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The Power of Suggestion: 6 Killers Who Convinced Their Victims to Commit Suicide

Some of the most conniving killers are able to end a person's life without ever laying a hand on their victims. These are killers who convinced people to kill themselves, using their twisted charisma and physical and verbal abuse to get their intended fatal results.

Infamous cult leader Jim Jones brainwashed his followers into blind obedience, until they swallowed poison-laced fruit punch and perished en masse. William Francis Melchert-Dinkel looked for individuals who already had suicidal thoughts, and encouraged them to follow through. And then there's Michelle Carter - she's accused of callously mocking her boyfriend until he took his own life.

These crimes are horrific, and it's all the more chilling to realize that the law doesn’t always prohibit the act of encouraging suicide. But whether the legal system defines these cases as crimes or not, these murder by suicide killers took the lives of their victims as surely as if they had pulled the trigger, stabbed the blade, or tied the noose themselves.

  • William Francis Melchert-Dinkel Stalked Suicide Support Chat Rooms

    Photo: isriya / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Minnesota resident William Francis Melchert-Dinkel used the Internet to find his victims. He trawled suicide support chat rooms, looking for people who were already considering killing themselves. Melchert-Dinkel used various false identities in the chat rooms, all of them female, including "Li Dao," a fictional Chinese nurse. When he found a potential victim, he would lure them into a private chat and encourage them to follow through on their suicidal thoughts. He would extol suicide as a virtuous choice, sometimes promising to kill himself as well. In a particularly disturbing detail, Melchert-Dinkel frequently asked people to record themselves while they died so that he could watch them.

    He made dozens of these connections, reporting to police that in several of those cases the people he was corresponding with stopped answering him, and he believed they had followed his deadly advice. However, Melchert-Dinkel was only tried for two of these deaths. Mark Drybrough, a 32-year-old Englishman, was one of these. After years of depression, illness, and hard breaks, he went to a suicide chat room looking for help hanging himself. Melchert-Dinkel responded to this, giving him specific instructions on how to tie a noose using a door. Within a few weeks, Drybrough was dead, having used the exact method that Melchert-Dinkel had advised.

    Canadian college student Nadia Kajouji met Melchert-Dinkel (using the pseudonym "Cami") online. Adrift and alone on her new campus, she confessed to "Cami" that she was planning to jump from a bridge near her dorm. She wanted it to look like an accident, she told him. He encouraged her to hang herself, saying it was less likely to fail. Kajouji didn’t heed his advice, and ended her life by jumping from the bridge instead.

    In 2011, Melchert-Dinkel was convicted of advising, encouraging, or assisting suicide in both of these cases. The decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court, and he was retried. In his second trial, he was only found guilty of attempted assisted suicide in Drybrough's death, because Kajouji had used a different method than the one he advised.

  • Photo: Nancy Wong / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Jim Jones, the charismatic founder of the Peoples Temple cult, forced more than 900 people to kill themselves on November 18, 1978. Jones started the Temple as a way to spread his communist and integrationist beliefs, but it quickly devolved into a toxic, dangerous cult that served only the fanatical ravings of its egotistical founder. After moving his congregation across the United States, he eventually set them up in Guyana, far from the control of the United States government.

    The newly founded Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, more commonly called Jonestown, did not stay under the radar for long. Family members of Jones’s followers and former members of the cult led a crusade to get Congress to investigate the horrible living conditions and criminal activity at Jonestown. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan flew to Guyana to investigate, accompanied by several aides and reporters. During his visit, one of the Peoples Temple members attacked and stabbed Ryan. The Congressman and his entourage left for the airstrip immediately, taking with them some members who had expressed the wish to leave. When they arrived, however, they were met by Jones’s "Red Brigade," armed guards who opened fire, killing Ryan and four others.

    On the same day, Jones gathered his disciples. Telling them that they were committing revolutionary suicide, he distributed fruit punch laced with cyanide and exhorted them to drink it. More than 250 children were given the poison by their family or other members. Jones himself was found dead as well, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

  • Michelle Carter May Have Taunted Her Online Boyfriend Into Committing Suicide

    Photo: Support for Michelle Carter / via Facebook

    Conrad Roy was a depressed teenager who confided his suicidal thoughts in his mostly-online girlfriend, Michelle Carter. Instead of encouraging Roy to get help, Carter texted back things like, "You said you were gonna do it. Like I don't get why you aren't. So I guess you aren't gonna do it then. All that for nothing."

    Carter and Roy didn’t have a traditional teenage relationship. They met and connected while visiting family in the same area, but then continued their relationship online and via text. When Roy brought up his desire to kill himself, Carter not only encouraged him to do it, but helped him research methods. They finally settled on carbon monoxide poisoning.

    On the day that Roy finally made his suicide attempt, Carter encouraged him the entire time, saying that his family would understand and needling him for putting it off. Perhaps the most disturbing moment happened when Roy got scared and exited the car as it filled with poisonous gas. When he told Carter this, she told him to "f*cking get back in."

    Roy died on July 13, 2014. Carter faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter. On February 12, 2019, a judge ordered Carter to start her sentence. She is set to serve 15 months.

  • Photo: BeyondHuman10 / via YouTube

    Marshall Applewhite and his partner, Bonnie Nettles, formed the Heaven’s Gate cult. They told Heaven’s Gate members that they were sent as emissaries by aliens, and would be killed and then resurrected as higher beings. They claimed to be the only ones who could lead the followers to this higher plane of existence. In 1975, the group came to national attention, causing Applegate to encourage his followers to keep a low profile.

    By the mid-'90s, Nettles had died, and Applewhite’s beliefs had become even stranger. He convinced his flock that the earth was due to be "wiped clean" of every living thing, and that the only way to avoid this purging was to leave before it happened. In a video recorded just days before the massacre, Applewhite explained that a dignified, self-inflicted death was one of the only ways to "graduate" to the next level of existence.

    In March of 1997, convinced that the comet Hale-Bopp was cloaking the presence of a UFO, the 39 remaining members of Heaven’s Gate dressed in matching black sweatsuits and drank apple juice containing phenobarbital. They were found shrouded in purple. In examining the crime scene, police found that the members had died in three groups, with each successive group cleaning up after and arranging the bodies of the previous group. Applegate died in the mass suicide as well.