She was sacrificed to the Slenderman

“Don’t be afraid, I’m only a little kitty cat.” These were the words from 12-year-old Morgan Geyser before she pounced on her friend, Payton Leutner, and plunged a 12-centimetre-long blade into her body 19 times. The knife punctured her stomach, liver and pancreas and barely missed a vital artery near her heart. “I hate you! I trusted you!” screamed her victim as she tried to make her escape. But she was disorientated and her vision was becoming blurry; they were in the woods and the trees that concealed the attack were closing in on her. Another girl, Anissa Weier, also 12 years old, took her by the arm and steered Leutner further into the woods so she couldn’t escape and ordered her to lie down. She told her if she did so she would lose less blood.

The two girls then ran in the opposite direction, believing both that this would be the last time anyone would see Leutner alive, and that from this day forth, both girls would have the divine protection of their friend, the Slenderman. Further up ahead, away from their bleeding sacrifice, they sweetly sang to each other.

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A Waukesha Police handout of Morgan Geyser (left) and Anissa Weier

Three’s a crowd

Children often play make-believe. Psychologists deem it a healthy way for them to relieve stress and cope with the transitions in their life as they approach adulthood. But for three little girls in a conservative town in Wisconsin, a fantasy game resulted in one of them crawling through the woods as she bled out and two others behind bars, charged with attempted first-degree murder.

Originally the girls had all been friends, Geyser and Leutner had known each other since the fourth grade and would talk on the phone every night. Weier was a newer friend. She and Geyser had started talking on the bus rides to and from school because they lived in the same housing complex, known as Sunset Apartments, on Big Bend Road in Waukesha, Wisconsin, USA. Both Weier and Leutner counted Geyser as their closest friend.

At school, Leutner was the social one of the three, while the other girls’ strange behaviour made them outcasts among their peers. The girls would often play make-believe during their lunch hour, tearing through the canteen, convinced that the dark lord Voldemort from the //Harry Potter// series was after them.

In 2013, their friendship group expanded with the addition of one other member. Weier had introduced Geyser to Slenderman sometime in October. She had encountered him as a secondary character while watching a Minecraft video. The faceless and demonic character, well known for his tall and slender appearance, piqued her interest.

From here, she was directed to visit the Creepypasta Wiki website, a user-generated fan site dedicated to horror stories, where she found more information on Slenderman and other urban legends in the form of written, Photoshopped and videotaped content. Each one was a tale of the user’s ‘real’ encounter with various monsters and supernatural beings. When surfing such sites, Weier was also drawn to Zalgo (an ominous figure thought to cause insanity) and Jeff the Killer, an ever-smiling ghoul said to be based on a real killer. Weier found the accounts of Jeff the Killer to support his existence, and therefore she began to believe that Slenderman really did exist, too.

She showed her friend Geyser and the pair became beguiled by his existence. Leutner then heard about Slenderman from Geyser, who would allegedly regularly taunt her with scary stories about him. Leutner’s parents told her that her friend’s stories were simply fictitious, but she was still frightened by Slenderman. But the thralls of fantasy would soon take a frightening turn.

Weier claims that Geyser suggested to her around Christmas time that they kill their friend. She had allegedly told her that the two of them should become proxies of Slenderman – his servants – and that in order to do so they had to prove their loyalty to him by killing their friend. This would be their initiation, and if they did it, they would be worthy to stay in his mansion and live their lives alongside him.

ht_slenderman_trial_20_150217_4x3_992 So they hatched their insane plan over the next few months, plotting the attack on the school bus, using words such as “cracker” for knife, and “the deed” to refer to the murder. The girls also talked of their escape afterwards, calling it their “camping trip”. Back at home, their search history on their laptops included “how to get away with murdering someone”. Geyser even told her friend prior to the killing to clear her internet history because once they killed Leutner, she knew the police would search their computers for clues and evidence.

In the meantime, their parents were clueless as to what their daughters were up to. “You have no idea,” Geyser told police about their plotting, “how difficult it was not to tell anyone.” Weier, however, told police that she hadn’t wanted to do it but, for fear of losing what felt like her only friend, she decided to not let her go it alone. When asked to go over the crucial moment she stabbed her friend once again, Geyser retorted: “Are you trying to do this over and over again and see if I tell the story differently? I have the right not to go into detail about it if I don’t want to.”

Child’s Play

On 30 May 2014, Leutner and Geyser hung back after school to help a teacher clear up. From there, both girl’s went to Geyser’s house. It was a Friday night and they were getting ready for a sleepover to celebrate Geyser’s 12th birthday. Each year she was allowed to have two friends over, and Weier soon joined them.

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To kick off the celebrations, the trio headed to Skateland, an indoor roller rink in Waukesha laden with green and pink disco lights and the beats of the Top 40 hits. The party arrived at dinnertime, having been driven there by Geyser’s father, and left at about 9.30pm. Back at Sunset Apartments, the girls messed around on the laptops, laughing and giggling. The scene would look like any normal sleepover.

