When Miranda and Ellytte Barbour murdered Troy Laferrara in late 2013, the media focused almost exclusively on unlikely claims Miranda made after her arrest: that she had been a member of a “Satanic cult” since she was 13 and, as part of of her participation in Satanic activity, had murdered people in multiple states. I argue that pre-existing and previously identified mechanisms allowed the media to construct and propagate folklore, including details about the theology and rituals of a mythic Satanic cult. The media’s portrayal of Miranda as a Satanic cult member reached popularity because Miranda’s self-presentation simultaneously resolves and violates American normative expectations concerning gender and religious violence, and the resulting folklore can be understood as the product of various identifiable discursive strategies.


Miranda Barbour presents a paradox for popular American normative expectations. On one hand, she was a white, newly wedded, 19 year old woman (as of 2013) who grew up in small towns in Alaska and Pennsylvania. On the other, she presented herself to the media as a brutal serial killer who left a trail of victims in multiple states while participating in a “Satanic cult”. She has been charged with a murder in Pennsylvania the media described as a “thrill-killing”.  Several media outlets reporting on the case did not mention the FBI ruled out the existence of criminally violent “Satanic cults” in 1992,[1] that there are no known unsolved murders in several of the locations in which Miranda claims to have killed multiple people,[2] the Northumberland County district attorney’s public skepticism regarding Miranda’s claims,[3] and that her husband – who has admitted to the press that they killed the Pennsylvanian man together – presented an account of the crime void of Satanic elements.[4] Miranda's family denies she is a serial killer.[5] Her family publicly admits Miranda’s life has been troubled; she was raped by her uncle (Richard Joseph Fernandez, Jr) at age 4,[6] subsequently used drugs during her teenage years, and fought with her parents.[7] While Miranda's molestation can be confirmed using the FBI's list of sexual offenders for the state of Alaska, few reporters have bothered to do so.[8] Instead, reporting focused on Miranda's claims concerning the “Satanic cult”, multiple murders, and comparisons to the fictional character Dexter.

Women who perform violent acts transgress and subvert dominant heterosexist and patriarchal discourses precisely because they violate normative expectations rendering women culturally intelligible. Borrowing from Foucault, Butler identifies sex and gender as “regulatory ideals”.[9] She writes, “‘sex’ not only functions as a norm, but is part of a regulatory practice that produces the bodies it governs, that is, whose regulatory force is made clear as a kind of productive power, the power to produce—demarcate, circulate, differentiate—the bodies it controls”.[10] In order to construct, demarcate, and forcibly reiterate sexed and gendered norms, “the human is not only produced over and against the inhuman, but through a set of foreclosures, radical erasures, that are, strictly speaking, refused the possibility of cultural articulation”.[11] Which discursive strategies does the media employ to reiterate hegemonic gender constructions and demarcations when women are multiply transgressive, not only by violating gender or religious norms, but by exacting a horrifying murder? In this paper, I analyze the media’s reception of Miranda’s self-presentation, their elaboration of her presentation into narrative folklore, and the use of gendered discourses in the resulting folklore. My analysis will be framed between Miranda’s arrest in December, 2013, to the sentencing of Miranda and Elytte Barbour in September, 2014. While the press used Miranda's claims to create misleading and sensationalized stories,  discursive strategies compete, and the most successful strategies will dominate; the media’s dominant discursive strategies tend to reflect deeply held interests, anxieties, and concerns in their audience members. As I will show, the narratives that came to dominate between November, 2013, and September, 2014, correspond to heteropatriarchal, discursive strategies to reframe women’s violence.

