On the morning of January 8, a distinguished professor at Texas A&M University stood atop a concrete parking garage in College Station, sent a text message on his iPhone, and then leapt to his death.
Thus ended the life of James Arnt Aune, a man who was known to many at the university as a dedicated teacher, communications department chairman, author, father, husband, and champion of the marginalized. What drove Aune to kill himself on that Tuesday morning?
Professor Aune’s final correspondence was not sent to his wife of 26 years, Miriam, but to a man he had never met. The recipient of his suicide text was a 37-year-old Louisiana man named Daniel Timothy Duplaisir. Aune texted: “killing myself now and you will be prosecuted for blackmail.”
According to an FBI affidavit, Aune confessed to his wife in December that he was being blackmailed for taking part in a sexually explicit online relationship with a minor that began that month, wrote Dane Schiller for the Houston Chronicle. The supposed minor that Aune had become involved with was allegedly Duplaisir masquerading as an underage girl with an online profile he created on the social networking website Mocospace.com.
The young girl pictured on the profile is reportedly Duplaisir’s daughter, who has been victimized by him in the past. In 2011 Duplaisir was charged with aggravated incest and oral sexual battery for abusing the unnamed girl, wrote Lee Moran for the New York Daily News.
According to Moran, Duplaisir used images of the girl, a fake name, and the email address ‘email@example.com’ to create the profile, which he then used to target men on the website. He would allegedly send men like Aune graphic images of her and obtain their phone numbers. He would then call his target, pretending to be an outraged father and demand cash in order to pay for supposed therapy for the girl.
Duplaisir allegedly demanded that Aune pay him $5,000 or he would call the police and his employers, wrote KTRK-TV. Aune apparently was not aware of the deception, and continued to correspond with ‘pretty-girl1985’ about the predicament he was in. “I sent him $1,000 and then promised more in January,” wrote Aune. “I am (expletive) scared about this, and can’t figure out how to come up with more money.”
Duplaisir’s text messages became more heated in the following days. He sent the professor a text on January 7, the day before his suicide:
If I do not hear from you, I swear to God almighty, that the police, your place of employment, students all over the internet, all of them, will be able to see your conversations, texts, pictures you sent. And if by some miracle you get away with this I will use every chance I get to make sure every place or person associated with you knows and see what you have done. Last chance, you better make the right move.
Aune struggled to come up with the money, and asked the supposed angry father for forgiveness, according to the Associated Press. “I am very sorry,” wrote Aune. “It was a weak moment.” It’s unclear when the professor made the decision to end his life. But an hour before he jumped off that university building, Duplaisir allegedly told Aune that he had three hours to come up with the remainder of the bribe or he would start calling the authorities.
Aune’s widow told the AP that he suffered from depression, which was further complicated by a 2007 bout with prostate cancer. She said that he was drinking heavily when he began the online affair with what he believed was an underage girl. After his confession to her, Miriam Aune told her husband she would still support him. “I was just telling him there was nothing that we couldn’t get through,” she said. “We have two autistic children we have raised to adulthood. We’ve been through rough stuff. I thought we could get through this.”
She worries that her husband’s life will be overshadowed by the way it ended. “It just shows you anybody can slip off the path. I know a lot of people are very surprised by this. He was very human with flaws, just like all of us,” she said. Professor Aune’s obituary states that he left behind a wife; two grown sons, both of whom were autistic; and a school that regarded him highly.
Duplaisir’s part in this story continues. On March 26 he appeared in a federal court in Houston for an extortion charge for his blackmailing debacle with Aune. He plead not guilty. His trial is scheduled for May 28.