“U Want Me 2 Kill Him?”
For Vanity Fair in 2005, Judy Bachrach tells the haunting tale of a fourteen-year-old’s stabbing in Manchester and the sordid, convoluted internet fantasy through which the “victim” arranged his own attempted murder.
Four months after the stabbing, the charges were amended. Mark was still accused of attempted murder, to which he ultimately pleaded guilty. But this time John also was charged—with inciting murder. His own murder. This is a legal novelty in Britain, and very likely throughout the world. “Yes, I’m not aware of any other case where somebody’s incited somebody to murder themselves,” Nicholas Clarke, the prosecutor, declares in his Manchester office, each syllable clipped with derision. It is clear he doesn’t have much sympathy for the boy whose brush with death prompted the unprecedented charge. “I would say, of the two teenagers, John was the more wicked and more criminally culpable.”
For months John had corresponded in an Internet chat room with Mark, a bland-featured 16-year-old who possesses as his most striking traits a vast forehead, a tendency to open every sentence with “Ermmm,” and, it would later be claimed, an almost infinite store of credulity. Every story John spun on the chat-room site, every slithering creation dropped into the ocean of the Internet, Mark avidly reeled in. Invention was so easy, “the equivalent of taking heroin,” John thought. The older boy’s gullible nature stirred in him conflicting emotions: love foremost, but very likely also a shade of contempt.
It was “like feeding a dog,” John would later explain.
As for himself, John was a virtual Scheherazade, a gifted fabricator. “Staggering,” said the judge who would hear his case. “Skilled writers of fiction would struggle to conjure up a plot such as arises here.” From John’s laptop emerged what the prosecutor would subsequently describe as “an Internet soap opera moving from one scene to another, each character and story line more fantastic than the last.” The plots were extracted from what John had seen both in films and in life: thick with treachery, villainy, and betrayal. They were empty of hope.