Courtroom Catastrophe: Did two children try to cheat the system and get away with murder?
Hello, my name is Michael Drane, I am a licensed psychotherapist with a background in forensics. I spent several years diagnosing evaluating and treating people who who were found not guilty for criminal behavior by reason of insanity. Thank you for tuning in to Unpopular Culture. You are listening to "the Stabbing for SlenderMan," the infamous and recent story about about two twelve year old girls who tried to murder their friend in the name of the fictional internet character, SlenderMan. In what is NOW known as the SlenderMan Trial, their case has made national news as Anissa Weir and Morgan Geyser were both found NOT GUILTY for attempted first-degree homicide on the basis of being mentally-ill, specifically suffering from Shared Psychotic Disorder.
Though we ARE going to tell the FULL story of what happened, this is not JUST a Recap.
Unpopular Culture has done many deep dives at this point, but usually ones from the past. We usually have to strain for the rare scrap of audio. This SlenderMan case, unlike other cases that we've covered, has been extremely well-documented, giving us hours and hours of footage to draw from. It is in these transcripts, recordings and video-tapes that we are able to see so clearly the delusional world these two were living in.
We are going to dive into the psychology of this disorder, the controversial and little understood mental illness that was used by the defense. You might be wondering: Are these twelve-year-old girls really suffering from a mental-illness? Who is SlenderMan? Is the mentally-ill verdict of the SlenderMan Trial a of Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card?
We will answer all of these questions. In order for us to truly understand the bizarre psyches of Anissa and Morgan shared-psychotic disorder and how this deadly assault among children could have happened, we'll need to dive DEEP into this into this fantasy, and the SlenderMan Shared-Delusion.
SlenderMan & "SlenderSickness"
On the off-chance that you are not familiar with Modern & Digital Midwestern-American Folklore, let's talk about SlenderMan for a minute. SlenderMan is a tall, creepy character with no face. His translucent skin and white complexion are feared alongside his long bony fingers, arms and tongue. He is tall and thin so that he can stand among the trees in the woods to blend in. People who claim to have seen him describe his limbs as "tentacles" that protrude from his back, giving him an extra set of arms. His pinstripe suit elongates his creepy figure even further. Legend has it, SlenderMan moves quickly, appearing behind children playing in the woods suddenly, or popping up in photos of Midwestern towns where the forest can be seen in the background.
Legend has it, SlenderMan moves quickly, appearing behind children playing in the woods suddenly, or popping up in photos of playgrounds.
Image from Creepypasta.com
The audience that partakes the most in these fantastical folklore stories are children and teens. Partially because they are the ones on these digital folklore sites like CreepyPasta, but also because they are the target of SlenderMan's supposed attacks.
Different incarnations of SlenderMan can be seen everywhere in our society and online. Etsy sells SlenderMan Merchandise: T-shirts, Jewelry, stuffed toys, a nd video games. Walmart is selling Kids SlenderMan Halloween costumes this year. Facebook has several SlenderMan accounts, one boasting the fictional monster as a "public figure" with over a million followers at the time this was recorded. Hundreds of thousands click on these social media profiles based on the Urban Legend.
The first known appearance of Slender Man came in the form of a meme in June 2009 when comedy web forum "Something Awful" started a contest and asked for ideas for a "New Urban Legend" that would shock and horrify the public. Perhaps the most memorable contributor, Eric Knudsen, using the pen name Victor Surge, answered the challenge by posting two faked photographs, designed to look like they were from the mid-1980s- a group of children at play. And behind them: A tall, sinister figure lurking in the woods. Knudsen attached some vague text implying 14 young people and the photographer had gone missing.
It is said that SlenderMan makes his victims draw and scribble incessantly, and that he can even cause a "SlenderSickness" that makes kids cough up blood.
He is the stuff of fan fiction, a 21st Century Boogie Man, conceived in imagination, born and raised on the internet. He is the prime example of age-old folk-lore in a contemporary setting. Because this is a recent story, it is WELL-documented we will be playing a large amount of audio, interviews with many different people in the case, including footage of the interrogations of both Anissa Weir and Morgan Geyser. As both have been charged with attempted First-Degree Intentional Homicide, and found not-guilty. They will spend at least three years in a mental hospital.
Who are Morgan Geyser & Anissa Weir?
As children, Morgan and Anissa grew up with supportive parents. In the HBO documentary, "Beware the Slenderman" we see adorable videos of the girls as children, comforted by their singing mothers and pet cats.
Morgan's mom, Angie, expresses love for her daughter (who at the time of filming this documentary, is in prison awaiting trial for attempted murder at 15 years old). Morgan's mother describes recognizing something peculiar about Morgan when she was little.
It is possible that Morgan's mother is hyper-conscious, during her interview, that her daughter is currently awaiting trial and would want to protect her daughter even further, claiming she knew all along that she "was different"—so that she wouldn't be sent to prison and would instead be sent to a mental hospital.