Unknown to Leutner, her ‘friends’ were planning to wake up at 2am and duct tape her mouth, before stabbing her in the neck and covering her bloody body up with a blanket to make it look like she was simply sleeping. Then they planned to sneak out of the house and head for the Slenderman Mansion. They believed such a place existed deep in the Nicolet National Forest just a short distance from their homes.

However, for one reason or another they changed their plan and decided not to do it there and then. When they settled down for the night, Geyser and Weier fell asleep side by side while their third friend lay across the head of the bed. Weier recalled how Leutner had accidentally kicked her in the face while asleep and in retaliation she had kicked back.

When the girls awoke the next morning, the mischief continued. They ate donuts and strawberries for breakfast, they crushed granola bars into Silly Putty and stuck it to the ceiling and they played dress-up. Geyser chose to be Data from //Star Trek: The Next Generation//, Leutner chose to be a pretty princess in pink, and Weier chose to be a “prosti-troll”. They then moved their games outside, setting off for David’s Park.

While Leutner skipped up ahead, the other two girls hung behind. Geyser pulled up the left side of her black and white plaid jacket to show her friend a kitchen knife that she had snatched from her home and settled into her waistband. “I thought, dear god, this is really happening,” Weier told police.

When the girls reached the vicinity of the park, they crowded inside the public restrooms on its north-eastern edge. The girls attempted once again to stage their attack. They knew that there was a drain there that would efficiently dispose of Leunter’s blood after they had murdered her.

Geyser unsuccessfully tried to restrain Leutner, and Weier pushed her head into a brick wall. But then Geyser started to fall apart, she started to become agitated and began pacing and singing to herself. Weier attempted to comfort her and sent Leutner outside to play. Who knows why she chose to stay with the girls who had just assaulted her, perhaps she thought it just an off-spell in their friendship.

 

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Geyser and Weier made a list for their fantasy mission on behalf of the Slenderman, which included the “will to live”

 

While she played outside by herself, Weier petted her friend “like a cat”. She suggested they all go and play hide and seek in the woods on the far side of the park and kill their victim there when they were out of sight. When she had calmed down, Geyser agreed and they set off towards the wooded area. But Leutner was not so eager to venture into the darkness of the tress. The pair convinced her that they would be going bird watching. Geyser told detectives: “People who trust you become very gullible… it was sort of sad.”

Geyser counted first while the other two hid in the woods, dark with thick brambles, bushes and weeds. While they hid, Weier told Leutner to lie down in the dirt. When she refused, Weier tried to restrain her by sitting on her, causing the girl to cry out that she couldn’t breathe from the weight of the girl on top of her. Worried that her screaming might attract attention, Weier rose to her feet as Geyser arrived at her side and handed her accomplice the knife.

Weier said that she was “too squeamish” to stab the girl and handed back the knife. The pair got into a discussion about who would stab Leutner, who was crouched down, engrossed in some flowers in the dirt. “I’m not going to until you tell me to,” Geyser said. Weier started to walk away, but she had only gone as far as 1.5 metres when she stopped and turned back to her friend, and told her: “Kitty now. Go ballistic. Go crazy.”

With her permission, Geyser began her violent and brutal attempt at murder. “It didn’t feel like anything. It was like air,” she told police during her interview. Weier told police that she watched on as Leutner screamed in agony from her multiple stab wounds. As she lay in the dirt, they told her they would go to get help, “but we really weren’t. We were gonna run and let her pass away. So we ran,” said Weier.

After leaving their victim for dead, the girls’ emotions began to spiral. Initially Geyser was “surprisingly calm”, but Weier said she was in the midst of a nervous breakdown and was blaming her friend for everything that had happened. Geyser eventually began to cry. She told her friend that she had “kinda, sorta” made a deal with Slenderman. She had telepathically communicated with him and told him that if they failed to go through with the murder, then Slenderman could kill both their families. Panic-stricken, Weier’s thoughts turned to her family and the desire to go home.

A slender chance

Somehow, despite her distressed state, Leutner managed to crawl through an opening in the trees. As she lay on an abandoned and cordoned off path on the other side of the trees, a passing cyclist noticed the girl’s bloody body. She was awake and alert, but struggling with every breath. He called 911 and within minutes the emergency services had bundled her into an ambulance, taking her to hospital less than seven kilometres away, where she under went life-saving surgery.

Before the anaesthetic took effect, she managed to tell police what had happened and who her attackers were. As she fell into a state of unconsciousness, the police were working away to find the two 12-year-old girls who had done this to her.

According to the surgeon who operated on Leutner, the knife had come directly down towards a major artery and cut the tissue away, leaving it totally exposed. The point of the knife had stopped at the wall of the artery – certain death had been less than a millimetre away, the width of a single strand of hair. He said that had she been stabbed again in the same place or the knife gone any deeper, she would have suffered a heart attack from the bleeding and would have died within minutes.

During an exclusive interview with ABC News, the victim’s mother and father recalled how their daughter had been excited for weeks about the sleepover at her best friend’s house. They had known Geyser for years and had no reason to suspect what would happen that day. When the police visited Leutner’s mother at her home the following day, she knew that someone she loved had been hurt. When they told her that her daughter had been stabbed by Geyser, she could hardly believe what she was hearing. She grabbed her son and made her way to the hospital. “Morgan’s stabbed Payton,” she told her husband on the phone.

