Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tanya Flowerday: Snuff Victim?


As anybody who has seen the movie 8mm now knows, a snuff film is a video recording of someone, usually a woman, being murdered as part of violent pornography. What nobody seems to know, is whether these movies actually exist, or whether they're simply the stuff of urban legend.

Roy Hazelwood
Roy Hazelwood

Sexual predators often have a predilection to somehow record their crimes. According to Roy Hazelwood and Stephen Michaud, in Dark Dreams, child molesters and sexual sadists seem particularly fond of creating a visual documentary of their deeds, although the actual murder is usually omitted. But snuff movies are not merely the recording of sex-related murder. Snuff movies are sold as pornography. While someone like Jeffrey Dahmer took photographs of the men he murdered in his apartment in Milwaukee as he cut them open and dismembered them, posing them in different postures, he did this for his own sexual pleasure. It undoubtedly excited him as he did it, and later he was able to use these photographs to relive these special moments through fantasy and masturbation. Although some of these pictures are available on the Internet today, Dahmer did not record these acts to sell it. Snuff movies, on the other hand, are created with financial profit as a significant motive. Of course, a third party who somehow obtains a recording made by a sexual predator may then sell it as snuff, but technically it is only then that it becomes snuff. Although the same actions are depicted, the distinction is important, since it speaks to significant differences in motive.

Stephen Michaud
Stephen Michaud

Do real snuff movies exist? Many sites on the internet advertise them, but it seems highly unlikely that even a few, if any, of these would be real. After all, it would constitute the best evidence of a crime that is punishable by death in the places that have a death penalty and a life sentence in those that don't. And, as Hollywood has proved time and again, it's not difficult to convincingly portray murder on film. There have been a number of commercial movies about snuff movies, such as Mute Witness, 8mm and the low budget Snuff which, according to Scott Stine in his article 'The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend', popularized the concept in the first place. There has even been a video game called Manhunt, which saw the player as a murderer stolen from his execution by a snuff movie director to star in his next film (even though the developers chose to define snuff as multiple murder and discarded the pornographic aspects). Snuff movies themselves, however, prove much harder to come by.

Several newspapers contacted various experts in law enforcement in South Africa and none of them could confirm an instance of true snuff. Superintendent Martin Aylward, national spokesperson of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS), told Beeld that he didn't know of a snuff movie having been made in that province in the past. Supt. André Neethling, head of FCS in the province of Gauteng, concurred, saying that recordings of sexual crimes have been recovered but never of murder. Sr. Supt. Gerard Labuschagne, head of the Investigative Psychology Unit, had not heard of a snuff movie discovered in South Africa either, but told Independent On-Line of October 16, 2003, that it wouldn't surprise him to find one. "People are killed all the time for no apparent reason. Would it be such a big step to put it on film for resale purposes?"

South African law was caught off guard. At the time of Tanya Flowerday's murder, the Films and Publications Act appeared uncertain about films depicting real murder. In fact, it wasn't stipulated as illegal to own or even import such movies. Since a snuff movie per definition contains explicit and serious sexual violence, it would be unlikely to receive a certificate from the Film and Publications Board, thereby making it illegal to distribute or present publicly. Of course, being involved in the making of the film would translate into complicity to murder at best and would consequently be a crime.

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