There was no way Hera McLeod was leaving her house on day two of the 2010 “snowmageddon” blizzard. Two-foot-high mounds of white powder entombed the cars on her street in DC’s Glover Park. Trees had frosted over, twisted, and collapsed. So McLeod plopped down on her couch, snapped open her laptop, and responded to an e-mail from a guy who’d found her on Match.com.
After three months on the dating site and a string of awful dates—the Capitol Hill staffer too awkward to carry a conversation, the artist who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, the guy who got sloppy-drunk at lunch—McLeod wasn’t terribly optimistic about finding someone through Match.com.
But right away, Joaquin Rams seemed different. He described himself as a 26-year-old R&B singer backed by a major record label, McLeod says, and sent her a picture of himself standing in front of a wall of framed records.
McLeod wasn’t sure why an aspiring musician needed Match to meet women. “Do you really run into nobody honest and normal in your everyday life?” she asked Rams in her e-mail.
“Yes sweetie it is hard as hell,” he replied. Plus, his publicist had met her husband on Match, so, he said, “this was more her idea.”
“I have to be honest I’m new at this,” Rams continued, “so are you interested in getting to know me and if yes =) do I give you my number? Lol . . .”
“Ha- yeah,” McLeod wrote. “Call me if you want to talk.”
On the phone that evening, the two shared their online-dating horror stories. McLeod thought Rams seemed charming and easy to talk to, and she agreed to go to lunch. After so many disappointing dates with the usual BlackBerry-toting Washington types, it was refreshing to meet someone as interesting as Joaquin Rams.
If only he were real.
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McLeod had it all, almost. After graduating from George Washington University in 2003, she joined Teach for America, spent two years working at a grade school in Los Angeles, then got cast with her dad in the 2005 season of CBS’s The Amazing Race. (They placed seventh out of 11 teams.) Back in Washington, McLeod landed a federal-security clearance and a six-figure job as an intelligence analyst for the government-contracting giant Booz Allen Hamilton. What she didn’t have was a family of her own.
At age 29, McLeod wanted a marriage like her parents’. Gus and Mary McLeod had been together 35 years. They owned a medical-supply company in Gaithersburg and had been successful enough to send Hera McLeod and her siblings to private high schools; McLeod attended St. George’s, an Episcopal boarding school in Rhode Island. As she approached her thirties, she worried she was running out of time to start a family.
McLeod and Rams arranged to meet at Tysons Galleria for their first date. When McLeod spotted him, her stomach clenched. Rams appeared a decade older in person than he did in his photographs. He wore baggy sweatpants and an oversize T-shirt, his black hair hitting his chest.
But over lunch at Lebanese Taverna, Rams put McLeod at ease. He talked up his technology company and how he saw it as insurance, a way to pay his bills if his music career ever fell through. He also told her how much he loved being a dad, saying he had custody of his ten-year-old son. McLeod was impressed.
They saw each other again. And again. Rams made all the right moves. He sent McLeod text messages in the middle of the day to let her know he was thinking about her. He respected her wish not to sleep together early in their relationship, and he didn’t mind when she vented about a bad day at the office. McLeod fell hard for him.
So hard that in the summer of 2011—17 months after McLeod and Rams met—she gave birth to their son, Prince McLeod Rams. He was nine pounds, one ounce, with big brown eyes. They named him for his high-pitched cry, which reminded McLeod of the singer Prince.
The couple wasn’t married, but Rams had proposed and they planned to make their union official. McLeod had her family. Or so she thought.
When Prince was two weeks old, Rams asked McLeod if he could take her 19-year-old sister to a Lil Wayne concert with him. As McLeod recalls it, Rams pitched the evening as a networking opportunity for her sister, who was interested in a singing career. McLeod was fine with the idea. That night, she took Prince and Rams’s other son to her parents’ house in Gaithersburg for the evening.
After the concert, Rams and McLeod’s sister returned to Rams’s house near Manassas, where he and McLeod lived. What happened next is in dispute: McLeod’s sister, who asked not to be named, told Washingtonian that Rams threatened to have her gang-raped if she didn’t have sex with him. Rams testified in a Montgomery County court that the two had consensual sex.
The next day, after McLeod’s sister told her parents her version of the story, the McLeods drove to the home that McLeod and Rams shared. McLeod’s mother, Mary, used her cell phone to call McLeod from the street. “Don’t ask me any questions,” she said. “Bring Prince down with you and come to the front door.”
After the McLeods got Prince outside, Prince William County police arrived and McLeod packed a bag to go stay with her parents. Among the items she took was the video camera Rams had used to film Prince’s birth. The camera also contained something else: video footage of Rams’s sexual encounter with McLeod’s sister. He recorded it without her knowledge, she says.
Investigators eventually asked McLeod to return the camera, only to discover that the footage had been erased, says department spokeswoman Sergeant Kim Chinn. The police were able to recover and watch the video, concluding that it substantiated Rams’s account of consensual sex, Chinn says. They charged McLeod’s sister with filing a false police report and McLeod with obstruction of justice for erasing the footage and lying about the camera. The charges against McLeod were dismissed; documents show that McLeod’s sister wasn’t prosecuted and her record was expunged.
The McLeods—who insist that their daughter was raped—returned to their Gaithersburg home devastated. “We were just in shock,” Mary says.
It was about to get worse.