This article was updated throughout on Sunday, August 6, 2017, at 11:55 a.m. EDT
ROME—Models beware: there’s a sinister sex market on the dark web where you’ll be put up for sale.
At least that’s what Italian investigators believe. They discovered that a 20-year-old British model named in the British press as Chloe Ayling was called to Milan for a photo shoot only to be put up for sale on the infamous darknet or deep web, the unindexed sector of the world wide web that knows no boundaries.
Speaking to reporters outside her London home, she said, “I am incredibly grateful to the Italian and U.K. authorities for all they have done to secure my safe release. I have just arrived home after four weeks and haven't had time to gather my thoughts. I am not at liberty to say anything further until I have been debriefed by the U.K. police.”
Her lawyer, Francesco Pesce, told The Daily Telegraph that she was cooperating with police. “She is such a young girl to have been subjected to such an ordeal, she must have suffered so much,” he said. “It must have been terrifying to be alone in this house being locked up by strangers in the middle of nowhere. She was told she was going to be sold. It was scary.”
Ayling, had posted on Instagram and Facebook that she had arrived in Italy on July 10, after her modeling agency in the United Kingdom set up a photo shoot for the next day. They believed it was with a legitimate company looking for young women for an ad campaign, according to Corriere Della Sera, which first reported the story Saturday after the man was arraigned in a Milan court on Friday.
But when the woman got to the photo studio address in Milan, there were no cameras. There were four men, with a syringe full of Ketalar, a common anesthetic drug often used to sedate horses. Police say the men tackled her and jabbed her in the arm, then put a pillowcase over her head before stuffing her in a large rolling duffle bag.
One man then drove her, still inside the suitcase, in the back of his car to near the French border not far from Turin where he kept her in a room at an events hall he had rented with false documents, according to Italian police, with the intention of listing her on a dark web auction site for a starting price of $300,000 in Bitcoin.
The man, unnamed in print due to Italy’s privacy laws—although photographs of his mugshot and a fake passport are now available on Italian media and have been released by the police—lived at least part-time in the United Kingdom and allegedly had taken secret photos of the woman there, implying that the scam is part of a larger network that identifies victims and then lures them to Milan or elsewhere.
Police say the first identified suspect initially met Ayling in Paris where she traveled for a photo shoot that was cancelled and rescheduled in Milan.
Police examining his phone and computer found nude photos of her taken while she was drugged in Milan. Some of those pictures also appeared on the darknet auction site. He is not yet being charged for sex crimes, only kidnapping and illegally holding a person captive.
She was held for several days while her photos were distributed on the darknet until she came out of her drugged state long enough to tell the man she had a two-year-old child, which, according to testimony given during Friday’s hearing, was “against the rules” of the criminal organization, thought to be an offshoot of the infamous “Black Death” group that takes part in human sacrifices, for which the Polish man apparently worked.
Police say they found a letter on the suspect’s computer, apparently addressed to the woman, in which the group kingpin says, “You are being released as a huge generosity from Black Death Group. Your release does, however, come with a warning and you should read this letter very carefully.”
The letter, written in remedial English with many mistakes, which may have been fabricated by the Polish suspect as a form of defense, says, “You are certainly aware of your value on the human slavery market and must make a note that this isn’t personal, this is business.”
“A mistake was made by capturing you, especially considering you are a young mother that should have in no circumstances be lured into kidnapping. Second important factor you are very well aware of is your overall protection by one of our men and very well respected men who made a very clear and solid stance in your case.”
The letter then goes on to demand $50,000, paid in Bitcoin within a month and warns her not to cooperate with any investigation and alleges that she agreed to certain conditions for her release:
“You and your family will, in no way ever talk about us in bad language and without respect. You have been treated fairly, with respect and we expect to hear exactly the same about us in return,” the letter says, completely dismissing the fact that the woman was not only tricked, but drugged and held captive for a week.
“You also agreed to sneak a pre-determined set of information in to the [sic] media, and we will expect to see evidence that has been done in the near future.”
Because the man was then stuck with a woman he could not sell according to company policy, he contacted the modeling agency and demanded money for her release, threatening to kill her if they did not comply.
Concerned that police might look for him after he called the modeling agency, the man then told police he had intended to take her to the British consulate in Milan. But police were waiting for him after the consulate staff told them a man called to say he would be delivering a young British woman he found, according to a police statement sent to The Daily Beast.
Police released photos of both the Milan studio where she was drugged and the small room near Turin where she was kept, as well as the duffle bag, some items of her clothing and the blue station wagon in which the man transported her.
Authorities in Italy are also actively searching for the other man who helped drug her in Milan. The investigation now extends to France, Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom. Authorities there conducted a raid in Oldbury related to this investigation on July 18. They are concerned that there may be other young women whose photos were also published on the darknet site, who are being kept in captivity or worse, already sold.