The Murder of Troy LaFerrara and its aftermath

The Murder

On November 11, 2013, Miranda, who had recently married 22 year old Elytte Barbour, met 42 year old electrical engineer Troy LaFerrara (June 20, 1971-November 11, 2013)[12] via the website Craig's List. In a later interview, Miranda claimed that she agreed to have sex with LaFerrara for $100.[13] Elytte told reporters Miranda agreed only to have “delightful conversation”.[14] In interviews, Elytte and Miranda have said Miranda met Troy in the Susquehanna Mall parking lot in Hummels Warf, Pennsylvania. Miranda and LaFerrara drove together to Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Unknown to LaFerrara, Elytte hid under a blanket in the back seat. When Miranda gave a signal ("Did you see the stars tonight?"),[15] Elytte pulled a cord around Troy's neck. Miranda stabbed LaFerrara twenty times. The couple dumped Troy's body in a residential area in Sunbury; some reports indicate LaFerrara’s body was left in the backyard of a home in Sunbury (“backyard of a home in the 200 block of Catawissa Avenue”)[16] while others claim his body was left in “an alley between Catawissa and Farmount avenues in Sunbury”.[17] Reports agree that LaFerrara's body was discovered the following day.

The Aftermath

Miranda was arrested on December 3 after police traced the last call on LaFerrara’s phone to Miranda.[18] Elytte was arrested by December 6th;[19] a few days later, the police searched the apartment Miranda and Elytte shared at 101 N. Market St., Selinsgrove, PA.[20] In subsequent reporting, the media focused almost exclusively on Miranda, suggesting that they were disinterested in Elytte. Elytte's name has two variant spellings that have been used in the press: 'Elyette' and 'Ellyte'. The variations possibly resulted from less than careful reporting. Both spellings appear in a local newspaper article released on December 6th announcing Elytte's arrest,[21] but the latter has appeared in far more articles. Elytte and Miranda share the name ‘Barbour’, but when reporters used ‘Barbour’ without qualification, they referred to Miranda.

On February 14, 2014, local reporter Francis Scarcella performed a jailhouse interview with Miranda for The Daily Item, a local newspaper. During the course of the interview, Miranda claimed she had killed between 22 and 100 people as part of a “Satanic cult” she had joined at age 13 while in Alaska.[22]  The interview launched Miranda from a local oddity to international fame, with extensive reporting in the UK’s Daily Mail. Over the following months, Scarcella's interview was reported by numerous other news organizations and Scarcella’s text was often copied verbatim.

The Reporting

On February 16th, Eyewitness News, a local news station, broadcast a story claiming they were the “only local television station that talked to the man who interviewed Barbour” (Scarcella). In their broadcast, a reporter attributed a Satanic tradition and ritual to Miranda that seems to have been constructed out of a misunderstanding in their interview with Scarcella:

In Satanic tradition, members kill people they deem to be bad. It's meant to be a sacrifice, which is exactly what Miranda Barbour said Troy LaFerrarra was.[23]

While Miranda claims she killed LaFerrara because he was “bad” and subsequent reports claimed Miranda brought Elytte into the Satanic fold,[24] Miranda has not claimed the murder was part of a Satanic ritual nor, according to numerous news reports, were there ritualistic elements to the crime. There are no known traditions in any organized Satanic group according to which members “kill people they deem to be bad”. On February 17th, TMZ reported on an interview with Scarcella in which they introduced additional elements of a theology and ritual activity. According to TMZ, Miranda told Scarcella she “change[s] personas” when she committed the murders, transforming into “Super Miranda”. She claimed the knife she used to kill LaFerrarra had several notches in it, each notch signifying a previous “Satanic” murder. Apparently, “Barbour says she felt satanism controlled what was inside of her”. Scarcella writes that he spoke with Miranda’s previous roommate who related that “Ellyte” had provided Miranda with 2 “viles” of semen to masturbate with. The TMZ article ends with a sarcastic comment concerning Miranda's masturbation: “Apparently it's a devil-worshipping thing.”[25]

The following day, The Daily Mail reported on the article in TMZ. TMZ's sarcasm was lost on the “staff writers” at The Daily Mail (emphasis mine):

Scarella [sic] told TMZ he spoke with an ex-roomate of Barbour's who said that the abused teen possessed two vials of semen belonging to her husband and that she used them to masturbate in a satanic ritual.[26]

