A Modern-Day Myth: The Slender Man

Published May 16, 2015
Updated May 16, 2019
Published May 16, 2015
Updated May 16, 2019

The frightening supernatural being created on the internet that has taken on a life of its own.

Slender Man

A depiction of Slender Man.

On May 31, 2014, 12-year-old Payton Leutner of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was attacked by two friends and stabbed 19 times in an apparent attempted murder. Bleeding from wounds on her arms, legs, and torso, Payton managed to drag herself to the road, where a passing cyclist rendered aid.

The alleged perpetrators, 12-year-old Morgan Geyser and 12-year-old Anissa Weier, confessed under police questioning and admitted they had been planning the attack for months. Their motive: to please the Slender Man.

The Man

Slender Man Legend

The Slender Man, also known as Slenderman or just plain “Slendy,” is a thoroughly modern monster. Unlike vampires or werewolves, the Slender Man story got its start within living memory, with a 2009 post to the Something Awful forum.

Forum user Victor Surge (Eric Knudsen) responded to a call for creepy photographs by grafting grainy images of a tall, skinny man with no face into pictures of children playing. Accompanying the pictures, Knudsen added cryptic descriptions such as:

“We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…
— 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.”

There is no folklore basis for the Slender Man at all. He’s a modern Photoshop invention, unique in the modern age in that he was formulated for an Internet-based audience. The young girls who were drawn to Slender Man invented a monster backstory for him that doesn’t exist outside of a computer screen.

The Slender Man Legend

Slender Man At The Window

Source: Ceron

After the initial post, other users on Something Awful took the Slender Man legend and ran with it. Though no official canon exists, the Slender Man is almost always depicted as faceless, tall and thin, wearing a dark and somewhat antiquated suit. He has disproportionately long arms, which are sometimes drawn as tentacles, and may be able to sprout new limbs at will.

The Slender Man is closely associated with wooded areas and is often able to change shape and/or teleport to close the distance between himself and his victims, who are usually children. He has no official backstory, and the people telling his story are usually careful not to say what he does with the people he carries off, preferring to let readers’ imaginations do the work.

The Washington Post reported that during the investigation into Payton Leutner’s stabbing, one of the girls said, “Many people do not believe Slender Man is real. [We] wanted to prove the skeptics wrong.”

There’s nothing to prove, though. Unlike most mythical creatures, we can trace the Slender Man’s fictional origins all the way back to its source.

The Real Life Victims Of An Internet Myth

Crimes From Internet Myth

Source: Crime Feed

The now infamous case of Morgan Geyser and Annisa Weier isn’t the only time the Slender Man myth has claimed victims.

On June 5, 2014, an unidentified woman in Hamilton County, Ohio, called the police after coming home from work and being attacked with a knife. The alleged attacker was the woman’s 13-year-old daughter who, according to the mother, greeted her while wearing a hood and a blank, white face mask.

Slender Man Picture

Source: Wikia

The daughter is said to have a history of mental illness and an obsession with the Slender Man myths she reads about online. The mother was treated for wounds to her face, neck, and back.

Later that year, on September 4, 2014, a single mother and her 9-year-old son woke up to a fire in their Port Richey, Florida home. The woman’s 14-year-old daughter had started the blaze by lighting a bleach and rum-soaked sheet on fire.

The girl, who fled immediately after, admitted she had been reading a lot about Slender Man and expressed remorse for the fire, even texting her mother to ask if everybody was okay.

The adolescents that are drawn to the Slender Man usually have pre-existing mental health issues that go untreated and allows these girls to connect to Internet mythology in dangerous ways.

The Mania Of The Slender Man Story Continues

Slenderman In The Woods

The Slender Man myths consciously draw on existing mythology and pop-culture references. Knudsen, Slender Man’s originator, admits he was heavily inspired by the Tall Man from the Phantasm movies, and that parallels exist between the Slender Man and the Men in Black, the Bogeyman, and Robert Downey Jr., though the last might be a coincidence.

As that list of references suggests, people apparently need a lot of monsters to get by in the world. It would seem that humans, having long ago conquered most of our survival challenges, simply cannot do without personified terrors. If this is the case, then the Slender Man is yet another entry in the long line of spooks that some of humanity’s more creative members have conjured up to scratch that fear-itch.

With any luck, the adults who read or hear about the “Slender Man-inspired” attacks will keep their heads and let the teenagers with mental health issues get help, rather than becoming delusional themselves about the New Threatening Thing making all the news.

Also, by reading about this subject, it’s possible you’ve attracted the Slender Man’s attention, which is not good. Be safe.

After learning about the Slender Man legend, meet the real-life English royal behind the story of Bloody Mary.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.