“You call ‘em strays. They were disposable. Human life meant nothing and that’s what he tried to teach, that people—once you got what you needed from them—the best thing you could do was get rid of them. That way, it would never come back onto you.”
That’s Jacob, a middle-aged man from upstate New York, recounting a childhood consumed by terror. Jacob sits alongside his mother and aunt, Sadie and Terrilyn. A camera pans across their gaunt faces as each subject recounts the realities of living with their family patriarch—a man responsible for dozens, if not hundreds, of murders.
Jacob continues to paint a horrific, vivid portrait, detailing what it was like to be “groomed” by his serial killer grandfather. He has nightmarish anecdotes of abuse and theories on where many of these victims are buried. Jacob even has memories of destroying hundreds of grandpa’s “trophies” following his death.
This is blockbuster stuff. Discovered by Netflix’s new paranormal docuseries Haunted, this family’s account, titled “Slaughterhouse,” unearths the grisly story of a previously unknown, bloodthirsty killer—possibly one of the worst this nation has ever known.
But, shortly after “Slaughterhouse” began streaming, skeptics hit back hard. Never mind whether you believe in ghosts. These viewers are saying there is precious little evidence any of the alleged, real-life crimes ever occurred.
The story of Haunted’s “Slaughterhouse”
Terrilyn, Jacob’s aunt, is the primary narrator. She walks the audience through a painful childhood, similar to that of her nephew. She describes her father and mother bringing “strangers picked up at bars or found on the road” to their rural family home. There each visitor would be killed and their body discarded.
There each visitor would be killed and their body discarded.
Terrilyn isn’t reimagining a boogeyman or offering a new take on the haunted residence trope. She is revealing dozens of alleged cold cases in the style of a true crime report.
But, Terrilyn, Sadie, and Jacob have no last names. The location of this house of horrors is ambiguously placed in “upstate New York.” And, while the story begins in 1972, we have no real concept of how long this supposed pattern of abduction, murder, and cover up went on.
Brett-Patrick Jenkins, one of the series’ more vocal executive producers, has a history of working in the arena of fright; he serves as an executive producer on Amazon Video’s Lore which revives legends and myths in a semi-docu style.
Even as viewers howl over the lacking details, Jenkins claims that the events of “Slaughterhouse” as well as those of Haunted’s other episodes are “100% real” and “verified on multiple levels.”
Thousands of people have reached out to me about #Haunted on Netflix. Know this. Everyone who participated in the show is 100% real. The stories happened to them. Life doesn’t always have a perfect ending. It’s not always just about telling someone, but finding someone to listen.
— Brett-Patrick Jenkins (@brettpatrick) October 24, 2018
Saturday I’ll be speaking at the @austinfilmfest #AFF25 Depending on sensitive factors beyond my personal control, I may comment on a few items surrounding #Haunted on #Netflix. For now, know all the stories, including Slaughterhouse, are indeed, verified on multiple levels.
— Brett-Patrick Jenkins (@brettpatrick) October 25, 2018
Every episode of Haunted begins with “The following is a true story.” And the series’ tagline is: “Real people, real stories, real horror.”
That confident packaging seemingly invites viewers to attempt debunking these eye witness accounts. But unlike “Slaughterhouse,” plenty of Haunted’s tellings fall into the category of unverifiable ghost stories, making the feasibility of a true fact-check fairly limited for most episodes.
A cursory Google search of Haunted’s “Slaughterhouse” shows viewers aren’t buying the alleged story of true crime.
“There would be some kind of rumors circulating at the very least if this actually happened.”
“I just watched the episode and tried to frantically search for more information,” one writes. “I hope we get some answers but my bullshit detector was ringing pretty much the whole episode.”
“After watching episode 2, I guarantee the entire show is scripted,” another comments. “I grew up and currently live in upstate NY. There would be some kind of rumors circulating at the very least if this actually happened.”
On Twitter, reactions to “Slaughterhouse” have ranged from skeptical questioning to dismissive labeling—one “absolutely fucking horse shit.”
As best as these internet sleuths can tell, the mass murderer of “Slaughterhouse” does not exist—or, at least, public records of his killings are not readily available.
Considering the lack of public information on the now decades-old string of alleged killings, those of us on the outside of the Netflix bubble are forced to assume Haunted’s creators were the first to hear from Sadie, Terrilyn, and Jacob. And, if that is true, then one obvious next step needs to be taken. Netflix needs to call the police.
Jenkins says they did just that.
We relayed what we were told to the authorities. The whole thing is shocking and emotional. No feedback from law enforcement. Hopefully the show adds pressure and leads to an investigation.
— Brett-Patrick Jenkins (@brettpatrick) October 21, 2018
However, when Mashable asked Netflix which authorities were approached by the show, Netflix declined to comment.
“They have not received any information from the producers or Netflix in regards to the alleged crimes that were portrayed on this program.”
When Mashable contacted New York State Police and asked the Public Information Office to confirm that Netflix had made the report, Director of Public Information, Beau Duffy, responded.
“I spoke with our Bureau of Criminal Investigation and they have not received any information from the producers or Netflix in regards to the alleged crimes that were portrayed on this program.”
He then suggested we try asking Netflix which law enforcement agency they contacted.
Stuck in a cyclical “check with the other guy” loop, we turn again to the only member of Haunted’s production team publicly defending the legitimacy of the account: Jenkins.
