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Thursday, June 16, 2011
High Ridge Mo. Child Killer Charged After Allegedly Trying to Entice Child on Facebook
June 16, 2011
HIGH RIDGE • A man convicted of killing a child in the 1970s and later released despite a 150-year prison sentence was charged Thursday with attempted enticement of a child, police said.
Searl Lee Dunn, 65, of the 4900 block of Diamond Drive in High Ridge, was arrested Wednesday by Jefferson County sheriff's officers and St. Louis County police, whose Internet crimes against children investigators are handling the case. Authorities and the child's family say Dunn tried to lure an 11-year-old girl through Facebook messages to meet with him.
Dunn was being held on $250,000 bail.
Officers responded to a home in south St. Louis County on Monday after receiving a complaint that Dunn was sending inappropriate messages to a child using Facebook. Dunn was described as a "trusted family friend" of the child's mother.
In 1978, Dunn was sentenced to 150 years in prison for burning and beating to death 2-year-old Johnnie Bruegge, the son of his girlfriend. Dunn was released from prison in 2005 after serving less than 20 percent of his original sentence.
Dunn's case was profiled in a 2006 Post-Dispatch story about long sentences — and why they don't always mean long prison terms.
Not long after his release from prison, Dunn was charged with two counts of child molestation and one count of sexual misconduct involving a child for allegedly fondling an 11-year-old girl, then exposing himself and rubbing his genitals.
The charges were dropped, but Dunn's parole was revoked — the Missouri Department of Corrections claims it can't say why — and he returned to prison in March 2006. He was paroled again on March 10 of this year.
None of his convictions required him to register as a sex offender, a corrections spokeswoman said.
This time, the charge revolves around Dunn's messages on Facebook to a girl related to a friend.
Kim Moore, 46, is the girl's grandmother. Moore, who works as a registered nurse, explained to the Post-Dispatch how the family teamed up with police to snare Dunn.
Moore's home in Lemay, which she shares with several family members, has three computers. But the children are allowed to only use the computer that is on a foldup table in the kitchen, out in the open. That way, adults can monitor their computer conversations.
"I'm sorry, I'm old school," Moore explains. "I make sure that the computer is right in plain view. There should never be privacy with children and the computer. I tell the kids, 'You only have the rights we give you.' In today's world, you have to be concerned about everything."
Moore knows that Facebook won't let anyone under the age of 13 register for an account. But she said that Facebook has great games and her 11-year-old granddaughter had an account anyway. It's also a way for the girl to keep up with her cousins in West Plains, Mo.
The granddaughter's list of Facebook friends included Dunn and Dunn's wife. The girl had added them to her friends list because the wife is Moore's longtime friend who married Dunn while Dunn was in prison.
Moore said the grandkids called Dunn "Uncle Searl" even though they had only met him briefly twice.
On Monday night, Dunn apparently saw that the girl was online and started sending her instant messages, Moore said. The girl's father walked into the kitchen and saw Dunn was sending messages.
At first, the talk was innocent, Moore said. Dunn asked, "Did you do good in school? I'm glad you did good."
The next thing he asked sent up red flags for the girl's father. Dunn was asking the girl, "Do you have your own computer?"
She said yes — she considers the bulky kitchen computer hers. Moore said the next question from Dunn: "Do people see what you write?"
That's when the girl's father called police. With officers in the house, the girl's mother pretended to be the 11-year-old girl while corresponding back and forth with Dunn.
Moore said Dunn asked the girl's age, what she had done with boys, and if she had ever kissed a boy. He also asked if the girl could keep a secret.
The girl had been moved away from the computer by now, and she didn't see the rest of the conversation, Moore says.
"He got overly perverted and graphic," Moore said. Or, as court documents put it, "the defendant engaged in graphic description of sexual situations an desires."
The police in the house suggested that the girl's mother keep it up.
"They kinda suggested, don't hang up. The more you write, the more evidence we have," Moore said.
Later, police used a computer back at the detective bureau to chat back and forth with Dunn, Moore said. That's when Dunn allegedly tried to get the girl to meet with him, according to court documents.
"He tried to lure her by saying, 'Have your mom drop you off at the Y and we can be alone," Moore said.
Dunn suggested that he would pose as her grandfather and they would go into the family restroom together at the YMCA.
When Dunn asked which YMCA the girl went to, the detectives had to call the family to get the right answer, Moore said. But the detectives typed the street name incorrectly, just as an 11-year-old might.
Police said the family's vigilance made the case possible.
"This was made possible through the fact that the parent took the prudent action of immediately contacting our department and not the suspect," St. Louis County police Chief Tim Fitch said in a statement.
Moore said she told police that they'd better make sure Dunn is punished.
"I told police, 'I've already called Walmart and I can get 550 rounds for a rifle for $18.96. Guess what? If you don't take care of this, I'm going to go buy this,'" Moore said. "I meant that. This man is a vile predator and I would be a hero in some mothers' eyes."
Moore says she feels "kind of dumb" that she never questioned her longtime friend more closely about Dunn's background. The friend, who married Dunn while he was in prison, "minimized the seriousness" of the crime that put him there, Moore said.
"If I had any clue to research him before, I would have done that," Moore says.
Police asked anyone with information about the case, or who has information about any other sexual crime, to call 314-889-2341.
Robert Patrick of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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