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This article was published 5/11/2015 (655 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
She has spent much of her life a virtual prisoner in her own home -- isolated from the rest of society while growing up in a remote northern Manitoba community rife with poverty and violence.
And now she is an actual prisoner, locked up at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley, where she has recently started serving an 18-month sentence for a truly bizarre series of crimes of fraud and personation.
She is Shelly Chartier, the 31-year-old so-called Ghost of Easterville who managed to weave her way into the lives of several far-off celebrities who had no idea what was really on the other end of their computers and smartphones.
A professional NBA player. A Hollywood actress. And a slew of other Internet connections that didn’t result in charges but are certainly eye-opening — National Hockey League players, Playboy models and even Brody Jenner, the son of Caitlyn Jenner.
The salacious details of the case have made headlines around the world and now have several high-profile media outlets looking for interviews — including ABC’s 20/20 and the Dr. Phil show.
But Chartier has agreed to only one exclusive chat at this time — and it took place this week, behind bars, with the Winnipeg Free Press.
"I told my husband you better be worth getting strip-searched for," Chartier jokes during the three-hour conversation — a reference to the requirement of all inmates who meet with visitors to undergo a full-body examination when done.
What followed was a revealing look into the mysterious woman: her reclusive life, how the online con jobs began, her famous hook-ups and the uncertain future she faces.
On life behind bars
"They call me Easterville," Chartier says with a laugh. She’s referring to some of the 200-plus women she now shares a home with at this sleek, modern-facility just west of Winnipeg.
Chartier says her two cellmates, "Bushy" and "Rosy," have helped make the radical transition from her old life to her new life much smoother.
"They told me not to focus on what’s on the outside, to live for the moment in here," she says.
That’s not so easy, however, when everyone she comes across comes loaded with questions about her unique case.
"They all want to know about it. I find I’m repeating myself. Everybody’s too interested in my case to tell me about theirs," says Chartier.
Like so much of her life, expectations of what was "out there" were based largely on things she saw while online and watching Netflix, two of her favourite pastimes. She’s happy to report her jail experience has been a pleasant surprise.
"It’s nothing like Orange Is the New Black in here. Thankfully," she says.
On how it all began
"It’s simple. What I did is very, very simple," Chartier says.
It started off innocently enough, around 2011. Chartier was scouring the Internet, as she did every day, with a special interest in well-known athletes. One of the people she had "friended" on Facebook was a colourful National Basketball Association star who was known for being socially active with his online friends.
A court-ordered ban prevents the names of all victims from being published at this time.
Chartier noticed that an attractive young girl from California, an aspiring model, had posted on the athlete’s page, inviting him to "Call Me" and included her phone number.
"I thought ‘I’m just gonna troll her,' " Chartier recalls. "But it went too far."
Chartier texted the woman using the provided number, pretending to be the athlete. It wasn’t long before the conversations got hot and heavy, and the California girl was sending explicit nude photos of herself. Chartier began forwarding them to the basketball player, now pretending to be the California girl. The basketball player, believing the girl to be 21, started sending his own naughty pictures back.
Chartier was the common link, directing conversations between two people who weren’t really talking directly to each other. She eventually facilitated an in-person meeting, where the basketball player flew the California girl out to his home town for a weekend together.
"I got him laid," Chartier said this week.
But things turned sinister shortly after. The girl became jealous when she saw the basketball player flirting with others on his page. And so she sent an angry message -- which of course went to Chartier -- in which she revealed she was just 17.
"She got real jealous," says Chartier. And so she used that to her advantage, now contacting the basketball player while pretending to be the girl and her mother. A legal settlement was quickly drawn up, where the athlete and his lawyer offered to pay $3,000 to keep her quiet. He was obviously worried about the impact of swapping photos and having sex with a 17-year-old girl might have on his career.
"He offered me the money. I didn’t ask him for any money," says Chartier. She claims to have split the money 50/50 with a Texas woman she had befriended online years earlier, and used her share to buy food and Halloween treats for her family.
The Texas woman was eventually portrayed in court as another victim of Chartier’s deception, as the Crown says the woman fell in love with what she believed was a male online video game player.
Chartier takes issue with that, claiming the woman knew her by her real name.
"She had been my friend for eight years. But then she turns around and says she doesn’t even know me?" says Chartier. "She knew me as Shelly. She did not know me as a guy."
Chartier says the woman also knew all about her communications with the basketball player and the California teen and was actively cheering her on, even pocketing half of the "hush money" and even signing the legal document herself under the guise of being the teen’s mother.
There was also contact with a Hollywood actress who sent several thousand dollars worth of donated clothing, and an expensive bottle of wine, to Chartier and the Texas woman after being tricked into believing she was helping a family who’d lost their belongings in a fire.
Chartier believes the Texas woman misled police about her role simply to save herself from any prosecution.
"I forgive her," says Chartier.
On her background
One of the most common facts repeated in media reports about Chartier is that she only ever achieved a Grade 6 education, dropping out of school after that year because of teasing and bullying from other students. She hates the implication that comes with it.
"I’m not stupid," she says. Chartier certainly doesn’t present as such. She is well-spoken and has an impressive knowledge of current events. She says people have always misjudged her in life, due partly to the fact she looks to be much younger than her birth certificate suggests.
Chartier credits her clean living – she claims to have never touched a drop of alcohol or cigarettes, hates soda and largely has avoided the sun’s harmful rays in her life – for her youthful appearance.
"I always thought later in my life I was going to do this, I was going to do that. I didn’t leave my house. But why would I? To go where?" she says.
Chartier didn’t like the crime that was going on around her, which was driven home by having her family’s windows smashed in when she was younger.
