unsolved mysteries

Is 19-Year-Old Miranda Barbour Really a Mass Murderer?

Miranda Barbour, 19, is led out of the courthouse after her preliminary hearing, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in Sunbury, Pa. Miranda and Elytte Barbour, newlyweds who police said wanted to kill someone together were ordered Friday to stand trial on charges they lured a stranger with a Craigslist ad, stabbed him to death after he got into their car and dumped his body in an alley.
Miranda Barbour after her preliminary hearing in December. Photo: Christine Baker/AP Photo/PennLive.com

This winter, America discovered a new Craigslist killer—a 19-year-old woman named Miranda Barbour, arrested in December along with her husband, Elytte Barbour, for the murder of a 42-year-old man named Troy LaFerrara, whom they lured in with a Craigslist sex ad. Now in jail awaiting trial, Barbour told a reporter in January that she’s killed dozens of others — she says she “stopped counting” at 22 — all as part of a Satanic cult.

To be sure, there is a lot to take in at once with Barbour’s story, much of which inverts the serial-killer archetype as we’ve come to understand it: She’s female and a teenager, and her story involves sexual abuse, Satanism, institutionalization, drug addiction, mental illness, bad boyfriends, and a two-year-old child now out of her custody. Based on the rough outlines of Barbour’s biography, she would have had to have started around age 13 to do what she claims to have done. Are her claims even plausible? Herewith, a sorting of the evidence:

She’s a serial killer:

• Sexually abused at age 4 by her uncle, Barbour, who grew up in Alaska, was a repeated runaway and in and out of rehabs for heroin. At 14, she told her parents she’d joined a Satanic cult. She said she was ushered into the cult by a 25-year-old man named Forrest whom she called her “ruler” and later is said to have impregnated her and helped her commit her first murder, holding the gun with her. Said her mother, Elizabeth Dean: “She told me that this man owns her and she has to do whatever he says … She said he branded her by carving a swastika on the back of her neck and his name on her thigh.” 

• After three years in Anchorage, Barbour said she became a high-ranking member of the cult — and a programmed killer. In her teens, she moved around between Alaska, California, North Carolina, and Texas. But Barbour claimed to have committed these murders mostly in Alaska towns like Palmer, Anchorage, Nome, and Wasilla, adding that she can still “pinpoint on a map where you can find” the bodies. Her victims, she said, were people “who did bad things and didn’t deserve to be here anymore.” 

• A friend of Barbour’s who met her in the adolescent ward of a behavioral health facility confirmed that she has discussed this cult for at least three years, saying she was in a “gang” made up “mostly of men,” many of whom raped her. 

• Barbour told Pennsylvania newspaper The Daily Item she doesn’t care whether people believe her, that she has no remorse, and is not confessing for the attention — only that she wants to tell her story to stop living a lie. “I’m telling you because it is time for me to be honest and I feel I need to be honest,” she said. 

• Based purely on his gut reaction to Barbour during her jailhouse interview, the reporter she spoke with told CNN he believes there’s at least some truth to her story. “I believe she did this before,” he said.  

• The local police are taking her claims seriously enough to investigate them. “We are seriously concerned and have been in contact with the proper authorities,” stays police chief Steve Mazzeo. 

Photo: Mike Staugaitis

She’s a fabulist:

• The co-founder of a support group called Seeking Alaska’s Missing, which pays attention to unsolved murders, has said “it’s possible, but it’s not very likely” — presumably after examining the record of unsolved cases in the parts of the state where Barbour says she killed. 

• Alaska State Troopers issued a statement saying they’re not aware — yet — of any information implicating Barbour in any homicide aside from the one she’s been arrested for. 

• Authorities where Barbour lived in North Carolina said they have no unsolved murders that might match up to her claims.

• The prosecutor in the LaFerrara case has said he doesn’t believe her.

• Barbour’s father, Sonny Dean, said he doesn’t believe Barbour either, and that he’s surprised she’s been implicated in the LaFerrara killing. “Miranda lives in a fantasy world made up in her own mind,” he said. (He also call her “the most manipulative person I know” — adding that if she is convicted for the LaFerrara murder, he’d gladly hold the hand of LaFerrara’s widow as his daughter is executed.)

But, seriously, she just might be a serial killer:

• Elytte Barbour, her husband and co-defendant in the LaFerrara murder, won’t comment on her claims, saying only that he still loves her. This, even after she implicated him in the LaFerrara murder in her newspaper interview, saying that he wrapped a cord around LaFerrara’s neck while she stabbed him some 20 times.

• The FBI is not discounting her outright. “Maybe she wants to look crazy as a way to gain sympathy,” an FBI source said. “On the other hand, she may have killed before. We need to check it out.

• Magus Peter H. Gilmore, self-styled high priest of the Church of Satan, told one central Pennsylvania TV news station that Barbour is not a member of his 45-year-old group. “In this post 9-11 world, the idea that there could be a murderous cult out there … how’s that going to escape law enforcement?” he said. But of course, that’s exactly what the high priest of the Church of Satan would say, isn’t it?

Is Miranda Barbour Really a Mass Murderer?