The debate about the effects of media on violence has gone on for decades now – everything from serial murders to school shootings have been blamed on horror movies, violent video games, or other media depictions.
There are very few cases that lend support to these hypotheses, but there are a few that are clearly media influenced.
One of these cases is that of Sandy Charles, who, at the tender age of 14, murdered 7-year-old Johnathan Thimpsen in his hometown of La Ronge in Saskatchewan, Canada. His confession would detail his motive – performing a ritual that he had seen in a movie.
A Boy’s Obsession
Sandy Charles was born on July 6th, 1981 to a 17-year-old mother. With his father out of the picture and two siblings added some time later, the family was in difficult financial straits, with Sandy typically in charge of caring for his younger siblings while their mother worked a series of jobs.
By all reports, Sandy was an average child until the age of 13, when he began withdrawing from his friends, and even quit his paper route. His mother and teachers had no idea where this change could have come from, and they couldn’t have known that the boy was beginning to show signs of mental illness.
According to Sandy, he began to hear voices, and eventually became convinced that his bedroom was haunted by one or several ghosts that would instruct him to do things. He also began watching horror movies and developed an interest in the darker side of the occult. He even bought a Ouija board in an attempt to contact the ghosts he believed he was hearing.
He would also claim later that he spent quite a lot of time contemplating suicide, but the voices would always talk him out of it, insisting that he had to kill other people instead.
At some point during 1995, Sandy watched the movie Warlock. In this movie, a warlock escapes the death penalty in the 1600s by time-traveling to the present, where he commits multiple atrocities to evade a witch hunter that follows him.
One of these atrocities grabbed Sandy’s attention – the warlock slaughtered an unbaptized young boy in order to harvest his fat and make a potion that would allow him to fly.
The voices in Sandy’s head began to tell him that he had to commit a similar murder – not only would he be able to make the potion and gain its benefits, but the murder would function as a sacrifice that would please Satan. The boy began to plot his terrible crime.
On July 8, 1995 – just two days after his 14th birthday – Sandy recruited an unnamed 8-year-old accomplice and lured 7-year-old Johnathan Thimpsen to a vacant lot near his home under the pretense of playing ball.
Once the boys had their victim alone, they attempted to break his neck. When that proved more difficult than they’d thought, they stabbed the boy several times before beating him to death with beer bottles and rocks.
Once the boy was dead, Sandy cut a number of strips of flesh from him, following the same method that was depicted in Warlock. He took them home and stashed them in a can that he was keeping by the furnace in the basement, presumably so that it would melt and he could subsequently drink it.
The brutalized body of Johnathan Thimpsen was discovered three days after his murder, and the community rallied to find the murderer in their midst. A search turned up multiple witnesses who said that the victim was last seen in the company of Sandy Charles and his accomplice.
Both boys were brought in for questioning, and initially denied being involved in the crime. However, both would eventually confess under pressure – Sandy would detail his chilling motives and methods for police.
He explained that he believed in magic, and that every thousand years, Satan would be released upon the earth. He also said that his motive for the murder was impressing Satan, so that he would take him on as a disciple when he returned in the year 2000. However, he said he never intended to actually consume the fat he’d taken from his victim.
Trials and Aftermath
Sandy Charles was tried for murder in adult court in June of 1996, where he pleaded “not guilty because of mental capacity.” His lawyer argued that a difficult childhood made the boy more susceptible to the influence of horror movies and occult interests, and that caused him to become psychotic.
This was despite evidence that Sandy was experiencing mental health issues before he took interest in horror movies. For his part, Sandy grew out his fingernails while incarcerated, and would scratch the wood of the prisoner’s box while moaning during court proceedings.
He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sent to the Psychiatric Institute in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. Due to the age of the accomplice, the boy was never charged. Sandy escaped from the North Battleford facility on March 30th, 1998, but his freedom only lasted a single day.
Afterward, he was sent to the maximum security Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
He was returned to court in June 2000 after being accused of assaulting a prison nurse. According to testimony, he got into a fight with another inmate, and knocked the nurse unconscious at some point during the altercation. He was sentenced to a single day in solitary confinement.
In 2013, he was sent back to the facility in North Battleford after multiple doctors responsible for his treatment submitted statements saying that they believed that his long-term progress warranted the move to a lower-security facility. Unfortunately, he was returned to the Regional Psychiatric Center only months later, though the reasons for this are unknown.
In 2014, he testified for the provincial court that he wanted to return to the North Battleford facility again. He claimed that he was working on his anger issues and wanted to begin the process of gaining enough social skills to re-integrate into society. However, his request was denied, and Sandy Charles currently remains in the Regional Psychiatric Center.
Did Horror Movies Make Him Do This?
Despite his statements, there is no reason to believe that horror movies are a direct cause of Sandy Charles’ terrible crime in the summer of 1995.
Many people often stress connections to violent media when faced with those who do terrible things – for example, the perpetrator of the 2012 Aurora Theatre Shooting claimed to have been influenced by the Joker.
However, it’s more likely that Sandy’s deteriorating mental health fueled his fascination with this media, and it was merely inspiration for a troubled mind.