Online dating is a risk, not just because the chances of finding Mr. or Mrs. Right are slim, but because it’s impossible to pre-verify that individuals using such sites are either trustworthy or stable. There’s simply no telling who you might meet when you dive into that great big pool of internet strangers. And perhaps no one knows the downsides to this modern mode of matchmaking more than Dave Kroupa, a mechanic who, upon relocating to Omaha, Nebraska, to be closer to his two young kids, decided to once again try his hand at love—or, at least, lust, since Dave was upfront about the fact that he didn’t want anything serious. What he got, alas, was far graver—and crazier—than he could have imagined.
Lover, Stalker, Killer (Feb. 9, on Netflix) is the story of Dave’s ordeal, and even in a crowded true-crime field, it’s something of a doozy. As compellingly recounted by director Sam Hobkinson’s feature-length documentary, Dave entered the online dating world with a desire for something casual, and he found that with Liz Golyar, a local with whom he shared an affinity for motorcycles, heavy metal, and sci-fi action movies. Like him, Liz had a son and a daughter, and they quickly hit it off, going out to bars and having a good time. For Dave, it was precisely what the doctor ordered. Nonetheless, he wasn’t interested in being tied down to any one relationship, and when single mother Cari Farver walked into his auto body shop, he took notice. Upon subsequently discovering her on a dating web site, he reached out—thus initiating a new no-strings-attached romance.
The fun wouldn’t last. While at his apartment one evening, Dave and Cari were visited by Liz, who claimed to have left something there. “A little fucking awkward!” is how Dave describes this situation, but it didn’t scare off Cari, who afterwards invited him back to her place. A short time later, however, things went hopelessly sideways when Dave received a text from Cari stating that they should move in together. Considering that they’d only been an item for two weeks, Dave balked, at which point he became inundated with angry texts (“You’ve ruined my life!” and “I never want to see you again!”) that took him by surprise. When he got home, Cari had apparently removed all her belongings. Then, the messages truly escalated: “Your life will be ruined for ruining mine,” and “I’m going to destroy the things you care about.”
This was clearly deranged behavior, and it got more demented when Liz showed up at Dave’s apartment to inform him that her car had been horribly keyed and that she too was being harassed via text by Cari. The various messages presented by Lover, Stalker, Killer are as unhinged as they are unambiguous, and they drove Dave to seek help from Omaha Police Department Detective Chris LeGrow, who admits that this is “one of the strangest, most unpredictable cases I’ve ever worked.” He says that because, in the weeks to come, Dave wasn’t merely subjected to the usual rantings of a bitter ex, but to endless missives that indicated that Cari was watching his every move and letting him know it in real time. Moreover, whereas her initial texts came from a single phone, she soon began spewing her vitriol from upwards of 40 different numbers. The same held true for her emails, which came from various aliases and totaled upwards of 150 per day.
Dave relays this all with a calmness that belies his disbelief about his insane circumstances, and while Lover, Stalker, Killer leans a tad too heavily on corny dramatic recreations, it benefits from his first-person narration as well as the participation of his former partner Amy Flora, who also eventually became a target of Cari’s wrath. Break-ins, bedroom walls defaced with “Whore,” and endless threatening communications followed, culminating with Liz’s house being burned to the ground—her pets dying in the blaze!—and Cari taking credit for it in follow-up texts (“I set that nasty whore’s house on fire” and “I hope the whore and her kids die in it”). Liz moved away and Dave got a new job, a new phone, and a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun. Yet the stalking continued, despite the fact that no one could find Cari.
A year later, Pottawattamie County Police Department Sergeant Jim Doty and investigator Ryan Avis took up the case and, with the assistance of tech-expert Special Deputy Tony Kava, began looking into Cari’s whereabouts. Through some canny digital sleuthing, they discovered that some of Cari’s myriad messages were traceable to a nearby residence. Stunningly, that place belonged to Todd Butterbaugh, a Pottawattamie County network administrator who worked for Tony. More astonishing still, Todd was dating none other than Liz Golyar, who in short order would be making her own 911 call to report that she’d been shot in the leg by a mysterious female assailant. In light of all these factors, as well as the fact that Dave’s pistol had just been stolen from his home, cops soon deduced what was really going on: Liz had been the stalker all along, and had posed as Cari even though she’d likely killed the woman.
“Far-fetched” is what Douglas County Chief Deputy (and prosecuting attorney) Brenda Beadle labels this scenario. That Liz seemingly murdered Cari was “tough to swallow. That’s beyond tough,” says Dave. In its closing passages, Hobkinson’s documentary details the efforts of Pottawattamie County law enforcement to persuade Liz to keep writing bogus emails as Cari in order to get her to confess to Cari’s slaying—a ruse that ultimately led them all to a courtroom, where a judge was tasked with deciding whether a homicide had occurred despite the absence of a body, a murder weapon, or a definitive crime scene (although Cari’s car did provide damning clues about the location of her demise).
Lover, Stalker, Killer may have nothing to impart other than that it’s possible to meet some legitimately sick and dangerous people online. Nonetheless, given the scariness of its story, that’s enough to make it a memorable 21st-century cautionary tale.