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Facebook 'stalkers' face trial for model's murder

Cynthia Osokogu

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Story highlights

  • Police say Cynthia Osokogu was lured to Lagos using social networking sites under false pretenses
  • Suspects targeted her as they believed she would be carrying large amounts of cash, police say
  • In Lagos, she was taken to a hotel, drugged, and sexually assaulted, before being murdered, they say
  • Nigerians are some of the most active social media users in Africa

Cynthia Osokogu had it all: Beauty -- she was a former model -- intelligence and business savvy. She also modeled herself on her idol, Tyra Banks, and was emerging as a successful businesswoman.

"She was hardworking, loving, industrious and beautiful," said her mother, Joy Osokogu. "She had achieved so much at age 24."

On July 21 this year, Osokogu traveled to Lagos from the country's capital Abuja, ostensibly, to meet with retailers whom she thought might be able to offer her better prices on clothes and accessories for her fashion boutique. After landing, she called her mother to tell her that she had arrived safely.

But Cynthia never made it to the meetings because there weren't any. She was found strangled to death in her hotel room the next morning.

The trip was organized by Echezona Nwabufor -- a man, police say, she met through the BlackBerry messenger service and Facebook.

For months, he and Cynthia had chatted through these social media platforms and soon she had also "friended" his cousin, Ezike Ilechukwu Olisaeloka.

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    Police say Nwabufor told Cynthia that he was a student at Lagos State University but that he had connections and could help her with her fashion business. What Cynthia didn't know was that Nwabufor had been stalking her for months, patiently gaining her confidence through frequent chats and postings.

    Eventually, Nwabufor made Cynthia an offer that seemed too good to be true.

    He offered to buy her a plane ticket and to put her up in a nice hotel if she would come to Lagos to meet with his business associates. When Cynthia arrived in Lagos, she was taken to a hotel just outside of town, drugged, beaten, sexually assaulted and finally, murdered, according to police.

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    She was targeted, police say, because the suspects had figured out that she was the daughter of a retired Nigerian Army general. They assumed that she would come to Lagos with cash, a large bank account and jewelry.

    "She got involved with the murderers while chatting," says Lagos Police Commissioner Umar A. Manko. "At some point they discovered that she came from a very good home and felt that they could make some quick money out of her."

    But her brother, Kenneth Osokogu, says that Cynthia never carried any large sums of cash. "She doesn't even have an ATM card, she used a checkbook," he said.

    Cynthia's sad and tragic story has shocked Nigeria. But criminal acts through the use of social media are not uncommon around the world.

    In the United States, Julissa Brisman was murdered by Philip Markoff who used Craigslist to find his victims. And in August, Christopher Dannevig pleaded guilty to murdering 18-year-old Australian student Nona Belomesoff after stalking her, like Cynthia, through Facebook.

    Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs -- Nigeria¹s internet use has exploded from just over two million users in 2005 to more than 44 million users today, according to the country's National Information Technology Development Agency.

    Nigerians are some of the most active users of social media on the continent and the BlackBerry Messenger service is how millions of Nigerians communicate every day. But Cynthia's murder has touched a nerve and exposed the dark side of the web in a way that most had not imagined possible.

    And while many outside the country may express shock that a Nigerian would fall for what seemed like an offer too good to be true in a country known for fraud and corruption, the sad irony is that many Nigerians are, in reality, very open and trusting people.

    And Cynthia's murder really does seem senseless. After the suspects were arrested several other women came forward to say that they too had been drugged, tied up and robbed by the suspects. But they all lived.

    It is difficult to understand why Cynthia was killed. The police have some theories. Perhaps, they say, the suspects became enraged at the lack of payday after spending so much money to get her there. Or, maybe, Cynthia struggled or attempted to scream even after being drugged with the sedative Rohypnol.

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    "She was struggling to see how she could liberate herself or make noise that would attract people to come (to her aid)," said the investigating officer FESTAC Area Commander, Dan Okoro. "But they overpowered her."

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    The next morning, after having spent the night with Cynthia's body, the suspects left the hotel. A staffer and the police told CNN that the suspects placed a call to reception and told them to get "the body of that bastard" out of the room.

    While police attempted to identify the body, Cynthia's mother tells CNN that she tried calling Cynthia's cell phone for five days but that the phone was switched off. On the seventh day, she says the suspects answered the phone and told her that Cynthia was sick. Soon, they were asking her for ransom money.

    "I asked them if they killed my daughter and they said no, she was just sick and couldn't come to the phone," she said.

    Within three weeks, the police were able to arrest the suspects through cell phone records and CCTV footage of them leaving the hotel.

    Several other men have been arrested in connection with the crime including the pharmacists who sold the Rohypnol to the suspected killers without a prescription, their driver who police say always accompanied them during their robberies and a "fence" -- the man who sold Cynthia's and the other victims goods.

    The suspects are due in court on November 5, exactly one month after Cynthia Osokogu was laid to rest. The police say this is a cautionary tale and issued a call to parents to become more aware and vigilant about what their children are doing while surfing the web.

    Cynthia's family and friends agree. Her father and older brother both believe that Cynthia's murder, as tragic as it was, will serve a higher purpose.

    "An eye opener to younger girls and also future criminals with such barbaric intentions," said Kenneth Osokogu.