Tracking Luka Magnotta’s Digital Footprints
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
Warning: This story contains elements of a graphic and often disquieting nature.
There’s nothing about the story of Luka Magnotta that isn’t unsettling, bizarre or even profoundly disturbing. It’s a story of cruelty, murder and a sociopath’s need for attention.
In many ways, it’s not much different than the sad procession of grisly crime tales that have preceded it through history. But Luka Magnotta’s story is different in one key regard: the degree to which much of it played out online in real time…and the role of the Internet in his capture.
A Carefully Crafted Online Life
Born Eric Clinton Newman, the 29-year-old Canadian national changed his name to Luka Rocco Magnotta on August 12, 2006 when he was just 24 – the first of his many changes. Raised by his grandparents, those formerly involved with Magnotta say he had poor relations with his family, who have refused all comment. Around the same time as his name change, Magnotta began appearing in different guises online: posing for semi-clothed photos, billing himself under various names as an adult film “star” and even competing on a nationally televised modelling competition.
He lost, but he then began using different names: Luka Rocco, Vladimir Romanov, Mattia Del Santo, Jimmy; each with a different back story and different identity. They all seemed different, but were all Magnotta.
In no time, the web began to blossom with references to one or more of these people. Pictures, videos, interviews; MySpace pages, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and personal websites, complete with comments from ‘contributors’ who all read suspiciously alike.
Magnotta, it seems, was populating the Internet with a host of made-up personae, littering the web with ego-boosting references and carefully crafted images of himself as someone of remarkable beauty, exceptional talent and unlimited possibilities. “I’m a people person,” Magnotta says during an interview about his “career” as a male escort that can only be described as off-kilter (if not just weird.)
But other sides of Magnotta began to emerge as well. Messages on white supremacist websites were linked to Magnotta. On Orato, a 2007 poster named “Luka Magnotta” wrote of serious sexual abuse and mental illness which site editors called “creepy.” Maclean’s reported that Magnotta was the source of a rumor that he had dated Canadian serial killer Karla Homolka – a rumor he later vehemently denied in an unhinged appearance at office of the Toronto Sun.
And it got worse.
Someone named “Rocco Magnotta” wrote a blog entry titled “How to Completely Disappear and Never be Found,” advising readers to “cut all personal ties with everyone who knows you,” “create new identities” among other unbalanced suggestions. Now deleted, a blog titled Necrophilia Serial Killer Luka Magnotta emerged, with two bizarre posts extolling the author’s fascination with dead bodies.
Then in 2010, someone posted a video on YouTube of a young man putting two kittens in a plastic bag, then vacuuming out the air until the kittens suffocated. (Other videos of cruelty to kittens followed.) Animal rights activists quickly identified the torturer as Magnotta, a claim he denied by accusing his agent, former friends, or unnamed ‘stalkers’ of plots to ruin his life.
Soon Magnotta’s other online personae sprang to action, choking website comment sections with strange, unfocused rants while extolling Magnotta’s talents. Whatever was happening, whatever the accusation, Magnotta appeared to have an ever-inflating sense of his importance, actively putting himself at the center of online dramas he likely created.
Digital Fingerprints and Online Confessions
On May 29 Canadian police were aghast to discover someone had mailed a human foot to a Conservative Party leader in Ottawa. Authorities quickly discovered another parcel containing a human hand, headed to Liberal Party headquarters, and began a nationwide investigation.
Around that time, investigators made a horrific discovery online: someone had posted a video titled “1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick” of what appeared to be the murder and dismemberment of a young Asian man, committed by someone who looked suspiciously like Magnotta. [Ed note: the video was removed from YouTube but continues to be re-posted elsewhere. Canadian authorities confirmed the authenticity of the video. VOA will not link to these videos.]
