The FetLife Murders of Yingying Zhang and Noelle Paquette

Since the kink and fetish social network FetLife launched in 2008, a number of gruesome murder cases have been linked to the site and its members.

For most people, social media provides an opportunity to connect with friends and family, explore topics of interest, and keep up with the latest happenings in the world. But there are also dangers associated with the Internet, and innumerable instances of social media being used for nefarious purposes.

For a handful of individuals, their lives were cut short by connections they made on a site known as FetLife.

FetLife was founded in 2008, and many people have likely never heard of the site. FetLife was originally advertised as “kinky Facebook” by its creators. The site intended to provide an online meeting place for people interested in BDSM, more commonly referred to as kink. While FetLife was not created to be a dating site, many users have made connections and started relationships with people they met on the platform.

Over the years, many have criticized FetLife for the network’s potential to be abused. Due to the often taboo nature of kink, most users choose to remain entirely anonymous on the site, and at the time of this writing, there are no age verification requirements necessary to create a profile on the site.

While these all pose potential safety and security risks, nobody could have foreseen the true horrors that would come from unlikely meetings made possible by FetLife.

Murder Cases Linked to FetLife’s Network

Like any other social media site, FetLife allows users to create customized profiles. They can follow topics of interest, create a bio, and exchange messages with other users. However, unlike other social media sites, FetLife allows explicit content to be uploaded to user accounts. Full nudity is allowed on the site, as are depictions of graphic, violent, and taboo content. According to FetLife’s policy, they ask that users confirm they are 18 or older before entering the site. However, there seems to be no method of enforcement of this policy.

According to FetLife’s website, there are many ways to engage with the platform. Users can join groups — similar to Facebook groups — for specific topics of interest. Instead of gardening or parenting pages you might find on Facebook, FetLife groups are centered around different types of kink and BDSM-related topics.

There have been a vast number of murders linked to FetLife over the years. There are likely many more than this, some of which may have never been directly linked to FetLife. For this article, we will cover the two of the most famous FetLife murders: Yingying Zhang and Noelle Paquette.

The Murder of Yingying Zhang

In 2017, 26-year-old Yingying Zhang was an enrolled student and visiting scholar at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A bright young woman, Yingying had been born in China and completed her Master’s degree at Peking University. She had come to the United States to research in the University of Illinois’ College of Agriculture.

Yingying was on a one-year research contract, and had considered continuing her education at the University to pursue her dream of becoming a professor. Yingying was musically inclined and played in a band back in China. She was in a relationship with a young man by the name of Xiaolin Hou, whom she planned to marry later that year.

On the afternoon of June 9, 2017, Yingying Zhang had an appointment with a leasing agent at an apartment complex she planned to move to. Yingying was supposed to meet the leasing agent at 1:30 p.m. to go over her paperwork for the new lease. At 1:39 p.m., Yingying had sent a message to the leasing agent, informing them that she was running a bit behind schedule. According to the text, Yingying stated that she would arrive by 2:10 p.m. Yingying never arrived for this appointment.

Being an international student, Yingying did not have a car in the country. Instead, she typically travelled by bus. This day was no exception. Yingying had taken one bus and planned to transfer to another. However, Yingying did not make her second bus, due to mistakenly standing on the wrong side of the street.

With no remaining options, Yingying walked several blocks to reach the next bus stop. She waited there, expecting another bus to arrive, but after a few minutes, no bus had come. At approximately 2:00 p.m., a black car drove past the bus stop where Yingying sat waiting. Three minutes later, the same car returned. According to footage taken from a security camera, Yingying had spoken to the driver before getting into the car.

The leasing agent assumed Yingying couldn’t make it, and did not suspect anything to be amiss. Yingying had told her friends of the appointment with the leasing agent, and when night came and she hadn’t returned, they reported her absence to a professor. The professor called the local police and officially reported Yingying missing at 9:24 p.m., more than seven hours since she’d last been seen.

The local campus community, police, and FBI wasted no time in searching for Yingying. The largest reward in the history of the Champaign Crime Stoppers organization, set at $40,000, was offered for any information leading to an arrest. This reward was later raised to $50,000. The police received multiple tips suggesting that Yingying might be in Salem, Illinois. Her family, having travelled from China, accompanied the police to investigate these claims. Ultimately, it was determined that the woman who had been sighted in Salem was not the missing student.

Thanks to security camera footage, the police were able to capture the license plate of the black car that had picked up Yingying. The vehicle was registered to a local man by the name of Brendt Christensen, a former Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois. The police obtained a search warrant for the vehicle, which yielded no substantial evidence.

Christensen did admit to giving a girl matching Yingying’s description a ride on June 9, but insisted he had dropped her off a few blocks away. No security footage could be found that would confirm this claim. While Christensen was being questioned, agents from the FBI searched his residence. They seized Christensen’s phone and multiple computers, which they obtained federal search warrants to investigate.

While conducting a forensic investigation of Christensen’s devices, the investigators determined that he had been frequenting FetLife and other taboo sites. Some of the content indicated a strong propensity for violence. Christensen was married, but his wife had been out of town during this time. He was also polyamorous, and his girlfriend cooperated with the investigation. His girlfriend agreed to wear a wire, with the hopes of clearing Christensen’s name. The pair were spotted attending a memorial walk for Yingying together.

