky question.
posted by nomadicink at 1:08 PM on November 5, 2010

I don't think you should say anything. First of all, you don't know anything for sure. Second, if the group is concerned about the participation of people with criminal histories, then presumably they'd have some sort of background check process in place. If they don't, it's by default open to people regardless of criminal history. Third, it's just not your responsibility. I think if there were a crime he had just now committed and you witnessed it or knew about it, you would have a responsibility to relay that to the authorities - but that's not what's happened here. You discovered something about a person's past (maybe) but there's no reason for you to suspect it's unresolved.

Part of living within our legal system is accepting that once a court process has happened and a person is freed, they can live their lives out in the world with everyone else as long as they aren't breaking any requirements of the court. In other words, there are felons around us every day. Unless you have a reason to act to prevent harm or to bring justice for something that hasn't had any yet, you shouldn't say anything that could harm his reputation or ability to pursue healing.
posted by Miko at 1:25 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I do wonder if I should say anything to the organizers of the group we're in.

This is a kind of tough one. I tend to think that you shouldn't; even if you find out for a fact that he did it. He was dealt with at the time by the proper people, and now he's been released. And you couldn't follow him around the rest of his life being his personal parole officer to the world, warning everyone he comes in contact with.

That said, I have a family member who attempted to kill someone in the middle of a psychotic episode, and also was committed to a hospital. I, and all the other child family members, were always made aware what he did, and many people who aren't in the family have to be informed that he isn't well when they come in contact with him. It's a tough question.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:30 PM on November 5, 2010

I do wonder if I should say anything to the organizers of the group we're in.

oh good god. Leave this guy alone.
posted by special-k at 2:16 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

You would want your friends to warn you, wouldn't you? If you can avoid turning this into a situation in which a murderously crazy guy turns on you for revealing his secret, I would definitely (but quietly) warn my friends in that group that they might be spending lots of time with Mack the Knife. Give your friends what you have -- the links you found -- and explain that you are not certain he's the one but it looks close enough to convince you to stay away from him. Let them decide for themselves whether to believe it and what to do about it. If those friends include the leaders of this group you're associated with, that would include telling them, but as friends, not as officials of some organization. You aren't the police, he's done his time, he's in treatment, and he probably has a hard life as it is.

If you do say something, though, be really careful. Whether you're right or wrong, he is not going to be happy if he finds out you made everyone scared of him.
posted by pracowity at 2:36 PM on November 5, 2010

Murderous possibilities aside, why is being unemployed still such a social stigma? Many people are temporarily (and long term) unemployed for completely legitimate reasons (trauma, illness, etc).

My own partner spent quite a number of years out of work due to suffering a sleep disorder, and I can't imagine how difficult it would have been for him if I had considered this a negative (disqualifying) feature of his personality.

I am sure that there are a considerable number of psychotic, murderous peeps who are in respectable, full time employment.

Back on topic: I don't get a good vibe here. Having tried to kill someone would, in my book, suck.
posted by noella at 3:08 PM on November 5, 2010

Anecdote: My oldest son has a semi-unusual name. Another young man in our same state with his same name and his same age was accused and convicted of a brutal assault. I was mortified every time I read about the case in the newspaper, because I was sure that anyone who had known my son in the past would think he was the perpetrator. I can assure you that this happens, and it could very easily be someone else. But having said all that, I don't think you should take a chance.
posted by raisingsand at 3:53 PM on November 5, 2010

Look, I'd really be careful about the character assassination you might do by bringing this up. I can imagine a number of scenarios in which someone twenty years ago might be uncontrollably violent but now be better managed - through drugs, therapy, lack of illegal drugs in their system, a nightly check-in program, whatever - and those people, as long as they're not restrained by the law, have a right to live their lives. No one has harmed you and you really have nothing you can report with confidence. I think you might do best to just keep your distance.

why is being unemployed still such a social stigma?

Again, I don't think it is in and of itself. What matters is the reason. the set of unemployed people contains plenty of mentally healthy, perfectly functional people who don't have a job right now due to the economy, life circumstances, illness, caregiving, etc. It also contains a number of people who are more chronically or frequently unemployed due to mental illness, personality problems, competence issues, etc. Many of those same things can become problematic in a relationship.

It's not necessarily easy to tell when you don't know someone well whether their reasons for unemployment are the result of basic life situation stuff, or whether they're the result of deeply rooted problems that are going to continue to plague them and their relationships and prospects in life. And when you're considering whether to get involved with someone or not, that question could certainly play into your evaluation of them. Here, it's not just that the guy is unemployed, but in combination with the other sketchy details - well, I just wouldn't be interested in pursuing him. There are a lot of fish in the sea, and this isn't the same as having someone you already love and respect and are invested in run into an employment problem. You just see the situation on the outside, and unless you really are confident you can divine and fully understand the reasons for the problem and are confident about them, you have to consider that some of the negative factors may be in play.
posted by Miko at 3:57 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

[few comments removed - keep the snark and the non-answers to yourself]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:27 PM on November 5, 2010

My partner has an unusual forename and an unusual spelling of his surname. You'd never think there was another person with that particular combination.

A few years ago we saw a newspaper article about a funeral for someone who had my partner's exact name, including unusual spelling, and lived in the same city, and was the same age. There was some confusion, including people at his work, assuming he'd died, going white when he actually turned up on Monday morning.

So no, I don't think you should bring it up with the group. Imagine the harm you'll do if you're wrong.
posted by andraste at 10:45 PM on November 5, 2010

So, my boyfriend's name is Rare_First_Name Rare_Last_Name.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine asked me, "Hey, I was just reading about [historical event]. Was Rare_First_Name part of that?"

I thought for half a second, and said, "No, that's the OTHER Rare_First_Name Rare_Last_Name."

Their names are unusual and identical, and their careers are so similar that, literally, Wikipedia and other Web articles have attributed each of their professional accomplishments to the other. Fortunately, the other guy seems a decent fellow.

If you want to not date this guy, that's totally your right. But be sure of all your facts before you start "warning" other people that someone is an actual psycho-killer.
posted by endless_forms at 2:19 PM on November 6, 2010

PLEASE don't say anything to the group. I work in a residential program for people with psychotic disorders, and integrating back into the community is one of the hardest things to do for this population. If he is/was ill, being in the community and socializing with peers is a protective factor. You could trigger another psychotic episode by doing this. If he's not hurting anyone, leave this guy alone.
posted by smokingmonkey at 10:45 PM on November 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Someone with my (admittedly extremely common) name stood trial for murder in a city in the same state, and apparently acted pretty bonkers at the trial, resulting in a ton of press coverage. She's about my age, her middle name is my sister's name, and she even kinda vaguely looks like me (or might, to someone who knew me in high school).

I actually believe your guy is probably the same dude in the article, but looking at facts alone, it's about the same amount of connecting information as mine, and I definitely would prefer someone err on the side of caution if they were considering sharing any suspicions with our social group. Cause even if he is the dude in question, he deserves that human courtesy.
posted by lhall at 1:26 PM on November 15, 2010

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