Tag Archives: Milwaukee

The Slender Man, Fakelore, and Moral Panic

I recently wrote a guest post for the Wild Hunt, looking at the reporting on a horrific teen crime in Wisconsin and its supposed connections to a fictional Internet figure known as Slender Man. Click in through to see the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

Such approaches to the attack suggest that the Internet in general, and the Slender Man story in particular, are to blame. Put another way, they imply that without Creepypasta’s wiki, the girls never would have stabbed their classmate. Even the mainstream press has done everything it can to connect the Milwaukee stabbing with the Slender Man story in readers’ minds: most are referring to it as the “Slenderman stabbing” now. In other places, headlines have made clear what they want readers to think: “Fantasy ‘Slender Man’ Meme Inspires Horrific Wisconsin Stabbing,” “Demonic Creature ‘Slender Man’ Motive For Waukesha Teen Stabbing?” “Could a fictional Internet character drive kids to kill?”

Top 5 Backward Messages of 2011

I started Backward Messages a year ago, and since then we’ve seen plenty of lively news and discussion. Here are the stories that got the most clicks in our first year of debunking:

1. “Demonic drawing,” Slipknot album linked to grandparents’ murder: Kyle Smith, 17, was arrested in April for allegedly killing his grandparents and then setting their house on fire to cover it up. Police mentioned a “demonic drawing” found in Smith’s bedroom, along with what was most likely a Slipknot CD, as if those had anything to do with the crime. A few months later, Smith pleaded guilty and admitted he was being treated for mental illness.

2. Investigative reporters uncover sex-crazed werewolf roommates in Milwaukee … or not: People couldn’t get enough of the story of two young Milwaukee women, Rebecca Chandler and Raven “Scarlett” Larrabee, who invited an Arizona man to their apartment for some kind of consensual event. All parties involved admitted it “got out of hand.” The man was cut more than 300 times, escaped, then called the police, who made like a trio of books found in the girls’ apartment might be related: “The Werewolf’s Guide to Life,” “The Necromantic Ritual Book,” and a black folder called “Intro to Sigilborne Spirits.” Comments on that post from folks who knew the girls suggest that they had much deeper issues, unrelated to their reading habits.

3. Heavy-metal fan wins disability benefits for his “addiction” to music: Roger Tullgren managed to convince the Swedish government that his love of heavy metal interferes with his day-to-day functioning and qualifies as a disability. Not many of you agreed with this one, but I still think it says a lot about how extremely passionate some folks are about metal — and that’s worth taking seriously.

4. If you dress goth, are you asking for trouble? After Melody McDermott and a friend were beaten on a tram outside Manchester, many recalled the death of fellow goth Sophie Lancaster under similar circumstances. Goths are frequently the targets of harassment and violence; is it up to them to change it?

5. Do video games change kids’ behavior? In the spring, Empowering Parents published a poll in which they asked parents whether games “affect their child’s behavior.” Sixty-two percent said yes, despite ample evidence — which we’ve looked at throughout 2011 — that games themselves aren’t the real problem. If the group does another poll in 2012, following the Supreme Court’s decision not to ban the sale of M-rated games to minors, I wonder if the results would be much different.

If you’re curious what search terms brought people to this blog, here are some of the top queries:

* intro to sigilborne spirits
* satanism
* larping
* history of violent video games
* wicca
* daniel ruda
* jacob leblanc oklahoma
* phil chalmers

Happy New Year! I’ll have plenty more Backward Messages for you in 2012.

Authors: our books didn’t fuel “Satanic werewolf” tryst

Why did so many journalists take this book seriously, just because it wad found at a crime scene?

Rebecca Chandler and Raven Larrabee — the duo behind a Milwaukee sexual/cutting incident gone wrong — may be out on bail, but the hysteria over their supposedly occult-fueled tryst still hasn’t died down.

It was only a matter of time before the authors of the books found at the crime scene got wind of the story reporters were spinning. Somehow, the presence of such humor texts as The Werewolf’s Guide to Life, or the high-level occult tome The Necromantic Ritual Book, turned an off-the-beaten-path sexual encounter (one the participants admitted got out of hand) into something “Satanic” (or even Twilight-inspired). If police had found a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, would they have blamed the bouillabaisse?

Leilah Wendell, author of The Necromantic Ritual Book, was livid about the association of her book with the crime. In a Facebook post, she said:

People seriously need to READ THE BOOKS they are accusing BEFORE looking like ignorant idiots. Two mentally disturbed children and another equally disturbed and obviously lonely individual does NOT a satanic orgy make. Get your facts straight and for the love of whatever you believe in, STOP going for shock value and appeasing the media frenzy and get these people the help they need … NOW!

