Here’s a look at the urban legend of Slenderman, the internet-spawned monster who drove two 12-year-olds to attempt murder.
Slender Man gained mainstream attention in 2014, when two 12-year-olds, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, lured their friend Payton Leutner into the woods and stabbed her 19 times, leaving her for dead. Weier and Geyser later stated that the stabbing was meant to be a murder sacrifice to earn the “protection” of Slender Man.
Leutner survived the attack, and Weier and Geyser have been charged with attempted murder in the first degree and will be tried as adults. They face up to 65 years in prison if convicted.
So how did an internet urban legend inspire such a gruesome crime?
Slender Man was created in 2009 by a guy named Eric Knudsen. Knudsen invented Slender Man as part of a contest on the website Something Awful where users were asked to create fake paranormal images. He submitted a doctored photo of Slender Man with an accompanying backstory. The photo shows children on a playground being watched by a tall, dark, out-of-focus figure in the background. The shadowy figure appears to have tentacles. The backstory states that the photo was taken the day that 14 children vanished.
Knudsen’s image really captured people’s imagination and others started to create their own versions of Slender Man’s history. Slender Man’s evolution spawned fanart, cosplay, and online fan fiction called creepypasta. Creepypasta are anecdotal urban legends that include instructions for the reader that, if followed, may lead to a horrifying or remarkable event.
Weier and Geyser read about the Slender Man through its creepypasta. They were convinced the stories were real, which drove them to attempt the murder.
Slender Man is still a phenomenon, with more and more people adding to the mythology of a faceless, shadowy, 8-foot-tall man in a suit who abducts children for reasons unknown. He’s even inspired 4 video games: Slender: The Eight Pages, Slender: The Arrival, Slender Man’s Shadow, and Slender Rising. Slender Man also influenced the feature film “The Bye Bye Man” which centers on a tall looming figure who infects the minds of young people to do his dirty work.
It’s anyone’s guess where he’ll turn up next.