It’s been claimed that these killer songs drove people to murder. Strangely Justin Beiber doesn’t feature on the list.
On the 29th of January 1979, 16 year old Brenda Spencer opened fire at Cleveland Elementary School killing two adults and injuring eight children and a police officer. Her explanation for the shooting, “I don’t like Mondays.” inspired Bob Geldof to write The Boomtown Rats hit of the same name, but here are ten songs where the killer was allegedly inspired by music.
Killer Songs #10: Megadeth – Killing is My Business…and Business is Good
Understandably, DJs Trevor Fenton and Pat Ryan were concerned on August 30th 2011 when someone posted in their chatroom requesting Killing is My Business…and Business is Good because it was “good music to go postal & kill a bunce of people to”, claiming he would go on a shooting rampage in Appleton, Wisconsin. The Hard Rock Radio Live DJs kept the poster online while police traced the man’s IP address to a public library and arrested 44 year old David Lefever. It was unclear if Lefever was actually planning a shooting as he didn’t own a firearm but he had previously been charged for making the same threat. He was charged with unlawful use of computerised communication and with disorderly conduct.
Killer Songs #9: U2 – Exit
On July 18th 1989, Robert Bardo confronted actress Rebecca Schaeffer at her apartment after stalking her for three years. He had previously written her letters and attempted twice to access a set where she had been working before his obsession had tailed off and he became obsessed with Debbie Harry and Tiffany instead. However, he watched the movie Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills which featured a scene where Schaeffer appeared in bed with a male actor and became enraged at Schaeffer becoming “just another Hollywood whore”. Inspired by the U2 song Exit which is about a psychopath, Bardo travelled to California and argued with Schaeffer at the front door of her apartment, only to return an hour later and fatally shoot her in the chest.
Aftermath: Bardo bopped along to the song when it was played for the jury at his trial and was consequently sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Bardo later survived being stabbed 11 times in prison. U2 received no criticism over the song despite the trials against heavy metal bands (covered later in this article) and would go on to a very successful music career.
Killer Songs #8: Linkin Park – In the End
15 year old Charles Andrew Williams was bullied at Santana High School and grew increasingly depressed until he walked into school on Monday March 5th 2001 and shot a fellow student. From there he opened fire indiscriminately, injuring 13 other pupils until he took cover in a bathroom in order to reload. A member of staff went in to talk him down but was fatally shot. Police entered the bathroom and arrested Williams who had wanted to kill himself but found himself unable to do so. In a note left for his father included the line from In the End, “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.”
Aftermath: Williams was sentenced to 50 years in jail. Linkin Park issued a statement saying they were saddened by the events and offered their prayers. A number of students who Williams had told beforehand about his plan were expelled despite all of them believing he wouldn’t carry it out. A school counsellor who refused to speak with Williams when he attempted to get help and a teacher who had humiliated Williams in a class on the previous Friday faced no action.
Killer Songs #7: Megadeth – A Tout Le Monde
When A Tout Le Monde was released as a single in 1995, the video was played once on Headbangers Ball then immediately banned by MTV who felt the song promoted suicide. Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine said that the song was actually about parting on good terms with people because there are always things left unsaid when a person dies and so if he had a few seconds to speak to his friends and loved ones before he died, this is what he’d say.
On September 13th 2006, 25 year old Kimveer Gill opened fire at Dawson College in Montreal killing a student and injuring 19 others before turning the gun on himself. In his blog, Gill was found to be a conspiracy theorist who was obsessed with 9/11, the Iraq invasion and a huge fan of Megadeth. His last blog entry served as a suicide note and quoted from A Tout Le Monde.
Aftermath: Mustaine re-recorded A Tout Le Monde as a duet with Lacuna Coil singer Cristina Scabbia. The video for the new version was played once on Headbangers Ball then MTV promptly banned it. Again.
Killer Songs #6: Pearl Jam – Jeremy
Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder wrote the song Jeremy about Jeremy Delle, a 16-year-old who shot himself in front of his English class at Richardson High School on January 8, 1991. The video for the song was a re-enactment of the shooting but MTV demanded that the video be edited and a shot of ‘Jeremy’ placing a gun in his mouth removed, which unfortunately made the edited version look like ‘Jeremy’ had started shooting his classmates instead of himself. On February 2nd 1996, 14 year old Barry Loukaitis, dressed as a cowboy, entered Frontier Middle School armed with a rifle and two pistols, walked into his algebra class and opened fire killing two students, injuring a third and killing his algebra teacher. Loukaitis held the classroom hostage until another teacher, Coach Jon Lane, entered the classroom and offered himself as a hostage in exchange for the children. Lane managed to forcefully disarm the shooter and pin him to the ground until police arrived.
