"I have to say that I am highly driven, and I am looking for that special someone that has the same qualities. ... I am also looking for a woman to be a leader and take the initiative and make things happen for herself, and not blaming others for incidentals that might happen along the way during the pathway of life. ... If you want to be my copilot on the magic carpet ride it's carry on only, that means no stop signs, no stop lights, and throttle up." -- from Jeffrey Marsalis' Match.com profileHe called himself "Dr. Jeff." His profile on Match.com said he was a trauma surgeon. In one online photograph, he wore hospital scrubs, with a stethoscope. In another, he wore Navy whites and held a sword. There was one of him in an astronaut's suit. One sitting in a cockpit.
The lonely hearts who date online might expect a certain amount of innocent fudging in others' profiles. And there is always the risk of encountering the gross liar, whose online self-description has as little to do with the real person as scrubs have to do with the ability to operate.
But many of the women who dated Jeffrey Marsalis say he was much worse than a liar. Cops and criminal prosecutors would come to agree. And after years of frustrating delays and multiple trials, a jury in Idaho would confirm the worst.
Jessika Rovell, now a Washington, D.C., attorney, was one woman in Marsalis' life who did not meet him online. Her friend had met Marsalis at a Philadelphia club.
"My girlfriend said to me one night, 'Oh, I have a guy that you should meet. He is a doctor. He is a Navy officer.' And I said, 'Wow, he sounds great,'" she said.
Rovell, a law student living in the Philadelphia area at the time, decided to take the date. She thought Marsalis, an aspiring model as a teen and former Emergency Medical Technician, had the clean-cut good looks and personal charm to match his impressive online resume.
"He was nice enough," Rovell said. "He seemed very interesting ... very ambitious."
Rovell and Marsalis quickly fell into what she thought was a committed relationship. But then, she said, red flags began to appear.
"Things just started getting weird ... Just bizarre behavior, you know?" said Rovell. "He, he would disappear for a while at a time."
The explanation he gave for his disappearances was even more bizarre.
"He told me that he was a CIA agent, that the whole doctor thing was a 'cover.' He would come back and say, 'Well, you know, I was on a mission and...'"
And she believed him?
"It was convincing," said Rovell. "He had a CIA screensaver with the seal on his computer. He had a fingerprint reader to access his computer. He had guns. He had a bulletproof vest."
At one point he proposed marriage, and Rovell said yes. She now says it was because she feared him.
"Any time I tried to get out of the relationship, he would threaten me with something. ... It would range from he was going to kill a member of my family or one of my friends, he was going to cause me to lose my job. ... It, it was horrible."
Police Hear Complaints About Jeffrey Marsalis
Rovell said that as her questions about Marsalis grew, something else began to haunt her, from a night very early on in their relationship -- a night that had gone very wrong.
"It was our second date. We decided that we are just gonna rent some movies and have some Chinese food," she said.
"So he came to my apartment, um, and we got the Chinese, we started watching the movie, I opened a bottle of wine. Um, and I remember kissing him in my kitchen after having had ... I think probably about the entire bottle of wine between the two of us. And that's the last thing that I remember before ... And the next morning I just woke up not feeling very well.
"I could physically feel that [sexual intercourse] had happened, but I didn't remember a moment of it."
Rovell found it strange that she'd blacked out from a relatively small amount of alcohol. But the next morning, she said, Marsalis acted like everything was fine.
"Oh, what a great night we had last night. How fantastic it was," she recalled him saying. "What a great experience it had been."
In early 2005, Rovell contacted police and began the process of getting a restraining order against Marsalis.
"I, I just frankly hit rock bottom and I, and I lost it one night. And I said, 'That's it. I am done. I can't do this anymore.'"
But just as she thought she was going to get him out of her life, a girlfriend called.
"I got a phone call saying, 'You might want to call the Philadelphia Special Victims Unit, um, I think they need to talk to you,'" Rovell said.
It turned out that plenty of other women had strange stories of their own to tell about Jeffrey Marsalis. And now they had begun sharing them with police.
Pattern of Behavior
Marsalis had told Rovell he was out of town on CIA missions. He was really on a mission of a different sort -- to meet women online. Many of them. Police said he used an online profile to meet women whom he would take out, drug and rape. Eventually, more than a dozen women would formally accuse him.
ABC News sat down with three women who say they fell victim to Jeffrey Marsalis. Their names have been changed for this story to protect their identities.
"I was new to Philadelphia at the time; I had just moved there six months prior," said "Rachel," 23 at the time, who went on Match.com in early 2004.
"It was my New Year's resolution to finally get out and date again after about a year of not ... of dealing with a divorce," said "Natalie," a 28-year-old scientific researcher.
