Unmasking the leader of Pranknet and the miscreants behind a year-long wave of phone call criminality
Pranknet - Police Report Arby's Baytown, Texas
Pranknet - Hit List Telephone Numbers
Pranknet - Incident At Holiday Inn, Conway, Arkansas
Pranknet - Orange County Sheriff's Bulletin
Pranknet - Choice Hotel's Email Warning
Pranknet - Johnson City Sprinkler Incident
Pranknet - Orlando Hotel Incident
Pranknet - Orlando Hotel Incident
Pranknet - Orlando Hotel Incident
Pranknet - Alabama Comfort Suites
Pranknet - Alabama Comfort Suites
Pranknet - Alabama Comfort Suites
In addition to Malik, TSG's probe has identified an assortment of other formerly invincible Pranknet regulars. This band of misfits includes:
* Known online as "Hempster," William Marquis, 51, lives on Gilroy Drive in the Scarborough section of Toronto, Ontario. Pranknet's second-in-command, Marquis is a felon whose rap sheet includes convictions for drunk driving (2004) and marijuana production (2005). The latter case resulted in Marquis receiving a two-year "conditional sentence," which roughly equates to probation.
Marquis was also busted in 1992 for his role in a $4 million hydroponic pot growing operation. When he appeared in an Oshawa courtroom, "a red-faced Marquis wept" during a bail hearing, according to the Toronto Star. Charges in that case were later dropped after Marquis gave prosecutors a statement about his role in the grow operation, a police commander recalled. Marquis's codefendant, who headed the ring, later pleaded guilty. In an interview last week, Marquis declined to discuss the 1992 case, except to say that the $4 million figure quoted by law enforcement was "grossly exaggerated."
Marquis is widely viewed as Pranknet's deputy and can regularly be seen enforcing chat room rules and banishing, or "bouncing" violators. Pranknet's "room mother," Marquis has told online acquaintances that he has provided Malik with rent money, and last year he apprised a small circle of Pranknet intimates about the fire at Malik's home (in an apparent attempt to solicit donations to the Pranknet chief).
Earlier this year Marquis offered a $500 bounty to anyone in the chat room who could succeed in getting someone to drive a car through the lobby window of a hotel. Remarkably, Malik did just that on May 27 at a Hampton Inn in York, Nebraska. Posing as a representative from a fire alarm company, Malik tricked a front desk worker into pulling the hotel alarm, which he claimed was malfunctioning and needed to be "reset." After the alarm sounded, he told the woman that the only way to stop the screeching was to break lobby windows, which supposedly contained sensors of some sort. As York Police Department Chief Donald Klug recalled, "A trucker was standing there and he offered to help and drove his truck through the front door."
Malik was so pleased with the destruction that he raced to Pranknet's Twitter page to contemporaneously report, "I just pulled off the most epic prank. I had a hotel guest back his truck into the hotel window (in the lobby) and break the window." That tweet/admission of guilt was recently deleted from the group's Twitter feed.
Marquis's most recent pranks involved follow-up calls placed in an effort to get victims to recount the damage caused by previous Pranknet hoaxes. He posed as an insurance adjuster in a call to a Waffle House where employees had been persuaded to set off the restaurant's fire suppression system. Following a notorious February 26 prank at a KFC in Manchester, New Hampshire, Marquis called the restaurant and said he was an "investigator" in a bid to get victims to recount how they were humiliated.
The KFC prank, an excerpt of which can be listened to here, was handled by Malik and another Pranknet regular nicknamed "Slayer." That call was recently removed from Pranknet's YouTube page, which itself was suspended last week by the online video giant. Here's how Malik described the February call when he posted it to YouTube: "Epic KFC Prank Call (greatest ever)...dex successfully convinces the 3 female employees to undress fully nude OUTSIDE and URINATE ON EACH OTHER!!! AND MORE!"
