Crime Spotlight

The Criminal Face of Facebook: When Murder Goes Viral

Facebook has a dark side. A side where it is used to share details of crimes, impersonate someone else for sinister intentions, stalk a victim, bully a victim and in some cases murder a victim.  When you open up a platform for people to share their lives, their actions, thoughts, intentions and behaviours, you don’t always get good things. Twitter has a character limit, no good for sharing the details of murder and getting people’s attention. Instagram is image based, not as useful for having a rant and challenging someone directly into a confrontation.

Unsurprisingly research has found links between those with high numbers of friends on Facebook, who post large numbers of selfies, update their status all the time and ‘tag’ themselves everywhere, score highly on the narcissistic personality scale. Furthermore, according to a report in the Daily Mail in 2012 “a crime linked to Facebook is reported to police every 40 minutes” with harassment and intimidation topping the list.
Perverted individuals use the site to befriend children in the hopes of getting them to meet them in person and in other cases arguments played out on the virtual platform spill over into real life and violence presents itself.

Brian Lewis of New Tredegar in South Wales killed his wife Hayley Jones after she changed her Facebook profile from ‘married’ to ‘single’ and started spending hours on the site back in 2009. 17-year- old Ashley Hall from Darlington, County Durham was murdered after she was groomed online via Facebook by 35-year-old Peter Chapman who posed as a 17-year-old boy to get her attention and her agreement to meet him also in 2009.

Camille Mathurasingh was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Paul Bristol in East London in 2010 after he flew 4’000 miles from Trinidad to England to kill her in response to seeing her with another man on her Facebook page. The list of horrible violent crimes played out on this viral social platform is endless and that’s just in the UK.

Related: Inside The Mind of a Psychopath – The Psychopathic Killer

A recent feature added to Facebook is their ‘Live’ button, where users can film themselves in real-time and stream it to their news feeds.  While intended for harmless, fun videos people could make of themselves singing or playing with their pets, it has quickly been used by criminals who cannot help themselves pressing the button and streaming their criminal acts live to an audience while they are happening.  Child abuse, rape and violent assaults have all been streamed live on the site watched by Facebook users shocked at what they are witnessing while scrolling through their news feeds.

Called ‘performance crimes’ by Ray Surette, a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida, the lure of a huge audience and the opportunity to gain instant feedback through ‘likes’, comments and shares is just too much of an attraction for some people. Surette notes two types of performance crimes, one where those involved know they are being recorded and are performing for the camera and two where those involved don’t know they are being recorded, they have not given their consent and their actions and behaviour or what is happening to them is being captured and broadcast whether they like it or not.

He links the desire to broadcast to the world and have viral attention to the celebrity culture and highlights people’s pre and post crime confessions on Facebook as being linked to this culture.  Such activity of course does leave a digital trail for police to follow and most often secures a conviction when the person themselves have provided a public confession with full details of their crime available for all to see.

Confessing To Murder On Facebook

In September 2016 a father from North Carolina used Facebook Live to confess to the shooting of his ex-wife and young son. I loved my wife, but she deserved what she had coming” Earl Valentine tells the camera in a shaky and dark live stream video. His ex-wife, who had a restraining order against Valentine, survived the attack but their son died in hospital shortly afterwards.  After telling the world via Facebook what he had done and why, ensuring they knew he had no remorse, he spoke with police detectives before leaving for Columbia, South Carolina where he took his own life by shooting himself in a motel room.

In British Columbia, Canada a year earlier another father utilized Facebook’s online reach to confess to the murder of his wife, daughter and sister. “I have done some of the worst things I could have ever imagined a person doing. First, to do with my dear, sweet, loving daughter Emily…” he wrote in a Facebook post on 7 May 2015 before going on to explain how he killed his daughter to free her from the crippling migraines that were making her depressed.

Randy Janzen wrote that he killed his wife to save her from the pain of her daughter’s death and took his sisters life so she did not have to live with the shame of what he had done.  After posting his confession as a status update, complete with emoticons and signed “Daddio”, Janzen set his house on fire and pointed a long-barrel gun at himself. When the coroners’ report was released it was discovered he most likely murdered his daughter and his wife 10 days before he confessed online and his sister two days beforehand, setting his house on fire and then killing himself within hours of posting his confession.