"Donna," 37 at the time with a job in marketing, said she had grown tired of the bar scene.
Events proceeded with striking similarity.
Women Recall Similar Stories
"I thought he was attractive," said Rachel. "Um, you know, he was, like, well groomed."
"We had a nice walk," said Natalie. "And had a nice conversation on our way over to the bar. And got in, sat down and just continued having a nice conversation over a drink."
Marsalis came across as affable and ambitious. Curiously, he made a point of showing his dates various hospital IDs.
"I mean, normally you don't pull out your IDs," said Donna.
And, as if being a doctor wasn't impressive enough ...
"He said he had been accepted by NASA to be the flight surgeon," said Rachel. "He said he was 'training,' so he at some point would be going on a 'mission' in the future. ... He had the language ... The way he presented it, it was so believable."
Before long, things that night would turn hazy, each woman said.
"The last thing I remember is walking down the street after leaving a bar, and complaining that I couldn't walk," said Rachel.
Donna recalls going back to Marsalis's apartment for another drink. "I took a sip of the drink," she said, "and that was the last thing I remember."
"I do recall waking up in his bed naked," said Natalie, "and I am not somebody that goes home with somebody and has sex on the first date."
Rachel claims to have a vague but terrifying recollection of what happened during the night.
"I could feel someone on me," she said. "I knew he was trying to have intercourse with me, and then I said, 'Stop,' and I said, 'No.' And I couldn't move my body. ... I was panicking and I was so scared."
But all the women report the same thing -- that Marsalis was a complete gentleman in the morning.
"He was trying to be, you know, really nice and, like, caring and 'I am really into you,'" said Rachel.
Donna said she wondered what happened. "But I also was thinking, 'OK, I am just gonna take responsibility, and just move on,'" she said.
Though all the women say they felt something wrong and perhaps even criminal had happened in "Dr. Jeff's" apartment, they say he was able to convince them that everything was fine. And many of them told ABC they wanted to convince themselves of that.
None of them went to police. In fact, many of them willingly saw Dr. Jeff again.
"I thought, 'I don't want to be traumatized by this,'" said Rachel. "So I, I kinda tried to smooth things over or just go back to, like, the things I liked about him ... thinking, 'Oh, he's a doctor,' you know, like trying to rationalize this."
"We'd e-mail," said Natalie. "We'd talk on the phone every once in a while; maybe get together once every three, four months."
Ex-Girlfriend Reports Date Rape
It would go on for years: Marsalis meeting women online, and then taking them out on dates.
"He would have never stopped, he would have continued to do what he was doing," said Lt. Thomas McDevitt of the Philadelphia Police Department's special victims unit.
McDevitt said police began investigating when one of Marsalis' ex-girlfriends reported being date-raped.
"She was a young professional woman," said McDevitt. "She was intelligent. She blamed herself in the beginning, that she didn't come forward [right away]. We started an investigation thinking that, you know, he had somehow drugged her and sexually assaulted her."
Police searched Marsalis' apartment. And what they found, they said, shed a whole new light on the real identity of "Dr. Jeff" and his elaborate world of lies.
"Yeah, he never was a medical student," said McDevitt.
* * * * * *
For more than three years, Jessika Rovell shared her life with a man who seemed like a fantasy match. He was a trauma surgeon, he told her. He was a Navy officer. He had clean-cut good looks and a ready smile.
So taken was Rovell with Jeffrey Marsalis that she managed to block out a disturbing episode from the earliest days of their relationship.
A law student living near Philadelphia at the time, Rovell had passed out after sharing some wine with Marsalis at her apartment and remembered nothing in the morning, she said. But she knew that the two had had sexual intercourse, she said, and she found it disconcerting that Marsalis acted happy, as if nothing were strange or wrong.
Early misgivings about Marsalis would later turn to horror for Rovell. It emerged that almost nothing about his proffered identity was true. Most disturbing was the real cause of his occasional disappearances, which he had told her were related to his work with the CIA.
In fact, prosecutors said, Marsalis was hunting women to drug and rape, using an online dating profile and the name "Dr. Jeff."
By the time Marsalis was finally convicted of rape, in April 2009 in Idaho, 21 women in the Philadelphia area had told police he raped or sexually assaulted them, in incidents occurring between 2001 and 2005. Ten of those cases were prosecuted.
During that time, Marsalis and Rovell kept up a long-term relationship, at one point even getting engaged.
It was only after she left him in March 2005 that she learned the extent of his duplicity. Then she began a four-year wait for justice, following the charges against him, meeting some of his alleged victims, hoping for a rape conviction.