What had been originally reported as an unusual sexual fetish had become a “Satanic ritual”. The same day, CNN ran a story describing Miranda's revelation to Scarcella that she had multiple victims as a “bombshell”. A police official quoted by CNN stated this “could be the real deal”. Most of the details CNN reported were lifted from Scarcella's articles in the The Daily Item. Via Skype, police chief Stephen Mazzeo provided a brief statement to CNN:

I don't want to discount her credibility at this point. We're taking her claims seriously and we are liasoning with different state and federal authorities to determine whether or not there is validity to her, uh, statements. […] We have exhausted every avenue, every lead, we have devoted literally thousands of man hours to this and will continue to do so until it is successfully resolved in court.[27]

While Mazzeo did not vindicate Miranda's statements, there is little to indicate CNN was skeptical of Miranda's claims to be a serial killer and nothing to indicate skepticism she belonged to a “Satanic cult”. On the same date as the CNN story, the Associated Press reported Northumberland district attorney Tony Rosini’s prepared statement indicating there was no evidence for Miranda's claims to have additional victims.[28] The CNN story was released without correction. Over the coming weeks, several additional articles would appear.

The day after the CNN story, Peter Gilmore, a representative from the Church of Satan, published an editorial in The Daily Item indicating his organization had never heard of Miranda, that Levayan satanists were opposed to criminal activity, and that the “devil made me do it” is an old defense for criminal activity.[29] Scarcella’s interview with Miranda's father, Sonny Dean, was published in the same issue. Sonny describes Miranda as a manipulative liar and states that, because Miranda had been under his close supervision during her teenage years, “[s]he wouldn’t have had the chance to do any of these things she said”.[30] Sonny's disclosure, that his daughter would not have had the opportunity to commit the crimes she claimed to have committed or to have belonged to a “Satanic” cult in several states, were not often repeated in other news outlets.

On February 25th, Daily Mail reported a number of biographical details about Miranda, lifted largely from The Daily Item, with little detail about Elytte. According to the article, Miranda’s life had been on a downward spiral after she was raped by her uncle. Miranda ran away from home at age 12 and met a man named “Forrest” who was “into satanic stuff”. Miranda began saying Forest owned her; he cut a swastika into her neck and his name carved into her leg. Shortly after, according to an interview with Miranda’s father, she became addicted to heroin and was impregnated by the cult. The cult is reported to have forced her to have a home abortion (other reports indicate there is no medical evidence this event ever took place). According to the article, Miranda continued her involvement with the cult throughout her teenage years. Miranda became pregnant once more at age seventeen. After meeting Elytte in North Carolina, she introduced him to the cult, but Forest would not allow Elytte “on the panel”. Although the article does not explain what the panel is, the implication seems to be that the cult was run by committee.[31] Though a governance structure suggests the cult consisted of several individuals, only Forest was referenced by name.

On March 25th, Scarcella interviewed Miranda a second time. Miranda indicated two other men had agreed to meet her via Craig's List, and she had planned on killing them, but they never showed.[32] Almost all of the details from the article were copied verbatim into an Associated Press article.[33] The same month, Frances Burns published an article on the news wire service UPI. Burns repeats several details from Scarcella's article. He states that Miranda had complained to a “Pennsylvania newspaper” (The Daily Item) that the FBI had still not responded to her claims. Burns presents Miranda's comments without commenting on her credibility or on whether she belonged to a “Satanic cult”. No mention is made of Miranda’s father. Instead, Burns explains Miranda claimed to have committed “crimes motivated by satanism”. Toward the end, Burns includes a brief, easy to miss statement possibly undermining Miranda's claims: “In her second interview, Barbour said she had killed people in Mexico Beach, Fla., Raleigh, N.C., and Big Lake, Alaska. Investigators in all three areas said they are not aware of any unsolved killings.”[34] The article does not mention that for murders in three states to be connected to the cult, the cult would have to have had membership in three states.