Montreal police quickly identified the victim as Jun Lin, a Chinese national studying at Montreal’s Concordia College and rumored to be sexually involved with Magnotta. Lin’s remains were found inside and nearby Magnotta’s apartment, but Magnotta wasn’t; it soon became obvious that he had fled to Paris. Police issued a warrant for Magnotta on charges of murder, desecration and cannibalism.
But far from trying to disappear online, Magnotta appears to have continued actively posting on the web while in flight, both defending himself and taunting authorities. The Twitter account “LukaMagnotta” posted on May 31, “Je suis en cavale LOL” – French for “I’m on the run.” A new YouTube user named “Beavis Butthead” began posting videos with images both from Magnotta’s Montreal apartment alongside those from the murder video, accompanied by discursive comments that read much like those of Magnotta’s online personae.
Briton’s Sun newspaper, already accustomed to having flesh-crawling encounters with Magnotta, reported this week that it spotted someone in an online war game using an account associated by Magnotta. The Sun on Monday also published pictures from what it said was another video posted online containing images of what looks like a bloody handprint and the words “It Was Luka Magnotta.”
And so it came as no surprise on Monday when authorities in Berlin announced they had taken Magnotta into custody…while he was at an Internet cafe. He had been reading online news coverage about himself. “You got me,” he told police.
A New Breed Of Psychopath?
“I would have to say that Luka Magnotta was quite a bit different from the other psychopaths I’ve dealt with in the past,” says criminal profiler Pat Brown. “Not that his general behavior isn’t typically psychopathic; he’s very narcissistic, he’s very grandiose, he has no empathy, he’s a manipulator of the nth degree. What is different about him is he’s basically an attention whore; he loves the media, and he wants to be the most well-known person in the world.”
As a professional profiler, Brown has a lot of experience with sociopaths and serial killers, some of which she documents in her book “The Profiler.” Unlike most any other sociopathic killers she’s tracked, Brown says Magnotta invested an unusual amount of time and work into creating an online reality – one that met his needs for approval, but also, she says, put him into his own reality.
“Serial killers don’t spend this amount of time on this,” she notes. In part because, perhaps obvious to everyone but Magnotta, all those digital fingerprints helped authorities track him down. “This is something new.”
Brown may be right. Prior to Magnotta, most deranged serial killers preferred to operate in the shadows, cultivating an unassuming and private image. Of course, many – like Ted Bundy or the “BTK” or “Scorpio” killers – have long taunted police or select members of the media in a perverse game of ‘Catch Me If You Can.’
And more recently Igor Suprunyuck and Victor Sayenko, the young Ukranian serial murders dubbed “The Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs,” posted online updates and images from their spree of 21 murders by hammer. Ukranian prosecutors made ample use of Suprunyuck’s Facebook page, which lists Sayenko as a friend, his motto as “The Weak Must Die, The Strong Will Prosper,” and his favorite sport as “hammer toss.”
But Brown says Magnotta’s use and infatuation with the web as a tool for his own aggrandizement may likely inspire others. “Undoubtedly,” she says:
“We saw in Columbine how that one action inspired copycats. I’ve no doubts that this one [Magnotta] used the Internet as a way to get himself out there; to promote himself to exactly what he wanted to be, the one everyone is reading about. And it’s a sure thing that others will follow in his steps, learning from what he did to feed their own fantasies.”
Meaning more monsters may look to Magnotta and begin plotting their own exploits, amplified by the Internet.
Magnotta’s last Facebook update: “Monsters, Demons and Ghosts, they live in-side of us and they are real, and sometimes they win.”
Postscript: While Magnotta has been grabbing headlines the world over for his clearly bizarre behavior and other obscene actions he is alleged to have committed, almost forgotten has been Jun Lin. A 33-year-old student, Lin had a part-time job as a cashier in a Montreal convenience store. Known as Patrick Lin on Facebook, he is universally described as polite, friendly, and an all-around nice guy.
In a dark twist to an otherwise upsetting story, one of Lin’s last postings on Facebook was of a deserted Montreal subway car he was riding on last month. He titled the picture “Midnight cannibalism train.”