Music and crime are two things that seem to go hand in hand. Whether it be musicians committing crimes or people committing crimes whilst music blares in the background, it has been a strange relationship that’s given us some of the most insane anecdotes in history.
Relating to musicians breaking the law, one of the most surreal that springs to mind is the moment when ex-Coheed and Cambria bassist Michael Todd was arrested for showing a pharmacist a text on his phone that claimed he had a bomb he would blow unless he was given OxyContin.
Since the dawn of time, the terms ‘rebel’ and ‘musician’ have been interchangeable. Until very recently, we thought that a rebellious nature was a prerequisite of any musician worth their salt. However, due to the countless faux pas’ musicians have made because of this idea, we now know this to be a fallacy, and these days, musicians getting into trouble with the law for violence, drugs, or other reasons negates the quality of craft and makes them look like just another regular berk. The “live fast, die young” ethos is now a relic of a bygone era, and quite rightly, as it has spawned many tragedies.
This is all well and good when it comes to musicians, but what about when music inspires other people to commit genuinely shocking crimes? Again, this has happened more times than we care to remember. The stories of fans finding a meaning in music that isn’t actually there are plentiful, as are the cases of supporters taking the lyrics too literally.
Some of the most prominent musical artists in existence have written songs that have been tainted by fans allegedly using them as inspiration for their crimes, and, unfortunately, these tend to be of the most heinous nature. Although it’s bleak, it provides an insight into how music can be used for the opposite of its purpose and cause devastation at the expense of the innocent and the artist themselves.
Today, we’ve collected six songs that are claimed to have inspired true crimes. Be prepared to come across some of your favourite musicians and some of the most awful injustices in history. For anyone needing it, this is your trigger warning.
Six songs that allegedly inspired true crimes:
Metallica – ‘Ronnie’, Load (1996)
In 2002, 28-year-old Ronald Pituch murdered his mother using a 9kg dumbbell. In the aftermath of such a horrific instance of matricide, it was claimed that he was incensed after she refused to purchase cigarettes for him. If this senseless crime is already too much to handle, be prepared, as it gets much worse.
After murdering his mother, he tied up his five-year-old niece and then fled on his motorcycle. Then, he went searching for his old high-school classmate Nikki Roberts, who he had been harassing for weeks, as he believed she was his soulmate.
Whilst looking for Roberts, he encountered the 11-year-old Gregory Katsnelson, who was riding his bike to meet his friends. Out of the blue, Pituch stabbed Gregory and disposed of his body in a local pond before he eventually handed himself in to a local police station.
In court, Pituch’s defence claimed that he had a history of severe mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression. When giving his testimony, he said he saw demons on the faces of people and that it was Metallica‘s 1996 song ‘Ronnie’ from Loud that had influenced him finally crack.
Prior to his crimes, it was revealed that Pituch had stopped taking his medication, and it was during this time that his fixation with the song increased. He was quoted as saying: “I was drinking and I was out of it. That song was always in my head, too. There was just so much pressure building up … I caved.”
He was sentenced to 50 years in jail for his crimes in 2004.
The Beatles – ‘Helter Skelter’, The White Album (1968)
This is perhaps the most notorious entry on the list. After four members of the hippie Manson Family cult were sent by their leader, Charles Manson, to break into the home of director Roman Polanski, they committed a quadruple murder that shocked the world. The most notable victim was actress Sharon Tate, who was heavily pregnant with Polanski’s child.
The deranged Manson had told his followers that the murders would spark a race war between white and Black Americans that he called ‘Helter Skelter’.
It was claimed in court that Manson was obsessed with The White Album by English rockers The Beatles and, in particular, the track ‘Helter Skelter’. Vincent Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor in the Tate murder trial, was the main proponent of this theory. He had based it on the account of Paul Watkins, one of the four Mansonites who murdered Tate.
“It’s The Beatles, the music they’re putting out,” Manson said to the court. “These kids listen to this music and pick up the message. It’s subliminal.”
Guns N’ Roses – ‘Used to Love Her’, G N’ R Lies (1988)
Interestingly, ‘Used to Love Her’ by American rockers Guns N’ Roses is linked to two crimes. The first came in 2002, when Justin Barber was found with four gunshot wounds in his car in Guana River State Park, Florida. Soon after, his wife, April, was found dead on the nearby beach. Justin told the police that they’d been attacked in an attempted robbery that had gone wrong, but he had no recollection of the perpetrator.
In what is one of the most shocking murders in recent times, forensics found that Justin had shot himself and his wife. Investigators believed the killing was motivated by suspected infidelity and that Justin stood to collect over $2 million in insurance money. If the forensic evidence wasn’t enough, what was found on his computer sealed his fate.
