A man accused of torturing women is using dating apps to look for victims, police say
Updated February 1, 2023 at 6:27 AM ET
Update: Foster died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being taken into custody during a standoff with law enforcement Tuesday night.
A man accused of kidnapping and assaulting a woman in Oregon — years after being charged with holding another woman captive in Nevada — remains both on the run and active on dating apps, authorities say.
Benjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, is considered "an extremely dangerous suspect" and is wanted for attempted murder, kidnapping and assault, according to the police department in Grants Pass, a city of roughly 40,000 people in southwestern Oregon.
He was spotted walking a small dog in the Grants Pass area on Tuesday, police said.
Police have been pursuing Foster since Jan. 24, when they responded to a call about an assault at a residence and found a woman who had been "bound and severely beaten into unconsciousness." She was hospitalized in critical condition.
The suspect, whom they said was identified as Foster, fled the scene before officers arrived, setting off a manhunt that led authorities to the unincorporated community of Wolf Creek on Thursday for a raid that proved unsuccessful. They say Foster "evaded capture and likely received assistance in fleeing the area," though they did seize his car and other evidence, and arrested a 68-year-old woman for "hindering prosecution."
Police had established a tip line and had offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to Foster's arrest and prosecution. They warned that he could have be looking for additional victims or help to evade the authorities, including by posing as a potential suitor.
"The investigation has revealed that the suspect is actively using online dating applications to contact unsuspecting individuals who may be lured into assisting with the suspect's escape or potentially as additional victims," the department said, urging caution and warning that anyone who helps Foster with his escape could face prosecution.
Police said Sunday that Foster might try to change his appearance by shaving his beard and hair or changing his hair color, and urged the public to pay attention to his facial structure and blue eyes "since those features are very difficult to change." They shared several photos of him with various lengths of head and facial hair, and plan to release more as they become available.
Dating apps say they are looking for Foster, too
The companies behind several popular dating apps told NPR that they were looking for accounts with Foster's name but had not found any yet.
A spokesperson from Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, OKCupid, Match and Plenty of Fish, said in a Monday afternoon email that it did not have any information to confirm Foster is on its platforms, but was continuing to look into it.
Bumble told NPR over email that its team had been "working around the clock to identify any members based on the information that is available to us at this time," and had not located anyone on the app with Foster's full name.
"Any time we become aware of a report in the media, we proactively work to identify if the member is within our community and take swift action against their account," it added.
Most dating apps do not run criminal background checks. As of late last year, four Match Group sites — Tinder, Match, Plenty of Fish and the single parent dating app Stir — allow users to run background checks using the platform Garbo, provided they have at least their match's first name and phone number.
Match Group said it expects to continue rolling that feature out to other brands in the U.S. It also touts safety features including photo verification, anti-harassment prompts and its process for reporting users.
The anti-sexual assault nonprofit RAINN offers safety tips for anyone using dating apps to connect online or meet in person. They include: look up your potential date on social media, block and report users for suspicious behavior, don't respond to requests for financial help, choose a public place for your first meeting and don't rely on your date for transportation.
Foster held his then-girlfriend captive in her Las Vegas apartment years earlier
Details about the case and Foster's criminal record started to emerge in recent days.
Citing statements from prosecutors in court records, The Oregonian reported that Foster had tried to kill the Grants Pass victim while "intentionally torturing" her and confining her "in a place where she was not likely to be found." A fundraiser for the woman, who has not been publicly identified, said she is 35 years old and suffered severe injuries to her face and neck, it added.
Grants Pass Police Chief Warren Hensman said at a press conference last week that she was held for a "protracted period of time." The victim and the suspect had a "prior domestic relationship," Hensman said, according to The Oregonian.
In 2019, before moving to Oregon, he held his then-girlfriend captive in her Las Vegas apartment for two weeks, The Associated Press reports — while he was on a suspended jail sentence for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit as well as awaiting trial in a 2018 domestic violence case.
Citing a police report, it says the woman in Las Vegas suffered seven broken ribs, two black eyes and injuries from being bound at the wrists and ankles with zip ties and duct tape. She told police that Foster also forced her to eat the chemical compound lye, choked her to the point of unconsciousness, shaved her head and required her hands "stay in constant contact" with his body when she wasn't tied up.
She managed to escape from Foster after persuading him to bring her and her dog with him to a grocery store and gas station, reportedly sprinting through a store and into a nearby apartment complex while he was distracted letting the dog out of the car.
Foster was initially charged with five felonies, but in August 2021 reached a deal with Clark County prosecutors that let him plead guilty to just one felony count of battery and a misdemeanor count of battery constituting domestic violence.
He went from facing decades in prison to being sentenced to 2 1/2 years, which included the 792 days he had spent in jail awaiting trial.
Hensman said at the press conference that law enforcement was focused on finding Foster and bringing him to justice, calling it a "laser-focused" and "all-hands-on-deck" operation. He said there would be time to look into what happened during and after Foster's time in Nevada after that.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.