Our modern lives are inescapably, intricately tied to social media. Almost everyone boasts at least one social media account, at least one smart mobile device with a camera, a recording facility and constant access to cyberspace. ‘Over sharing’ – or should we say TMI? – is an inevitable consequence of our ability to instantly post our most banal thoughts, unremarkable photos and uninformed opinions for all the world wide web to see.
As the division between our private and public lives becomes increasingly hazy, and the relationship between anonymity and accountability becomes unclear, some dark trends have begin to emerge. We no longer advertise just the good things about our lives; our lowest moments have become fair game. Often, it’s the most extreme and awful incidents that will gain the most feedback, the greatest degree of social media ‘fame’: We, for example, sit back and witness the very public decline of a former child star, as Amanda Bynes – in the midst of a very real psychological breakdown – takes to Twitter to publish her incoherent, sometimes dangerous ramblings. With our smartphones and tablets within reach under almost any circumstance, destructive or otherwise, it such a stretch that a psychotic killer might also pull out his or her phone at some point during a murderous rampage, and shoot off a quick text or even a tweet?
It sounds like something from a badly written horror movie or a sensationalised tabloid story, but in the last five years there have been not one but at least five cases of alleged murderers taking to their favourite social networking site to explain, advertise or apologise for their crime even before the police were informed – sometimes even before they committed it.
5. Derek Medina
Florida local Medina was a regular Facebook user, often posting photos of himself and his 26 year old wife appearing very much in love. He stated on his social media profile that he worked as an ‘actor’ on TV show Burn Notice, although he had only appeared on the show twice, as an extra. It wouldn’t, finally, be Medina’s acting career that finally landed him on the front pages.
In December 2013, Derek Medina was charged with the first degree murder of his wife Jennifer Alonso. It was in August of the same year the Medina posted the bizarre Facebook message, picture above, advising his friends on the social network that they’d ‘see [him] in the news’ [sic]. During his trial earlier this year, Medina’s defense claimed that there had been a form of synthetic ecstasy in a diet supplement he consumed, which altered his behaviour and led to his shooting his wife point blank, and murdering her.
4. Bart Heller
One Saturday in early December 2011, Bart Heller’s Facebook status was updated with a message that would chill every one of the friends who followed him on the popular social networking site.
It was a sinister message from beyond the grave:
“someone call 911. three dead bodies at 3229 lima road fort wayne indiana. I’ve killed ryann, erin, and myself. people were warned not to f***ing play me and ruin me. they didn’t listen. sorry about your luck.”
Some of Heller’s friends probably wrote it off as a hoax, albeit in terribly poor taste. As the Telegraph reported in the wake of the crisis, one Facebook friend – Nancy Lopez – took the bizarre message seriously, and contacted the Fort Wayne police department. The police arrived at the address Heller listed in his post, and found that the gruesome warning was true; they discovered three bodies, those of Ryann Tipton, Erin Jehl and Bart Heller.
It was reported that Heller and Jehl were involved romantically, and that Heller – jealous of his girlfriend’s relationship with Tipton – was overcome with a fit of jealous rage, driving him to kill the pair and, after updating his Facebook status, himself.
3. Dang Van Khuyen
In April 2013, 28 year old Vietnamese man Dang Van Khuyen reportedly posted the following message to his Facebook page:
‘Killing the one I love the best also means killing myself, destroying the life of a woman’
It was reported that Van Khuyen, who had been in a relationship with his 24 year old law graduate girlfriend for around 6 years, flew into a rage when she attempted to end their relationship. Gruesome reports allege he attacked her with a machete, killing her. The following day, Van Khuyen reportedly voluntarily surrendered to authorities in Ho Chi Minh City.
This alleged murder confessed via meme exploded onto Reddit in April 2013. The ‘Confession Bear’ meme, typically used as a backdrop to accompany banal or funny confessionals, alleges that the anonymous user – known only under the screen name ‘Narrato’ – had killed his sister’s boyfriend with a drug overdose.
A day later, the post had received thousands of comments. When Reddit users began compiling information on ‘Narrato’ publicly available through his digital footprint, they ascertained he was 24 and hailed from British Colombia. As his veil of anonymity dropped, the user quickly deleted his account as well as any linked social media accounts.
Technology journalist Joel Shearer followed up with the user’s sister on Facebook – he had tracked her down through investigating a trail of information posted on Reddit before it was deleted. The sister of the anonymous user debunked the meme as a hoax, saying her brother – whom she described as a ‘scrawny gamer’ – lived in another country. The mystery as to whether or not this crime really happened still lingers in the ether…
1. David Kalac
The most recent high-profile social media-centric murder occurred this week, early November 2014.
On Tuesday, the 4th of November, a number of horrific images appeared on fringe internet forum, 4chan. Not particularly surprising, unfortunately, as the forum is known for its often unsavoury content. What did shock users, however, was the poster’s claim that the images showing a dead – apparently strangled – woman in her 30s were images of a woman murdered by his own hand. The purported killer’s comment?
“Turns out it’s way harder to strangle someone to death than it looks on the movies.”
4chan users, no strangers to elaborate pranks in bad taste, doubted the story. However, when questioned, the user who posted the images advised readers to ‘check the news for Port Orchard Washington in a few hours’.
Sure enough, at around 3.30pm on the same day, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office found 30 year old mother of four Amber Coplin strangled to death. Her murderer, the man who posted images of her body to 4chan, was identified as David Kalac. He went on the run after texting friends about the murder and posting to the popular message board, but was chased down by police and arrested on the evening of November 5th. Kalac’s son, thirteen, has reportedly stated that he heard his father and the deceased Ms. Coplin fighting the night before the murder took place.