Angie chooses to focus on her apparent knowledge all along of her daughter's lack of empathy. In their household, they celebrated gothic style and a love for morbid and McCabe culture. Her father, Matt was hospitalized and diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was a teenager. Morgan's parents were involved and caring, but her oddness was definitely cultivated through them. Matt's online usernames have been "ILOVEEVIL" and "DEADBOY420"—and together the couple's social media profiles are covered in metal music, gothic text, paintings of mythical creatures and horror movie quotes. Matt's Instagram proudly displays Morgan holding a sketch of SlenderMan on a napkin.
Let me be clear: I don't denounce this lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with these dark or gothic creative interests. It simply indicates how her parents were consciously aware of and even cultivated their daughter's thoughts and behaviors.
Anissa's parents, however, were not so, aware.
In contrast, Anissa's father, chooses to focus on how smart Anissa is & her affinity for technology. Morgan's parents say they kind of knew something was up, but Anissa's parents deny seeing anything wrong in their daughter to this day. Anissa's father is reported to have said- "My focus is Anissa, not Slenderman," Seeming to almost downplay the entire event.
Psychologists testified in Anissa's case that while her parent's cared deeply for her, they simply were in over their heads when it came to understanding the gravity of their daughter's situation.
So Anissa's parents were oblivious to her secret life. A life she lived online with SlenderMan and in the real world, with Morgan, acting out all her fantasies. Anissa's parents were in the going through a divorce at the time, and don't seem to grasp to the toll that would have on her, it's important to stress that, to a 12 year old child, your parents getting divorced is a BIG deal, and would have any number of indirect impacts on her mental stability. Aside from increased stress and emotional duress (which means less logical decision making), what might be even more important to point out is this- When your 12 and your home life is falling apart..doesn't it make sense that you would cling harder to the other relationships in your life? This helps explain Anissa's level of dependence on her only friend, Morgan Geyser. On the day of the attack, Police searched Anissa's room and found scribblings and drawings that gave blaring clues into her psyche. They found hundreds of dark drawings of SlenderMan as well as a MadLibs books with horrific and vulgar language scribbled in the blanks. Anissa, was a budding 12-year-old whose language and interests have started to get darker and more intense. Her father's view of her as an innocent child is clearly blind, considering her dark and pornographic fantasies of becoming a proxy of SlenderMan.
Her obsession with SlenderMan is something she presented to Morgan, who eventually became just as obsessed. Together they are under the impression that he is real and they wanted to prove it to everyone at school. While Morgan's family openly fostered dark and gothic style and behavior, Anissa's family was more on the side of blissfully unaware—maybe this is because of their recent divorce? And maybe that divorce is one of the reasons that Anissa isolated herself and became immersed in a creative delusion.
We've already learned that Morgan's dad is schizophrenic, and that her mom always recognized a "lack of empathy" in her daughter. During the trial, one of Morgan's teachers recalled anti-social behavior, saying Morgan would bark like a dog in the middle of class and fling insects at other classmates. She also testified that Morgan was suspended for bringing a hammer to school. However, this same teacher spoke positively about Morgan's high IQ and participation and good grades.
Morgan introduced Anissa to her friend Payton (who everyone called Bella). In interviews later on, Morgan has acknowledged that Bella was a nice friend and said she found Bella “gullible.” At this time, Anissa and Morgan were in the 6th grade and caught up in a fantastical digital world. Anissa and Morgan are best friends, and what little time these three spend socializing at school they make up for by closing themselves off and self-identifying as "misfits."
Spending most of their time on their laptops searching CreepyPasta and trolling YouTube comments, Anissa and Morgan were awkward preteens who obsessed over cats and supernatural characters and lived together in their fantasies. Often, they brought along their third wheel, Bella who was...blissfully unaware of their darker gossip.
A 12-Year Old's Fantasy World
Together, the girls loved cats and playing dress-up. Bella frequently went to school dressed as a cat- she would draw whiskers on her face. These mannerisms are also seen in Morgan and Anissa. Morgan has even referred to herself as creepy, she boasts about it, like her family has so many times before. She would wear black lace gloves and a skeleton shirt.
Sometimes even the ears of her favorite emotionless supernatural character, Spock. It's not surprising that they were obsessed with cats and creepy stuff, as it's so common in this online, meme culture and their "fangirl" mentality. This mentality extends to movies and other popular fandoms, like Harry Potter; She would pretend that Voldemort was chasing them through the school cafeteria. While their obsession of cats is only relevant be cause of the line "Don't be afraid, I'm only a little kitty cat," Morgan says before she stabs Bella—Their obsession of cats is a healthy way in which they have shared imaginary figures and themes, but what's more relevant is their obsessive tendency its self, which will go onto shape their SlenderMan delusion.
Both Morgan and Anissa loved to read and write which lends further evidence to creative minds and abstract thinking. They were curious sponges, constantly creating their own shared fantasy worlds.
However, we can start to see themes in the games they are playing that are based in fear and manipulation. In the Voldemort example, they could have pretended that they were fellow students of Hogwarts, practiced spells and potions, but they instead focused on Voldemort being a persecutory figure, one that was chasing them and played their game based in fear. They created something to be scared of and run from. At this point, their games and interests are turning dark.
There is a hierarchy we can start to see forming within the group.