Jenkins firmly and continuously asserts that the events of “Slaughterhouse” are true on social media, but he isn’t providing additional evidence. Jenkins declined to speak on the record to Mashable.
Over the course of the show’s first week of streaming, Jenkins linked his Twitter followers to a Wikipedia list of unidentified serial killers, accused The Sun of using their “Slaughterhouse” fact-check coverage to feed “the trolls for cheap clicks,” and posted the following cryptic tweet.
#Slaughterhouse is real. It’s too much to explain over twitter, but the truth is there, the powers that be know, and it’s more shocking than you saw on the show. If I say anything else I could get people in trouble. I’m not willing to do that now. #Netflix #Haunted
— Brett-Patrick Jenkins (@brettpatrick) October 25, 2018
A reasonable person cannot assume that Jenkins speaks for Haunted’s entire production team and he certainly doesn’t speak for Netflix. But, those groups aren’t saying anything on their own accord.
Propagate, the production and development office behind Haunted, did not respond to Mashable’s call for comment. Furthermore, Netflix declined to explain how the stories of Haunted were vetted and did not confirm whether or not a research team was ever consulted during production.
What are we actually seeing?
So, how can we figure out what actually happened here?
The first approach is to accept Jenkins’ ominous “trouble” tweet at face value; the stories of “Slaughterhouse” are true and there is a legal or investigative obstacle preventing the Haunted production team from revealing its research.
In other words, maybe something bad happened, but not as big or bad as they’re claiming.
Another, slightly more accusatory perspective might contend that Haunted used real interviews from genuine subjects and blurred the boundaries between artistic license and dramatization. In other words, maybe something bad happened, but not as big or bad as they’re claiming.
Or, perhaps, the show’s producers were simply told some stories and took the tellers at their word—which might have been a mistake.
Per a Twitter conversation with this reporter, the subject of Episode 3, Eryn McGarry, contends that her experience of being continually haunted by a specter since childhood is entirely true. However, she also admits that she approached producers with her story and, outside of “a lot of chats and interviews,” she doesn’t describe a particularly rigorous fact-check.
And then, there are those who say the show is entirely scripted. In other words, that Netflix just made it up. The occasionally stilted and unnaturally descriptive language of many of the interviewees raises an obvious red flag.
But, according to Haunted’s viewer-turned-investigators, the casting is even more problematic. A number of Haunted’s subjects, McGarry included, work or aspire to work professionally within the horror industry—a reality that has led plenty of viewers to conclude they are not witnesses, but hired actors.
Sure, perhaps this is just supposed to be a spooky Halloween show to give viewers fictional frights. But if the “Slaughterhouse” story is untrue, then that comes with real consequences and real victims.
The reality of cold case crimes
Far away from the Haunted headquarters and all across the country are verifiable loved ones of cold case victims. And, if the “Slaughterhouse” story is true, it represents a string of genuine victims and families desperate to know what happened to them.
“There’s a very thin line when you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one to an unsolved homicide between hope and false hope,” warns Ryan Backmann, the Executive Director and Founder of Project: Cold Case. “This is not something to be taken lightly and to be played with.”
“There’s a very thin line when you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one to an unsolved homicide between hope and false hope.”
Backmann, a survivor of his father’s unsolved homicide, adds, “It’s a very traumatic experience to lose somebody that way… We have a lot of people who are almost stuck in that moment where their loved one was killed and unable to move forward, waiting for something, anything, sometimes the smallest little thing to grasp onto with hopes of getting some kind of resolution.”
Moreover, Kenneth Mains, the Founder and President of The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, stresses that the creation of false narratives can negatively impact the likelihood that a case will ever be solved.
“These falsified true accounts hurt the investigators who put their heart and soul into investigating the truths in the case to begin with,” Mains notes. “The last thing we need as investigators is to have to deal with falsified truths.”
With these grave stakes at hand, Mains asks the question many disturbed by the possible false account of “Slaughterhouse” have already raised.
“Why would someone create this fake discovery? Have our standards for entertainment dropped to a level where re-victimizing and creating falsehoods have become our standard for entertainment?”
The series’ other subjects
When Mashable messaged with Eryn McGarry, the subject of “Demon in the Dark,” Haunted‘s third episode, one of her first concerns was harassment. In coming forward with her story of ghostly haunting for the Netflix show, McGarry knew she would face nonbelievers.
Haunted has put its subjects in a particularly precarious position, intertwining the facts of their lives with fiction.
However, the backlash she received online is taking its toll. She describes the digital landscape as “brutal.” McGarry has been accused of being an actress and been called a liar as well as “a few other colorful names.” She has deleted her Reddit account.
“But, to me, it’s worth it if I can help at least one person know they aren’t alone in dealing with these things,” she says.
“These things” are ghosts. Not homicides. McGarry’s story does not allege any victim other than herself; she recounts her lifelong experiences with a ghost she believes has stalked her since childhood.
If we assume McGarry’s personal story was not fabricated, but that the events of “Slaughterhouse” were made up, then Haunted has put McGarry, as well as its other subjects, in a particularly precarious position, intertwining the facts of their lives with fiction.
In effect, the troubling questions about “Slaughterhouse” may be undermining not only that episode’s credibility, but also the five other “true stories” of Haunted.