Tomi Michelle Masters had long dreamed of leaving her postage stamp of a hometown in Indiana for the wide horizons of California.
After graduating from high school in Modoc (pop. 183) about five years ago, Masters did exactly that, moving to Los Angeles and working odd jobs to support herself in the big city.
She appeared to relish her new life on the West Coast, posting photos from the Getty Museum, Channel Islands National Park, and a brief jaunt to Las Vegas on her Instagram account.
“She just always had a dream to move to California and when she finally got the chance, she took off out there and went,” her father, Shawn Masters, told The Daily Beast this week. “I was very proud of her.”
It was only after Tomi started dating bitcoin trader and social media celebrity Troy Woody Jr. about six months ago that her adventure took a dark turn, her father says.
Manila police told reporters that the two men booked a taxi from a rideshare app, Grab, to pick them up at Woody’s rented condo in Mandaluyong City. When the cab arrived, they loaded a large box—which police now believe contained Masters’ remains—into the trunk.
They had asked to be taken to a mall but while they were en route, Woody and Islam reportedly asked the cabbie to stop at the Pasig River. They allegedly lugged the box out of the trunk and dumped it near the water.
The driver was suspicious and alerted cops to his seemingly sketchy passengers. After searching the area, police fished a box out of the river and inside found Masters’ duct tape-bound body. She was covered with scratches, according to Philippines news website Tempo, but local authorities reported the 23-year-old’s cause of death was suffocation.
Woody, 21, and Islam, 22, were charged with murder on Dec. 24. Police suspect that Masters was killed at Woody’s condo, where she was staying.
While they had identified themselves as CEOs of Luxr Limited Liability, purportedly a U.S.-based lending firm, it’s unclear what exactly they were doing in the Philippines—and whether Islam was allowed to travel there in the first place.
After news of their arrests broke, independent cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs reported that Islam had an extensive criminal history.
Islam pleaded guilty in July 2015 to three federal charges related to doxing, swatting, cyberstalking, and making a bogus bomb threat. Prosecutors had alleged that Islam and his accomplices posted the personal information of at least 50 stars, as well as federal and state officials, on public websites. (Krebs reported that he was a victim of one of these swatting attacks.) Islam, who went by the handle “Josh the God,” also was accused of using a 911 internet relay system to make a bogus report that a shooter was attacking people on an Arizona university campus, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
After leaving prison, Islam was thrown back behind bars in early 2017 for violating the terms of his supervised release. He admitted to traveling to Maryland without permission and not following the rules of court-imposed computer monitoring, records indicate.
Islam was freed from prison again in May, but a recent Manhattan Federal Court document indicates that a sealed warrant for his arrest was signed on Aug. 27 after he was accused yet again of violating his supervised release.
Efforts to contact Islam’s current lawyers in the U.S. were not successful. It was not clear whether Woody has a U.S.-based lawyer.
Shawn Masters said he had misgivings about Woody’s relationship with his daughter early on.
Masters moved in with Woody soon after she met him, which was out of character for her, the father said.
“She was tough and independent—she [had] made it. She was doing her own thing. I was very proud of her,” he said. “I was disappointed of her when she quit her job to go to the Philippines. She’s always been a very independent person.”
He said he learned only recently details of how his daughter met Woody, who has almost 200,000 Instagram followers and a Twitter feed full of photos of him showing expensive watches, premium credit cards, and other trappings of a lavish lifestyle.
“He catfished her—he was pretending to be somebody else... some rapper that my daughter was trying to get on his tour, or some stupid shit, with,” Shawn Masters said, recounting what his ex-wife had told him. “And when they met, I guess that really didn’t matter. Then he tricked her into going to the Philippines.”
“He did have a lot of bitcoin,” he said. “And I think that may have been what attracted her so much, maybe—the fantasy and lies, so much of what they could do.”
His daughter, he said, believed that they were leaving Los Angeles to visit the Philippines and then London for a few weeks each.
“He told my daughter that, but that wasn’t his purpose,” the father said. “He had no intentions on going over there as a vacation for a short amount of time and coming back.”
From conversations with his daughter, he came to believe that Woody and Josh were there for some sort of “hacking” venture. Tomi didn’t see Woody a lot because he was always over at Islam’s place, Shawn said.
“She pretty much suspected it,” he said. “She never could see it because [Woody] would always go to [Islam’s] place and do their work, and Tomi was not allowed over there.”
“I kept in regular contact with my daughter, I used to call her once or twice a week, and she would tell me little bits and pieces,” he recalled. “She wouldn’t tell me everything. She would tell me everything was just fine—I knew it wasn’t.”
He believed that his daughter was trying to convince Woody to leave the Philippines and that upset Islam. But trying to get that or anything else confirmed has been difficult.
He’s struggled to get anyone on the phone at the Philippines Embassy in Washington, D.C. Officials in Manila have been “somewhat helpful on bringing her home,” he said, but “as far as the investigation goes I’m being kept in the dark.”