Morgan and Anissa's relationship is essential to explaining how this attempted murder happened. When certain personality types are thrown into a mixing bowl with mental illness, delusion, and fear—you're bound to have a disastrous outcome. Like Taylor and Justin Helzer, the "Children of Thunder" Cult Case we presented a few months back, they are made stronger by each other. There is an alpha and a beta. One that is the aggressor, the instigator. And one that is the follower. Taylor Helzer inspired fear into his younger brother, Justin. Morgan Geyser inspires fear, wonder and excitement in Anissa, her beta, so that Anissa will follow her, and share her delusion.
Now that we have an understanding of the relationship between Morgan and Anissa, Lets examine the events that led to the fateful attack on Bella (Payton) Leutner. What are choices they made that led up to the stabbing? How did 2 girls with an apparent overactive imagination lead to an attempted murder on their best friend?
On a bleak Saturday morning in 2014, the 3 girls played dress-up before heading out to the park. Bella, dressed up as a princess (this image draws to mind her innocence in the situation), Morgan dressed up as "Data" from Star-Trek. Morgan's choice to pretend to be an emotionless android only serves to highlight what seems be an unfeeling and sociopathic nature. and Anissa, dressed up as a "prosti-troll." An imaginary figure of her own invention.. half troll, half prostitute. Her invention of a "prosti-troll" has the duplicitous effect of demonstrating an elaborate imagination of eccentric personality, but also reveals a sexual preoccupation.
Anissa and Morgan make their way to David's Park with Bella lagging close behind—a true third wheel. "Tonight is the night," Morgan will later recall saying to Anissa, "Dear God, I can't believe it's really happening." Morgan lifts up her jacket to reveal the hilt of a shiny black kitchen knife that she stole from home.
When she was attacked, Bella was playing with the forest flowers, completely oblivious, her back turned to Morgan and Anissa—While Morgan and Anissa were whispering about how to kill her. Morgan pulled out her knife and pretended to be a cat, tip-toeing up to an unsuspecting Bella. She called to Anissa, “I’m not going to until you tell me to!" Anissa gave the order: "Now, Kitty! Do it now! Go crazy!" Morgan pushes Bella over singing “Don’t be afraid, I’m only a little kitty cat.”. Morgan stabs Bella 19 times—on her arms, legs, in the stomach, and near her heart.
Bella screamed, "No! I hate you! I trusted you!"
From this moment, you might infer that Morgan is looking to Anissa for the final order to attack, and at face value this would seem to make Anissa the one who was running the show. But I see this moment as a part of Morgan's playful mindset, singing a song, acting like a cat, completely unwilling or unable to muster any shred of empathy for the idea that she is about to murder someone.
And then the attack was over. Bella lay wounded while her attackers stood over her. In a bizarre display of kindness, Anissa placed tiny leaves and patches of dirt on the wounds that now covered Bella's body. Convinced that Bella would die, Morgan and Anissa held hands, and walked together out of David's Park, vindicated as the new proxies of their adored SlenderMan.
It didn't take long for police to catch up with the now attempted-murderers. They made their way down the Wisconsin freeway. Morgan brought snacks and a few bottles of water that she stashed along with the bloody knife in her mom's oversized purse. Anissa brought old family photos and a sort of suicide note, “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." From this note, It's clear that the Anissa understood how dire her situation was, but also suggests that she may have believed at this point she was about to disappear into her fantasy land, forever. They pass through the town's cemetery and stop at a nearby furniture store. Morgan says she needs to rest. Anissa comforts her, as she always does. The two cuddle up in an oversized recliner, and that's abou t when Anissa Weir and Morgan Geyser are found by police, less than three hours after finding Bella in critical condition on the side of the road. When police asked the two girls where they were going, they professed: To the Mansion of SlenderMan..which was located in Nicolet National Park in Northern Wisconsin, over 300 miles away.
The 2 child suspects are brought into police custody and processed into an incarceration system that should be well beyond their years.
From behind prison bars, the girls are apart from one another for the first time since their mutual slip from reality. Morgan and Anissa are separated into two identical, stark white rooms with only a desk and two chairs, each room equipped with a video camera, where much of the audio you are hearing now was obtained. Under the questioning of detectives, the interrogation commences:
In Anissa's interrogation, she appeared to be scared, and attuned to the grave nature of her situation. Anissa wants the detectives interviewing her to k now that she wants to be helpful. Her answers are direct, detail-oriented. As if slipping into the familiar role of the obedient student, Anissa wants to do a good job in this interrogation. The forthright nature of her answers seem unfiltered and would suggest her responses are genuine. “He does not exist,” Anissa told police on the day of the stabbing. “He is a work of fiction.” Anissa appears emotionally dis-regulated and cries throughout the video. She can be seen folding her arms and rocking, these are common self-soothing behaviors and provide some comfort for her shaking, but also show that she is feeling anxious and insecure. Her speech is somewhat broken, she frequently takes breaths as she attempts to remain composed. Anissa drives the point that Morgan did the stabbing, not her. She’s “too squeamish.” She repeats this again and again.
