"Slender Man" Stabber Wanted to Kill Friend to "Prove Skeptics Wrong" about the Supernatural
I’m sure by now many of you have heard the tragic story of the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who stabbed a friend 19 times because they were inspired by the internet meme Slender Man. The story is sad on many levels, but it was particularly disturbing how the impressionable girls thought that the internet meme had a reality beyond fiction and that by engaging in real-life violence they could join Slender Man in some sort of communion.
Slender Man was invented as a piece of art in 2009 by Eric Knudsen on the Something Awful internet forum.
The police released the affidavit describing the girls’ confession. Because of the age of the girls involved, I’m not particularly comfortable using their names, which have appeared in the media, including the Los Angeles Times, so I have redacted them from the statement below:
[Suspect 1] told police that Slender Man is the 'leader' of Creepypasta, and in the hierarchy of that world, one must kill to show dedication. [She] said that [Suspect 2] told her they should become 'proxies' of Slender Man — a paranormal figure known for his ability to create tendrils from his fingers and back — and kill their friend to prove themselves worthy of him. [Suspect 1] said she was surprised by [Suspect 2]'s suggestion, but also excited to prove skeptics wrong and show that Slender Man really did exist.
The owner of Creepypasta, an online short horror fiction website, released a statement denying that the site’s fiction bore responsibility for the girls’ behavior.
I think that most of you will understand when I say it’s hard to justify pinning blame on an entire genre of writing. Unless you’re okay with blaming the world’s ills on Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft, I don’t believe that it makes sense to say paranormal writing or an interest in the macabre should be blamed or even used as an indicator of a “sick” person (as a few emails have already felt the need to call both myself and all the authors here). The human race has long held and encouraged a fascination with things that go bump in the night.
Coverage of the girls’ actions has tended to follow the typical pattern of witchcraft, vampire, and satanic cult scares, in which authorities issue dire warnings to parents about nefarious evil that corrupts the innocence of youth: “This should be a wake-up call for all parents,” Waukesha, Wisconsin police chief Russell P. Jack said. “Parents are strongly encouraged to restrict and monitor their children’s Internet usage.” Similarly, CNN reported that parents are worried now that their children are slipping into a fantasy world. One such parent, Mary Ellen Cavanagh, the mother of two teenagers, expressed distress that the line between fantasy and reality is “"thinning drastically among our youth.” She did not have evidence to support this other than CNN’s scare-mongering about the power of the internet to induce children to violence.
The Slender Man stabbings also have an uncanny echo of a recent episode of Supernatural (S09E15), based on the same internet meme, in which two disturbed young men commit murder in the name of a fictitious “Thinman,” invented as a publicity stunt by the Ghostfacers. There, however, Thinman served as an intentionally false cover for the killers’ underlying psychopathy. So far no one has blamed Supernatural for inducing anyone to kill.
This is not the first time that horror has had a direct effect on its audience. In American Exorcism (2002) Michael W. Cuneo traced the influence of The Exorcist on American exorcism rituals and belief in demonic possession and found that in the years following the film’s release the movie contributed to a spike in Americans’ belief that they or someone they knew was possessed by a demon. Similarly, ghost movies like Paranormal Activity and their non-fiction paranormal counterparts such as Ghost Hunters has apparently contributed to an increase in a belief in ghosts, at least in Britain, where belief has risen from 40 to 52 percent over the past decade, according to a 2013 survey.
What strikes me as unusual is the way that one of the girls specifically told police that her goal in stabbing her friend was the “prove skeptics wrong,” which is not something that one typically associates with those who take from fiction a belief in demonic possession, vampires, werewolves, or other traditional monsters. She is aping the language of fringe paranormal “investigators,” and here we seem to have crossed from someone who has taken fiction literally to someone who is also influenced by the (nonfiction) paranormal culture and its ideology. I’m reminded of the justification of the two men who defaced the Great Pyramid last year—they, too, said their reason was to prove a bizarre idea to a wider public, in their case that the pyramid was 10,000 years old.
