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Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls

Written by Kathleen Hale

From Grove Press:

The first full account of the Slenderman stabbing, a true crime narrative of mental illness, the American judicial system, the trials of adolescence, and the power of the internet

On May 31, 2014, in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Wisconsin, two twelve-year-old girls attempted to stab their classmate to death. Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier’s violence was extreme, but what seemed even more frightening was that they committed their crime under the influence of a figure born by the internet: the so-called “Slenderman.” Yet the even more urgent aspect of the story, that the children involved suffered from undiagnosed mental illnesses, often went overlooked in coverage of the case.

Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls tells that full story for the first time in deeply researched detail, using court transcripts, police reports, individual reporting, and exclusive interviews. Morgan and Anissa were bound together by their shared love of geeky television shows and animals, and their discovery of the user-uploaded scary stories on the Creepypasta website could have been nothing more than a brief phase. But Morgan was suffering from early-onset childhood schizophrenia. She believed that she had seen Slenderman long before discovering him online, and the only way to stop him from killing her family was to bring him a sacrifice: Morgan’s best friend Payton “Bella” Leutner, whom Morgan and Anissa planned to stab to death on the night of Morgan’s twelfth birthday party. Bella survived the attack, but was deeply traumatized, while Morgan and Anissa were immediately sent to jail, and the severity of their crime meant that they would be prosecuted as adults. There, as Morgan continued to suffer from worsening mental illness after being denied antipsychotics, her life became more and more surreal.

Slenderman is both a page-turning true crime story and a search for justice.

Praise for Slenderman:

Named a Best Nonfiction Crime Book of 2022 by CrimeReads

Named a Most Anticipated Book by the Rumpus

“Hale spent seven years poring over thousands of pages of court documents, police reports and other public records . . . The lesson of Slenderman is not about tracking your kids’ internet usage, evolving friendships, or enthusiasms and aversions. It’s that serious mental illness can manifest in people who seem far too young to have such adult problems.”—Lisa Levy, New York Times Book Review

“Hale’s compassionate look at the case is a compelling yet harrowing read that reveals how a seemingly innocent childhood friendship could lead to such a devastating outcome.”—Mae Anderson,AP News

“With clear-eyed prose and deep legal research . . . Slenderman is a skilled and detailed retelling of a story that still mystifies many years later . . . Hale’s intervention into this recent saga of American moral panic is a fulsome, if sobering, story of misdirected pre-teen social angst and cyberspace obsession. Slenderman may have been debunked in the popular imagination but he lives on as an enduring metaphor for the shadowy corners of the internet and the corrupting danger that our online existences can have to our offline realities.”—Nathan Smith, New York Observer

“A gripping read about a true crime that could have been averted.”—People, “Best New Books”

“A balanced, well-researched, and thoughtful account of an extremely sensational case and its even more sensational aftermath . . . A must-read for anyone interested in this case.”—Jesyka Traynor, True Crime Index

“Searing . . . As the first researcher into the case to draw extensively from transcripts of vital records, Hale has produced what stands as the most accurate account to date of this horrifying episode. This is a must for true crime fans.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)