On April 1st, SOP reported on the case in an article generally skeptical of Miranda's claims. According to the article, police officials could not identify any missing persons from the time frame in question (except for the police chief in Panama City Beach, Florida, a detail the SOP reporter lifted from The News Herald). Despite the reporter's general skepticism, the article does not question whether Miranda was part of a Satanic cult. Instead, the article speculates that Miranda was part of a group related to the occult philosophy of Aleister Crowley. (Previously, no violent activity has been associated with the Ordo Templi Orientis or other groups associated with Crowley.) The article asks several rhetorical questions previously answered in other news articles (“When and why did she move to Pennsylvania?”).[35] Several other articles were published April 1st. One article indicated Miranda's sister, Ashley, told reporters Miranda is lying and her statements were inspired by her obsession with the television program Dexter.[36]

On February 19th, CNN reported a statement from Alaska state troopers: “At this time the Alaska State Troopers are not aware of any information -- beyond Barbour's comments quoted in the press -- or evidence that would implicate Barbour with a homicide committed in Alaska.” CNN went on to note that “[b]ased on the numbers she gave Scarcella, Barbour would have had to kill on average somewhere between every three weeks and every three months. For six years. Without leaving a trace.” If Miranda had been an experienced serial killer, able to consistently operate undetected for years, one would have expected the Barbours to have been able to clean LaFerrara’s blood from her CR-V. CNN reported a statement from Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini: “there has been no verification of any of the information that has been subject of media coverage regarding prior acts of the defendant, Miranda Barbour”.[37] The same day, TMZ reported they had contacted law enforcement officials in the four locations in Alaska in which Miranda claimed she committed the murders in her interview with Scarcella (Palmer, Nome, Wasilla, and Anchorage). Officials in all four responded they had no open murder investigations or missing person reports that could involve Miranda. Officials in Palmer, Alaska, responded they are a town whose population is only 7,000 people; they have no unsolved crimes from within Miranda’s lifetime. Officials in Anchorage added they “are not aware of any cults or satanic groups within [Anchorage] and at this time there is nothing to legitimize her claims”.[38] 

By April 2nd, People magazine began reporting on the case, repeating several details from Scarcella's articles in The Daily Item: Sonny Dean had said Miranda was a heroin addict and a compulsive liar; Ashley Dean had said Miranda was obsessed with Dexter and her obsession had influenced her statements; and several direct quotes. The article repeats a statement from CNN -- prior to the statement from the Alaska State Troopers -- that there was no evidence Miranda had multiple victims.[39]

On April 28th, Dr. Phil broadcast a special in which Miranda's mother, Elizabeth Dean, Ashley Dean, and Scarcella were interviewed. In the program, Elizabeth explains Miranda had a “dark force within her, like a demon”. Elizabeth blames the crime on Elytte, who had warped her daughter into a killer. Ashley offered several seemingly contradictory explanations for Miranda’s actions:[40]

The program added to the “Satanic cult” narrative. Ashley stated, “One time my sister, Miranda, showed up with a swastika on her neck, on her thighs, and on the back of her wrist. She revealed to me that someone held her down and did it to her.” The culprits were supposedly the “Satanic cult”.[41] According to the program, Miranda was introduced to the cult by a 27 year old man who had sexually assaulted her when she was 12. Elizabeth explains:

At the time [of her childhood], Miranda was struggling. But I didn't know how bad it was until I read her journal [which came to light only after the murder]. In her journal, she talks about drugs, sex, rape, getting high, trading her body for drugs. I just found this journal a month ago. I did not know she was gang raped. And I did not know that she was beaten. As she writes, she gets angrier and angrier and angrier. You can see it in her writing. The journal mentions that Miranda was in a gang or a cult. She would refer to both of them when she was 12 to 15.[42]

The program cuts to Elizabeth at a nondescript bridge. She continues:

[...] This was the official meeting spot for the gang and the cult right underneath the bridge on the big rocks. I believe Miranda got involved with this cult-gang by being pressured by the guy that was 27.[43]

The program cuts to a parking lot and Elizabeth states:

