Suspect allegedly planned "hit" on fur wearer "partially to get away" from family
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2012:
CLEVELAND, Ohio—The Federal Bureau of Investigation on February 21, 2012 arrested Meredith Marie Lowell, 27, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, for allegedly trying to use a Facebook account accessed from a public library computer to solicit the murder of “someone who is wearing fur.”
According to an affidavit sworn on February 17, 2012 by FBI special agent Ryan M. Taylor, “On November 4, 2011 the FBI was provided information that a person owning a Facebook page under the name Anne Lowery,” an alias that Lowell acknowledged using, “posted a message on Facebook stating that Lowery wanted to hire a hit man to kill someone wearing fur.”
A Florida animal advocate named Anne Lowery made global headlines in January 2010 for spending nearly $75,000 in a futile effort to save her parrot Areba from cancer, but ANIMAL PEOPLE found no indication that Lowell knowingly assumed the identity of the Florida woman.
Said the Facebook message, “I would like to create an online community on Facebook which would allow me to find someone who is willing to kill someone who is wearing fur toward the end of October 2011 or early November 2011 or possibly in January 2012 or February 2012ŠI am willing to pay this person up to $830-$850.”
Using the e-mail address <email@example.com>, Lowell allegedly invited response from “the Animal Liberation Front, the Animal Rights Militia, and similar groups—and anyone else who believes that people who wear fur should be killed.”
Testified Taylor, “As a result of this message, the FBI began to investigate the Facebook posting, to include engaging the Facebook page with the use of an online covert employee.”
The FBI online covert employee initiated contact with Lowell by seeking to ascertain her seriousness, and by warning her that if she was serious, she was undertaking a criminal act.
“If you are serious I will help you,” the online covert employee told Lowell, according to the affidavit, “but you must immediately take down or change your post before Facebook whacks it or law enforcement arrests you!”
Added the online covert employee, “Posting an advertisement to buy a hit man is not only illegal, it brings negative attention to what some of us are doing in shadows.”
Lowell outlined her intentions in detail 11 days later, on November 15, 2011, according to the affidavit. “I think the time for you to do the job would definitely be in January or February on a Tuesday sometime between 6:20 at night and 7:00 at night,” the affidavit quotes Lowell. “I cannot have you do it earlier in the day,” Lowell allegedly told the FBI online covert employee.
The timing appears to have coincided with Lowell’s usual library visiting time.
“I assume you know why I am willing to pay someone like you to kill a person who is wearing fur,” the affidavit continues quoting Lowell. “Here is the description of what the person should be who is wearing fur who should be killedŠany ethnicity and any raceŠage preferably 14 years old, but should be at least 12 years old, hopefully a teenager or older, should not be a childŠboy, girl, woman, or manŠheight at least 4 feetŠweight–any. Should not be anyone I currently know and definitely should not be anyone my family knows.
“I will pay you after you kill the person who is wearing fur at the above mentioned time and time of the year,” Lowell allegedly added. “The amount of money I will pay will be $730,” less than the Facebook offer. “You need to bring a gun that has a silencer on it and that can be easily concealed in your pants pocket or coat. Do not wear anything that even looks even remotely like fur. If you do not want to risk the possibility of getting caught with a gun before the job, bring a sharp knife that is at least four inches longŠI want the person to be dead in less than 2 minutes.”
On December 29, 2011, Lowell allegedly reiterated to the FBI online covert employee, “I am serious about paying you to kill someone who is wearing fur at the location mentioned in an earlier e-mail to you and will pay you after you kill the person who is wearing furŠI am paying you to kill one person wearing fur who is 12 or older.”
E-mails attributed to Lowell repeatedly expressed anxiety about coming up with the money she initially offered, and suggested substituting gold jewelry instead.
Lowell allegedly stipulated that she wanted the killing to be done at the Cleveland Heights library building, “near the playground,” adding “I am planning on getting caught.” Elaborated a January 10, 2012 e-mail allegedly sent from Lowell to the FBI online covert operative, “I plan on staying after the hit for reasons of benefit to the movement. And I think being caught would actually benefit me personally.”
From the November 1, 2011 first outline of the alleged plot on Facebook, Lowell appeared to obsess about what to do with “fur advertisements collected since the beginning of [her] investigation into the fur industry,” asking on her Facebook wall, “Do you think the police will find the advertisements if I leave them at home during the hit event/protest?”
Another Facebook posting, also on November 1, 2011, stated that Lowell would “probably have to hold off on the hit job until next week or even January or February 2012. I have been throwing away some unneeded papers,” the posting explained, “and by this morning I realized that I just was not ready. I still need to throw more papers awayŠso that the paper load is lighter and less weight to carry around during the event. Most of the current papers are about the fur industry that I have been printing out since 2008 at the library.”