Anissa explains to the detective that her and Morgan were to become proxies of Slender Man by murdering Bella, that her sacrifice would earn them a place at Slender-Man's side. After proving themselves to Slender-man, they would go to live with him in a mansion in the forest, there, they would cease to be human, but transform into creatures existing to serve Slender-Man's will.
In a separate but identical interrogation room, Morgan is also being questioned. Morgan immediately blames Anissa.
Morgan says "Anissa made me do it" and "Anissa made it seem necessary." Throughout their discussion, Morgan held true to her delusion, unlike Anissa who quickly stated that she no longer believed SlenderMan was real. Morgan sat in her chair pulling at her clothing and picking at her chair. She hides her head in he jacket and asks the detective, "Please don't cut off my head." She seems like she is from another planet, reacting simply, seeming unphased, and blurting out "Am I going to rot in jail?" She seems hostile, but calm, famously describing her moment of violence as "stabby stab stab." We can even hear the interviewer getting annoyed, asking her to describe the stabbing again, hopefully with more detail. She cleverly asks, "Are you trying to do this over and over again and see if I tell the story differently?” And then: “I have the right not to go into detail about it if I don’t want to.”
Her behavior is playful, she doesn't cry and never seems sad or upset, or remorseful throughout the interrogation.
Comparing The Minds of Morgan vs. Anissa
Looking at the girls as a pair is extremely useful in understanding their shared internal drives.. at least to a point. It's by looking at the interplay between Anissa & Morgan that we discover the Alpha-Beta nature of their relationship. How they exist together in a kind of shared world, reality painted with their own set of rules. And how following those rules led to the unfair and shocking attack on Bella. This shared fantasy world only works if the girls are together. Once they're separated the girls no longer have each other to feed on. Much Like disjoining two symbiotic forces to study what they are apart from each other. When this happens, the girls are forced to rely on their own perspective on what the world is, and they return to something closer of what they truly are. What we see is Evidence that Morgan is the far more troubled of the two. Morgan never seems to fully snap out of the fantasy world, and Anissa does.
Morgan shows sociopathic behavior, as evidenced by disregard for others, a failure to adhere to social norms (even while housed in prison, a highly structured environment, a place supersaturated with social norms). Morgan shows a lack of remorse and an aggressiveness towards others. Anissa by contrast is NOT anti-social, but in fact somewhat the opposite:
Here's an example that will help you better understand their social roles. In the prison where Anissa Weir was incarcerated, each “juvenile,”, is given a list of 39 rules Anissa follows them all. When she does get in trouble, it is for low level offenses things like drawing on herself with colored pencil, for sitting on a table, for braiding another girl’s hair — and for swearing. But even the swearing she said she did to fit in. These are behaviors that are much more in line with the impulsive, immature, and socially-underdeveloped nature of a typical 12 year old girl.
With Schizophrenia, there is often a presentation of disorganized thoughts, an inability to stay linear. In some cases, they can't chronologically recall their own history. Patients will often spout a string of what's called "word salad", jumbled up sentences that don't quite fit together. Or if they are organized, they are colored with delusional or hallucinatory context, but Anissa appears fully oriented, able to recount (with accuracy) a realistic depiction of the events that led to the stabbing. She knows where she is, & why she is there. Organized linear thinking is strong evidence of a non psychotic mind.
Anissa may be sound of mind, but her emotional stability is another matter entirely. Since her incarceration , Anissa has begun threatening self-harm, She was at one point put on suicide watch.
Some reports claim Anissa was placed in a straitjacket for her own protection. My time in the forensic hospital says this is unlikely. In all my experience, i've never seen what the everyday person would think of as a straightjacket, a white garment with arms crossed and secured around the back. Modern day hospitals are much more humane and straightjackets are a thing of the past. There was a time when someone would be strapped up in one of these jackets and thrown into a padded room, but my experience in modern hospital settings is that there are 2 kinds of restraints:
Chemical restraint: a person is subdued with Haldol, Thorazine, or some other tranquilizing drug.
Physical restrains, a person is strapped by each limb to a bed where they are continually monitored by nurses and staff.
The patients are then removed as soon as their danger to others or danger to self behaviors subside. Great care via documentation is used to ensure the patient is not restrained any longer than necessary. Anissa is reported to complain of stomachaches, presumably to keep her out of classes. Why? It may have something to do with an instance she was taunted by the other girls in the prison. They called her a “monster” and a “fucking bitch” for what she’d done. Prison administration reports that since that time she has been more depressed and reclusive. Refusing to leave her room. She's reported to have said: “That’s what I am, exactly what they had called me. A monster and a bitch".
A sociopath would not have started to cry. At least not for real. They wouldn't be so emotionally affected by the criticism of her peers. If they were to become upset at all, it would likely come out as anger, possibly reactive aggression.
In contrast: Around Morgan's 13th birthday, she was visited by Donna Joan Bennett, a social worker. who reports that Morgan spent the visit rolling up pieces of bread and stirring them into her soup. Still preoccupied with her own internalized world, showing little interest in the external world or the people in it. When Bennett wished her a happy birthday, Morgan was cold and dismissive. "It’s really no big deal, just one day closer to death.”