This is the parking lot where Miranda came when she was 12 years old. The guy that she was meeting was 27. He ended up keeping her here for six to seven hours, violating her over and over again, and that's when we noticed a significant change in her behavior.[44]

At trial, the Barbours initially pleaded not guilty; they subsequently provided full confessions to reduce their sentences. They are currently living out life sentences without the possibility for parole and have divorced. LaFerrara’s sister told reporters neither Barbour showed emotion during their sentencing. According to the Associated Press, judge Charles Saylor, “found it difficult to comprehend [the Barbours’] indifference to the value of human life”.[45] Miranda may have belonged to a “gang” of some sort and she could have been heavily involved with various sexual activities and drugs; she may have been sexually assaulted. However, there is little publicly available evidence Miranda belonged to a “Satanic cult” or that she committed murders as a member of such an organization. Why did this unlikely narrative draw so much public attention?

The Mechanisms for the Production of a “Satanic” Narrative

The production of unreliable news stories

Folklore is easily generated by the Western press. Journalist Nick Davies has detailed how commonly accepted, but false, stories (“Flat Earth News”) are generated by British and American presses. His conclusions are consistent with the news articles I examined in writing this paper. Davies describes a fabricated news story of someone who bought an insurance policy to protect them from any psychological problems that may arise in the event that a favorite football team loses. After explaining that the story had originated in a publicity stunt by an insurance company, Davies writes:

The story of the neurotic football fan contains within it the essential ingredients for the concoction of all Flat Earth news – an unreliable statement created by outsiders, usually for their commercial or political benefit, injected via a wire agency into the arteries of the media through which it then circulates around the whole body of global communication. And, most important, at every stage, as it passes through the hands of all those journalists into all those outlets, nobody checks it.[46]

Unchecked and unreliable news stories are pervasive. Davies presents an empirical study he commissioned from the journalism department at Cardiff university.[47] Davies asked the department to investigate stories running in The Times, the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, and The Daily Mail. In total, they investigated 2,207 articles and compared them to all of the incoming material news desks received. 60% of the articles copied wire copy or PR material. 20% contained pieces of wire copy and/or PR material. 8% originated from uncertain sources. Only 12% involved original reporting.[48] Plagiarism was pervasive: reporters' names were routinely placed on articles they had not written.[49] As Davies’s Cardiff researchers (Lewis, et al) describe, “30 per cent of the stories in the press sample replicated agency service copy almost verbatim, with a further 19 per cent being largely dependent on such copy. In other words, nearly half of all press stories appeared to come wholly or mainly from agency services. Moreover, direct replication is rarely attributed. Many stories apparently written by a newspaper’s reporter originated in other sources and seem to have been largely cut and pasted”.[50] 

Researchers in the mid-1980s found as many as 80% of news articles at the time were sourced from news agencies. In 2008, Quandt analyzed 1603 articles from 10 news websites from the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Russia. Though most newspapers do “not make their editorial practice transparent”, USA Today and the French Le Monde explicitly indicate the articles sourced from news agencies and wire services. 80% and 85.4%, respectively, of the articles were sourced from news agencies. In Quandt’s total sample, only three quarters of news sites explicitly name a journalist as an author. Quandt worries, “with the increased possibilities of searching and re-using information on the net, near-time production and high market pressure, we feel that there is a clear danger that copy & paste becomes the basic principle, whilst the user simply does not know where the material is actually coming from.”[51] Likewise, Davies’s Cardiff researchers (Lewis, et al) conclude:

Taken together, these data portray a picture of journalism in which any meaningful independent journalistic activity by the press is the exception rather than the rule. We are not talking about investigative journalism here, but the everyday practices of news judgment, fact-checking, balance, criticism and interrogating sources, etc, that are, in theory, central to routine, day-to-day journalism.[52]

Davies summarizes, “This is the heart of modern journalism, the rapid repackaging of largely unchecked second-hand material, much of it designed to service the political or commercial interests of those who provide it.”[53] Davies provides a simple explanation for how false but compelling stories are produced and propagated in the press. The stories are generated and propagated by the need to output a large volume in a comparatively short amount of time. Davies writes:

