Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

The "Dexter" Murders

The popular TV series has inspired some very bizarre copycat acts.

This week, Mark Howe, 21, was sentenced in England for killing his mother. He showed no visible reaction. He’s just one of several killers who had a thing for the fictional blood spatter analyst, Dexter Morgan, from Showtime’s popular series.

On July 16, 2012, Howe slashed forty-eight year-old Katrina “Tina” Wardle more than 53 times with a 12-inch knife. He aimed for her mouth, neck, chest, and arms. Then he left her on the floor in the bedroom of their Leicester home to bleed to death. She was found in a fetal position, clearing trying to protect herself.

In court, Howe was described as a recluse who was obsessed with Dexter. His profile photo on Facebook was the blood-spattered face of the series character and he’d told a friend he wished he was Dexter. He’d also posted online how much he hated his mother, so his claim of amnesia for the assault didn’t go over well.

After doing an Internet search for “Dexter’s kill knife” and "What does a sociopath need to do to blend seamlessly with society?", he planned the murder. Howe's stepfather had left for an overnight trip, so Howe waited for his mother to go to bed before he entered her room to stab her. His mother begged for her life, according to people who heard her screams.

Howe called his sister to say he’d done something terrible, but then told her he’d been in a fight with a man and had cut himself. He showered and went to a park to dump his bloodstained shirt before using his mother’s bank card to withdraw money. Finally, he went to his job in an eldercare home and explained his cuts with a story that his stepfather had attacked him. Later, he called his sister again and confessed what he’d done. He said he’d argued with their mother over smoking pot.

Perhaps the most famous Dexter-inspired murder was carried out in 2008 in Edmonton, Canada. Mark Twitchell lured two men to his “movie studio” to participate in his feature about a sword-wielding serial killer. One was murdered and the other managed to escape. Twitchell had adopted the persona "Dexter Morgan" on his Facebook page and made a movie similar to how Dexter operates on the TV show. He was convicted and is now in prison, where he has caught up on all missed episodes of the show.

(Recently, Twitchell attempted to resurrect his film ambitions from behind bars. Several seized hard drives containing hundreds of hours of film footage are still in police storage. Twitchell enlisted a friend to try to acquire the footage so it can be edited and released. “Way too many amazing people gave so much of themselves to make that film magic,” he stated. “I will see it completed if it is literally the last thing I do.”)

In 2009, Andrew Conley, who “felt like Dexter,” admitted that the show had inspired him to strangle his 10-year-old brother. After the murder, Conley put a plastic bag over the boy’s head, mimicking Dexter’s post-murder ritual. Reportedly, he wanted to see what it felt like to kill.

Then there’s Jessica Lopez, an S&M practitioner, who strangled another woman, saying that it was as if “Dexter had spoken directly to me.” She said he’d made it look easier than it really was. "I made a few attempts to chop her up like Dexter with Masters power tools,” she’d written, “but I was afraid it was too loud and it sucked at cutting flesh."

In Sweden, a young women (unnamed in press reports) went out with her stepfather and ended the evening by plunging a knife into him and slitting his throat. She claimed to police that her father had asked her to do it, but investigators found evidence in her diary that she’d desired to kill someone. She’d also searched the Internet for information about how the human heart functions and how to get rid of crime evidence. She admitted to a passion for Dexter.

The most convoluted murder story was told in February 2010, in Norway. Håvard Nyfløt, a gas station attendant, claimed that taxi driver Shamrez Khan approached him to kidnap and torture Faiza Ashraf for rejecting his advances. He offered a substantial sum. Nyfløt agreed. But things did not go as planned.

Nyfløt claimed that after watching one episode of Dexter after another, he’d decided that Khan was “vermin” who “fit the code like in the series” and should be punished. “It was my responsibility to put him to sleep.” Nyfløt purchased items, as he’d seen Dexter do, dug a shallow grave in the woods, and made a plan to bludgeon Khan there and cut him into pieces.

However, he’d wanted an audience to make it “even more perfect than Dexter,” so he’d kidnapped Ashraf from a bus stop one morning to have her watch Khan’s execution. From the trunk of the car, the captive had phoned police, but they were unable to locate her. She’d told them she thought her abductor was Khan, since he’d been stalking her for years. Thus, they had a suspect.

When Nyfløt had opened the trunk out in the woods, he said, he’d tried to explain his plan, but Ashraf had run. He’d caught her. To prevent her from screaming, he’d used the entire roll of duct tape on her head and put a rope around her neck before depositing her into the car’s trunk. When he’d opened it later, he’d discovered her dead. He’d dumped the body in Khan’s pre-dug grave and went on a trip with his girlfriend.

However, because Nyfløt had seen on Dexter how easy it was to plant evidence, he said he'd kept a piece of tape with Ashraf’s hair on it to place with Khan’s body after he killed him. He never got the chance. When arrested a week after the murder, Nyfløt explained the plan and insisted he hadn’t intended to kill Ashraf.

Nyfløt and Khan both went to trial for first-degree murder. No evidence supported Nyfløt’s bizarre tale. It looked instead as if he’d kidnapped the victim to pay off his considerable gambling debts. Despite their protests, both men were convicted.

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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