Sometimes, when Malik opts not to abuse a young female victim who has ended up on the phone with him (they are usually answering fake Craigslist ads offering something of value for free, like a laptop or concert tickets), he tries to impress her by noting, "We've made the news many times. Not for anything good." Operating without a wingman, Malik then tries to close the deal by suggesting the woman Google the phrase "KFC employees naked" so that she can get a fuller understanding of his prowess. This is apparently how Malik tries to court a gal.
During an interview, Marquis, who told TSG that his "conscience is clear," lied about his criminal record and the extent of his involvement with Pranknet. Asked about his relationship with Malik, Marquis said, "There is no relationship," adding that he had no contact with the Pranknet founder. He also denied giving Malik money or paying for Pranknet expenses like Skype accounts.
However, Marquis's claim that he is not in contact with Malik is belied by TSG's own computer server logs. Records indicate that Malik immediately shared with Marquis the addresses of stories about Pranknet that appeared on TSG. The stories, which each carried a distinctive url that was created solely for Malik's viewing, were first provided to the Pranknet founder in e-mails sent to his Gmail account (email@example.com). On three occasions over the last six weeks, within minutes of Malik clicking a link (which recorded his IP address in Windsor), Marquis also looked at the story, resulting in his Scarborough IP being memorialized on TSG's servers.
When confronted with this strange coincidence, Marquis could offer little beyond, "Hmmmm."
* Shawn Powell, known as "Slipknotpsycho," is a 24-year-old Texan on that state's sex offender registry. In May 2002, he was sentenced to 13 months in custody following his conviction on a felony charge of indecency with a minor (he admitted taking naked photos of an eight-year-old female relative). The unemployed Powell, whose rap sheet also includes a 2003 pot possession conviction, is a relative Pranknet newcomer and, as a result, apparently only the subject of one police investigation.
On July 5, TSG has learned, Powell and a Pranknet veteran nicknamed "Prankster" targeted a pair of fast food restaurants. Of all the cities he could have chosen, Powell decided to cut his teeth in Baytown, Texas, where he happens to reside. While "Prankster" took the lead, posing as "Jamie Taylor," a representative of the Baytown Fire Department, Powell "hosted" the calls via his Skype account.
"Prankster" succeeded in convincing an Arby's worker to activate the kitchen's fire suppression system, which resulted in foam being discharged from overhead extinguishers. Powell, using the alias "Corey Taylor" (the name of the lead singer in the metal band Slipknot), joined the call in an unsuccessful attempt to get the worker to break windows due to the purported toxic nature of the foam. According to a Baytown Police Department report, an Arby's manager estimated that the prank caused $4600 in damages and lost sales, and said that the restaurant would be shut until the local health department inspected the business and cleared it to reopen. A similar call by Powell and "Prankster" to a Baytown Jack in the Box did not fool employees there.
As is Pranknet custom, "Prankster" placed a July 6 follow-up call to try and gauge the damage he and Powell caused the previous day. Referring to the Arby's fire system by its correct trade name--Axiom--he told a manager that if she set it off again, "it would clean all the foam off the floor."
Powell's brief Pranknet career also includes a barrage of racist and threatening calls. And one afternoon last month, he even arranged for a prank call to be made to his own mother, which was broadcast live. With a Pranknet member acting as if he were a cop, Powell's mother was made to believe that her name and phone number were found in the pocket of a murder victim. The woman, who said she thought the dead man could be a relative, was directed to come to the police station for further information.
* Nothing speaks more to the execrable nature of Malik's rank and file than the fact that the sex offender who took naked photos of a little girl is not the most loathsome guy in the chat room.
A leading contender for that honor is "Prankster" himself. Over the past year, he has perpetrated dozens of hoaxes across the country, making him one of Pranknet's most prolific vandals. While "Prankster" has left destroyed hotel rooms, damaged restaurants, and scores of victims in his wake, his most reprehensible act occurred on July 20.
The prank began that morning with a call to the front desk of a Homewood Suites hotel in Lexington, Kentucky. "Prankster" asked to be connected to Room 206, and when a male guest answered the phone, he claimed to be calling from the front desk with alarming news. The prior guest in Room 206, he claimed, had tested positive for hepatitis C and the hotel was concerned that the infectious disease could have been transmitted to the man due to an insufficient cleaning of the room by housekeeping staff.