The Courtroom & Controversy
May 31, 2014- When Morgan and Anissa were picked up by police, they both confessed immediately.
The girls were kept in a juvenile detention facility following the interrogations. Though it was the same facility in Waukesha, WI, they were kept separate from each other, only occasionally passing each other in the hall.
Defense attorneys brought onto the case later argued that the girls were too young and didn't understand their rights, and that their confessions shouldn't be used. Ultimately, the circuit judge assigned to the case, Michael Bohren would rule that the girls' confessions on May 31 WERE in fact admissible. They were charged with attempted first-degree murder and will be tried as adults under Wisconsin law.
The judge entered pleas of "Not Guilty" for both girls. though their lawyers would later revise that plea to reflect a claim of insanity.
Anissa's Defense is Shared Delusion
August 2017, Anissa Weir pled guilty to being a party to attempted second-degree intentional homicide, but her defense claimed she wasn't responsible, on the basis of being mentally ill, specifically in the throes of a shared delusion, next to a more powerful friend.
The decision of the jury would decide whether she would serve her sentence in a prison or a mental hospital. Under Wisconsin law, jurors must agree on whether Weir was mentally ill, and ultimately whether or not she was responsible for her actions.
Since Weier's attorneys are making the claim that Anissa was mentally incompetent, they had the burden of proving that at the time of the crime, she suffered from a mental disease or defect that prevented her from understanding what she did was wrong.
There were two notable testimonies given in Anissa Weir's trial:
Her father, William Weir was the defense's first witness.
William Weir described her time in school and the trying situations in their home life, like their recent divorce. But through all that, he said, he never saw anything to suggest she needed mental health care. This testimony shocked the court room as it was totally contrary to what the defense was trying to prove, that Anissa was mentally incompetent. "In my opinion, she was a normal child." Further saying that she was a good student, not disruptive. Not exactly the description of a mentally-ill child. This was Considered by some to be the biggest blunder of her trial.
- The second notable testimony came from a classmate, identified as K.N. who was also a SlenderMan fangirl. She testified that Anissa had approached her at school with the solution to becoming a proxy of SlenderMan, that she needed to kill a friend. But "Don't worry," she told K.N., "It's not you."
In the case of Anissa Weir, on September 15th, 2017 at 11pm, a jury reached the unanimous verdict after 9.5 hours of deliberation, that Weir was in-fact mentally ill and therefore not responsible for her actions, on the basis of Shared Psychotic Disorder.
Morgan's Defense is Psychosis (Schizophrenia)
Morgan's defense, however was much more solidly built on the grounds of mental illness. Two psychologists testified in court that Morgan did in fact have early onset schizophrenia.
Her lawyers set out to prove that Morgan's schizophrenia was so severe that this act of savage, irrational violence was ALL because she was lost in the grip of delusional fantasy, utterly severed from reality.
During her first few months in custody, Morgan openly confessed to the stabbing three separate times, but her lawyers argued that she was too young to understand the nature of her situation and was not given proper chance to consult with counsel or exercise her right to remain silent.
Morgan has spent this entire time being treated for schizophrenia, involving ongoing psychotropic medication and intensive therapy.
Early October, just a few weeks ago, Morgan Geyser reached a plea deal of GUILTY except insane by the court. The length of her impending stay in a mental facility has yet to be determined, but given my own experience, Morgan IS mentally ill and needs to be in a hospital.
But you don't have to take my word for it—Let's dive into the clinical diagnoses of both Anissa and Morgan. As told by the psychologist that evaluated them.
The Official Diagnoses
During the trial, Psychologist Michael Caldwell gives an assessment of Anissa's mental health in this courtroom testimony:
Attorneys reported that her condition has improved since being separated from Morgan. CD-10 diagnostic criteria for Induced Delusional Disorder is as follows:
- Two people share the same delusion or delusional system and support one another in this belief.
- They have an unusually close relationship.
- Temporal or contextual evidence exists that indicates the delusion was induced in the passive member by contact with the active partner.
This is consistent with Shared Psychotic disorder, because the psychotic material is being generated from Morgan, the alpha, the person with actual psychosis. The beta's symptoms often diminish when separated from the alpha, because they aren't actually psychotic, but merely under the Alpha's spell.
Anissa was also diagnosed with Schizotypal disorder, a personality type that makes her easily swept up into delusional fantasy. Schizo-typal is a personality disorder, it's not psychosis. If you met a person that had this diagnosis on the street, in our culture, they would simply come off as odd or eccentric. This sets in by early adulthood and people who have it often have mystical, fantasies often based in religion—and it all borders on delusional. Paranoid or suspicious thinking, vague or over-elaborate thoughts or speech, unusual perceptual experiences like bodily delusions. But that's as bad as it gets.
In exploring cases over the years of clients with Schizo-typal personality like Anissa Weir, I'm often reminded of Stonewall Jackson. He was a confederate Civil War general, Robert E Lee's right-hand man. He would raise his right arm while riding into battle to "keep his blood balanced." For religious reasons, he would never mail a letter that he knew would be in transit on a Sunday. He used to claim that his leg would ache when the weather changed. Aside from these quirks that people in his life no-doubt knew about, he was a very intelligent, person who was functional in the world. Someone with full-blown schizophrenia would likely be under much more intense, crippling delusions.
