The missive caught her eye because of the sender’s handsome profile photo, which showed a middle-aged man with a ruddy face, strong black eyebrows, and a welcoming gaze.
The 45-year-old divorcée and junior-college dropout now lived in Bluefield, West Virginia, a fading town near the Appalachian coalfields where she’d been raised.
In addition to collecting 4 in unemployment benefits each week, Elrod made ends meet by hustling: She resold packages of discount toilet paper and peddled small quantities of prescription drugs.
Elrod’s love affair began with the sort of dodgy Facebook message that most people delete on sight.
She discovered that message in March 2011, 20 months before opening her First Community account, while cleaning out her junk-strewn “Other” mailbox during a respite at a Charlotte mall.
Despite her hand-to-mouth circumstances, Elrod’s new account soon began to receive a series of sizable wire transfers, many of which originated abroad.
Over the course of one December week, for example, almost ,000 arrived from Norway; on January 2, someone in France sent ,977.
She scraped together just enough to rent a 676-square-foot garage apartment that she shared with a roommate, a gangly buffet cook a dozen years her junior.
On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Elrod opened a checking account at a First Community Bank branch located just across the state line in the twin town of Bluefield, Virginia.
Anxious about her future as an older single woman, Elrod lapped up the kind words about her looks—too few men seemed to appreciate her soft chin, wavy hair, and prominent brown eyes.
She wrote back, thanking the sender for complimenting her beauty and asking how he’d found her.
“He wasn’t like the little boys I was used to dealing with—he was the opposite of that, so sincere, so caring,” Elrod says.