One of the men responsible for the grotesque defacing of Facebook tribute pages, including that of dead Melbourne teen Cameron Lowe, is a high-ranking Ku Klux Klan member who served two years in jail for viciously beating a 16-year-old Latino boy.
Jarred Hensley, 28, from Cincinnati, Ohio, outed himself to a pair of Australian vigilantes on a website chat room used by his group to organise and gloat about desecrating scores of Facebook tribute pages.
This week, the group was responsible for vandalising the pages of Cameron, 17, who died after being punched in the head, and Chantelle Rowe, 16, from Kapunda, north of Adelaide. Chantelle and her parents, Andrew and Rose Rowe, were stabbed to death.
They harassed grieving family members through private messages and published obscene images on the tribute pages.
Facebook has removed the images and banned the users responsible but the largely US group is outside the reach of Australian law.
Australian law officials say it is not a crime to deface Facebook tribute pages and, while politicians have expressed outrage, they have acknowledged that it is difficult to act as the vandals are based overseas.
But two concerned Australians decided to visit the forum where the vandals congregate and infiltrate their chat room. They purposely baited Hensley on the chat room and he appeared there on webcam to give them the finger.
"He was only too proud to give out his name and he said come and get me, because he knows that international laws aren't there for Australians to do anything," one of the vigilantes said in a phone interview.
Using the webcam image and the name, it was easy to verify the identity of Hensley, thanks to the distinctive tattoos covering his arms. Hensley is pictured online in formal KKK regalia giving a Hitler salute with white power and Nazi flags in the background.
The forum, which contains evidence of numerous other acts of Facebook tribute page vandalism, was quickly locked down when the defacers became concerned that the Australians were trying to break into their system.
In 2006, Hensley and three other members of the Imperial Klans of America, then the second largest KKK group, were on a recruiting mission at the Meade County Fair in Kentucky.
They saw a 16-year-old US boy of Panamanian-Indian descent, Jordan Gruver.They beat him to the ground and kicked him with steel-toe boots. Jordan suffered injuries including a broken jaw, broken teeth and permanent nerve damage and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hensley along with several other Klansmen were found guilty of the offences and served two years in prison. In 2008, Jordan was awarded $US2.5 million in damages.
Hensley was the Klan "grand titan" in Ohio, making him the group's second-highest ranking official in the state.
Hensley has both a Facebook and MySpace page and is pictured in his MySpace profile picture with a young, smiling child. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this week, another member of the group who defaced the tribute pages, who did not give a name, called this website to discuss the issue. The American said the group was "motivated by the laughs and the entertainment we get from it" and said the victims of the attacks "deserve it".
He later published an audio recording of the conversation on the group's website, the same one that contains the chatroom where Hensley outed himself.
In internet parlance, antagonising other online users for entertainment is known as "trolling".
Debbie Frost, Facebook's director of communications and public affairs, who is based in the US, said the social networking site was "appalled" by the material the trolls placed on Cameron Lowe's tribute page and extended its sympathies to his friends and family.
"Once it was reported, we removed the offensive material and then disabled the accounts of the people responsible for posting it," she said.
"These so-called 'trolls' are human vandals who deface web pages across the internet everywhere. Unfortunately they are motivated by the level of public outrage they cause and the media attention they gain in doing so, and like other nuisances, they are not easily stopped."
Facebook was criticised for being slow to act to remove the obscene images but Frost said Facebook users could protect themselves against offensive posts.
Offensive content can be reported to Facebook admins, while a person who creates a tribute page can use the controls to remove inappropriate posts and block or ban people who make them. Creators of tribute pages can also choose to classify them as "open", "closed" or "secret".
- Sydney Morning Herald