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An American Met a Woman on Tinder in Colombia. Now She's Accused of His Murder.


by: Nathaniel Janowitz
Posted: Jan 14, 2024

California-based logistics consultant Paul Nguyen was attracted to the Colombian city of Medellin for its vibrant nightlife and a reputation for being friendly to “digital nomad”-type workers. So the 27-year-old booked a vacation there with a friend with plans to sightsee, experience the vibes, and catch a Bad Bunny concert later in the week.

While there in November, he also decided to try his luck on Tinder and matched with a young woman. They agreed to meet at a bar in the affluent El Poblado neighborhood, filled with chic cafes and gourmet restaurants. He shot a photo of her, a slim, brown haired woman in a white jacket and dark jeans, when he thought she wasn’t looking and shared it with friends on Snapchat, writing “the language barrier is unreal.”

They never heard from Nguyen again. The next morning, his body was found beside a dumpster in a different neighborhood over five miles away, his wallet and phone stolen: the victim of a drugging-gone wrong during a wave of Tinder honeytrap robberies around Colombia.

On Tuesday, Colombian police announced the arrest of the woman, Evelyn Henao Herrera, accused of the murder of Nguyen, along with two alleged male accomplices who were allegedly part of a gang dedicated to robberies set up via dating apps.

The arrest in Nguyen’s case was a rare form of justice for the victims of a proliferating scam being used around the world, particularly in Latin America. Men are lured to meet women via dating apps, and then drugged for days at a time as their bank accounts are drained. Cases of Tinder robberies have occurred numerous times in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, primarily focusing on foreigners and wealthy locals. Colombia has seen a string of such robberies in recent years.

“We mourn every day and continue to do so until justice is met,” Paul Nguyen’s sister, Amy, told VICE World News. “Hearing that we might finally get justice for Paul flickers a new hope.”

“After sleepless nights crying, I want to stand tall for Paul. I want the people who did this to never forget. I don’t want another family to go through what we’ve been through under their hands.”

After Nguyen didn’t return to their AirBnB, his friend became concerned and contacted his family. They quickly noticed that Nguyen’s credit card recorded several odd transactions late into the night. His body was discovered in a different part of the city the next morning on November 10.

Authorities allege that Nguyen was drugged with a dangerous sedative called clonazepam at some point during his date, which caused his death. The practice of drugging people, particularly tourists, has long existed in Colombia using scopolamine. It’s a natural or synthetically produced drug mostly derived from the nightshade plant family that is more colloquially known as “devil’s breath.”

“But for these cases in the last few months, years, the synthetic drugs have evolved,” said Jorge Wilson, a private investigator in Medellin who has been investigating the death of Paul Nguyen and other similar cases of crimes using dating apps. He said that is because there is not one single substance being administered and the groups are often using tranquilizer drugs available in local pharmacies with prescriptions, like benzodiazepines and clonazepam, which are extremely deadly in high dosages.

“Sometimes the victim does not lose consciousness, does not lose will, begins to become aware of what is happening, so they go on to administer much more drugs,” he said.

Easily obtainable synthetic drugs, and the growth of dating apps like Tinder, have created an easy way for nearly anyone to start running a robbery scam, said Wilson.

When contacted by VICE World News, Tinder did not specify how many robberies and deaths have been connected to the use of the application.

“Tinder prioritizes the safety of our members. What’s been reported is terrible, and our thoughts are with the loved ones of the victims, as well as with the survivors. Tinder stands ready to cooperate with local law enforcement to support their investigations,” a representative of Tinder said in a statement to VICE World News.

At least 41 people have been victims of drug-related robberies already in Medellin in 2023, according to Colombian news outlet Caracol Noticias, although it's unclear how many were related to dating apps.

Although the recent arrests were not officially announced until April 4 by police, the capture of the woman and two alleged male accomplices took place March 31, according to the lawyer representing the Nguyen family Daniel Rodríguez. On April 3, the three accused faced an initial court date where a judge ruled that they will remain behind bars until the next hearing.

Rodríguez said that each of the three people who were detained “occupies a role within the organization. [The woman] took the role of tricking her victim, making a date with the victim, and administering a lethal substance to the victim.”

