SLENDERMAN: Online obsession, mental illness and violent crime of two Midwestern girls. By Kathleen Hale. grove press. 368 pages. $27.
The seemingly insane stabbing of a young girl by two of her classmates in the woods of Waukesha, Wisconsin in 2014 made international headlines when it was learned that the two perpetrators were under the influence of Slenderman, a fictional internet demon they had become. convinced was real.
But the grim headlines of the Stranger Than Fiction crime missed many crucial facts about the case, which author Kathleen Hale lays out in rigorous, step-by-step detail that is the result of seven years of research. For one thing, the girl they stabbed survived, although her injuries were severe and her recovery long.
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who were 12 when they committed the crime, found Slenderman online at a website called creepypasta.com, a fan-fiction site combining amateur horror stories with edited photos and videos. Slenderman struck a chord with the two girls, and they became convinced that they had to commit a human sacrifice and then find Slenderman in the woods to live with them. They chose their friend, Bella, for the attack.
Geyser had undiagnosed childhood schizophrenia and had seen colors and visions all her life, so believing in Slenderman matched how she knew the world. Weier had a difficult home life and found a loophole in Creepypasta and followed the Geyser visions. Together they became engrossed in a shared illusion, known as madness for twoleading to tragic consequences.
The two were arrested shortly after the stabbings and quickly confessed their crime to baffled police officers. They have worked their way through the Wisconsin court system for years. Eventually, they were both found not guilty by reason of mental illness or defect and sentenced to lengthy sentences at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Wisconsin.
Hale’s compassionate look at the case is a compelling yet heartbreaking read that reveals how a seemingly innocent childhood friendship could lead to such a devastating outcome.