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Payton Leutner was lucky to survive after being stabbed 19 times by the pair

 

As she sat at her daughter’s bedside in the hospital, it took two nurses to total up the number of stab wounds Leutner had suffered. Both nurses agreed on 19 wounds on her body including five on her arms and seven on her legs.

Police picked Geyser and Weier up at the side of a road nine kilometres away from the crime scene. After they had left their victim for dead, they had washed up in a Walmart bathroom, filled their water bottles in the same sink and wondered around Waukesha for a couple of hours, crossing train tracks, passing a cemetery and resting at a furniture store that was giving out lemonade.

When they had left Geyser’s house that morning they had brought ‘supplies’ with them, which included the weapon, a couple of granola bars and some water bottles. Each girl bought her own keepsakes. Weier had brought old family photographs to remember those closest to her, while Geyser had brought her mother’s old purse. Inside she had stashed the weapon. Weier had left two messages on her mobile phone, one bequeathed all her possessions to her parents, while the other read: “This is my final wish to those who care, do not grieve my absence, but remember me for who I was. I love and cherish you all and wouldn’t do you harm.” When they were arrested, they said that they were on their way to the Slenderman Mansion.

Back to reality

Eventually little girls tire of playing with their dolls and subject them to more grown up games and adventures. Geyser and Weier were no exception: when officers searched their rooms, they found a number of discarded dolls. One was covered in scars drawn on with pen, an arm had been butchered off below the elbow while others were missing hands and feet. On another, a symbol used to ward off Slenderman was scribbled on her abdomen.

As well as the dismembered figurines, officers also recovered a vast amount of disturbing drawings. One drawing showed a girl in cat ears standing over the body of another girl, the words “I love killing people” above her head. Other doodles were recovered, with phrases including “I want to die” and “You are strange child… it will be of use to me” scribbled onto the pages.

After several hours of interrogation, both girls were charged with first-degree attempted homicide. Both claimed that they had somewhat reluctantly tried to kill their friend, in the belief that it was “necessary” to appease Slenderman.

Since their arrest in May 2014, they have remained in custody, their bail set at $500,000 each. Geyser, now 14, is currently being held in a psychiatric unit, where she has been since March 2016 following a diagnosis of early onset schizophrenia, a rare diagnosis for someone of such a young age.

Weier, who is now 13, is being held at a West Bend juvenile jail. Their trial date has been postponed as a result of an intense legal battle to decide the degree to which the girls are responsible for their actions. In Wisconsin, those over the age of ten that are convicted of first-degree attempted homicide are automatically considered an adult in a court of law. The girl’s attorneys have argued that they belong in a juvenile court because their brains are not fully developed as a result of varying degrees of mental illness. They also argue that if they are put in an adult prison, they will not receive the appropriate treatment that they require. They have asked the judge Michael Bohren to consider the law that allows the two to be tried as adults ‘unconstitutional’.

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Investigators found a doll with a sigil scribbled on it in one of the girl’s rooms, apparently to ‘ward off’ the Slenderman.

 

However, Bohren rejected their arguments. He said that while he acknowledged the girls’ mental state, he deemed the crime to be a ‘vicious’ act of pre-meditated murder. He added that if the girls were tried as children, then they would be released by the age of 25 without any continued support, whereas in an adult system they could be released under close supervision and continued treatment. On that basis, he ruled that the girls be tried as adults in August 2015.

The girls’ lawyers entered not guilty pleas on their behalf and are working to appeal the judge’s decision. Should they be tried as adults, the girls face up to 65 years behind bars, which Leutner’s parents argue would be best for their daughter so that she can move on with her life and feel safe. The latest developments in the case indicate the girls’ legal teams have appealed that they be released to the care of their families on mental health grounds.

It has been argued that the girls have benefited from their separation and are no longer a danger to the public. Tony Cotton, an attorney for one of the girls, alleges that his client was sexually assaulted last year while in jail and said he is concerned for the “mental health functioning of his client.” The team also requested a reduction in her bail. However, the judge denied both requests and has explained that since the girls had tried to escape following the attack, he could not be sure that such a decision to release them before the trial would be wise. He also said that the incident in jail did not seem to indicate ‘sexual assault’ but rather that her cellmate had exposed herself and asked her to do the same. The cellmate was then moved the next day. He seemed concerned that the incident had not been brought forward earlier.

Leutner recovered from her ordeal in hospital and returned to school in the September afterwards. She is seemingly a happy and healthy child who enjoys school and has made new friends. But she still has a way to go to recover mentally. When her parents asked her how she managed to pull herself out of the woods, she replied, “I wanted to live.” On the wall in her bedroom is a display of paper and fabric hearts in Leutner’s favourite colour, purple. They are messages of support from people not only in the community but also from around the world. Plenty praise her bravery and determination, while one simply reads: “Don’t let one act of evil stop you from seeing the beauty in the rest of the world.

 

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[MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Jane Shelby Richardson, Duke University]

[INSET IMAGES CREDIT (apart from police handout): ABC News]