A University of Utah college student killed by a man she dated briefly was extorted prior to her death, investigators announced Thursday, as grim details surrounding the events before her death emerge.
Salt Lake Tribune reports that track standout and college junior Lauren McCluskey, 21, filed a police report on October 13 against Melvin Rowland, 37, four days after she broke up with him. According to University Police Chief Dale Brophy, McCluskey ended her brief relationship with Rowland after she found out he served nine years in prison on sex-related offenses, then lied to her about his name and age.
Shortly after ending their relationship, which lasted around a month, Rowland began sending McCluskey numerous emails, trying to lure her to different locations in attempt to extort money for her in exchange for “compromising photos of the pair,” which he threatened to post online. He also reportedly lurked around the college campus McCluskey attended, although he was not a student there himself. McCluskey ended up wiring Rowland $1,000 to keep the photos private, according to Brody, but it didn’t stop Rowland.
Less a month later, he fatally shot her. Their story, however, began in September.
JUNE 2012 MELVIN ROWLAND PAROLE BOARD HEARING: "You admitted to me you’d raped this young girl you met on the internet, went to her home & raped her & then a second case after you hooked up with what you thought was a 13 year old virgin it was a car full of cops." pic.twitter.com/agzFYqLWv2
— Heidi Hatch (@tvheidihatch) October 24, 2018
McCluskey met Rowland on September 2, at a local bar where he worked as a bouncer. Within days after meeting, the pair started dating and Rowland began visiting McCluskey frequently on campus. He apparently became friends with other people at the college once he started hanging out on campus with McCluskey.
By October 9, McCluskey learned that Rowland was not who he said he was.
After learning of his true identity and his past, which included felony convictions for attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor, McCluskey invited Rowland to her dorm room and informed him she wanted to end their relationship. She allowed him to spend the night and borrow her car so he could run errands. When Rowland didn’t return the car the next day, the victim’s mother, Jill McCluskey, contacted police and asked for assistance in locating the vehicle. By 5 p.m., however, Rowland had dropped the car off at the Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Two days later, Lauren called authorities and reported receiving text messages that stated Rowland was dead. Lauren told police she thought Rowland’s friends sent the messages, as Rowland was still posting on social media, despite it being a violation of probation to have social media accounts. At the time, Lauren told police she didn’t feel like she was in danger but thought that Rowland’s friends were trying to lure her out of her dorm.
On October 13, Lauren filed a police report, stating that she received messages demanding she pay $1,000 in exchange for the privacy of intimate photos taken while the pair dated. Lauren wired the money to an account after someone sent text messages threatening to post the photos online. University police pulled Rowland’s criminal records but did not determine at the time that he was out on parole. Three days later, a parole officer spoke with Rowland, but since the responding University officers had not contacted the parole agency, the parole officer had no idea that Rowland had violated parole.
— Utah Athletics (@utahathletics) October 23, 2018
Six days later, as officers continued to investigate Rowland on possible extortion charges, Lauren received another text message. An officer followed up with her regarding the extortion investigation, but it’s unclear whether a warrant was issued. In the meantime, campus surveillance footage showed Rowland prowling around the college campus from October 19 through October 22.
On October 22 at around 10:39 a.m., Lauren contacted police and said she received a text from someone claiming to be Deputy Chief Rick McLenon and asking her to go to the police station. Authorities think Rowland sent the text in an attempt to lure Lauren out of her dorm.
At around 8:20 p.m. on October 22, Lauren was talking to her mother on the phone as she left a night class. Rowland confronted Lauren in the parking lot by her dorm, grabbed her, and dragged her to a car. In the process, Lauren dropped her cellphone and belongings. Rowland shot her multiple times once he had her inside the car.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, the victim’s mother contacted University police on October 22 after she became concerned for her daughter’s well-being. Lauren had already told her mother that she broke up with Rowland after learning he spent nearly nine years in prison on convictions of attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor.
“He lied to her about his name, his age, and his criminal history,” Jill McCluskey wrote on Twitter. “She blocked his and his friends’ phone numbers and complained to University of Utah police that she was being harassed.”
Jill heard Lauren scram out while on the phone with her Monday evening, then the phone dropped. A few minutes later, a female student picked up Lauren’s cellphone and informed Jill that all of her daughter’s belongings, including her cellphone, had been thrown on the ground.
“Suddenly, I heard her yell, ‘No, no, no!’ I thought she might have been in a car accident. That was the last I heard from her,” Jill wrote.
Lauren was found deceased inside the car at around 9 p.m. on Monday, near the Medical Towers dorm on campus.
Authorities attempted to locate Rowland for hours, then at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning, he was spotted close to 600 South 200 East in Salt Lake City. Officers chased Rowland on foot into a nearby church. The suspect broke into the church and while inside, apparently shot and killed himself, according to police.
On Tuesday night, University of Utah police Chief Dale Brophy confirmed that Lauren had indeed filed a police report against Rowland on October 13. Authorities didn’t contact Rowland, however, because he was no longer living at a halfway house in the area. Brophy stated that Rowland had “walked away” from the Fortitude halfway house and the didn’t know where to find him.
Yet, The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Kaitlin Felsted, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Corrections, stated no one informed parole agents that someone had made a complaint against Rowland. Felsted also said that Rowland was living at an address he had listed on the sex offender registry. Not only had an agent performed an inspection in August, but had also been in contact with Rowland after that, according to Felsted.
Lauren was a senior at the school, majoring in communications. She was also a standout on the track team. University of Utah classes have been canceled for Tuesday morning to allow time for mourning. Counseling services will remain open.
“As a campus community, we share grief over this tragic loss of life,” president of the school, Ruth K. Watkins stated. “Our deepest sympathy is extended to Lauren’s family and friends.”
[Feature Photo: Lauren McCluskey/University of Utah]