Lauren McCluskey was a 21 year old senior at the University of Utah where she was a heptathlete who ran track and field. Although she was born in Berkeley, California, she moved to Utah with her family the following year after her parents received job offers at Washington State University. She had always been an active child and loved playing outside as a kid. Her energy and love for all things sport continued well into adulthood and her efforts were eventually rewarded with a scholarship in track and field at the University of Utah. Her friends and family described her as deep thinker, who was careful with her words and rarely, if ever, spoke with negativity. She had pet cats and volunteered at the Whitman County Humane Society and had a strong moral compass.
Lauren worshipped at Capital church in Salt Lake City and enjoyed having a glass of wine on the weekends. On the second of September 2018, Lauren got chatting to the bouncer at a local bar; the man introduced himself as Shaun and told her he was 28 years old and was studying computer science. Shawn was noticeably fit, he was muscular, good-looking and described as “persuasive” and “charming”- sometimes to the point of sounding disingenuous or insincere.
“He was really good at trying to say what he thought I wanted to hear” said an ex-girlfriend.
Shawn had dated other women that he met on Tinder between May and October of 2018. He showed up to one of the dates at a café without money and tried to get his Tinder match to buy him a drink. To excuse a three year absence from the local area he told two of the women that he had been living in Nepal. Hannah Christensen dated Shawn around the start of May, they went out a few times but she picked up on his abusive behavior early on and quickly put a stop to the dates. She recalled that Shawn resisted but she told him that he wasn’t her boyfriend and that she was no longer interested in him.
By July Shawn had gone out casually with Vanessa Wilson after asking for her number at a supermarket. Although she noticed he had lied and slipped up on the details in later conversations he gas lighted her and convinced that he had never told any of the lies and it was in fact her who had remembered the details incorrectly. Vanessa was unnerved by the unwanted physical contact Shawn had been forcing on her and began to ignore his messages. His last-ditch attempt to get her to talk consisted of a ploy to convince her that he had died through a series of anonymous texts. Vanessa did some internet sleuthing but couldn’t find anything relating to his death and was unnerved when he later contacted her saying he had survived. She continued to not respond despite his repeated manipulative attempts to get her to do so.
By Early September Shawn had met Lauren at a bar and the pair began a relationship. He visited her regularly at her dorm and became acquainted with the other students in the vicinity.
Lauren dated the man for around a month until she finally found out devastating information about him that horrified her. Shawn was not who he said he was. His real name was Melvin Shawn Rowland and he was actually 37 years old. If lying about his identity wasn’t bad enough, McCluskey also found out that he was a registered sex offender with a long list of arrests and convictions for various sex crimes- including grooming a minor over the internet and later forcing her into sex and raping several women.
When he came to her dorm on October 9th she told him that she knew the truth and no longer wanted to continue with the relationship. Although he refused to admit he was actually 37, he did confess to being a registered sex offender. Despite Lauren's intentions to break it off he reportedly stayed over that night and was seen using her car the following day. Lauren most likely allowed him to stay and use the car in fear of violence. Her mother contacted Campus police who said that they’d help her get her vehicle back from the man. Lauren rejected the offer and said she would wait for Rowland to drop it back at the Dorm later that night. Campus security later drove her to the nearby college football stadium just off campus where Rowland had left the car in the parking lot.
The following days consisted of Rowland, possibly with the help of friends, harassing and blackmailing 21 year old Lauren McCluskey. Just as he did with Vanessa Wilson, he and several others sent McCluskey anonymous messages informing the 21 year old that Rowland was dead. However he continued to update his social media accounts and was just as alive as he had been the previous week. When his manipulation tactics failed he then threatened McCluskey with pictures of the two of them together. He demanded $1000 in exchange for keeping the images private and not posting them online and Lauren paid the requested amount in fear of the images getting leaked. An official investigation into the sexual extortion charge was launched but Lauren was still on edge and living in fear of what Rowland had planned. She reported his attempts to contact her through text and explained to police via email that he attempted to pose an officer in an attempt to get her to go outside. Rowland and his friends had been lurking around the campus for several days and CCTV footage captured him doing so.
On the evening of October 22nd, Lauren was walking to her car when Melvin Shawn Rowland came from nowhere and grabbed her. Her mother, who she was on the phone to at the time, listened helplessly down the receiver as her daughter was dragged off. Rowland forced the 21 year into a car he had drove to the university and shot her again and again. He had borrowed the weapon from a friend, claiming he was going to use it to teach his girlfriend how to shoot. Lauren died from multiple gunshot wounds.
Police responding to the scene found Laruen’s body, still in the backseat.
Her killer had been picked up by a Tinder date, who had no idea that he had murdered his ex-girlfriend less than half an hour ago. They went to dinner and then back to her house, where Rowland took a shower claiming that he had worked out earlier. The woman is not connected to the crime and reported her date when images of him circulated on the news in connection with the killing.
Police located his whereabouts and chased him on foot to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. where he ran into Trinity A.M.E. Church committed suicide by gunshot.
According to this article Rowland was on parole and should have been arrested for violations and returned to prison. Officers claim that they were unable to locate him due to an incorrect address listed on his profile. Many have questioned why it was so difficult to locate a man who had spent a large amount of his time stalking and harassing a young woman who was constantly updating and reporting his presence at her university over the days leading up to her murder.
Resources for stalking and abuse in relationships:
Pathways to safety [X]
Victims of crime [X] (US)
Suzy Lamplugh trust [X] (UK)
Stop Violence against women [X]
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