Related: Family Murder: Familicide and the The Family Annihilator

In recent years we have seen an increasing number of criminals, including murderers, use Facebook as their personal platform to tell the world of the dark twisted acts they have just carried out. ‘Chilling Social Media Confessions To Murder‘ is a list available on ListVerse, along with a disturbing list of ‘Murderers Who Posted Their Kills On Facebook‘ on ThoughtCatalog.

In our modern age, the ability to share our lives with friends and family from anywhere in the world at the click of a button whether on a desktop computer or out and about on your mobile, is indeed a marvel in technology.  What comes with the ability to share everything and anything, tag friends and highlight photos and events on their ‘walls’, is the opportunity to use such features for bullying, for deception and for making the lives of a chosen victim a complete and utter misery.  While the news has been populated with many stories of school children being bullied by so called friends over Facebook, what has not made the news as often is the extreme cases, where Facebook has been used to lure an individual into a trap and a trap in which they do not emerge alive.

Facebook Deception 

The case of 19-year-old Catherine ‘Katie’ Wynter in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire is one such tragic example. A fun-loving, polite and popular teenager who was studying Art and Design at college was deceived and lured to her death by 19-year-old Tony Bushby who after meeting her, used Facebook to convince her he too had friends, was popular and was a normal teenage lad. These Facebook friends in fact did not exist, they were accounts created by Bushby himself who then used them to connect with Katie via her Facebook profile saying they were friends with him so she would think it was okay.  In a creepy and sinister organised world he had created, Bushby interacted with Katie through Facebook as himself, and as three other personas deceiving unsuspecting and trusting Katie Wynter into innocently believing she was talking with new friends.

On Boxing Day in 2011, Bushby turned up at Katie’s sister’s house where she was babysitting and stabbed her 23 times.  Katie was left to die alone on the kitchen floor where she was found by her 3 and 4-year-old nephew and niece the following morning. This was a horrific crime on an innocent young girl. Bushby had told Katie to keep their blossoming relationship secret which she duly did, no doubt wishing to see where it went before announcing it to her friends.  Friends and family were aware of a boy on the scene but didn’t know his name.

When talking with friends and family after the murder and looking at Katie’s social media activity, police quickly found out about Bushby and began looking at him more closely.  When questioned about her murder he claimed ‘Dan Tress’ had killed Katie, a person who did not exist and was one of the created personas Bushby had made up to trick Katie on Facebook. When police determined that these friends he was referring to who ‘knew Katie and were probably involved in her murder’ were in fact figments of his own imagination brought to life via fake Facebook accounts, they began to treat him as a suspect in her murder.

He was brought to trial and pleaded not guilty to murder in July 2012 at St Alban’s Crown Court in Hertfordshire. Found guilty he was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison with the judge stating he believed the murder was ‘planned and pre-meditated’ and that Tony Bushby was “a very real danger to women”.

As cases of these Facebook functions being abused have emerged, Facebook have taken measures to provide some protection.  Users can choose to ‘approve’ any posts made by someone else on their own wall before they are published, they can block people from their accounts and they can report a person who is being abusive which may result in their account being suspended.  Facebook have a policy that accounts must be created in your own name however this is a policy almost impossible to implement.

Facebook and its creators and managers certainly have challenges in how they keep control of the site and tackle abuse ranging from inappropriate images to posts and updates. There are indeed many positive things to say about Facebook and its global success at connecting people and retaining it’s 1.5 billion members all over the world.  It is a social media platform used multiple times a day by over 1 billion users, the majority of whom are sharing happy moments and engaging in light conversation with friend in an entirely harmless way.

In fact for many people their use of Facebook and the connectivity it provides them enriches their lives and provides a social outlet regardless of where they are. However, not all people are good and when dark minds have platforms such as this available to them they will take advantage and it is surprising the lengths they will go to do so.

Facebook is not the only social media platform to see its services abused. Twitter has seen many cases of outright abuse where individuals use those 140 characters along with the trusted hashtag to slander others.  We have all read and seen the celebrity cases of this happening and it is not just celebrities, it is ordinary people who find themselves at the other end of an onslaught that they are almost powerless to stop.

This is the criminal side of modern social media and why the frantic stampede of modern technology towards being connected to everybody everywhere is not always a good thing. Whenever there is progress there are always individuals in this world who will find a use that was not intended and find ways around safety measures that are put in place. Unfortunately, as history has shown us they will find methods to hurt other people or to get their own message out no matter how haunting it is and clearly the use of social media, we are discovering, is no different.


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