“Due to some unfortunate schedule changes,” Lowell allegedly e-mailed on January 10, 2012, “I realize the hit will have to be held off until October.” On January 18, 2012, Lowell allegedly added, “If you are unable to do this hit in OctoberŠthen I will have to at least try to hire someone elseŠmaybe even a library employee.”
Online friend was FBI
Early in the investigation, said the FBI affidavit, the FBI introduced Lowell to a second online covert employee, who posed as “a female animal rights activist who served as a neutral sounding board for Lowell.” The second persona “did not encourage or discourage Lowell’s beliefs. Rather, she just let Lowell discuss her ideasŠand has not engaged her in conversation about the hit man.” Messages from Lowell to the second covert persona, included in the affidavit, offered clues to Lowell’s circumstances and state of mind.
On January 18, 2012, Lowell told the second covert persona, “I am for animal liberation, animal rights movements, and animal welfare. I certainly see nothing wrong with liberating animals from laboratories and fur factory farmsŠI am for taking legal risks if it means helping animals even when it means risking my own personal freedom and going to jail and/or prisonŠAnimal rights attourney [sic], activist, rescue[r], and vegan says it is okay to risk legal trouble to help animals and I believe this 100%.”
But the longest and most revealing communication from Lowell contained in the FBI affidavit was sent to the first online covert employee on February 15, 2012.
“I had to go to Texas for longer than a week because my uncle who lived there died and he had no one down there who could deal with his legal stuff,” Lowell offered.
Later in the e-mail, Lowell wrote, “Something which especially makes me upset is how the city of Cleveland just opened up an aquarium.”
After discussion of her opposition to the aquarium, according to the affidavit, Lowell added, “I hope for the best outcome for the hit and at least expect for the police to understand why I came to the realization why it is necessaryŠI am frustrated with living at my current home for several reasons,” the affidavit transcript of the e-mail continued. “I live with people in my home who enjoy eating meatŠmy mother refuses to get rid of fur itemsŠMy mother still buys eggs and leather and wool productsŠand I have a brother who refuses to stop wearing wool. Both of my brothers don’t see what is wrong with wearing leatherŠUntil the hit on someone wearing fur is done, I will not be able to get away from my house. So now you know part of the reason why I am going to stay at the location of the hit after the hit is done at the library-partially to get away from my house. I cannot stand living in a house were there are fur products that my family refuses to get rid of.”
Several paragraphs later, according to the affidavit transcript, Lowell asked, “If I do end up going to jail or prison, do you have some advice for me?”
Still later in the same e-mail, according to the FBI affidavit, Lowell mentioned that, “I especially want for the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute animals to be liberated and put somewhere where they are not tortured.”
FBI searches of trash from the Lowell home found that between November 2, 2011 and February 13, 2012 Meredith Lowell received apparent introductory appeals from animal charities including RedRover (formerly called United Animal Nations), Pasado’s Safe Haven, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the Best Friends Animal Society, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The trash searches also discovered gun magazines sent to the home in the name of Whitney Lowell, 29, the elder of Meredith Marie Lowell’s two brothers. The FBI affidavit noted that Whitney Lowell holds a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Meredith Lowell, Whitney Lowell, and younger brother Emerson Lowell apparently all still lived at home with parents Jeffrey and Madlen Lowell, in a Coventry Road neighborhood near the library which decades ago was considered a hub of the Cleveland counterculture. None of the family appear to have been well-known either in the community or online. Meredith Lowell was listed among the 2003 graduates of the Greater Cleveland Christian School in Middleburg Heights, a Cleveland suburb, which operated from 1996 to 2004.
ANIMAL PEOPLE found no mention of pets in Meredith Lowell’s electronic communications, shared by various correspondents, and none in communications appearing to be from her brothers. A female Whitney Lowell in about the same age range as Meredith Lowell and her brothers, who is a reptile breeder and operates two pit bull advocacy web sites in another part of the U.S., told ANIMAL PEOPLE that she had no awareness of the family.
Although Lowell mentioned in several e-mails that she had been collecting information about the fur trade since 2008, ANIMAL PEOPLE found no communication from Lowell to other animal advocates predating an e-mail of November 2, 2010 sent to Los Angeles activist attorney and video producer Shannon Keith, using Keith’s Uncaged Films e-mail address.
Keith has represented militant animal advocacy organizations including Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA. Her organization Animal Rescue, Media, & Education (ARME) led a campaign which on November 22, 2011 won passage of an ordinance against selling fur in West Hollywood, California.
Lowell praised a Keith production called Skin Trade, reciting complaints against the fur industry and fur-wearers. “Looks like I never responded to her,” Keith told ANIMAL PEOPLE. Lowell wrote to Keith again on May 17, 2011, but Keith did not respond to that e-mail, either.
Lowell on January 25, 2011 wrote to PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, in response to an online appeal. PETA Foundation correspondence assistant Karen Dickerson responded by sending Lowell several suggestions for engaging in legal anti-fur activism.