Commercial logic is not necessarily destructive. Applied, for example, to the production of cars or computers, it may well generate significant benefits: the introduction of a production line cuts out human error and saves time, producing computers or cars in greater numbers at greater speed and of better quality. But, applied to news, that logic is highly damaging, cutting out human contact and with it the possibility of finding stories; cutting down time and with it the possibility of checking; thus producing stories in greater numbers at greater speed and of much worse quality.[54]

Lewis, et al, add, “The drive for profit maximisation thereby compromises the independence of the press. The line between journalism and PR--between factual reporting and partisan narrative--becomes blurred [...]  the analysis of a substantial sample of print and broadcast journalism revealed a wealth of PR materials behind the news”.[55] 

Norman Lewis and Bu Zhong’s surveyed 953 journalists concerning their beliefs concerning proper attribution. Approximately a quarter of journalists surveyed rejected the notion that “good journalism required the attribution of all sources of information”. Journalists were especially willing to take exception regarding press releases,[56] and respondents under production pressure were more willing to forego attribution. They describe “sharply deteriorating advertising revenues fueling a do-more-with-less atmosphere” lessening “commitment to traditional journalistic principles”. They conclude that the attitudes of reporters under “production-focused news operation” suggest “standards are eroding across the profession.”[57] Some reporters have publicly defended loose attribution practices; in one such editorial, Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon described copy-and-paste journalism as common. Simon considered a controversial quote provided to National Public Radio. “It was a remarkable utterance, exclusive to one news source,” Simon wrote. “Yet within days, newspapers nationwide were citing the quote without crediting NPR. Those who ignored the quote’s proprietary status include columnists from the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, New York Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Des Moines Register, and about 20 others.”[58]

Eileen Berrington and Päivi Honkatukia comment, “it remains deeply significant that the press operates in a highly competitive environment where, for some newspapers at least, there is a constant struggle to remain economically viable within a dwindling market”.[59] Stories are chosen for their “immediacy; drama; personalization; simplification; titillation; conventionalism; novelty; formal access to ‘experts’”. Violence, especially sexualized violence, is understood to be particularly attractive.[60] The majority of the news articles I examined had one of three sources: various stories by Scarcella at The Daily Item, Matthew Lysiak’s articles at Newsweek (who also interviewed Miranda), and the episode of Dr. Phil. The first two were fed into wire services – such as the AP and UPI – which were then reproduced, often uncritical of Miranda's statements concerning Satanism (and subsequent embellishments by other sources), into other papers. Nonetheless, the media will not take up all implausible stories; some stories outcompete others in a kind of quasi-Darwinian competition. In the following sections, I discuss what it was that rendered the Satanism narrative popular.

“Serial murder”, “Satanism”, and Ostension

The media produced folklore to explain Miranda’s actions as those of a serial murderer influenced by Satanism. In order to further explicate the media’s production of folkloric narratives, I turn to a discussion of ostension, pseudo-ostension, and quasi-ostension. Ostension is the “physical enactment of [legendary] actions”[61] whereas pseudo-ostension is the “imitat[ion of] the outlines of a known narrative to perpetuate a hoax”.[62] For example, according to one folktale, standing in front of a mirror and chanting “Bloody Mary” summons a ghost.[63] Hearing the story encourages children to enact the ritual (ostensive action). Donning a costume to perpetuate a local Bigfoot legend is pseudo-ostensive action; unlike the children who enact the “Bloody Mary” ritual, the Bigfoot hoaxsters need not believe in Bigfoot. Anthropologist Thomas Green[64] and folklorist Bill Ellis[65] have investigated the notions of ostension and pseudo-ostension as they relate to Satanism folklore. Both notions are relevant to activity attributed to devil worship. A person might attempt a “Satanic” ritual after hearing a folktale (ostension) but they might also attempt to cover up a crime by disguising it as a “Satanic” ritual (pseudo-ostension). The Barbour case fits a third category. Ellis defines ‘quasi-ostension’[66] as “the observer's interpretation of puzzling evidence in terms of narrative tradition [...] those who believe in satanism will interpret the phenomena they witness as evidence for cult activity”. Ellis describes a small town where campfires discovered in the woods are attributed to the “Satanic cultists” who, according to local legends, inhabit the woods.[67]