In April 2005, after one of Marsalis' alleged date-rape victims went to Philadelphia police, investigators conducted a search of his apartment. It turned out that "Dr. Jeff" was no doctor. He was a former emergency medical technician and nursing school dropout.
In Marsalis' apartment, police found a gun, a bulletproof vest and fake "top-secret" documents they say he had used to buttress his CIA story with Rovell. And there was a NASA photograph from his "work with NASA." He obtained it, it turned out, the way anyone would.
"We found out that these are pictures you take when you go down for your souvenirs at NASA," said Lt. Thomas McDevitt of the Philadelphia Police Department's special victims unit.
Authorities say the evidence that would break the case wide open was found right on Marsalis' computer.
"Mr. Marsalis had kept a list of names on his computer," said prosecutor Joe Khan. He called the list the "Yearly Calendar of Woman," Khan said.
"Under each year was a list of female first names -- each represented individual women that Mr. Marsalis had had sexual contact with," Khan said.
Police began contacting the women from the "calendar."
"When you have someone you realize is a predator, that makes you more motivated to make sure he's put away and not hurt anybody else," McDevitt said.
In April 2005, Marsalis was arrested and charged with rape. But he wasn't locked up for long. In a move that would later prove critical in this case, Marsalis posted bail and headed to Sun Valley, Idaho, where his family had owned property since he was a child. It would not be long before he encountered trouble there.
Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, prosecutor Khan was building his case. It was limited to three women from Marsalis' calendar who pressed charges. The case went to trial in January 2006. (The women declined to speak with ABC News.)
"One of the things that we relied on was the, the overwhelming similarities that victims who do not know each other all relayed," said Khan. "Very, very similar experiences. ... Mr. Marsalis fit the definition of a sexually violent predator."
Defense attorney Kevin Hexstall said one challenge of the case stemmed from his client's severely damaged credibility.
"He's claiming to be the head trauma surgeon at an area hospital, he's claiming to be an astronaut, he's confiding in somebody that he just met that he's involved in the CIA," Hexstall said.
But as the trial moved forward, difficulties for the prosecution began to emerge.
Without physical evidence tying Marsalis to his alleged crimes, the case against him would hinge on the credibility of his accusers. And as the defense attorney reviewed the accusers' sworn statements, he began to see reason for hope.
"The bottom line is that the stories don't make sense, they don't hold water," Hexstall said.
One accuser had told police she didn't have any contact with Jeffrey after the night she claimed she was raped, Hexstall said. But her phone records told a different story.
"After the third date, she called Jeffrey 24 times," Hexstall said. "They had conversations that lasted up 'til 40 minutes.
"One of the girls, after she was raped, she helped him get an apartment in her building where she's an apartment manager," he said. "And the third girl claimed that after she was raped, she continued to have a consensual sexual relationship with him on a regular basis."
It was a fundamental question that wouldn't go away: Why would these women continue to go out with Marsalis and to have sex with him?
Prosecution of Jeffrey Marsalis Collapses
Former Philadelphia prosecutor Jennifer Long and Dr. Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist, said it's common for victims to deny a date rape ever occurred. They also said many women do go back and continue to date the men, as they try to convince themselves it never happened.
"There are lots of reasons: One of them is an attempt to control the situation," Long said.
Ziv said denial is so much easier when the alleged attacker looks respectable and behaves like a gentleman after the fact.
"The devil doesn't look like the devil all the time," she said. "He can look like a normal human being."
But the jury never heard anything about how some rape victims do things to convince themselves it never happened, because Pennsylvania law specifically prohibits expert testimony about that psychology.
Had experts been allowed to testify about victim behavior, "it would have given the jury the proper context to then judge the victims," Long said.
Without that expert testimony, the prosecution's case collapsed. Jeffrey Marsalis was acquitted on all counts.
"And he had this, this smile on his face -- this horribly smug smile on his face -- well, when they announced the acquittal," Rovell said.
But authorities had a surprise in store. Since first arresting Marsalis, investigators had found several more women ready to press charges against "Dr. Jeff." And just as Marsalis was preparing to walk out of court a free man, he was arrested again.
This time, the prosecution was more careful in how they put together the evidence. The case would be limited to seven women who swore they did not have consensual sex with Marsalis after the alleged rape. And there was something else.
"We also had more evidence about Mr. Marsalis' scheme," Khan said.
Lab results came back on a substance found in a syringe in Marsalis's old EMT equipment. It was identified as liquid Benadryl. Authorities wondered if they had found a date-rape drug.
"Liquid Benadryl was odorless, it was colorless, it was precisely the sort of thing that someone could put in a person's drink," Khan said.
But if Marsalis had drugged seven separate women -- why were there no eyewitnesses?
