The Horrorcore Murders Were A Case Of Online Courtship Gone Wrong

Farmville is a sleepy little town about sixty miles west of Richmond, Virginia. It is a college town hosting Longwood University and the second oldest college in the country, Hampden-Sydney, just down the road. It's the kind of place where, as the saying goes, "nothing ever happens." Until something did. In September of 2009, the town became the site of the four brutal murders of a local college professor, a local church minister, and two teenage girls.

Local police were initially baffled and the residents of Farmville were horrified. Police eventually discovered the murderer was Richard Samuel "Syko Sam" McCroskey, a teenaged boy from California, who had been visiting his online girlfriend in Virginia, and a fan of Horrorcore music, a subgenre of hip hop sometimes containing dark and violent lyrics.

The Farmville murders were ferocious. Officials at the crime scene referred to the setting as that of "a slaughterhouse." The press quickly began calling it "the Horrorcore Murders," or the Juggalo Murders ("Juggalo" is the label given to fans of Psychopathic Records hip hop groups). Some were quick to blame the music and the performers for the heinous crimes, while others insist the blame lay squarely on the shoulders of McCroskey, and nowhere else.

  • Three Victims Were Bludgeoned To Death In Their Sleep

    Jilted teen lover and would-be "horrorcore" rap artist Richard "Syko Sam" McCroskey found himself stuck in a house with the girl who had just rejected him, one of her friends, and her mother. It was several days before he was due to leave the small Virginia town and fly back to his home in California, which he wasn't looking forward to; he'd left home bragging of his romantic success.

    Always a meek and insecure youth, McCroskey was now profoundly and unbearably hurt by all that had happened in his life in the preceding weeks of late summer. As the hours passed, his emotional pain turned into something evil. In the wee hours of September 15, 2009, he violently took a sledgehammer to the sleeping heads of his former paramour, 16-year-old Emma Niederbrock, her visiting friend, Melanie Wells, and Emma's mother, a college professor named Debra Kelly. 

  • The Fourth Victim Was Brutally Murdered When He Came To Check On The Others

    McCroskey remained with the corpses for two days in the two-story home, which was only a few blocks from Longwood University. On the third day, he committed the fourth and final murder in his one-man killing spree. Rev. Mark Niederbrock, Emma's father and Debra's estranged husband, dropped by the house on his way to a meeting in Richmond. He'd been asked by Melanie Wells's family and others to try to find out why no one had heard from the three women.

    McCroskey met him at the door. It is unclear if anything was said before the youth began his attack on the Presbyterian minister. What is known is that Mark tried to defend himself against the blows of the sledgehammer, but he was soon on the floor, where McCroskey pummeled his head and face. The attack was so ferocious that the hardwood flooring beneath Niederbrock was damaged and soaked through with blood. Shortly after the final murder, McCroskey stole the Reverend's car and attempted to make his way to the Richmond airport.

  • The Professor And The Preacher Helped Lay The Groundwork

    Some might argue that the murders would never have happened if Emma Niederbrock's parents had not been so tolerant of her interest in Horrorcore rap, the culture, and her online boyfriend, Richard McCroskey. Dr. Debra Kelly and Rev. Mark Neiderbrock were in a difficult position as parents. Both were open-minded, tolerant people who understood that young people such as their daughter were bound to dabble in cultures and experiences that were not to parental liking or even known to be terribly safe. Yet, they were afraid to crack down on Emma's interest out of fear of immature, teenage retaliation.

    So, when Emma and her online boyfriend, Richard McCroskey, known as "Syko Sam," made plans to meet at a major Horrorcore event in Michigan that September, her parents' protective instincts went into overdrive. The couple, who were in the final stages of divorcing, decided to pull together and protect their daughter. They agreed to provide the two online lovebirds with transportation and accommodation to and from the Michigan concert.

    McCroskey would just need to fly to Virginia and they would all drive together to the event. Emma even had an online friend from West Virginia who would join the group. It sounded like a great plan and a wise decision on the part of Emma's parents. They intended to keep their daughter and the other two youngsters safe from harm. 

  • McCroskey And Emma Met For The First Time And Sparks Did Not Fly

    Emma and her mother picked up McCroskey from the Richmond airport. The teens were both giddy with nerves and excited at the prospect of meeting for the first time in-person. But, right away, things didn't seem to be quite right. McCroskey was open, his heart on his sleeve, his vulnerable, needy self revealed to the young woman whom he was convinced would love and protect him. It probably wouldn't have mattered what she looked like, or talked like, or said - he remained smitten.

    Such was not the case with Emma. She pulled back and became mostly aloof right after the two met. She apparently confided later with her friend, Melanie, that McCroskey was not nearly as cool and tough as he'd portrayed himself online. She also did not seem to find him as attractive as she'd expected. The rejection must have been shocking to McCroskey. He'd built up such unrealistic expectations, had arrived so needy, and now he was stuck a long way from home with two girls who giggled and taunted him just out of earshot. And they still hadn't left for the Michigan concert. 

    Though it remains only a rumor and a story told by some of the concert's attendees, Emma may have had sex with one of the Horrorcore performers at an after-party. What is certain is that she spent her time at the event flirting with other men and studiously avoided McCroskey, who mostly stood to the side. Looking back, it may well be that his already troubled mind began to turn murderous at the concert. 

  • The Killer Remained In The Home With The Corpses For Days

    Since the case never went to trial, any evidence of how McCroskey spent his time with the rotting corpses has not been revealed. Rumors abound that police had photos and videos in their custody of how the murderer desecrated the bodies. He may also have performed rap songs and recorded those in the presence of the dead. What is known is that his already fragile mental state deteriorated during the days and nights he spent watching and smelling the death around him. 

  • Syko Sam Was A Would-Be Horrorcore Rapper

    Not that every person who enjoys or is involved with the so-called "horrorcore" rap scene (where performers rap about death, murder, and other atrocities) is a disaffected youth with low esteem, but Richard McCroskey certainly fits that profile. Described by his sister as a meek and humble boy with low self-esteem, McCroskey seemed to have become involved with the tough-looking, tough-sounding Horrorcore and Juggalo subculture as an attempt to project his own tough image. One might say he wore the persona and the gear as a type of armor, to protect him from a world that he felt misjudged and humiliated him.

    He also appears to have lived in something of an online fantasy world, where he could project himself as a mean, tough rap artist. He clearly sought to present an image of a strong, confident, "in control" sort of guy. Some of his musical efforts remain online today, serving as reminders of how an online persona can prove to be fake and disastrous.