Ostension, pseudo-ostension, and quasi-ostension render a difficult situation (e.g. a crime or ambiguous evidence) understandable in terms of recognized legendary categories. Ellis describes a situation in some ways similar to Miranda's. Henry Lee Lucas was arrested for killing his mother in 1960. While in prison, Lucas confessed to 600 additional murders that he enacted as part of  a “devil worshiping cult” called “The Hands of Death”. He recanted in April, 1985, and claimed he had only killed his mother.[68] Lucas’s confession to 600 murders and cult membership came with other incredible claims. Lucas confessed to murdering Jimmy Hoffa and personally delivering the poison used in the Jonestown massacre. Several critics point out the police committed a variety of errors and the Attorney of General of Texas eventually “debunk[ed] the majority of [Lucas's] confessions”.[69]

The long-standing prior existence and popularity of folklore in which serial killers are influenced by diabolism can help to explain the uncritical acceptance of Lucas's self-presentation by investigators and the media. A parallel explanation can be provided for the uncritical acceptance of Miranda's self-presentation and subsequent embellishments by other sources. Both narratives render violent and non-normative actions comprehensible by placing them within legendary frameworks. Nonetheless, stories told about Lucas and Miranda differ in ways related to discursive strategies employed to maintain hetero-patriarchy. As Gentry and Sjoberg argue, violence enacted by women is often portrayed in gendered ways: “Violent women [...] are often thought of as not only bad but as bad women – in the sense that they are bad and they are women, and in the sense that their violence makes them bad at being women. In other words, they have failed as members of society and failed as women.”[70] As Easteal, et al, put the point (emphasis theirs), “women who kill are [depicted as] extra deviant”.[71] Likewise, Paula Gilbert asks, “If women are violent, can they truly be ‘feminine,’ or must female murderers be distinctly male, a masculine, monstrous freak?”[72]

Miranda subverts popular American expectations

Miranda's self-presentation violates standard American expectations in a variety of ways. As a white, newly wedded, 19 year old woman, from small towns in Alaska and Pennsylvania, Miranda is expected to be sexually passive (because she is a young woman),[73] Christian (white, suburban American ready to begin a family), and not aggressive or assertive.[74] In narratives popular in the media in the year after Miranda’s arrest, Miranda advertised herself as a sex worker on Craig's List. One report states she performed ritualized masturbation using a vial of her husband's semen. She is not sexually passive. There is a second sense in which Miranda is not passive; she is a “serial killer” with multiple victims. As Gentry and Sjoberg note, the image of women as violent “runs counter to traditional images of women as pure, maternal, emotional, innocent and peace-loving”.[75] When a cult member impregnated her, the cult secretly aborted the baby, perhaps reflecting American anxieties concerning abortion and the control of women’s bodies. She stabbed LaFerrara with a knife inside a car, suggesting an intimate location near her victim. Perhaps her penetration of LaFerrara with a knife inverts sexual norms in which men are sexual aggressors who penetrate their victims.

Miranda’s violence is non-normative in its association with religion. One common colloquialism describes “Satanism” as a “crazy cult”. In the discussion on Dr. Phil, Miranda’s refusal to attend church was a “warning sign” of her violent and self-destructive behavior, signaling rebellion from Christianity. In his On Suicide Bombing, Talal Asad explains that legitimate Western violence is that performed publicly as a function of the state. In secularized nations, religion is a private matter, and, therefore, religious violence represents an inappropriate intrusion of the private into the public. The two entities Westerners presume to have the authority to do legitimate violence are the nation-state and God.[76] Miranda, as “Satanic killer”, transgresses against both the nation-state and God.