"Some unbiased bystander, good Samaritan, would have seen this," said Kathleen Martin, who joined the defense team for the second trial. "Not one of these women went to the emergency room and said, 'Take my blood, I think I've been drugged.' None of them did that."
Perhaps most damaging, even though none of the seven women said they willingly had sex with Marsalis after the alleged rape, they did stay in touch with him.
"We have a total of seven women, all of which have contact with him afterwards, from weekends, to movies, to lunches, to dinners, to dates, to gifts," Martin said.
When the new case went to trial in May 2007, The defense argued that the sex was all consensual, and that the idea of being drugged and date-raped never occurred to Marsalis' accusers until investigators came calling, looking for victims. The defense also argued that the women were acting out of anger after they learned that "Dr. Jeff" was no doctor.
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," Martin said. "'No one's going to make a fool out of me...' and they jump on that bandwagon to say, 'I usually don't have a one-night stand, but I did in that circumstance, and I feel uncomfortable with it. But now I know why I did it, because maybe it was drugs...'"
McDevitt said investigators did not need to persuade the women to press charges.
"There's no truth to the fact that we planted any seed or, or convinced anyone to come forward," he said.
But despite the women's willingness to go public with something so personal, once again the jury found the accusers hard to believe.
In his second trial, Marsalis was not found guilty of rape June 13, 2007. He was found guilty on two lesser counts of sexual assault. It offered little solace for his accusers.
"Twenty-four people in Philadelphia had an opportunity to listen to all the evidence," Hexstall said. "All agreed that Jeffrey's not a rapist."
But there was still one woman a jury hadn't heard. She says there's no way she would ever have consented to sex with Jeff Marsalis. And she says there was a very clear reason why. The woman -- she asked to be called "Jody" to protect her identity -- was new to Sun Valley, Idaho, when she met Marsalis.
In the summer of 2005, after he was first charged with rape in Philadelphia but before his trials, Marsalis moved into a Sun Valley apartment. Despite being an accused rapist, he landed a job as a security guard at an employee's dorm at the Sun Valley resort.
"He was a security guard," said Jody, whose sister introduced her to Marsalis. "Uh, he had all the keys to the rooms and that's when I had met him."
Jody said she was eager to get to know the local nightlife. When she and Marsalis talked about going out one Saturday, she agreed.
"We kind of just made casual plans to go, go get a drink," she said.
The two went to a popular bar. They begin drinking beers, talking, and listening to the live band.
"He kept looking at me kind of funny," Jody said. "And I, I said, 'I'm wondering how I'm going to tell you I'm a lesbian.'
"He said, 'Oh that's cool, I've got a lot of gay friends in Philadelphia.'"
Kristin Derrig was bartending that night.
Victim Takes Crucial Step of Promptly Going to Police
"They were obviously ... hangin' out together, but they, they didn't look ... appear as a couple," Derrig told ABC.
At one point in the evening Marsalis bought Jody a shot called a kamikaze. There was something odd about it, she said.
"I was trying to figure out what it was but the taste was undistinguishable," Jody said. "I couldn't even tell what kind of liquor was in it. And when I looked in the bottom of the glass, there was some granular substance and it..."
Derrig found that strange.
"I've made thousands of kamikazes, and none of 'em have a granular substance," she said.
Jody went outside for a cigarette. At that point, she told ABC, she had had multiple drinks, but not enough to black out.
"I bought one [beer], remember buying one for myself, the shot, the first beer he bought and then the second beer he bought. So about four [drinks]," Jody said.
Her next memory?
"Uh, waking up the next morning on a bare mattress and asking him where the bathroom was because I was going to throw up," she said.
She could tell physically that she'd had sex, Jody said. She thought her clothes had been taken off and rearranged on her body.
"I was thinking, how, how, what happened? You know, because I wouldn't have let this happen," she said.
"What am I going to say to him? He was a security guard. And I was kind of afraid to confront him," she said. "He acted like nothing happened. He threw his arm around me and said, 'My little gay buddy, we'll have to hang out again.' And then he walked me back to my dorm room."
After telling her family what happened, Jody did what none of the Philadelphia women had done. She reported the crime to the police that day, and went to the hospital for a rape kit. Her story remained consistent, said Sun Valley Assistant Police Chief Mike Crawford, while Marsalis' story changed after they arrested him Oct. 10, 2005, two days after the crime.
Back in Philadelphia, the lawyers in the rape trial got the news. Marsalis had been arrested for allegedly raping a woman in Idaho before his East Coast trial was set to begin.
"I was shocked," Hexstall said. "I was shocked, I was surprised."
When the moment of truth came for Marsalis before an Idaho judge, Rovell would be there.