The Murderous Meme
by Alyson Duncan
If you have been hanging around on the internet, especially in some of the creepier places, for any length of time then you are probably already familiar with the Slender Man meme and you understand that he is a work of fiction. However, in 2014 a pair of pre-teen girls stumbled upon Slender Man for the first time and believed that he was real. This ultimately led to them attempting to murder one of their classmates. Let’s take a look at how a simple internet meme drove two young girls to violence.
Who is Slender Man?
For those not already aware of the Slender Man meme, he is a fictional supernatural character who first showed up circa 2009 as an internet meme. His origins can be traced back to Eric Knudsen, a frequent visitor to the ‘Something Awful’ forums. Slender Man is described as being unnaturally tall and thin. His face is said to lack any features and he is always dressed in a smart black suit.
Slender Man had somewhat humble beginnings. On June 10, 2009 forum user ‘Victor Surge’ aka Eric Knudsen entered a Photoshop contest which challenged people to edit an everyday photograph to look paranormal. Knudsen took a couple of black and white images of children and inserted a tall, thin figure wearing a black suit. What really made his photographs stand out was that he also included short quotes that appeared to be newspaper or police report excerpts.
“We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…”
– 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.
“One of two photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as ‘The Slender Man’. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence.”
– 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13, 1986.
Something in those photos gripped the internet and Slender Man soon became a viral sensation. Knudsen himself went on to release just a handful of new Slender Man images, always with the same style of excerpt, but others took the character and ran with it. Slender Man birthed thousands of fan fiction stories, video games, podcasts and even movies. Soon it was difficult to separate fact and fiction. Those not familiar with his creation believed Slender Man was a long standing folklore story rooted in cultural beliefs rather than a fairly modern creation! Knudsen retains the copyright and although he has given his blessing for some commercial projects involving the character, many others have been blocked.
The Slender Man Stabbing
Over the years, the Slender Man myth evolved as a growing number of people began to speculate on his motivations. In most cases he is said to target children and young adults, but it became a generally accepted fact that if you began to investigate Slender Man, this would turn his attentions to you. It was the ‘Marble Hornets’ web series which first introduced the idea of Slender Man proxies – humans who fell under his influence and became violent and/or insane. This is where things took a turn for the worst.
On May 31, 2014 a pair of 12 year old girls – Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier – lured one of their classmates (Payton Leutner) into the woods where they are said to have stabbed the girl 19 times with several of the wounds damaging major arteries. The knife also missed the Payton’s heart by just one millimeter. Following the attack, the girls pretended to be remorseful and told their victim to stay quite while they ran for help. However, the girls were actually just leaving her to die. Thankfully, Payton was able to drag herself to a nearby road where she was discovered by a passing cyclist. She required extensive surgery to repair her liver, diaphragm and stomach. It is nothing short of a miracle that the young woman survived.
The fact that two pre-teens could be responsible for such an attack on a girl that was supposed to be their friend was horrific. However, when the girls were found and arrested later that day police became even more incredulous upon learning the reasons for the attacks. It emerged that after finding out about Slender Man on the ‘CreepyPasta’ site, they believed the character to be real and were afraid that he would come after them now that they knew about him. After further research they decided that in order to appease the entity they would have to become his proxies. With this in mind they decided that the best way to do so was to commit murder. They believed that by taking Payton’s life, Slender Man would allow them to be his proxies and they could live with him in his Mansion. They also believed that this would extend protection to their families. Both of the girls seemed fairly ambivalent about the attack, although they did claim to feel guilty about hurting Payton, but still believed that it was necessary in order to appease Slender Man!
It seems like a huge leap from discovering a fictional internet character to planning a murder, but as the investigation went on it emerged that both of the girls had dark obsessions with monsters and the like! Morgan in particular had a rich fantasy life and during the investigation was diagnosed with schizophrenia which is unusual for someone of her age. However, in the subsequent trials, many experts rejected this diagnosis, saying that there was evidence that she was malingering, perhaps in an attempt to attract leniency. Most psychologists involved in the case did agree that she was a disturbed individual and that she was the ringleader in the attack. A search of her home turned up a notebook filled with macabre drawings, unsettling plans and lists pertaining to murder and an abundance of references to Slender Man.
When interviewed by the police, Anissa was much more willing to reveal all of the details. She was keen to let it be known that it was Morgan who actually stabbed Payton and not her. She also admitted that although at first she had believed in Slender Man, she now knew that it was all just make believe. However, by contrast Morgan seemed to be heavily invested in the Slender Man fantasy. She blamed Anissa, saying that she was the one who convinced Morgan that murder was going to be necessary, but says that she doesn’t remember which of them used the knife.
It was concluded that the girls should be tried as adults as there were concerns that them being released at the age of 18 would mean that they did not get the necessary mental health treatment that they clearly needed. However, the trial has been delayed multiple times, first when Morgan was declared unfit to stand trial and then again when a legal fight was launched to stop the trial being heard in adult court. Anissa Weier is currently held in a juvenile jail, while Morgan Geyser is in a psychiatric unit. In April 2016, an appeal was launched to allow the girls to be released on bail pending trial. Lawyers claim that the fact that the girls have been detained for over 2 years is damaging to their mental health and there are claims that Anissa has been sexually assaulted in jail. At present, bail is set at $500,000 each and there have been attempts to have it reduced to a more affordable figure, but all have been refused.
At the time of writing, the arguments were still raging on about whether or not the girls should be tried as adults. If heard in adult court they face up to 65 years in prison if found guilty of attempted first degree intentional homicide. It is likely that this would indeed be the verdict given the fact that they both admit to planning the attack on their friend. However, if they were tried in the Juvenile system they would be sentenced to a maximum of 3 years and then be monitored until they turned 18. At the moment, both girls remain in custody.
So, what does Slender Man’s creator make of this? Eric Knudsen has declined to make any additional comment on the case other than to say that he is deeply saddened by the attack on Payton Leutner.
Alyson Duncan is a freelance writer with a passion for the weird and the wonderful! As an amateur paranormal investigator she spends much of her free time in dark abandoned buildings chasing shadows in the dark. Follow her on Twitter at @alyson_duncan.