Sitting back on the sofa, I fired up my laptop and started scrolling.
‘Too old. Too young. Not my type,’ I sighed, trawling through the profiles of potential suitors.
I’d been struggling to find my Mr Right, so instead of the usual sites – Plenty of Fish, Match.com, Tinder – I thought I’d give a prison pen pal Facebook page a whirl.
I’d always loved a bad boy!
I came across one man who stopped me in my tracks.
Ernest Otto Smith, 52, was a convicted serial killer.
But with his long dark hair and chiselled jaw he was just my type!
His advert detailed his crimes so I knew that he’d been jailed for life without parole for killing two people.
He had been incarcerated in Ohio State Penitentiary after brutally murdering a man and woman in 2005, but his past didn’t put me off.
‘He looks handsome,’ I thought – firing off a message.
I didn’t expect to hear back from him, but I couldn’t help but frequently check my inbox – hoping he would reply.
When an email from him appeared my heart skipped a beat.
He was pleased to hear from me and we spoke at length about our lives.
I never expected to fall in love – I had single for three years after a string of unlucky relationships and a failed marriage in 2003 – but I couldn’t help developing feelings for Ernest.
He was funny and charming – a far cry from the cold-blooded murderer most would imagine.
We started exchanging emails regularly and after six weeks Ernest asked for my number and we began chatting on the phone.
He talked about all he’d been through in his life and told me he was the victim of child abuse which led to him using drugs to battle his depression and anxiety.
I had been in an abusive relationship before – and the hardship he had suffered and the way he spoke about his experiences really resonated with me.
We had an undeniable connection.
I looked forward to Ernest’s calls and we enjoyed confiding in each other.
Ernest told me all about his children and his tattoo shop in Toledo, Ohio, USA.
He also spoke in depth about his crimes.
He told me step-by-step how he had murdered each one of his victims and why.
Ernest said he robbed, shot and killed James Dillingham in his hometown on 2nd January 2005.
He was accompanied by Cathy Barnett, who he murdered whilst on the run in Kentucky on 7th January after fearing she would report him to the police.
After attempting to break Cathy’s neck and beating her to death with a tree branch, Ernest left her body and stayed on the run until police arrested him.
He was convicted for James’ murder in March 2006 and was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
After confiding in his parole officer about Cathy’s murder, Ernest plead guilty to the crime in court in March 2016 and was handed a life sentence without parole.
As I listened intently, I could hear the emotion in his voice as he reflected on what he had done.
He told me he now lived in solitary confinement.
He spent the only personal time he has penning letters and recording videos to send to me.
Remorseful, Ernest wasn’t happy that he was known as a killer – he was ashamed at being a murderer.
‘Don’t I scare you?’ Ernest asked, during one of our chats.
‘Not at all, I don’t get frightened easily,’ I assured him.
I wasn’t worried about dying.
I had lost lots of family members and reasoned that everyone dies eventually – it’s a fact of life.
‘We’ve all got to pop our clogs one day,’ I told with myself. ‘What does it matter if I’m killed by a murderer or hit by a bus?’
By May 2019 – after chatting for months – we confessed we had fallen head over heels for each other.
In letters written from his prison cell, Ernest wrote to me: ‘Girl do you know how happy you make me? Where have you been all my life?
‘I’m falling in love with you girl, I feel like you were meant to find me.
‘I’ll get out and come right home to you – yes, I’ve started to call your home my home so you have hooked me.
‘You will never understand how happy I am that you are in my life. I love you and dream of you every night – you are an angel, my soulmate.’
His messages and videos made my heart want to burst.
And I couldn’t believe it when Ernest proposed.
In videos recorded prison, he said: ‘We gotta figure out a way for me to marry you. I know it’s hard.
‘You make me a very happy person, more happy than I’ve been in years.
‘You’re crazy just like me so we should be married – what do you think? I love you.’
I didn’t see it coming at all.
Although it was a shock, I didn’t hesitate in accepting and told him: ‘Of course, I’ll marry you.’
I planned to fly to America towards the end of 2019 so I could meet my fiancé in person for the first time.
Until then, I created a photo wall at my home in Shipley, West Yorkshire, UK, with pictures of Ernest on so I can still see him every day.
Ernest told me he would be allowed to wear a wedding ring in prison as long as it was a plain gold band, so I set about finding him the perfect ones for us both.
He didn’t want me to pay for the rings myself as he’s quite old school and very traditional.
Ernest’s son has access to his dad’s bank account so he directed him to send me money for them.
I spoke to Ernest’s kids and they were all fine with us getting married.
Their mum died a while ago and they have no problem with their dad being with me – as long as they don’t have to call me mum.
Ernest and I now plan to wed in the prison next year.
He is talking to the authorities at the jail to try and arrange the ceremony – so it’s looking likely to happen early next year if all goes to plan.
I’ve always been a caring person, and I believe no matter what people have done that is wrong, they can move on and grow from it as long as they’re sorry.
Ernest is doing his time, he’s shown remorse and he’s still a human being, he just did some bad things that he regrets.
He’s writing a book about how child abuse can turn people into serial killers based on his own experience, and he’s even mentioning me in a few chapters too.
People always ask me if I’m scared at the thought of what he could do to me, but I’m not scared of Ernest at all – I love him and I’ll always do my best to help him.