In the audio we just heard, Morgan was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
I worked for almost two years in a facility dedicated to children with oppositional defiant disorder. They could be characterized as the Misfit Kids, the ones with anger problems or that are anti-social. It is characterized as a pattern of angry, irritable mood, defiant behaviors or vindictiveness. Often angry and resentful, argues with authority figures. This is a diagnosis usually reserved for children—in many cases it turns into anti-social or sociopathic personality disorder as an adult. People like Jeffrey Dahmer no doubt had ODD as a kid, but then again so did many kids that grew up to be successful functioning citizens that grew out of it.
Most of the things that Morgan's peers say were "different" about her are not explicitly indicative of schizophrenia. It's not that odd that a twelve-year-old girl might go around pretending she is a cat. At the same time, it is not hard to see that these things paired with violent fantasies and ultimately an attempted murder indicate schizophrenia.
What IS indicative of schizophrenia are the delusions that Morgan truly believes. After being diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Morgan's symptoms of psychosis increased, which could be because of the additional psycho-social stressors of her being incarcerated. A way to retreat into her own fantasies and escape her own harsh reality. She reportedly had lengthy conversations with imaginary beings while in her cell in prison. Her psychologist, Dr. Kenneth Casimir testified that Morgan had "tactile hallucinations and tormenting vivid dreams." Morgan attempted suicide in her cell, by trying to slash her wrists with a broken pencil. And Casimir found Morgan to be at continued risk for harming others because, He claims she told him “If [Slender Man] told me to break into someone’s house and stab them, I would have to do it."
Evidence of her psychosis
Her cognitive construct of Slender-man seems partially inconsistent with reality. By the age of 12, nearly all normal functioning children are able to distinguish between imagination and reality. This is important to keep in mind when examining Morgan's behaviors, and reminds us to resist the urge to dismiss any bizarre acts as childhood play. In a younger child we might be able to do this, but with Morgan, we are forced to consider that what we are witnessing falls closer in-line with early-onset psychosis.
Morgan's relationship with her father takes a significant blow after he attempts to confront her about Slender-man not being real. Morgan responds by ripping her dad's face out of all the family pictures in her cell. It is often a very bad idea to directly confront a person's delusion without first doing extensive work in grounding the patients reality and evaluating their ability to accept your version of reality. I've seen patients become very defensive, sometimes violent, sometimes self-destructive.
Guards and hospital staff will testify that, while alone in her room, Morgan was frequently seen talking with people who aren’t there. Clinically, this is a phenomenon known as "responding to internal stimuli" and is a telltale sign of active psychosis.
Staff reports that Morgan ate food in her cell with her back to the door, and when someone came to see her, she sometimes would coil up like a cat with its back to the wall, making claws with her hands. She regarded the ants in her jail cell as her pets, feeding them and talking with them. (This is something I see a lot in patients with active psychosis. They will draw you into their reality with no sense of guilt, shame, or awareness over demonstrating their own bizarre behaviors. Patients will often develop some defense mechanism to explain why their version of reality is inconsistent with yours, such as becoming defensive and more reclusive from others, or rationalizing that nobody can see or understand what they are experiencing and know to be true. From their perspective, YOU'RE the crazy one.)
In Morgan’s bedroom, investigators found over 50 drawings dedicated to the Slender Man, scribbled with disturbing phrases, all capital letters like NEVER ALONE and HE STILL SEES YOU (Statements like these demonstrate a specific set of delusions, they are paranoid and persecutory in nature. Morgan told police: “The Slender-man is everywhere,”
In her many hours of downtime, Morgan constructed a dollhouse with impressive detail — a miniturized CD player, CDs and closets filled with clothes — to be fair, anyone would become bored locked in a prison, and yet this level of detail shows the depth of her internalized world.
Evidence for anti-social
When asked to recall the events of the stabbing, Morgan said with a flat expression “It was weird. I felt no remorse … I still have this idea that it was necessary,”. It's as if she's saying, I know your reality is that Slender-Man isn't real and what I did was wrong, but I don't fully believe that's true.
Throughout her incarceration, Morgan became increasingly isolated, escaping into her own world, withdrawing from others, this is a common trait related to anti-social/sociopathic behavior.
Morgan displays further acts of disregard for the well-being of others. After being transferred to a mental hospital with children her own age, Morgan threw her pet ants at the other children in the hospital, which shows not only disregard for the kids she's throwing them at, but also a disregard for ants that just earlier she had considered pets, once talked to, cared for.
By far the most chilling example of Morgan's lack of empathy is seen in her recounting of what it was like to stab Bella. In a police interrogation, Morgan famously recalls this moment by saying: “Stabby stab stab” “It didn’t feel like anything,” “It was, like, air,” and she half-heartedly balls up her left fist and softly punches the air.
