On Thursday, the Washington area Craigslist page displayed more than 850 ads for men seeking men in its “casual encounters” section.
Fewer than 5 percent appeared to have photographs of the poster’s face, and fewer still included a name for the poster.
One of the first responses was immediate, sex-laced and off-putting. “I’m going to do a stakeout,” he remembered thinking.
A man wrote that he was nearby at his office and available for sex in a matter of minutes. He sent more messages to West and went upstairs to look for a man responding on his phone.
“People are looking for a higher level of transparency,” said Britanny Carter, an analyst at the market research firm IBISWorld.
Still, Craigslist and similar bulletin-board sites remain a popular venue for people who seek relationships in secret and for men seeking sex with other men.
For gay men, early “chat rooms” offered a place to talk to hundreds of people about topics that many avoided with family, friends and co-workers.
In the mid-1990s, Craigslist was formed in California and swept the country offering simple, free connections arranged by users — whether to sell a sofa or start a relationship. These days, Smith and West live on a cul-de-sac in Alexandria, help care for three foster children and are looking to adopt.
Ken Penrod, a longtime Montgomery County detective who has worked the robbery, homicide and vice beats.
In Fairfax County, Detective Darrin De Coster said that even when victims speak with police, they can be vague about the details of crimes.
Craigslist grew to be one of the largest players in online dating for men. That was also very dangerous,” said Mark Brooks, a longtime online dating consultant and president of the Internet Dating Executive Alliance. West said although they took basic precautions for online dating, something else was at play.