When Morgan Geyser, 15, was sentenced to 40 years in a mental hospital on February 1, 2018 for her role in the brutal attempted murder of a friend, renewed attention was turned toward the bizarre 2014 case. What would compel two pre-teen girls with bright futures to plot such a gruesome stabbing—solely to appease a fictional-paranormal figure dubbed “Slender Man”? How had the line between truth and fiction grown so violently blurred?
Of course, Morgan Geyser and her co-conspirator, Anissa Weier, aren’t the only people to plot real-life crimes based on fictional characters, films or scenarios. “To copy such a gruesome sequence isn’t completely unknown,” says Kevin Hoffin, a criminologist and lecturer at the Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom. “A lot of research has been completed linking violent media to real-world violence, and there is as much evidence to confirm it as to deny it. I think of human…propensity [for] criminality like a Venn diagram: There has to be a crossover point for a number of features to profile a potential killer, not just one or two.”
Below are a few other cases in which life cruelly imitated art.
Daniel Gonzalez: ‘The Freddy Krueger Killer’
In 2004, a young British man named Daniel Gonzalez went on a random killing spree in London and Sussex. Later dubbed the “Freddy Krueger Killer” after the villain from the 1980s A Nightmare on Elm Street horror franchise, Gonzalez told police he wanted to be “remembered as a famous serial killer,” according to BBC News.
Using various sized knives (like Krueger wore on his hands), Gonzalez killed four people and injured two others in a series of random attacks. The most tragic part of all? The attacks likely could have been prevented. His mother, Lesley Savage, said they had sought help for his mental-health issues in the past, but their pleas were not taken seriously: “Every time we asked for help for Daniel…we were told we would have to wait for a crisis to occur before he could get the help he needed.”
Gonzalez himself also appealed for help from his doctor, writing to his general practitioner: “Please, please help me, this is very urgent. I really really do need medical help to find the correct environment and the correct medication. I need to take this in a controlled hospital environment.”
At trial, his defense claimed he was schizophrenic and committed the murders at the urging of voices in his head. He was sentenced to multiple life sentences, but committed suicide with a makeshift blade at Broadmoor Hospital in 2007. (He had previously tried to commit suicide by “ferociously” biting himself.)
While Hoffin acknowledges Gonzalez’s disturbing past, he doesn’t believe it excuses his heinous behavior. “Gonzalez was described as a dark and troubled boy, but…many ‘dark and troubled’ teenagers do not go on to commit violent crimes,” Hoffin says.
Morgan Geyser & Anissa Weier: The ‘Slender Man’ Stabbing
In 2014, Morgan Geyser and her friend Anissa Weier, then 12, conspired to kill a classmate named Payton Leutner.
They led Leutner into the woods in Waukesha, Wisconsin, stabbed her 19 times and left her for dead. A passing cyclist rescued the injured girl after she stumbled out to the road. Miraculously, she survived.
But why were Geyser and Weier out for blood?
The reason the girls gave was bizarre, to say the least: They claimed they committed the crime to appease Slender Man, a ghoulish fictional character. Slender Man, originally created by artist Eric Knudsen on the website Something Awful, was an incredibly tall, skinny, blank-faced figure with tentacle-like arms.
Geyser and Weier first stumbled across the horror figure on the Creepypasta wiki, and, believing he was real, devised a plan to prove their loyalty to him by becoming his “proxies” and murdering someone.
They plotted the attack for months, settling on May 30—Geyser’s 12th birthday—for the deadly act (though they didn’t actually try to kill Lautner until the following day). When police questioned them, Weier admitted, “The bad part of me wanted her to die; the good part of me wanted her to live.”
After being charged as adults for first-degree homicide, Weier was sentenced to 25 years in a mental hospital, while Geyser, who did the actual stabbing, received a much stiffer sentence.
Matthew Tinling: The ‘Saw’ Murderer
In 2013, Matthew Tinling, 25, was sentenced to at least 30 years behind bars for the torture and murder of Richard Hamilton, a 45-year-old former soldier who lived at a homeless shelter with Tinling.
According to news reports, Tinling stabbed Hamilton 17 times and tried to sever his spinal cord in an approximation of a scene from the grisly torture-porn horror film Saw VI, where the villain, Jigsaw, has his victims perform gruesome “tests” that often lead to their death (or the deaths of others). Police who arrived on the scene reportedly found a copy of the DVD in Tinling’s room.
The motive of the murder? To steal Hamilton’s PIN in order to buy drugs; Hamilton purportedly received biweekly $300 disability payments.
That Tinling was a possible drug addict isn’t surprising for Hoffin, who notes, “In a lot of the cases where killers imitate films in this way, there are elements of mental-health and drug problems; I [don’t] personally believe that someone would watch a violent movie and be tempted to [simply] copy it; there is a deeper pathology involved.”
Nathaniel White: ‘RoboCop’ Murders
African-American serial killer Nathaniel White first claimed it was voices in his head that drove him to kill, but he later changed his story, blaming the movie RoboCop 2 for giving him the idea for at least one of the slayings.
“I did exactly what I saw in the movie,” White said, according to The New York Times. All in all, White, a 32-year-old ex-con with a long, violent criminal history, confessed to murdering six women in upstate New York. His first killing was in 1991, after he had been convicted of abducting a teenage girl. He was still awaiting his sentence at the time of that murder. The other murders happened between 1991 and 1992.
“The first girl I killed was from a ‘RoboCop’ movie,” he told police. “I seen him cut somebody’s throat, then take the knife and slit down the chest to the stomach and left the body in a certain position. With the first person I killed I did exactly what I saw in the movie.”
White’s longtime girlfriend said he had been drinking more before the murder and noted that he sometimes grew violent when drunk, but not to the extent of the brutality exacted on the women he murdered.
At trial, White pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but was sentenced to 150 years in prison.
Jon Venables & Robert Thompson: ‘Child’s Play 3’
The 1993 murder of 2-year-old James Bulger in Bootle, England, near Liverpool, triggered a countrywide panic after it was alleged that the killers, two 10-year-old boys named Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, may have been imitating a scene from the horror franchise Child’s Play.
In February 1993, Venables and Thompson led Bulger away from his mother at a shopping center. (She had turned away for just a moment.) Witnesses reportedly saw the older children drag the crying child through the city streets; eventually they led him to some train tracks, beat him to death with bricks, and splashed paint on him. Bulger’s body was severed into two pieces by an oncoming train; the boys had left him there so their crime would look like an accident.
The possible link to Child’s Play 3 and its demonic-doll villain, Chucky, wasn’t well-established, though one of the boy’s fathers had reportedly rented the film before the murder. “It isn’t known if the boys watched it or remembered the content of the film. However, there was enough of a controversy to implement new levels of controls and attention [to] ‘video nasties,'” says Hoffin.
Both boys served eight years for the murder, then were released with anonymity under “new identities,” according to The Guardian. However, on February 7, 2018, Venables was sentenced anew to 40 months in prison for possessing large quantities of child porn.
— Laura Barcella