For me, as someone who deals with this kind of thing often, I am not surprised. But it seems as though so many people are shocked about this verdict. Maybe this is the first time you're hearing the seemingly bizarre term "Shared Psychotic Disorder." Maybe it seems....like Anissa and Morgan are getting away with attempted murder, that this diagnosis is coming out of nowhere. Let me assure you, my friends, they are not getting off easy
Mental Hospitals vs. Prison
In my research for this episode, I've come across several comments on social media stating:
I'm disturbed by people lashing out from a place of ignorance about the difference between a prison and a mental hospital, or the nature of these mental illnesses and their prognosis for recovery. Much of the public seems to be blindly crying for justice as opposed to reform, as if a forensic mental hospital were a day spa, and that these girls are somehow getting off easy.
When I worked in the forensic hospital, I had to pass through a barrage of security checkpoints to get from my parked car, to my office. Magnetic doors activated by security badges to open any door in the hospital. Security guards wanded me down, after handing over my belongings on a security conveyer belt with an x-ray scanner, before walking through a metal detector... just like at the airport. A security guard on camera watched me clock in with my fingerprint before buzzing me through two separate doors, with a secure corridor connecting the two. And it wasn't before passing several more magnetic card readers, that I would get to where the actual patients were. The campus was surrounded by a two story wall with barbed wire. The windows were shatter-proof glass. The hospital was under LIVE camera surveillance, and the patients were visually inspected and accounted for every 15 minutes ...every single day.
There is absolutely no access to the internet or really the outside world. Only the well-behaved patients are even allowed supervised visitation or phone calls. On supervised visits, they are not allowed to touch or hug their loved ones, and security sits with them as they visit. A forensic patient who was incarcerated 20 years ago and released today would be stepping out into another world entirely. Just like the old man in ShawShank Redemption.
My point is.. To the best of my knowledge, as far as locked-down security and restriction of individual freedom goes, Forensic Hospitals are on par with Prison. The main difference is that prison is not designed to do anything to help these girls stabilize. They would presumably just stay this way... maybe get worse.
To be clear, Morgan's mental illness is different than Anissa's, and should be treated differently. Morgan presents with schizophrenia and sociopathic behaviors. These are two of the most chronic and difficult forms of mental illness, and sometimes impossible to treat. Schizophrenia can be treated sometimes with a combination of medication and therapy. And if Morgan has any chance for some measure of rehabilitation, it's in a forensic Hospital. The daily routine of a forensic patient is HIGHLY structured, with hours of intensive group and individual therapy sessions, results from these sessions are scrutinized, with special detail given to their level of dangerousness to self and others, and their level of congruence to reality. Regular consultations with Psychiatrists who are routinely monitoring the effectiveness of their response to their prescribed psych medications. An entire team consisting of nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, & therapists meet weekly to discuss a patients progress and make weekly adjustments as needed. Forensic Hospitals often contain an in-house courtroom, where a patient must stand before a judge periodically to be assessed on their progress and mental competence.
You probably Have Some Version of "Shared Psychotic Disorder"
As I review this case, I've found myself empathizing with these girls, Anissa Weir especially. All available evidence and examinations from experts seem to indicate that Morgan Geiser is indeed schizophrenic. Schizophrenia rarely just appears in a way that it's obvious what's happening. When it sets in, it's usually at an early age, and most often there's a period of confusing and terrifying events that occur before the afflicted or anyone around them realize what's really going on. It's not like the person afflicted or their family have any sense of what schizophrenia looks like. Not to mention all the defense mechanisms that would be working against you as you try to cope with the horrifying reality. The combination of Morgan's delusional thinking and her lack of empathy for others is what led to the attack on Bella Leutner. And It's regrettable that Morgan's illness wasn't discovered sooner, before Bella was hurt. And it's good that Morgan is in a forensic hospital, there she can serve a sentence for this crime, but also theres a chance for rehabilitation.
As for Anissa Weir, perhaps her real crime is being too young & impressionable. Her personality type susceptible to the mystical and fantastical. We would be remiss not to consider the context in which this occurred, and to realize that most of us listening to this are GUILTY of engaging in at least low-grade shared psychosis based on cues that we get from other people. In many ways, shared thinking (even to the point of psychosis) is common, like most things, it exists on a spectrum, and we are all capable of experiencing shared thinking that is irrational and to others, when taken out of context, would seem like utter nonsense.
Ouija boards & Ghost Stories
Anyone who's ever told ghost stories at a sleepover can speak to the infectious nature of irrational paranoia. It's late at night..the lights are out..."Did you hear that" ..." I heard it too" . When you're afraid, your senses are heightened, you become more paranoid and irrational. Your fight/flight/freeze response begins to take over... your ability to remain rational becomes overwhelmed.
Shared Thinking & Paranoia is Literally Everywhere
When we look at the components of shared psychosis. SHARED, meaning collective thinking and PSYCHOSIS, symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, paranoia or irrational thinking. These things could be induced in anyone, under the right circumstances.
The Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials took place in colonial Massachusetts in the 1600's. One 11 year old girl's accusations brought the small town to its knees when she planted the seed that the biblical "devil" was loose in their town. Rampant paranoia set loose on the town as it's citizens reported seeing and hearing evil spirits, claiming the devil was entering them, possessing them... eventually leading to the execution of 20 people, 19 by hanging, 1 person was crushed to death... all because of the DELUSION they shared based on fear of a biblical "devil."