The guest was informed that the hotel had a doctor on premises and, just to be safe, he was asked to provide a urine sample to be tested. While the request was preposterous on its face, the man nonetheless complied. After urinating in a bathroom drinking glass, he was directed to drop the sample off at the front desk for testing. While this action alone might have earned the coveted Pranknet "epic" tag, the hoax was not over.
Switching characters, "Prankster" then called the front desk and claimed to be a representative with Martinelli's, a cider company. He told a female Homewood Suites employee that a representative of his firm was coming downstairs with a sample of a new apple cider and asked whether she would sample it and give her opinion of the product. "It has like a fizzy sensation," he advised the woman. "It's supposed to tingle as it goes down."
Then, like clockwork, the male guest arrived at the hotel's front desk as the female employee was on the phone with "Prankster." "Here he comes," the woman announced as the man approached her desk. "Okay, take the cider and send him back up to his room," "Prankster" advised. Amazingly, the male guest turned over the urine sample without any discussion with the hotel clerk.
Laughing, the woman asked, "You're sure there's no poison in this?" "Prankster" responded, "I'm sure ma'am." After the woman sipped from the glass, "Prankster" asked how it tasted. "Horrible," she replied. "That does not taste like cider...I'm not gonna take another sip, that's horrible." She added, "I can't take any more of that."
It was now time for the repulsive reveal.
"Well, I need to inform you of something, ma'am," said "Prankster." "I want you to understand that you just drank that man's urine." This pronouncement was accompanied with a burst of laughter from another Pranknet member apparently sitting in on the Skype call. The second man called the hotel employee a "dumb bitch" for drinking the guest's bacteria-filled waste. The disgusting episode, of course, received plaudits from the Pranknet chat room faithful, one of whom exclaimed, "That bitch drank piss!" Another regular, who uses the nickname "Timmy two-bags," typed this trenchant observation: "i bet she was gagging for a few hours after that."
Homewood Suites employees, who would not speak to TSG, immediately reported the incident to the Lexington Division of Police. A spokesperson, Detective Shannon Garner, confirmed that the matter is being investigated as wanton endangerment, a first-degree felony. Garner said a police report gave this brief synopsis of the crime: "Victim was intentionally exposed to an unknown substance by an unknown person without her knowledge."
Hours after the incident, Pranknet's eminence grise decided to weigh in. Marquis, a 51-year-old with nothing better to do than hang out with degenerates half his age, sought to downplay the "Prankster" achievement. "Prankster's fucking head is gonna get all swollen. He just got lucky with the right person, for fuck's sake," harrumphed "Hempster."
While conning a victim into drinking someone else's urine is acceptable conduct, Marquis draws the line at pranks involving animals. Because he is a committed cat person, you see. It would be downright diabolical to even refer to a pet in a Pranknet hoax. During an off-topic discussion last week, Marquis referred to news that day of the discovery of the remains of an eight-year-old girl who had gone missing months earlier. The creepy Pranknet leader, who enjoys monitoring police scanners, noted that while the child's murder was a "shame," he would "be more pissed off if it was an animal. If it was somebody's pet that they kidnapped, beat, and tortured and killed. Isn't that weird?"
Last Friday, TSG obtained the Skype number (281-761-6233) used by "Prankster" and gave it a call. Though a reporter was dialing from a blocked number, "Prankster" picked up anyway, which he said he rarely does.
Asked whether he was concerned about the police probe of the felonious urine prank (not to mention other investigations into his activities), "Prankster" said, "Not necessarily." He had little concern about being located or identified by police, journalists, or victims: "It's too difficult to find me. I'm a ghost on the Internet...I do pretty much everything I can to keep anything out of my computer that would lead it back to my actual computer. I'm not a stupid individual, like I said." (An audio excerpt of TSG's interview with "Prankster" can be found here.)