“I would like to e-mail Oprah Winfrey and President Obama but not sure if they check their e-mail or even what their e-mail addresses are,” Lowell responded to Dickerson. “I would like to e-mail some police departments and the FBI about the [fur] issue but not sure which ones or even if e-mailing the FBI or police departments is such a good idea.”
Dickerson replied again to Lowell, briefly, on January 31, 2011. Lowell wrote back to Dickerson at length on February 11, 2011, sending a lengthy draft anti-fur law she had prepared. Lowell later complained to other correspondents that PETA was unresponsive to her.
According to the FBI affidavit, Lowell e-mailed to the Cleveland Heights Police Department on April 5, 2011, arguing that the fur trade is illegal and should become the subject of a police investigation.
Lowell may next have approached the Humane Society of the U.S. She later complained that HSUS also ignored her. But HSUS senior director of communications Rachel Querry told ANIMAL PEOPLE that “We have no record of her being a supporter. Our Ohio state director, Karen Minton, did not know Lowell and could not recall having any direct contact with her.”
Lowell initiated her longest known correspondence with other animal advocates on June 1, 2011, e-mailing to International Anti-Fur Coalition founder Jane Halevy, of Israel. The FBI affidavit took note of that exchange, but Halevy, coordinating activities among dozens of organizations in dozens of nations around the world, replied only briefly to Lowell’s many long e-mails to her.
“I didn’t read all of her e-mails,” Halevy admitted to ANIMAL PEOPLE on February 25, 2012. “I just read them one by one,” Halevy said, after ANIMAL PEOPLE alerted her that Lowell had been arrested, “and I feel very ashamed, very bad and very frustrated. I am sure I could have convinced her to drop her terrible ideas. The worst worst worst of all,” Halevy said, “is that I found a key e-mail of hers that I had never seen before, telling me all her crazy ideas. I am sure she expected an answer from me and maybe since I didn’t answer, she might have misinterpreted my silence. She wrote this key e-mail as a reply to an e-mail I sent to many activists about the launching of new anti-fur stickers,” to which Halevy received many automatically generated acknowledgements of receipts. Lowell’s e-mail was lost among them. “I run many sites,” said Halevy, whose Facebook pages have more than 5,000 friends, “and get many e-mails, requests, questionsŠI really can’t read them all.”
Halevy answered Lowell, to the brief extent that she did, Halevy said, “because “I could understand she was frustrated, disappointed, and I didn’t want to be like the others,” whom Lowell complained had not responded to her.
Lowell on August 12, 2011 asked Halevy “what exactly the Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act means.” Lowell said she was “thinking about organizing some protestsŠas well as at least one animal liberation event to liberate animals from at least one medical experimentation laboratory,” and was “hoping to do some economic sabotage.”
Halevy explained that as an Israeli, she knew little of U.S. law, and referred Lowell’s question to U.S. activist Rosa Close. Close did not respond to an inquiry from ANIMAL PEOPLE. Lowell did not mention Close in her subsequent correspondence.
The unread e-mail
Lowell transmitted the e-mail that Halevy mistook for an automated response to her mailing about anti-fur stickers on October 19, 2011, eleven days before Lowell’s Facebook posting soliciting a contract killer came to the notice of the FBI.
Wrote Lowell, “I hope to hire a hit man or hit woman next week, the week after, or some time in January or February to kill someone who is wearing furŠI hope the hitman or hitwoman will kill the person wearing fur through one or several of the following methods–shooting (if they have their own gun and the bullets do not go through walls and the gun must be concealable and be able to put it into a pants holster or into a purse), strangulation using a rope, or stabbing using a sharp knife. I do not want the person to be burnt or for there to be arson or poisoningŠI actually incourage [sic] the person I hire to leave evidence at the place where the person is killed and hope the person I hire loves animals as much as I do. They should know how to use the above weapons in order to accurately kill the person who is wearing fur or at least leave the person who is wearing fur close to death.”
Lowell wrote to Halevy once more, on November 4, 2011, before focusing her correspondence on the FBI online covert employees. “I am prepared to take more risky actions with more possibly illegal actions,” Lowell wrote, this time offering no explicit details.
But Lowell described her sense of isolation, as a would-be activist whose activism was for unexplained reasons limited to two nights a week at the library computer.
“I do not have access to a computer at home nor do I have access to the internet at home,” Lowell wrote, “but somehow I do get youtube at home on the blueray dvd player which allows for me to get more information about all things animal rights and animal rights issues including advice from fellow animal rights activists.”
“I feel I missed an opportunity to help someone in need, an opportunity to save someone from very wrong thoughts and horrific ideas,” Halevy told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “If only I had seen her hit plan….I really thank god and the universe that nobody got hurt.” –Merritt Clifton