Aftermath: Loukaitis was sentenced to two life sentences and an additional 205 years in prison which was later reduced to a total of 185 years in prison. He had been inspired by the video for Jeremy (mistakenly believing Jeremy shot his classmates), Natural Born Killers, The Basketball Diaries and Stephen King’s novel Rage which was also about a school shooter who takes his algebra class hostage after committing murder. Loukaitis had closely modelled himself on the main character in Rage which prompted King to allow the book to go out of print and has never allowed it to be reissued.
Killer Songs #5: Guns ‘N’ Roses – Used to Love Her (But I Had to Kill Her)
The joke song Used to Love Her (But I Had to Kill Her) became very serious when it became evidence in not one, but two killings. On August 17th 2002, Justin Barber drowned and then shot his wife before shooting himself four times, claiming they were mugged. Police suspected Barber but it took two years to finally prove it thanks to advances in computer forensics which showed that he had downloaded the Guns ‘N’ Roses song and listened to it an hour before the murder. along with searching the internet for details on gunshot injuries.
Thomas Wilhelm was drunk, had taken painkillers and was loudly singing the Guns ‘N’ Roses song according to texts his ex girlfriend Christine Murrary sent to a friend 11 minutes before he shot and killed her on the 8th of July 2012.
Aftermath: The jury voted 8 to 4 in favour of Justin Barber receiving the death penalty but the judge spared him and gave a sentence of life with no chance of parole. Thomas Willhelm was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Guns ‘N’ Roses reformed in April 2012 and the Wilhelm killing of Murray had no adverse on ticket sales as they went on to become the 12th largest economy in the world in 2016 as each of their gigs netted a minimum of $5.8 million in ticket sales alone.
Killer Songs #4: Ozzy Osbourne – Suicide Solution
On October 26th 1984, depressed 19 year old John McCullom shot himself while listening to Ozzy Osbourne‘s Speak of the Devil album in his bedroom. Earlier in the day he had listened to Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz album which featured the song Suicide Solution, which his parents decided had encouraged him to kill himself. In January 1986 the parents brought a lawsuit against Ozzy over the song and soon the case became an issue of Freedom of Speech in America. The case was eventually dismissed but the McCulloms filed an appeal which garnered more attention and led to another two families filing suit against Osbourne over the suicides of their own sons. All three cases would be dismissed in 1988 as the court found that the music was protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and that the lyrics were not connected to suicide.
The song was actually about Ozzy’s alcoholism and how he was slowly drinking himself to death (alcohol being a chemical solution) according to song writer Bob Daisley, though the lyrics were credited to Osbourne as part of Daisley’s writing contract. Osbourne claimed that he wrote the song about Bon Scott of AC/DC‘s death from alcohol poisoning while the head of Osbourne’s record label, and father of Ozzy’s wife Sharon, Don Arden was quoted as later saying “To be perfectly honest, I would be doubtful as to whether Mr. Osbourne knew the meaning of the lyrics, if there was any meaning, because his command of the English language is minimal.”
Aftermath: Ozzy would try to kill his wife Sharon in 1989 and would later be arrested for urinating on The Alamo. A ‘reality’ TV show about his family would relaunch his career alongside a reforming of Black Sabbath.
Killer Songs #3: Judas Priest – Better By You, Better Than Me
This song was originally recorded by a band called Spooky Tooth in 1969 but was covered by Judas Priest in 1978 at the insistence of their record label CBS Records who felt that the Stained Glass album was too dark and sinister, and needed a lighter song. The band added a bridge to the song which would be the subject of controversy. On December 23rd 1985 20 year old James Vance and 19-year-old Ray Belknap entered into a suicide pact, with Belknap dying immediately from a self inflicted shotgun wound, while Vance survived shooting himself, albeit severely disfiguring his face in the process. When Vance killed himself with an overdose of painkillers three years later, his parents filed suit against Judas Priest. By the time the case came to court in July 1990, Ozzy Osbourne had already won the case over Suicide Solution so Vance’s parents’ lawyer knew that the Priest song would also be protected by the First Amendment. Instead he claimed that there were subliminal messages in the song that repeatedly stated “Do it“, encouraging listeners to kill themselves.
The trial started badly for Judas Priest as the judge ruled that subliminal messages were not protected by the First Amendment. The bridge that the band had added came under particular scrutiny and Rob Halford was asked to sing the lyrics in court to see if his phrasing masked subliminals in the recorded version. Halford would point out that subliminally attempting to get your fan base to kill themselves was counterproductive and any subliminals inserted should encourage listeners to buy more of their albums.
Judas Priest were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in August after various songs of theirs were played backwards with claims that “Fuck the Lord“, “Do it” and other phrases like “Look mom my chair is broken” and “suck a peppermint” were ‘discovered’. The judge found that it had not been proven that there were subliminals at all, backwards lyrics, or that backwards lyrics could influence a person. They ruled that “Do it” was present repeatedly but that it was coincidental.