Ritch Duncan, one of the co-authors of The Werewolf’s Guide to Life, was frightened and baffled by the media frenzy, as he wrote in Salon. “I called my coauthor Bob, and after rereading the article and several others, I was relieved to discover that the victim of the encounter was not dead, would apparently make a full recovery, and did not appear to be pressing charges. … Bob reminded me that our book is shelved in the humor section, and there is nothing in it that encourages violence. Even if one were deluded enough to believe it was true, it’s still 200 pages of instruction on how NOT to hurt yourself or others.”

Now, I’m a reporter by trade, and when I first read the articles mentioning this book, my initial instinct was to look it up on Amazon to see what kind of book it was. This takes roughly 10 seconds. I find it difficult believe that this action didn’t occur to others reporting on the story — and yet somehow, that’s exactly what happened. Lots of journalists took it on faith that the book was meant to be taken seriously, and that it might have had something to do with the attack. Duncan writes:

Even worse than being misrepresented in the media was how lazy it all seemed to be. If the reporters charged with covering this story actually spent five seconds looking up what the book was about (they certainly had the time to do a Google search and steal an image of the cover), they could have mentioned it was filed under the “humor/parody” section. … But as I read more of these stories, I came to the depressing conclusion that it wasn’t laziness to blame, it was tailoring. In story after story, the facts of the case actually seemed less important than the details that appealed to a particular website’s niche. Those that worked were pushed forward, and those that weren’t got held back.

Granted, Web sites and blogs aren’t the same thing as newspaper articles. Still, bloggers are beholden to defamation laws and should behave accordingly. And readers should be very, very careful not to take what they read — in newspapers or online — at simple face value. Look at a writer’s sources. Who are they quoting? What are the facts, and where did that information come from? Think it through. Try to see the real human beings behind the headlines. And don’t support sites that care more about their hit counts than they do about the people they’re exploiting to get those hit counts.

Investigative reporters uncover sex-crazed werewolf roommates in Milwaukee … or not

Milwaukee roommates Rebecca Chandler (left) and Raven “Scarlett” Larrabee were recently arrested for allegedly assaulting an Arizona man who had a threesome with them.

There’s nothing that turns reporters on more than a story of a sexy threesome gone wrong — especially when it involves young women, right? Now that Amanda Knox has been exonerated (and her prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, is now being prosecuted for abuse of office in a separate case), the media must turn its attention elsewhere to get its fix.

Enter two young Milwaukee women, Rebecca Chandler and Raven “Scarlett” Larrabee. Allegedly, the ladies invited an Arizona man to their apartment. After trekking across the country (by bus!) on the promise of some booty, the gentleman found himself reportedly tied up by Chandler and Larrabee, who then stabbed or cut him more than 300 times. He didn’t die, but instead managed to call the police.

Not exciting enough? Reporters caught wind of the fact that the following books had been found in the ladies’ apartment:

* The Werewolf’s Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten by Ritch Duncan and Bob Powers (which, if you can’t tell from the title, is tongue-in-cheek);

* “A necromantic ritual book,” title and author not supplied;

* “A black folder called ‘Intro to Sigilborne Spirits.'”

Faced with this latter unknown volume, one reporter diligently went online to connect her own dots, speculating, “According to various websites, Sigilborne spirits include female werewolf spirits who engage in sexual acts.”

Really? Really?

My guess is that this reporter knows about as much about werewolf mythology and “sigilborne spirits” as she does about brain cancer. However, if she were writing about someone with brain cancer, she’d talk to a brain surgeon or oncologist, right? But when it comes to information about the occult — a complicated and varied subject poorly understood by the public — the Internet can provide you with all the information you need.

As a blogger at Gawker astutely pointed out, these books sound like something Chandler and Larrabee picked up at Hot Topic. They don’t sound like the impetus for a long-range sexual lure or stabbing.

Let’s get back to the story at hand:

[Chandler told police] she’d been having sex with the man and that the cutting was consensual but quickly got out of hand.

After she was arrested, Chandler told police her roommate, whom she called Scarlett, had done the majority of the cutting. She said Scarlett is “possibly involved in Satanic or occult activities.” She claimed she didn’t know Scarlett’s full name, but that her DNA could be found on a hair brush.

Weird, right? She doesn’t even know her roommate’s real name, but they planned this elaborate sexual event? On top of that, Chandler speculates that Larrabee might be involved in the occult. If she is, so what? That isn’t against the law. What is against the law is physically harming someone against their will — and whether the occult was involved (and there’s no evidence to suggest it was) is irrelevant to the legalities of the incident. All this speculation does is make it seem sexier, more alluring, more fun to talk about —

— unless you’re a law-abiding practicing occultist, and now you’re even more unwilling to be open about your faiths and practices because, on top of everything else, now people will think you’re a sex-crazed person who will cut them if they’re reckless enough to go to bed with you.