One of the men arrested allegedly drove the getaway vehicle, while the other allowed the gang to plan and coordinate the assault from their apartment, Rodríguez told VICE World News. He said that authorities were still searching for others involved.

The detentions are certainly due in part to a Snapchat photo posted by Nguyen of the woman he met via Tinder from their date, which was quickly screenshot by his friend Eduardo who was traveling with Nguyen after he noticed his disappearance. But even with a visual image, friends and family soon realized they needed to hunt down Nguyen’s killers themselves after Colombian authorities still had not opened a murder investigation five days after his death.

“We found that unacceptable so we hired our own team to help us launch our own parallel investigation and take charge of our legal interests,” Eduardo, who asked that his last name not be used, told VICE World News. They reached out to a Colombia-based security company called WYN Medellin that provides discreet services that keep Americans safe and secure with trusted insiders, who helped coordinate the investigation, including introducing them to the local lawyer and the private investigator.

“Together we collected evidence from Paul’s social media, credit card transactions, crowdsourced stories and photos, and compiled a very thorough review the next day,” said Eduardo. “We collected a very extensive profile.”

That initial investigation work they shared with the authorities, giving them a head start when they began to look more seriously at Nguyen’s case. Four months later the alleged perpetrators were finally arrested.

Wilson, the P.I., investigating the dating app robbery gangs said that “there’s not a connection between these groups and the more well known criminals. They’re small groups,” said Wilson. “These gangs are three or four people, maybe a bit more, but three or four can pull it [the scam] off.”

Wilson said that the groups tend to operate independently, and that several have been arrested over the years in Colombia. An unrelated group running a similar scam on Tinder in Medellin was busted in August, but Colombia is far from the only place where this is happening. It’s also not exclusive to just Tinder. A 19-year-old woman along with her 25-year-old partner were found guilty for causing the death of a man in London, England who was lured by the pair from Grindr in June 2019. In 2020, two girls aged 17 and 18 were arrested for running a similar scam on Tinder in Argentina.

“The victim is a person who has economic wealth that can be seen with the naked eye,” said Wilson, noting that while foreigners are often targeted, it’s also become common with Colombian citizens, and seemingly well-off locals in other countries where the scam is being run similarly.

Eric Hall endured a similar ordeal to Nguyen a year and a half earlier, but lived to tell the tale. The American was also drugged and robbed in Medellin and wondered if somehow he could have helped stop it.

Hall told VICE World News that he was “wary” about talking about his experience but after seeing the news of Nguyen’s death, “I thought, you know, if I could tell my story and it could save some people's lives, it's worth doing, especially after Paul.”

He began to tell his story online after Nguyen’s body was found and realized how widespread the practice was. Hall said he immediately received backlash online from a lot of “haters” and “victim blaming.”

“I don't want people to think that this is just an issue with like sex tourists,” said Hall. “I’m not a player. I'm not looking to hook up. I've had two girlfriends in four years.”

Hall, divorced and in his mid-50s, decided to put his belongings in storage and move to Medellin a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. He visited many places in Latin America over the years as a longtime member of Motorrad Angels, a global biker charity focused on clean water and disaster relief work. When he arrived in the city via motorcycle eight-months later, he decided it was time for a relationship. Not one for bars and nightlife, Hall decided to try his luck at Tinder, where he matched with a local woman who “seemed normal. She seemed nice and real.”

After they met for a day time date in May 2021, he ended up back at her apartment, and accepted a beer.

“I don't remember much of anything else,” said Hall. “When I woke up, I thought it was the same day, like later that afternoon. But it turns out it was three days later and I immediately knew that I had been drugged and probably robbed.”

When he later went to the police, his case went nowhere. But Hall was grateful that although he lost roughly $7,000 during his ordeal and the attackers were never found, he survived.

The arrest of the woman and two of her alleged associates in Nguyen’s case promises some justice, but many legal steps remain in the Colombian legal system before a potential guilty verdict.

“To be clear, we want legal justice for Paul and feel his loss acutely every single day. We hope his legacy will be one of hope and systemic change and only wish he was here to see,” said Eduardo.

For the users of dating apps, the risks remain the same.



The post, An American Met a Woman on Tinder in Colombia. Now She's Accused of His Murder. first appeared on Vice.



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