The things we say and do affect other people. And let's not dismiss the power Authority. Morgan was the Alpha, an authority, dominant over her beta Anissa. Alpha influences Beta, because Alpha is the authority, and Beta has learned to trust and follow that. Alpha doesn't have to be a single person, authority can come with status (like a cop) or numbers (like 1,000 people)
At the turn of the Millennium, many people believed a "computer bug" would essentially send a virus across the globe and electronically disrupt digital world. Many people took all of their money out in cash for fear that their bank would implode, people stocked up on water and canned food for fear of riots in the street. They did this because the supposed experts told them doomsday was coming to claim the internet.
"War of the Worlds" scare
A science-fiction radio broadcast In the 1930's knowns as "War of the worlds"depicted a story about aliens invading earth. People are reported to have heard this broadcast, taken it seriously, and ran to the streets in fear. These are examples of otherwise "normal" people behaving drastically after taking their cues from either someone in a position of authority or everyone else around them.
The way Morgan was a dominant authority over Anissa. What happens if that authority is your partner, your spouse, your best friend? Who do you trust more than your best friend or your spouse? What happens if your loved one is mentally ill and you're not aware of it? Could it be that Anissa was trusting in the wrong person? If a crazed maniac ran up to you on the street and said "Here, take this pill! There's poison gas coming our way and this is the antidote. Hurry, take it now, we have only seconds to live!" Would you trust this maniac? Of course not, right? What if it was your best friend. Someone you trust more than anyone else in the world?
This happened Mr. D, a 64-year old male with higher technological education, a retired academic professor, married for 39 years, he checked himself in to a mental hospital and wanted to undergo civil commitment to prevent him from being “exploited by a mistress,” MR. D and his wife of almost 40 years, Mrs. E. reported that Mr. D. would go out at nights to his female lover who would “stimulate him with Viagra and narcotics,” put him in her car, have sex with him, and then Mr. D would wake up at home and not remember anything that had happened.The couple had turned for help to a psychologist, a sexologist , and an exorcist.
His wife grew so desperate that she wanted Mr. D. to sleep tied to the bed with handcuffs to prevent him from going out at night. The woman that was accused to be the mistress was one of the teachers employed with Mr. D in the same university. Mr. D confessed that he had been leading this “a double life” for 6 years and had been sexually abused and coerced by his mistress “to sign financial documents in her favor” he admitted he could not remember any of these events actually happening. But he KNOWS it's true because his wife tells him so, and that he fully trusts his wife and they have a very strong relationship. After Talking to his wife, he came to the conclusion that he was mentally ill and needed psychiatric commitment.
But there was nothing wrong with Mr. D. He was not escaping at night. The woman that was accused of abducting, exploiting, and raping him denounced all of it, and said she knew Mr. D. professionally, but had no relationship with him outside of working with the man. It would eventually be concluded that Mr.s E. was seriously mentally ill, likely afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia. Mr. D. was simply the impressionable one, delusions reinforced by the person he trusted the most. Mr. D was the submissive Beta, just like Anissa Weir.
How to treat Shared Psychotic Disorder
The best known treatment for Shared Psychotic Disorder involves separating The Alpha from The Beta immediately. Without the two to feed off of each other, the symbiotic relationship is broken. Because The Beta has no underlining schizophrenia, & because of their submissive nature toward other people, The Beta should gradually recalibrate back to a more socially acceptable reality. From then its about long term psychotherapy, learning how to come to terms with what happened, how to process that emotionally. It is reported that Anissa Weir began to change drastically when separated from Morgan Geiser. It didn't take her long to denounce Slender Man and Morgan. There's little reason to think that Anissa couldn't recover from this event.
Because The Alpha is usually the one with pre-existing mental illness, their treatment is far more complex. It usually means a lifetime of psychiatric medications and therapy for recover from the Schizophrenia and sociopathic nature that Morgan Geiser apparently has. To be frank, there is no solid cure for these illnesses, and she may never fully recover.
I want to make one final thing clear. Mental illness should NOT be further stigmatized because of this case. Just because a person has Schizophrenia, is does not mean they are also sociopaths. True, there are infamous examples where this is the case, but the vast majority of people afflicted with Schizophrenia are more of a danger to themselves than other people. The hallucinations and delusions they experience attacks them, not on other people. Most people with Schizophrenia live a life plagued with intrusive and disorienting assaults on their reality, they didn't choose to be this way. And for these reasons, we can reserve some empathy for Morgan Geiser.
Should these girls go to jail? Certainly some kind of corrective action is needed. But what kind of action? What kind of society do we want to be? Are we looking for justice or something more?
- The National Center for Biotechnology Information — Shared Psychotic Disorder
- CNN - Interrogation Footage Highlights
- TODAY’S TMJ4 — Morgan's Hallucinations in Prison
- Jefferson Journal of Psychology — "Folie á Deux" Full Case of Mr. D
- Anissa Weier found mentally ill
- New York Magazine — Slenderman Stabbing
- Jury Verdict
- HBO Documentary Audio Indterviews Used Throughout