It’s worth noting that within five months of Slender Man’s creation, it went from a piece of internet art to a subject of conspiracy discussion on Coast to Coast A.M. alongside other fringe topics like UFOs, ancient astronauts, and Bigfoot. It wasn’t only children who absorbed the fantasy.
Although 12-year-olds can’t be placed in the same mental category as adults, it is rather noteworthy that the girls’ bloody efforts to “prove” that a fictional supernatural creature had an underlying reality parallel to an extent what paranormal culture has argued since at least the time of Helena Blavatsky. The Theosophist wrote in the Secret Doctrine that the creators of speculative fiction had special access to the occult, which they accurately transmitted in fiction:
Our best modern novelists, who are neither Theosophists nor Spiritualists, begin to have, nevertheless, very psychological and suggestively Occult dreams […] [T]he clever novelist seems to repeat the history of all the now degraded and down-fallen races of humanity.
Today there are groups who practice “Magick” who believe that H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, while fictional, nevertheless resulted from Lovecraft’s unconscious communion with beings from another dimension. Lovecraft assiduously reminded readers that his stories were pure fiction, but nevertheless many took the Mythos as a true account of a real ancient myth cycle.
To that end, horror fiction has not exactly made it easy to distinguish fact from fiction, and this is something that dates back to the dawn of the genre. Horror was not the only genre to make false claims for factual reality, but it is the most famous. Horace Walpole purposely published the very first horror novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), as though it were a genuine Italian manuscript from centuries past. Famously, the Texas Chain Saw Massacre claimed to be a true story, as did the Blair Witch Project, which was one of the most elaborate multimedia world-building exercises of its era.
And of course urban legends all claim to be “true” stories even though they are little more than modern folklore.
Therefore, we should not be surprised that the Slender Man meme crosses the boundary between fiction and pseudo-fact. What makes it different than other urban legends is that we can mark the exact point of origin and know who created it and why. That isn’t the case for such urban legend figures as the “Hook-Man” or legendary creatures like the vampire.
Had the girls stabbed their friend to summon a demon or to engage in a vampire feast, the case would still have been shocking, but it wouldn’t have quite the same resonance. Even though demons, vampires, and the Slender Man have about the same amount of evidence in their favor, as a society we’ve decided that some myths carry weight and import, or are hallowed by tradition, while others are too recent or too tied to specific current concerns (in this case, the evil of the internet) and are therefore more threatening to our lives and families than others.
It strikes me that if the girls called it a human sacrifice to Hecate, infernal goddess of magic, or to Satan, the conversation would be very different than the same sacrifice made to Slender Man. The more interesting question is why that might be—and what that says about how our culture conceives of the realm of myth and legend. Satanic killing summons images of clandestine networks of dark seduction, though at a remove from daily life. But the internet is right there in your bedroom, making it uniquely frightening in a way that, apparently, other monsters no longer quite are. It can corrupt your children right under your nose!
6/4/2014 06:33:17 am
John Hinckley Jr was inspired by the 1976 film "Taxi Driver" to assassinate Ronald Reagan. The 1968 Beatles Double White Album inspired the massacre of Sharon Tate.
6/4/2014 08:47:25 am
I hadn't heard about this. Waukesha is only two counties away from me.
6/4/2014 09:11:49 am
That's what I was reminded of as well. Hopefully this will be an isolated incident that won't lead to the same witch hunt that put a good number of people in jail on very questionable evidence.
6/4/2014 08:51:41 am
I was going to write a longer thing about this, but you've hit some of the points I've been thinking about.
6/4/2014 09:06:38 am
Even stories written with a setting of a completely different world come in for their share of True Believers. I'm reminded of a statement made by David Eddings, author of the Belgariad/Mallorean books (and the Elenium/Tamuli books) saying that his publisher wanted to print the Mrin Codex prophecy that drives the story, and Mr. Eddings said that he would only write the whole thing out if they would publish it on antique parchment paper, because he didn't want to deal with the people who would believe it was a real prophecy, despite the fact that it was an entirely fictional world.