Aftermath: On 24th August the case was dismissed allowing Judas Priest to release the delayed Painkiller album on September 3rd. Thanks to the publicity from the court case, by January 1991 Painkiller had been certified Gold with sales of 500,000 units. James Vance’s disfigured face would serve as the inspiration for Steve Dillon‘s depiction of the comic, Preacher‘s Arseface character.
Killer Songs #2: AC/DC – Night Prowler
Ricardo Ramirez, known as Richard or Richie, didn’t have the best of upbringings – he suffered two serious head injuries as a child which left him suffering from seizures, and his dad was physically abusive towards him. Richard’s main friend when he was 12 was his older cousin Miguel who would share details and polaroids of the multiple rapes and gruesome acts he had committed while serving in Vietnam. Miguel would teach Richard how to kill stealthily along with various army tactics until Miguel was jailed for fatally shooting his girlfriend in front of Richard. Ramirez moved in with his sister and her husband who was a voyeur and would take the 13 year old on his nightly spying trips. During this time Ramirez discovered Satanism, started using LSD and his sexual fantasies became increasingly violent resulting in him attempting to rape a woman but he was foiled when the woman’s husband returned and battered Ramirez.
Richard Ramirez relocated to San Francisco and begun a killing spree in April 1984 that lasted until his arrest in August 1985. He would break into houses at night, usually raping and murdering the occupants and stealing valuable items. which earned him the moniker ‘The Night Stalker‘. On March 17th 1985, Ramirez left his AC/DC baseball cap behind at a murder scene which turned a spotlight on the band. The media focused on the song Night Prowler and the similarity of the lyrics to The Night Stalker‘s methods, while the band protested that the song was simply about sneaking into a girlfriend’s house at night for sex; a claim disproved by the lyrics. The press imagined that the song Night Prowler had driven The Night Stalker to kill and provided him with his MO, making this one of the best known killers songs.The band were portrayed as Satanists, ‘evidenced’ by their album Highway to Hell and the claim that their name stood for Anti-Christ/Devil Child.
Ramirez was caught when his mug shot was shown on TV while he was in a supermarket. Other shoppers recognised him, chased him and nearly beat him to death before police arrived and saved him from the mob. Ramirez was sentenced to death for his crimes.
Aftermath: While Ramirez was a fan of the band, he wasn’t actually driven to kill by their music and the Night Prowler/The Night Stalker association was purely coincidental. However, AC/DC continued to be dogged by the Satanism allegations for years and their career went into decline, although not necessarily because of the allegations. In 1990 they experienced a resurgence thanks to the hit single Heatseeker and have managed to retain their popularity to date. Ramirez became a cultural icon thanks to two pictures from his trial, one of which showed him with a pentagram drawn on his palm (above). Ramirez spent 28 years on Death Row before dying of Lymphoma aged 53.
Killer Songs #1: The Beatles – Helter Skelter
Possibly the best known example of killer songs on this list, Helter Skelter was cited as inspiration by cult leader Charles Manson, who saw The White Album, but particularly this song as heralding an impending race war. Believing The Beatles to be four angels, Manson instructed his followers to beginning killing while making it look like the work of militant Black rights group The Black Panthers. On July 25th Bobby Beausoleil, Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins killed Gary Hinman, leaving a bloody pawprint at the scene. On August 9th Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel broke into the home of Roman Polanski and murdered actress Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski and Stephen Parent. The killings gained national attention because of Polanski and Tate’s fame and also for the brutality of the murders – Tate had been 8 months pregnant at the time.
The next night Manson accompanied the four and brought two other followers, Leslie Van Houten, Steve “Clem” Grogan, to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. After killing the two occupants the words “Healter Skelter” were left scrawled in blood on the refrigerator door. Van Houten, Grogan and Kasabian were then sent to a friend of Kasabian’s apartment to kill him, but Kasabian deliberately knocked the wrong door in order to save him.
Aftermath: The Manson Family were all sentenced to death, though their sentences were changed to life imprisonment after California dropped the death penalty. Trent Reznor would later buy the Polanski/Tate house and turn it into a recording studio where he wrote and recorded The Downward Spiral. Brian Warner would adopt the name Marilyn Manson and recorded the album Antichrist Superstar at the Polanski/Tate house. Rob Zombie used The Manson Family as inspiration for the Firefly family in his movies House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects; the line “I am the Devil and I’m here to do the Devil’s work” in the latter movie was spoken by Tex Watson before he killed Wojciech Frykowski. Linda Kasabian was the inspiration for the band, Kasabian‘s name but The Simpsons creative team have never addressed Millhouse sharing the same surname as Leslie Van Houten. Charles Manson himself has become a cultural icon with numerous documentaries and movies about him, his music has been released and covered (Marilyn Manson – My Monkey) and he himself has been sampled for music (Paradise Lost – Forever Failure). Roman Polanski went on to drug and rape a 13 year old girl, then flee the USA to live in France. Despite being convicted in absentia, Polanski has remained in France, continued to make movies and win Academy Awards.