The Multiple Identities -- and Crimes -- of Jeffrey Marsalis

He claimed to be a doctor and astronaut-in-training. Women call him a predator.

July 9, 2009, 1:41 PM

July 13, 2009 -- "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' profile

He called himself "Dr. Jeff." His profile on 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.

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 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.

Visit the "Primetime" Web site Tuesday for Part II of the Jeffrey Marsalis story: What police discovered, frustrating obstacles for the prosecution and the culprit's final misstep. Later: Jeffrey Marsalis speaks.

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