The same night of the memorial walk, Christensen confessed to his girlfriend that he had killed Yingying. According to audio evidence, Christensen had bragged about being a serial killer, saying he had taken Yingying back to his apartment, where she would become his thirteenth victim.

The police have yet been unable to substantiate his claim of having murdered a dozen additional people. However, his confession was enough to convict Christensen for the kidnap and murder of Yingying Zhang, and he was sentenced to life without parole just on July 18, 2019.

In November 2018, after Christensen’s conviction, his attorneys recounted what they’d been told during the investigation. He told his legal team that he had decapitated and dismembered her body and separated the pieces into multiple trash bags, which were placed in the apartment trash.

According to city records, that dumpster had been emptied a few days later and taken to a private landfill, where it was compacted and spread across a fifty-yard span and covered with more garbage. To date, no recovery efforts have been made to locate Yingying’s remains, and it is unlikely that her family will ever be able to get the closure they seek.

The Murder of Noelle Paquette

Michael MacGregor was a 19-year-old who frequently visited FetLife, where he had met Tanya Bogdavonich, a 31-year-old mother. The pair exchanged explicit messages, playing out their darker fantasies together. After spending time getting to know each other online, they had decided to meet up in real life. The pair agreed to meet on New Years Day of 2013 in Sarnia, Ontario and bring their fantasies to life.

The same day, Noelle Paquette had been attending a New Years’ Eve party in the same city. In the early morning hours, near 2 a.m., Noelle had left the party with plans to walk home. Eyewitness accounts indicated that she’d gotten into an argument with her boyfriend, spurring her to leave the party early and alone.

Noelle walked down the street, unaware she was being followed. Pacing behind her was Michael MacGregor, following the 27-year-old teacher as she made her way home. It was a cold night, with snow having fallen recently. A white Pontiac pulled up to the sidewalk near Noelle. The driver, Tanya Bogdanovich, offered Noelle a ride home. According to eyewitness reports, Noelle accepted and got into the car. Shortly thereafter, the car stopped again, this time to pick up Michael.

The pair drove Noelle to a remote forest trail approximately seventeen miles from the place of her abduction. In the forest, Noelle suffered unspeakable torment at the hands of the sadistic couple. They repeatedly beat and raped Noelle, and then things took a deadly turn. They brought out a large knife and began to stab Noelle, repeatedly, in her neck and chest. In total, they stabbed her almost fifty times. It is not clear exactly how long they spent torturing Noelle, but once they’d finished, they left her body lying in the forest and returned to their car.

Tanya and Michael left the scene in the white Pontiac, but during their journey home, the car ran out of oil. The pair was forced to pull over along the side of the road. A police patrol car spotted the vehicle around 4 a.m. while making rounds and pulled off alongside them to offer assistance.

Tanya exited the vehicle to speak with the police. Her face, hands, and clothing were smeared with blood. Tanya told the officers that she and her boyfriend had been engaging in kinky escapades, and that Michael had cut himself during a knife play related accident. The police offer called for an ambulance, and the pair was transported to a local hospital for evaluation and treatment. Eyewitnesses at the hospital recall them being in good spirits: according to reports, they were seen kissing, embracing, laughing, and more.

The next day, on January 2, Noelle’s body was found. There were defensive wounds on her hands, indicating that she’d tried to fight back against her attackers. A large knife was found in the Pontiac, and the blade matched the wounds found on Noelle’s body.

There was evidence that suggests Tanya and Michael had returned to the scene of the crime, possibly a mere few minutes before the discovery of the body. The Pontiac was towed, and police instructed the compound not to release the vehicle. Michael and Tanya were placed under police surveillance. The following day, both Michael and Tanya were arrested for the murder of Noelle Paquette.

The investigation and trial took three years to complete. Police examined messages exchanged between Tanya and Michael. From the pair’s messages and statements, it became clear that they’d been attempting to play out a forest rape fantasy.

The sinister duo had originally selected another young girl to be their victim, but in a last-minute decision, they’d chosen to instead abduct a stranger at random. Noelle happened to be a fatal case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In 2016, Michael and Tanya were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Perhaps most chillingly, Tanya and Michael seemed to exhibit no remorse for what they’d done. When asked about Michael, Tanya delivered the haunting sentiment, “Rape brought us together, violence has kept us together, violence has kept us going and rape will be what holds us strong when our bond is challenged.”

The Murderous Underbelly of Online Meetings

In both these murder cases, the victim had no connection to FetLife or any sort of underground lifestyle. However, there are quite a few instances of people agreeing to meet up in person with someone they’ve met on the kink website, and never coming home.

Social media of any form can be dangerous. In some cases, it can even be deadly. When engaging with others online, it is important to remember that they may not be who they say that they are. FetLife has never publicly commented on the murders linked to the site, and it should also be noted that there are no shortage of murder cases linked to more mainstream social media networks like Facebook and Instagram.

FetLife may be a popular platform for individuals looking to share their sexual expressions, but it seems that this is yet another example of well-intentioned tools becoming conduits of destruction when placed in the wrong hands.

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Sources & Further Reading