Fans of the Fox TV show The Following may not have been completely shocked when they read the news this week of Miranda Barbour, a 19-year old woman in Pennsylvania, who claims she has killed more than 20 people as part of a satanic cult. For them, it resembles another instance of life imitating art as these satanic cult killings seem eerily like an episode from The Following.
This may not be the type of publicity the show ‘s creators are looking for. The series already does well in the ratings. Yet, these kinds of headlines may give the show a bump in viewership, particularly as curiosity about cult killings and what makes serial killers tick increases. Right now it’s the only major prime time television show that focuses so heavily on serial killings and cult followers.
The Following is a Monday night Fox TV series starring Kevin and James Purefoy, now in its second season. It tells the tale of a tortured, magnetic and talented man, Joe Carroll, academician turned serial killer, who leads a murderous cult of fanatical killers devoted to him. Kevin Bacon plays an FBI agent obsessed with trying to catch him.
What makes the show so creepy is the way Carroll’s charisma charms all sorts of followers who are then willing to kill other people when he directs them to. Further, Carroll has the uncanny ability to connect with hundreds, even thousands, of potential followers.
The Following depicts a number of gruesome murders committed by Carroll’s devotees. During its first season some of his followers donned Edgar Allan Poe masks and killed people at random. In the opening episode this season, some would-be Carroll followers, wearing masks, descend into a New York City subway car and start stabbing people to death indiscriminately. A few episodes after that, there is a scene of a young girl stabbing her mother to death in front of Carroll to curry his favor so she can then accompany him, fearing he might leave her behind.
In the Pennsylvania case, Barbour admits to luring an unsuspecting man into her car with a Craigslist ad. Then she and her husband allegedly killed the man by strangulation and stabbing. This ghastly murder could have easily been scripted into The Following as a deed of one of Joe Carroll’s followers. Barbour claimed to police investigators that this was not her first murder. She says she became affiliated with a satanic cult in Alaska when she was 13 years old and committed multiple satanic cult killings in Alaska, North Carolina, California and Texas, all in the name of the cult.
It is estimated by the FBI that there are about 300 serial killers active today in the United States. It is a jarring thought to contemplate what if they had a way of communicating with each other the way Joe Carroll communicates with his followers.
The broad question in the Barbour case, as well as with satanic cult killers, is why. What induces a person to join a cult, be it satanic or otherwise, and then allow themselves to be brainwashed into killing others under the umbrella of the cult.
Some experts say there are now more than 3,000 cults in the U.S. with more than four million members. Psychologists suggest there are four types of cults: political, religious, enlightenment/psychological and commercial. Not all cults are about murder. Some, like religious cults, are about fanatical devotion to some aspect of faith. Commercial cults can be about ponzi schemes.
Psychologists also note that it is a mistake to characterize all cult members as ‘crazy.’ Most cult members are ‘normal’ and can be from any age or demographic group.
If there is a connector among cult members it is that many experience severe stress in their lives before joining a cult such as a broken romance, school failure or professional dissatisfaction. Coping mechanisms are weak in these individuals and they are thus more susceptible to recruitment into a cult.
Obviously, one of the most worrisome groups is the one engaged satanic cult killings. One of the most notorious Satanic cult killers of all time was Richard Ramirez, the so called Night Stalker. Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles and claimed to have killed at least 14 victims. When arrested he claimed to police authorities that he was a minion of Satan and sent to earth to carry out Satan’s wishes to kill people.
As long as serial killers and their cult members continue to exist, their satanic cult killings will continue to seem eerily like an episode from The Following.
By Jim McCullaugh