Dating app turns deadly: How did Grindr assist this murderer?
You gotta be careful when out & about in the dating world. That’s always been true, but perhaps now more than ever, when predators have access to dating apps. It’s not just that an app like Grindr makes it a lot easier for a criminal to have access to potential victims – it also can inadvertently make many app users lower their defenses by creating a false sense of security.
Speaking specifically of Grindr, the location-based app is designed to help gay, bi, trans, and queer people find interested partners nearby. Like most dating apps, this is mainly about casual hookups. Unfortunately, sometimes the person you hook up with ends up being a thief or a murderer.
Sometimes your Grindr hookup ends up being both.
Swipe left on Matovu
Gerald Matovu didn’t start off as Grindr murderer, but he used the app to find people he would drug with GHB before stealing their belongings. So, a Grindr thief, if you will. He was also a drug dealer, and one of his clients was a Grindr rapist: Stephen Port. Port also used the app to find his victims, whom he’d dose with GHB, sexually assault, and, in four instances, kill with an overdose of the drug.
Matovu & Port prowled London mostly as separate agents. Funnily enough, the thief actually drugged & stole from the rapist once. Port was able to get his stuff back after threatening Matovu over text messages – probably citing honor among Grindr criminals.
The law eventually caught up with Stephen Port and, in November 2016, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a whole life order (that’s basically forever). Even though Matovu was arrested during the Port investigation, having been identified as one of Port’s sources of GHB, that didn’t keep him from continuing to prey on unsuspecting Grindr app users. That proved to be terrible news for his last victim: Eric Michels.
Graduating to murder
Eric Michels moved from Portland, Maine to the UK in 1987. He’d originally studied acting before becoming a successful businessman who still managed to make time to appear in films and work as a magician. Michels came out as gay late in life, once he had a divorce and kids in the rearview mirror. As a single gay man, Eric Michels had the Grindr app ready to go on his phone. That’s how he met Gerald Matovu.
It was the night of August 16th, 2018, when Michels & Matovi started exchanging messages via Grindr. Michels was bar-hopping, Matovu was chilling in the Southwark hostel where he lived. Soon enough, sex was arranged and the two men took an Uber to Eric Michels’s house in Chessington, south-west London. CCTV footage shows them both disappearing into the house around 2am.
The same CCTV images showed Matovu leaving the house at 11am, meeting a taxi while carrying a suitcase – a suitcase he didn’t have when he’d arrived the night before. The thief even went back to grab a bunch of bottles of alcohol before finally being driven away. Inside the house, Eric Michels was dead of a GHB overdose . . . but nobody would discover that for almost two days.
Under their noses
It’s quite disconcerting that Gerald Matovu had been allowed to roam free for so long. In addition to the charges for supplying Stephen Port with GHB, Matovu had racked up a large number of victims – a dozen at least – and five of them had actually reported him to the police. Despite the various investigative opportunities available, Matovu was never identified. The cops, basically, dropped the ball.
Eric Michels’s body was discovered by his teenage daughter & her mother. The teen had been trying to contact his father, first texting, then calling him. Matovu had Michels’s phone and miserably failed at pretending everything was okay, which led to the girl & her mom going to Michel’s house to check on him. The phone interactions actually made the police treat the death as suspicious instead of an accidental overdose.
Detectives used mobile phone technology to link Gerald Matovu to the events and went to pay a visit to a known lover of his, Brandon Dunbar. Once they got to Dunbar’s house, they found uniformed officers investigating yet another Grindr-related crime: this one involving a bruised & naked unconscious man who’d been found on the street. All the roads led to Matovu, who was finally put away for good after this.
Grindr & GHB
Gerald Matovu was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum term of thirty-one years. His story exposed how badly the police had failed at stopping a dangerous criminal whose victims kept asking for justice. Furthermore, Matovu already had a record: eighteen months in jail in 2016 for attacking an associate with a hammer, and community service in 2017 for selling GHB to Stephen Port.
Still, the thief-turned-killer managed to basically fly under the authorities’ radar because in Scotland Yard’s words, his series of offenses “was different – drugging men to steal from them – and dealt with in the first instance by local police as theft. As with any major case, we will review the sequence of events to ensure each matter was properly investigated to identify any learning for the future.”
Scotland Yard also stated processes were put in place for “frontline and investigating officers on how to best respond to allegations of drug-facilitated sexual assault or sexual assault following chemsex.” Hopefully those processes also included Grindr app tutorials.