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When they delivered themselves for the promised rendezvous, instead of meeting a mother and her young daughters they would find a team of well-armed, cheerfully disgusted Delaware County police officers.

As a fantasy, her come-on seemed overbaked—not one daughter, but two!

His screen name, parafling, was a nod to paraflying, the tiny parachute/tricycle flying machines he had once or twice enjoyed.

It was the only really different, exciting thing about him.

It is doubtful that such a woman exists anywhere, and yet men fell for it. The bulletin board over her desk displays mug shots of her catches, very ordinary-looking men, facing the camera wide-eyed with shock, staring at the fresh ruin of their lives. One of the stunned faces in that array belongs to a man I will call “J,” who would spend a year in prison after taking Deery’s bait.

For this account, both Deery and J were willing to speak openly and at length; transcripts of online chats and police interrogations have also been made available.

Her daughter’s beat is in the vilest corners of cyberspace, in chat rooms indicating “fetish” or various subgenres of flagrant peccancy.

It is a way of conducting police business that, without extreme care, can itself become a form of abuse—in which the pursuer and the pursued grow entangled in a transaction that takes on a gruesome life of its own. Dick in his classic short story “The Minority Report,” and in the Steven Spielberg movie based on it, in which an official government department of “Precrime” identifies, charges, and jails people on the basis of anticipated actions.

The space feels like a cave, which has always struck Deery as about right, because her job is to talk dirty online to strange men. She has athletic good looks, with tawny skin, big brown eyes, and long straight brown hair that falls over her shoulders.

Her parents sent her to Catholic schools, and her mother, a retired district judge, now jokes that she wants her money back.

But was he just playing a twisted game of seduction?

Both the policewoman and her target give the author their versions of the truth, in a case that challenges the conventional wisdom about online sexual predators, and blurs the lines among crime, “intent,” and enticement.

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