Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Men and Supermen: The Nietzsche Syndrome

Games

Alex Baranyi
Alex Baranyi

Alex Baranyi had decided that he would one day kill someone, but that's because, as a psychologist later said, he was addicted to role-playing games. He had no plans to actually act on that idea. But his best friend, David Anderson, realized that when he formed a murder plan against a former girlfriend, Alex was the perfect person to do it with him. From the evidence gathered after the fact, it seems that Anderson initiated the quadruple homicide, targeted the victims, and decided what they were going to do.

David Anderson
David Anderson

It took place on January 3, 1997, in Bellevue, Washington. The two high-school dropouts, both 17, lured Kim Wilson, 20, into a park to murder her. They then entered her father's home and massacred Bill Wilson, his wife, and his other daughter. Their activities were documented in their trial transcripts, the Seattle Times, and a book, Deadly Secrets, written by reporter Putsata Reang.

Book cover: Deadly Secrets
Book cover: Deadly Secrets

They knew Kim, so it was easy to get her out into a local park at night. Apparently they then adopted their roles from the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (Baranyi was "Slicer Thunderclap"), and one or both of them strangled her to death, stomped on her ribs, and left her there. Baranyi later told this version of events and took credit for the other murders.

He said that in the Wilson home, he had used a baseball bat to beat Mrs. Wilson to death in her bed. She never awakened (though he later pierced her neck several times with a long knife), but Mr. Wilson woke up and struggled with Baranyi, so he stabbed the man until he slumped next to the bed. Then Baranyi looked for Kim's younger sister, Julia. He stabbed her to death as she attempted to defend herself. One of them left a large, clear imprint of a stomper boot on Bill Wilson's shirt. A blood and print match later implicated Anderson, as did the blood on his shoelaces.

As with Leopold and Loeb, and Parker and Tulloch, when the heat was on, one of them broke down under pressure. However, despite the evidence of Anderson's involvement, Baranyi did not implicate him. He claimed that he had been astounded that they had really set out to murder someone, but he had done it for a person he would not name. Nevertheless, based on physical evidence, Anderson was arrested and several of his friends admitted to the police that he had often talked about murdering someone, including a family.

Both were tried and convicted of premeditated aggravated murder. From the evidence, it seems that the trigger may have been Kim asking Anderson for money that he owed her. And he was about to turn 18, the prosecution theory went, so he had acted while still a juvenile.

Psychologists appeared as expert witnesses in Baranyi's trial. For the defense, Dr. Karen Froming explained that he suffered from bipolar disorder and from low self-esteem, such that he would form an attachment to someone else and might do anything to keep that attachment alive. His abandonment by his parents had affected his ability to feel good about himself, and in addition to that, he had a genetic legacy of depression.

Together the boys had developed an elaborate fantasy life involving swordplay, wizards and dragons. Dr. Froming believed that Baranyi had been following Anderson's directions when he had killed the Wilson family. She did not think he had the capability of forming premeditated intent.

And yet in his fantasy journal, it's clear that Baranyi equated murder with a deified state: "I have done the unspeakable. Death and killing neither worries or scares me... Within our hands we hold the flame of life. I have done the unspeakable. I have become a god..." In line with Goldberg's theory, he also wrote how his life had been one insult after another. His ego had been torn down "until only emptiness filled me... when I became empty, I filled that space with pain, anger, hated and evil."

The rebuttal witness for the prosecution was Dr. Robert Wheeler. He had administered the same psychological battery of assessment tests as Dr. Froming but derived a different interpretation: antisocial personality disorder, which involved being impulsive, aggressive, and lacking in empathy or remorse. He said that Baranyi knew what he was doing—had even admitted as much—and was not suffering from any form of diminished capacity.

No psychological defense was offered for Anderson, because his defense attorneys throughout several trials relied on a lack of physical evidence to prove he was not part of the deadly scheme. In the end, both boys lost and were convicted.

And such acts, with their godlike aftermath, are not limited to males. One male/female team, enveloped in nihilistic ideas, went after children.

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