6/4/2014 09:37:28 am
Concur on the last point. I don't think the fact-fiction effect has any impact on someone who is violent to that degree, they'll fixate on something. I'm thinking more of the chaos magickians that read spells out of the Simon Necronomicon. Or the impact of the various authors in the Shaver Mystery community on the development if UFO folklore.
6/4/2014 02:21:50 pm
Heh. I STILL have nightmares about Grey aliens, at 36, knowing full well that they do not exist. They seem to have taken on the role of devils for my subconscious. That is, they are what my mind comes up with to depict "there is something that is creeping you out but you do not know what." I get "there are Greys outside your window" from my brain. Like I said, this is despite knowing that there is no such thing and that they are DEFINITELY not outside my window.
6/4/2014 03:17:15 pm
It's a sad story, and there is obviously a great deal more wrong with the girl who came up with the idea than just finding a creepy meme on the internet. She explicitly cites the Creepypasta Wiki's page, which itself is even less-rigorous in asserting the reality of the Slender Man than the original material- which she would've been far too young to have seen while the story was being created. Hopefully the girls will get the treatment they need.
6/4/2014 04:01:31 pm
Fictitious UFO close encounters created for a role-playing game were discovered to have been posted on a Ufologist site as real UFO encounters. The author of the plagiarized material was mostly flattered that his fakery was close enough to the untruth to pass muster.
6/4/2014 05:32:01 pm
6/4/2014 11:58:31 pm
its easy to do a Hollywood rewrite.
6/5/2014 05:08:24 am
"its done all the time. something that
6/4/2014 05:41:29 pm
So (spoilers for Delta Green, I guess) let me get this straight:
6/5/2014 05:10:27 am
I tried my best to prove that Strieber was right, but found out he was a swindler
6/5/2014 06:45:01 pm
The full text ripped from the Delta Green setting books can be found (amongst other places) at
6/5/2014 07:52:57 am
Jason: "Although 12-year-olds can’t be placed in the same mental category as adults, it is rather noteworthy that the girls’ bloody efforts to “prove” that a fictional supernatural creature had an underlying reality parallel to an extent what paranormal culture has argued since at least the time of Helena Blavatsky. The Theosophist wrote in the Secret Doctrine that the creators of speculative fiction had special access to the occult, which they accurately transmitted in fiction...."
6/5/2014 10:57:03 am
Well, the thing is, "innocence" doesn't actually, if you go all the way back to Genesis, mean goodness and light. It means a lack of knowledge of good and evil. I do believe that children are innocent--that's why they can do things that adults view as absolutely horrendous without even blinking. They haven't been taught right from wrong yet. They have not, in a sense, tasted of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
6/5/2014 01:46:30 pm
I agree to the point of these being "innocent" children, inasmuch as they should not be tried as adults. The thought is ridiculous. I think the court should recognize that a motivating sentiment in the attack consisted of fear...fear the two girls felt about Slender Man harming their families if the sacrifice were not made. I don't know what percent this played into the overall motivation, but I read news accounts that attributed part of their motivation to fear of Slender Man.
6/5/2014 04:02:32 pm
I actually agree that they should not be tried as adults, but my reasoning is far simpler: why the HELL do we divide out children and adults in the penal system, if we're going to violate that whenever we feel like it? Either try everyone equally, or stop trying minors as adults entirely, it's that simple.
6/6/2014 06:27:18 am
They were defending their families, not themselves. They were supposed to later join Slender Man in the forest, remember?
6/14/2014 03:52:58 pm
I think that most of these allegations about the reasons behind (witchcraft, believing they're vampires or pleasing fictional/legendary horror characters) are just smokescreens trying to hide some more mundane reason for the crime, like cheating or homosexuality, at the same type the perpetrators can plead insanity or something.
6/14/2014 03:54:16 pm
At the same "TIME", not "type", gosh!
6/26/2014 11:58:21 am
The talk of proving skeptics wrong is particularly odd since the attempted killing doesn't seem to have been meant to bring about anything supernatural. It's not like "the skeptics" think only Creepypasta creatures could make one child kill another.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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