Twenty-eight-year-old Brendt Allen Christensen is accused of being a kidnapper; he has been arrested and charged with the June 9 abduction of University of Illinois scholar Yingying Zhang. Investigators working the case of the missing Zhang, a 26-year-old Chinese exchange student and researcher, believe that she is dead, and they say that their prime suspect has a history of visiting a “fetish networking site” that offers forums that may help a would-be kidnapper plan their abduction.
The website, FetLife.com, reportedly found itself in a bit of legal hot water before the University of Illinois student was allegedly abducted by Christensen, who himself graduated from the school with a master’s degree earlier this year. As WGN 9 reports, the website (which has over five million registered members) recently found itself mentioned in a handful of criminal cases.
After being referenced in those criminal cases, including a fairly prominent case in Australia, site creator Canadian software developer John Baku issued an online notice to site members in February. The site had removed or banned literally hundreds of so-called “fetish categories” in an attempt to eschew legal liability and reduce risks.
Despite the changes made to the site, investigators into the University of Illinois abduction say that on April 19, alleged kidnapper Brendt Christensen visited the site using his phone and visited threads such as “Perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping.”
As of Sunday evening, and despite the Friday arrest of Christensen, FetLife.com (which bills itself as “the Social Network for the BDSM, Fetish & Kinky Community”) is still hosting several forums dedicated to kidnapping “fantasies.” Earlier this year, it reportedly had a page called “Abduction 101.”
Nearly a month after Yingying Zhang vanished, the over 78,000 members of the popular fetish website have shown interest in what is labeled as an “Abduction Play” group. Among the threads available to members as of Sunday evening is one called “Tools of the Kidnapper.”
According to investigators, the alleged University of Illinois kidnapper brazenly snatched his victim during broad daylight. She is believed to have gotten into his vehicle willingly after missing a bus; surveillance video reportedly shows Zhang getting into Christensen’s Saturn Astra on the day she disappeared.
Her family says that she was running late to sign an apartment lease on the day she vanished. The kidnapping took place less than two months after investigators say the alleged kidnapper was browsing the kidnapping “fantasy” forum on website FetLife.
The alleged University of Illinois kidnapper is currently behind bars and is expected to appear in court in Urbana, Illinois. Investigators say they were able to make the arrest after monitoring agents heard Christensen talk about kidnapping the Chinese exchange student and holding her against her will.
Police say they have determined “facts in the case” that lead them to believe the Zhang is deceased, but her body hasn’t been located.
“FetLife’s community is … open-minded and non-judgmental. Our number one priority is to create a fun and safe place for kinksters.”
The website is free to join and, despite rules that indicate all members must be “consenting adults,” allows users to engage in virtual anonymity.
Neither the website FetLife nor its creator Baku, who established the online fetish community in 2008, have responded to messages seeking comment. Despite the FetLife’s reported connections to several past cases involving kidnapping and sexual assault, the website reportedly utilized by the alleged University of Illinois kidnapper has never been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
[Featured Image by Federal Bureau of Investigations]