"It traumatized me. I didn’t want to go out," she says.
As well, she had major responsibilities. Her mother, Delia, has severe arthritis and diabetes which have basically left her bedridden for Chartier’s entire life. She has never met her father, who she believes lives in The Pas. She is an only child.
Until 2011, her aunt Cathy was the primary caregiver in the home. But then Cathy died suddenly – Chartier found her aunt’s lifeless body in bed – and things were never the same. Cathy had been a second mother to her.
"She was always there for me. I had nobody to talk to. I depended on her for everything. I didn’t even know how to cook or do my laundry. It was a lot to take in," says Chartier.
It may not be a coincidence that her aunt’s death was right around the times her crimes began. But Chartier is quick to reject any suggestion that a deep sadness and depression play a role.
On other famous connections
Chartier says she cast a wide net online – Facebook and Twitter were her primary tools – to see who might respond.
The results were surprising.
"Brody Jenner wanted to meet me," Chartier says. She was having private online conversations with him, which she says included sending him attractive, non-nude "selfies" of her. She claims to have presented herself as Shelly Chartier, not some fictional character.
The same goes, she says, for a series of Playboy models and even Crystal Hefner, known as the third wife of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Chartier says she once exchanged makeup advice with the model.
"I remember once telling her how she used to brush her cheeks circular. I told her she should brush forward to make her cheeks look thinner," Chartier says with a laugh.
After she was arrested, she recalls the lead RCMP investigator showing her his personal interviews with many of these famous faces, which had been conducted in person, as police tried to get a handle on what was criminal and what was just innocent banter.
"Gord (Olson) told me ‘I went to the Playboy Mansion because of you’," she says.
Then there were a trio of National Hockey League players she claims to have talked to regularly, in private online messages and even over the phone. One of them was playing at the time for the Philadelphia Flyers and left her tickets for a game in Winnipeg. He got angry when she told him she wasn’t able to make it because her home was actually a six-hour drive away, and not "near Winnipeg" as she had claimed.
"Of all the people I talked to, we became very close," Chartier says of that particular player. This, of course, was before her crimes were exposed by police and an Internet ban became part of her bail conditions, and now her sentence. That marked the end of all communication between them.
On the internet
"I don’t hate the Internet. I blame myself for being stupid and making wrong choices and trusting the wrong people."
Chartier admits her computer and iPhone provided "escapes" from the life she was living.
"I had the Internet, so I wasn’t lonely," she says. "I think it was my only escape. I didn’t go out. I didn’t do anything."
Life certainly changed about five years ago as well – around the time her crimes began – when high-speed Internet came to Easterville. The days of dial-up were done.
"It was exciting to talk to famous people. But overall it was boredom," she says.
Chartier admits she would sometimes take on different online personas, as men, in order to get people to play online video games with her.
"They don’t want to play with girls," she says.
And while it was the Internet that has essentially put her behind bars, Chartier says she remains focused on all the good it brought her life – specifically her husband, Rob Marku.
She met the 22-year-old New York man a couple of years ago, prior to her arrest, while playing Call of Duty online. She heard his voice, private messaged him, and the rest was history.
"I knew he was the one I wanted to be with," Chartier says.
It was a pretty bold statement, considering she admits to never having a previous boyfriend in her life. Marku has told the Free Press he soon fell in love as well, and the two met in person for the first time last Nov. 22.
Marku flew to Winnipeg and then drove up to Easterville, where Chartier was waiting on her front porch.
"I heard the car coming. I met him on the porch. That night he asked me to marry him," says Chartier. Any worries that "real life" may not be as good as their virtual romance were quickly put to rest.
"It was even better," says Chartier.
The wedding happened last Christmas Day, in the kitchen of the tiny home she shares with her mother. Chartier’s wedding dress consisted of pyjamas. A justice of the peace performed the ceremony.
The pair declared their love in other ways – Chartier got tattoos of Marku’s name on both her arms, and he got her name done on his neck, both by a local artist. They also took dozens of photos together, which Chartier now covets in her jail cell while dreaming of a future together.
Chartier found out this past spring she was pregnant – but the joy was short-lived. Marku ended up being deported by authorities for overstaying his prescribed time in Canada. The stress of her pending sentencing was taking its toll.
And she miscarried.
On her future
Chartier is hoping to get early release from jail, perhaps as quickly as January when she will have served one-sixth of her sentence. Considering she has no prior criminal involvement, didn’t commit any violent offences and plans to be a model prisoner, her chances would appear to be good.
Upon returning to the community, Chartier plans to resume taking care of her ailing mother. She also hopes to have Marku at her side, as he is in the process of filling out the proper paperwork to return to Canada full-time.
Chartier knows there are people who "hate me" and she wishes, at times, that this whole story could disappear the way she seemingly did for most of her life.
"I want to just fade away from all of this," she says.
Chartier insists she is truly sorry for what she’s done, and she offered up a lengthy off-the-cuff apology during the jailhouse chat.
"I’ve cried a lot of this situation," she says. "I can’t express how sorry I am using words. I can’t show how sorry I am."
One big lingering question mark is whether American officials might seek to pursue criminal charges down there for any of these online offences. Chartier cannot be "retried" for anything she’s already been punished for in Canada, but U.S. prosecutors have recently left the door open.
Chartier says she’d like to upgrade her education and perhaps pursue a career in the medical field – maybe become a paramedic or even a doctor one day.
In a way, she says the entire experience been worth it because it’s opened up an entirely new world to her, one that she spent the first three decades of her life hiding from.
"My life started late but I don’t regret it. I don’t blame anybody. If I were to blame anybody, I’d probably blame myself for being so scared," she says. "But after my arrest, my life started."