In court, it was declared that Justin had researched how to survive gunshots and that on the day he murdered his wife, he had downloaded Guns N’ Roses’ track ‘Used to Love Her’, which contains the line: “I used to love her, but I had to kill her.” After the discovery of these two pieces of evidence, there was no way out for Justin. The song was even played for the jury as they deliberated his fate.
In what is one of the most notoriously misinterpreted songs in history, the song cropped up in another murder in 2012. Thomas Michael Wilhelm and his girlfriend, Christine Marie Murray, had been constantly arguing about his sprinkler company that looked set to go out of business. Then, one night, he got drunk, and after repeatedly listening to the lyric, “I used to love her, but I had to kill her”, when another argument broke out, he shot Christine multiple times and killed her.
Megadeth – ‘A Tout Le Monde’, Youthanasia (1994)
When Kimveer Gill went on a shooting rampage at Dawson Junior College in Montreal, Canada, in 2006, the last thing people expected as a driving force behind his actions – when he shot 20 students, killing one of them – was that they would be partially inspired by one of Megadeth’s best-loved tracks, ‘A Tour Le Monde’. After being shot in the arm by the police Singh turned the gun on himself, leaving everybody questioning the motives for such a bloody attack.
An alienated figure, he spent much of his time on the message board vampirefreaks.com, where many of his posts alluded to the day that he’d wreak havoc on the world. He notoriously claimed that his epitaph would be “lived fast died young. Left a mangled corpse”, which was one of the most immediate red flags prosecutors found in the aftermath of the shooting.
On the website, there were also pictures of him holding guns. “Disemboweled bodies litter the streets,” Gill captioned one of his photographs. “Some have been decapitated, others hung off bridges and overpasses.”
Aside from investigators finding that Gill was a fan of the notorious video game Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which was based on the Columbine killings, they also discovered that one of his last blog entries referenced Megadeth’s ‘A Tout Le Monde’, writing that the song convinced him to commit the shootings. Subsequently, all his blog posts were swiftly taken down.
Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine told CBS later that year: “I was so angry that this guy would use my song, and that he would try and turn that beautiful song into something ugly and nasty. It’s for those who lost their lives, and it’s a gift to those who are in the process of healing (…) and Gill was not worthy of being a Megadeth fan.”
U2 – ‘Exit’, The Joshua Tree (1987)
Rebecca Shaeffer was one of the hottest commodities in the late 1980s. The model and actress made her name in the hit comedy show My Sister Sam, and after the show was cancelled in 1988, she looked set to hit the big time. She appeared in films such as Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, and she could do no wrong. The stage was set for her to become an A-lister.
However, her rise also brought unintended consequences. A stalker going by the name of John Bardo became infatuated with her, and after sending a string of fairly harmless fan letters, the messages he posted soon took a darker turn. Around this same time, Bardo sent a chilling letter to his sister, telling her: “I have an obsession with the unattainable and I have to eliminate [something] that I cannot attain.”
Things came to a head on the evening of July 18th, 1989. Shaeffer was at home waiting to receive the script for The Godfather Part III, but when the doorbell rang, it was not what she expected. Bardo shot her at point-blank range in the doorway of her apartment, and she died within 30 minutes of arriving at the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Bardo was arrested and sat motionless for all of his trial until the defence played the U2 track ‘Exit’ from The Joshua Tree. The murder sprang into life, “rocked in his chair, drummed his hands on his leg and, smiling, mouthed the lyrics ‘pistol weighing heavy,'” per an account in The Los Angeles Times.
The song was inspired by Truman Capote’s 1966 masterwork In Cold Blood. In court, it was found that Bardo had interpreted aspects of the lyrics as references to himself and Schaeffer, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Schaeffer’s murder had such an impact on the band that they stopped playing ‘Exit’ live.
AC/DC – ‘Night Prowler’, Highway to Hell (1979)
Richard Ramirez is one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. He was a grim spectre over Los Angeles between June 1984 and August 1985, going on a killing spree that took over 15 lives. Wielding indiscriminate violence, what he did to his victims is unspeakable. Known for his striking looks and terrible teeth, the tale of Ramirez is a famous one and a must-read for anyone who isn’t aware of it.
At one of his crime scenes, Ramirez left an AC/DC baseball cap, and it was later found that he was obsessed with the hard rock heroes and particularly their 1979 record Highway to Hell. It is claimed that the song ‘Night Prowler’ was his favourite, and the lyrics bear an eerie similarity to his modus operandi: “Was that noise out your window. Or a shadow on your blind? And you lie there naked like a body in a tomb. Suspended animation. As I slip into your room.”
After his cap was found, the media focused on the lyrics of ‘Night Prowler’ and how they were similar to Ramirez’s crimes, so they started to dub him ‘The Night Stalker’.