James Lasdun on Being Stalked

“I Will Ruin Him” is a haunting story by James Lasdun, who found himself a victim of stalking by a former M.F.A. student of his:

It’s one thing to be abused in private: You experience it almost as an internal event, not so different from listening to the more punitive voices in your own head. But to have other people brought into the drama is another matter. It confers a different order of reality on the abuse: fuller and more objective. This strange, awful thing really is happening to you, and people are witnessing it.

Along with the accusations of theft, Janice had also received details of my supposed (but equally fictitious) affairs with Nasreen’s former classmates, complete with descriptions of various kinky sexual practices that Nasreen claimed to have heard I went in for. (She had an uncanny way with that transparent yet curiously effective device of rumor, the unattributed source: “I’m told he …” “I hear he …” “Everyone knows he ….”)

The abrupt ending, though? It’s because the essay is a prelude to Lasdun’s new book Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked.

The World’s Creepiest Stalker

After reading David Kushner’s piece “The Hacker is Watching” in this month’s GQ, the primary and overwhelming thought I had was this: better place a tape over my webcam as soon as possible. You will probably agree after reading the piece about Luis Mijangos, perhaps the world’s creepiest stalker:

He lived at home with his mother, half brother, two sisters—one a schoolgirl, the other a housekeeper—and a perky gray poodle named Petra. It was a lively place, busy with family who gathered to watch soccer and to barbecue on the marigold-lined patio. Mijangos had a small bedroom in front, decorated in the red, white, and green of Mexican soccer souvenirs, along with a picture of Jesus. That’s where he spent most of his time, in front of his laptop—sitting in his wheelchair…

Mijangos hadn’t always been disabled. As the child of a federal police officer in Mexico City, he’d grown up literally on the run. Whenever he heard a neighbor shout “¡Vienen!” he’d scramble onto his rooftop, watching in fear as strange men approached his front door. “I was terrified, because I knew that my father was in there,” he recalls. The men, federales, used to work with his father, but his dad tired of the corruption on the force and quit to open a seafood restaurant. Now he was just another target for extortion.

It’s a fascinating, yet disturbing, story of someone who felt reborn going into the dark depths of hacking:

Mijangos had one thing to help make him an expert hacker: time, and plenty of it. He spent all day in his wheelchair, digging deeper online. Hackers coalesced as teams, just like his old soccer club, and Mijangos printed up a T-shirt with the name of his squad, cc power (as in credit card). Working with one guy in particular, code name Manhattan, the scam went like this: Using a stolen Social Security number and other personal information, Mijangos would open a bogus merchant account at a bank. He’d then contact Manhattan, who’d charge money to the account using stolen credit card numbers. All the pair needed to do was withdraw cash at will from an ATM and split the profits evenly.

He wasn’t getting rich, but Mijangos says he earned enough to buy a $5,000 titanium wheelchair that he tricked out with $400 wheels. He felt reborn. “When it comes to hacking, yes, I’m not going to deny it—it’s like you feel like you accomplish something,” he says.

The stalker’s reach was unprecedented:

After casing the place for weeks, the feds had finally attained a warrant to search his home. They took everything they could find: four laptops, scattered thumb drives and memory sticks, and a BlackBerry. The archive of voyeurism was staggering: over 15,000 webcam-video captures, 900 audio recordings, 13,000 screen captures. In total, he had infiltrated more than 230 victims, including juveniles. At least one was as far away as New Zealand.

What set off Luis Mijangos on this dangerous, voyeuristic path? Opinions vary, and the author visited the stalker after his sentencing to get a better idea. You should read the piece to assemble a judgment of your own.