[As he was speaking, "Prankster" was desperately trying to get on the Pranknet mic so that he could broadcast something epic: His TSG interview. Alas, he never got the mic, nor did "Prankster" fathom that his interviewer was monitoring the chat room as he tried to set up a live sandbagging.]
When pushed to answer more questions, "Prankster" brayed that he no longer wanted to be bothered by a reporter.
"You, of all people, is telling someone to leave them alone? Don't you exist to do the exact opposite?" he was asked.
"Yeah, but that's my job," he replied. Did he actually consider tormenting strangers on the telephone his occupation? "Prankster" answered, "In a way, yes. But in a way, no. It's a hobby, hobby slash job slash, you know, something of that nature." During the 10-minute conversation, "Prankster" declared that he was "not a snitch and I'm not a phony," adding, "If you do happen to come across my address, my phone number, my real name, then you can go ahead and you can do that."
So, with the young criminal's permission, TSG spent the next 24 hours trying to identify him. When we called him back early Saturday evening--this time on his home number--his mother answered the line. When "Prankster" came to the phone, he was no longer willing to chat about his "hobby slash job" or his status as Internet apparition. Instead, he quickly hung up when a reporter identified himself. He would do this again when we called back.
"Prankster" is Tyler Markle, who turns 19 later this month.
He lives with his mother and stepfather in a mobile home on a rural road in Diboll, Texas (pop. 5407), about 115 miles north of Houston. He attended Diboll High School and, like Pranknet founder Malik, is an avid player of first-person shooter games (he is known in that world as "RancidOneShot 2" and "N3v3rQu1t").
On a recently deleted MySpace page, Markle (whose full name is James Tyler Markle) listed his body type as "6' 6" / Athletic," though that is an exaggeration, according to one source. He plays on a recreational softball team, dresses like a goth, and loves the "Twilight" series of books (his Twitter account, "3DW4RD_B3LL4," is an alphanumeric tribute to the vampire saga's main characters). Markle also happens to be a regular at the area's only gay bar, though he is not old enough to drink and lists his orientation as "Straight" on his former MySpace page. Fellow patrons would likely be interested to learn of his frequent homophobic rants while on the Pranknet mic, not to mention his repeated threats to violate men and women with a chair leg.
As the sun set Saturday evening, Markle retreated to his bedroom while his mom screened calls from New York City.
* Known as "Veruca," LeeAnn Jordan is a 28-year-old Lewiston, Maine woman who has allowed her PayPal account to be used by Malik to receive assorted money transfers, including payments for CDs and MP3s containing hundreds of his pranks. Malik, records show, also had access last year to a server housing two web sites connected to Jordan, including one for her father's electrical contracting business.
While Jordan does not place prank calls--and rarely shows up in the Pranknet chat room--her name surfaced in the criminal investigation of the hoax at the Manchester KFC. In February, Malik and his allies were carrying out their pranks in a room on the popular Paltalk chat service. When investigators discovered that Jordan had paid for the Paltalk account used by one of the KFC suspects, they conducted an interview with her.
Jordan, a mother of small children, told a detective that she "pretty much lives her life through the computer" and acknowledged purchasing the Paltalk account in question, which carried the nickname "DonkeyPuncher" (one of several accounts used by Malik). Asked about the identity of "DonkeyPuncher," Jordan said she "doesn't know him," and claimed that it was "not uncommon for her to buy people temporary memberships to Paltalk," according to a Manchester Police Department report.
The Manchester probe stalled when Detective Peter Marr traced the "DonkeyPuncher" IP address to an Internet service provider in Canada. With the case now moving outside the country, Marr contacted federal prosecutors for guidance. However, as Marr wrote in a May 6 report, "It was obvious to me that the US Attorney's didn't have much interest in the case when I told them that the IP address of the suspect" was in Canada. In shutting the case, Marr noted, "At this time I have exhausted all leads and am closing the case due to not having the jurisdiction to continue further."
In a brief interview, Jordan denied ever speaking with Manchester police, and refused to answer questions about Malik, whom she claimed lived 3500 miles away from her.