JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After the sentencing of two men and a woman in a robbery and kidnapping plot that turned into a murder, News4Jax looked into how prosecutors said the group was trying to lure men online.
On Tuesday, Jennifer Schulte, Ray Jones and Douglas Cercy were sentenced on second-degree murder charges in the April 2017 fatal throat slashing of 86-year-old Navy veteran Melvin Clark. Schulte testified about luring Clark to a motel room on the Jacksonville's Westside by convincing him she needed food while Cercy and Jones were hiding in the bathroom, waiting to abduct him. That's when the men jumped him, and the kidnapping and eventual murder ensued.
Prior to Clark's arrival, the group had been taking nude photos of Schulte and posting them on a phone app that was referred to in court as "Quest." Prosecutors said the idea of the scheme was to lure men to with thoughts that they could have sex with Schulte and then rob them. During the court proceedings, attorneys said "Quest" was a new mechanism online being used for prostitution and had really replaced Backpage.com, which was targeted by multiple states and the federal government as a site used for prostitution. It was eventually shut down.
During the court proceedings, Judge Angela Cox pressed Schulte on the type of men they were looking to rob.
"No black men. No country boys. No big guys. So pretty much it was old men," Schulte said during her testimony.
News4Jax looked up the term "Quest" online. By far the biggest site out there under that name is QuestChat. It's a large dating website and mobile app. There are other smaller websites that use the word "Quest" in their name, as well. Even if QuestChat was not the app these defendants used, on QuestChat's site, there is a page dedicated to safety tips. There are tips such as "Take It Slow and Enjoy the Conversation," "Do Some Research Before You Meet" and "Meet in a Safe, Neutral and Public Place" listed on the page.
"These look more like warnings as opposed to safety tips. You know, they’re just warning you," News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said. "It’s unusual to have a website that shows something like this when they’re selling something. They’re telling you to do your own research."
Jefferson added the issue of prostitution and security during meetups is an issue with all types of dating sites and people need to be cautious.
News4Jax attempted to contact QuestChat to see what type of mechanisms it has in place to protect against prostitution or any criminal activity, but was still awaiting a response as of Wednesday afternoon.
Cercy and Jones were both sentenced to life in prison. Schulte was given a 40-year sentence.