Although most people with even a passing understanding of heavy metal know that the darkness and aggression behind the music and the art associated with it are aesthetic choices, the genre is a convenient scapegoat for all kinds of societal transgressions.
There are a litany of reasons behind this. Sometimes the media, politicians, and religious leaders opt to use fear mongering tactics as a means to attract people to their cause. Others, grieving families are hoping against hope to make sense out of senseless tragedy. Worst of all, on occasion the attacks come from within our own ranks by those trying to dodge accountability for their own heinous actions.
15-year-old high school freshman Elyse Pahler was reported missing from her home in Arroyo Grande, California on July 22nd, 1995. The case went cold until eight months later, when 17-year-old Royce Casey contacted police with a confession in 1996.
Casey led authorities to a eucalyptus grove approximately a quarter of a mile from Elyse’s home, where the young woman’s partially mummified remains were found. She had been strangled, sexually assaulted, and stabbed 12 times. None of Elyse’s wounds were immediately fatal. She slowly bled to death.
Along with Royce Casey, 16-year-old Jacob Delashmutt and 15-year-old Joseph Fiorella were charged with murder, gang involvement, rape, torture and conspiracy. Following these arrests, prosecutors contended that the three teenagers were motivated by a belief that Satan would assist their band, Hatred, if they committed a virgin sacrifice in his name.
According to Casey, the murder plot was the brainchild of Fiorella and Delashmutt. Leading up to the time of her disappearance, the teenagers befriended Elyse and gained her confidence. They lured the young woman out to the eucalyptus grove on the night of her murder under the pretense of giving her drugs. The four smoked marijuana before Delashmutt slipped a belt around Elyse’s neck, strangling her while she was being stabbed in the neck by Fiorella. Upon letting go of the belt, Delashmutt and Casey took turns stabbing her.
Because of the disposition of the body, authorities believed that the teenagers returned to the scene of the crime repeatedly to rape the corpse. Fiorella’s mother told police that her son had accused Delashmutt and Casey of necrophilia. At the same time, a friend of Delashmutt told police that the young man boasted of returning to the body for sex.
Elyse’s family have filed two lawsuits against Slayer, claiming that several songs from Seasons In The Abyss (with “Postmortem” and “Dead Skin Mask” cited in particular), gave the killers instructions to “stalk, rape, torture, murder and commit acts of necrophilia” upon their daughter. On top of seeking monetary damages, the Pahlers aimed for a halt to what they believed was the practice of marketing violent music towards juveniles.
The lawsuits were quickly dismissed, with Justice E. Jeffery Burke concluding: “Slayer lyrics are repulsive and profane. But they do not direct or instruct listeners to commit the acts that resulted I the vicious torture-murder of Elyse Pahler.”
Burke’s sentiment was confirmed by Delashmutt in a Washington Post interview, “The music is destructive [but] that’s not why Elyse was murdered. She was murdered because Joe [Fiorella] was obsessed with her and obsessed with killing her.”
Having reached a plea agreement, Fiorella received a sentence of life in prison with a minimum of 26 years. Casey pleaded no contest to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 21 years. Delashmutt pleaded no contest to first-degree murder as well and was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 26 years.
All three men remain incarcerated.