In January 2014, Catherine Schaefer found a guy through an online dating site.
Brock Fredin was cute and seemed like a good match. They agreed to meet for a drink sometime at a Twin Cities watering hole.
As Schaefer would later state in court records and an affidavit, the date never happened. Before they met in person, Fredin sent a series of “very odd” and intense texts. Schaefer decided a meeting was “not in her best interests.”
She canceled and told Fredin to stop contacting her. He responded with a desperate plea, at one point offering her money to reconsider. Schaefer’s firm replies shut the door. Or so she thought.
Over the next two years, she was contacted dozens of times by unfamiliar cell phone numbers and online dating profiles. In longer communiques, Schaefer recognized Fredin’s “unique” writing style, she wrote in the affidavit. Other messages just said, “Hi Cat.” No one else called her that.
On two occasions, Schaefer claims, her mysterious correspondent sent images of his face, perhaps inadvertently. Schaefer found herself looking at Fredin’s boyish countenance.
“No one will talk to me,” Fredin wrote under a pseudonym, according to the affidavit. “I’m hot and still nothing. You blocking me breaks my heart. I’m so hurt. I start to treat all women like shit based on the lessons women like you provide.”
Another message the same night and quoted in Schaefer’s affidavit threatened Schaefer with “consequences,” and listed the names of her advisors at Penn State University, where she was then pursuing a PhD. (Fredin and his attorney declined to comment for this story.)
Schaefer contacted Pennsylvania police, who told her it’d be hard to get an order against someone who wasn’t an intimate partner. A Minneapolis cop told her she’d need to file in person — and be prepared to fly in more. She couldn’t afford that.
Exasperated, Schaefer took to Facebook, detailing how a guy she’d never met was haunting her. A friend shared her post. Another Twin Cities woman soon reached out. Schaefer wasn’t Fredin’s only victim.
In a story that, like Schaefer’s, would one day be told in court records, Fredin and the other woman met in fall 2015 through a dating site. After a few dates, she sensed something was off. One night, what the woman now calls a set of “creepy” text messages pushed her over the edge, and she broke it off.
Fredin wasn’t having it. “Nope,” he wrote her, in an exchange later quoted in an appeals court ruling. “We are dating. Yes, you are taking me to see your family.”
The messages, some sexually suggestive, continued for weeks. “Get on your knees and think of me,” he wrote, according to the ruling. But he’d picked the wrong victim. “Fuck you and your cruel thought experiments,” she wrote back one night. “You’ve done this shit before. We are NOT going on the occasional date. I am done talking to you.”
Early last year, the woman filed for a restraining order, which was swiftly granted. Then she coached Schaefer through getting her own. Fredin hired Nathan Hansen, an attorney who advertised for clients on a website that says restraining order claims are often “scandalous, without merit,” and the accused should “lawyer up and explore your options.”
Hansen filed to make Schaefer undergo a deposition, something her attorney said was “unheard of” in a stalking case; later, he withdrew that request. Schaefer’s evidence of unwanted contact through the years was overwhelming. Her order was granted.
Neither woman’s ordeal is over. Both have found profiles posted under their names on datingpsychos.com, a skeezy site that allows anonymous character assassination. Schaefer’s says she “stalks, harasses, and bullies.” The second woman’s profile says she’s a “certified piece of shit,” a "bully" who will "stalk and harass you" and “drag you into a legal battle.” Datingpsychos.com’s business model: They’ll kindly remove your profile if you pay a $100 ransom.
In January, Fredin filed a discrimination complaint with Penn State against Schaefer; in his complaint, Fredin accuses her of stalking him. Fredin’s complaint notes he, the victim, has a “Master’s in Software Engineering” and owns a “well known web application used by many.”
Schaefer’s worried about reputational damage, a trail of poisoned breadcrumbs leading to her name. She studies child and adolescent psychology, specifically gender identity, not things entrusted to someone with a bad reputation on Google.
Still, her assessment of her predicament is unfailingly humane. “There’s not necessarily a logic to it when someone feels entitled to your time and attention. I think he has a lot of pain in him somewhere.”
It’s a gentler view than Appeals Court Judge Kevin Ross took last month. Fredin appealed the second victim’s case, claiming a district court had erred.
This was all a misunderstanding, Fredin claimed. The evidence against him was insufficient, though he did cop to publishing longing musings online about the woman. But those were akin to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” mournful laments of love lost.
Judge Kevin Ross ruled the evidence had nothing to do with 19th-century poetry, and everything to do with a menacing deployment of 21st-century communication tools against a woman who wanted to be left alone.
Ross closed his opinion with a little advice: “When one is characterized, rightly or wrongly, as a frighteningly obsessive ex-boyfriend eligible for a harassment restraining order, the typical strategy for a reversal does not include aligning oneself with an allegedly opium-inspired author whose obsession with his deceased lover and other macabre poetry and prose are most commonly narrated for their chilling effect.”
In a way, Brock Fredin was right. This is a horror story. He is its author and main character. Innocent victims have turned into badass heroines, and they’re suddenly stealing the plot. It’s a thrilling twist. But someone should cancel this dark serial before its next chapter is written.
Learn more about resources for victims of stalking and/or harassment in the Twin Cities: The Aurora Center, the Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project, the Tubman Center, Day One Services, and the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.
More from Mike Mullen:
- 12 questions I had watching D2: The Mighty Ducks in 2016
- Revenge porn should be illegal in Minnesota, and everywhere
- How to drive like a real Minnesotan
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