The “Satanism” narrative renders Miranda comprehensible

The uncritical view of both Miranda's self-presentation and media embellishments can be understood as part of a set of discursive strategies to minimize and explain away the violation of normative expectations. As Gentry and Sjoberg describe, “Because women who commit these violences have acted outside of a prescribed gender role, they have to be separated from the main/malestream discourse of their particular behaviour.”[77] A variety of authors have discussed how discourses common across time and space remove moral agency from women who commit violence, and have offered a variety of typologies of the discursive strategies used to explain women’s violence. [78] Here, I don’t take a stand on the proper typology within which to situate the discursive strategies utilized to explain away women’s violence in heteropatriarchy. Instead, I merely note that an argument could be constructed to assign the stories told about Miranda to all of the discursive strategies typically identified. Discursive strategies typically discussed identify women’s violence as the result of individuals who fail to properly be women, and who are not wholly responsible for their actions.[79] Similar to other discourses concerning women’s violence, Miranda’s “Satanic cult” narrative is attractive because it removes responsibility for her crimes. An outside influence corrupted Miranda from the passive, Christian woman that she would otherwise be. The real responsibility can be laid at the feet of various unseen Others. The Others include faceless, anonymous men in the “Satanic cult”, who are described as aggressive, sexually abusive, and as “brain-washing”. Elytte has been reduced in media presentations of Miranda’s crimes, perhaps because his account does not involve “Satanic” elements.

The account of Miranda’s introduction to the cult is instructive. Miranda’s description of her first murder involves a male cult member teaching her to kill while outside the supervision, control, and influence of her parents. Miranda describes that, at age 13, she accompanied a cult member to kill a man who owed the cult money. She was not able to shoot the man herself. Her companion put his hands over Miranda's and squeezed her finger over the trigger. The event supposedly happened while Miranda had run away from her parents; she had fallen out of parental protection, control, and influence and into the protection, control, and influence of the cult. The story seems to assume Miranda would not possess agency either way: either she falls under the agency of her parents or of the cult. Those who possess agency -- such as the cult member who accompanied her -- are depicted as male. Another Other is a vague, Satanic theology, the tenets of which are nowhere explicitly discussed in detail. As with the faceless, anonymous men of the cult, the “anonymity” of the cult's tenets allows the imagination to fill in details. The cultic rituals and activities are filled with non-normative sexual details in which Miranda is a focal point: she was gang-raped, she ritualistically masturbates with a vial of semen; she was given an abortion by the cult after having been impregnated by a cult member. Miranda's sister, Ashley, attributed the blame to a number of Others, including the television program Dexter, the negligence of their mother, and Elytte’s influence. The media portrays Miranda as under the influence of outside forces: either a Satanic cult or a violent television program.

The portrayal of women’s violence in heteropatriarchal contexts is often sexualized. For Paula Gilbert, the sexualization of women’s violence results from a cultural narrative in which women are alternatively othered as angels (“innocent, gentle, caring, nurturing, and incapable of committing violence”) or othered as demons (“evil, sexual, dangerous, the vampire, the black widow, the whore, the vamp”). A violent or aggressive woman “becomes the masculine woman, the lesbian, the ‘other.’”[80] Consistent with Gilbert’s account, we find some media portrayed Miranda as a black widow. In a 2015 documentary prepared for the Oxygen network,[81] the actress portraying Miranda (Nicolette Noble) spends screen time dressed in lingerie, and is portrayed in bed, performing sexual acts, with the actor who portrayed Elytte. Elytte is portrayed as a young and easy to seduce man (a “love sick young man desperate for attention”), who has fallen into the claws of a murderous woman with a “troubled past”. The documentary portrays Miranda as a sexually depraved -- and therefore inhuman -- black widow who entrapped both Elytte and LaFerrara in her web. Simultaneously, the documentary portrays Miranda as an abuse survivor, whose past transformed her into evil, and therefore not culpable for her inhumanity.

For both Gilbert and Gentry/Sjoberg, women’s violence becomes sexualized when envisioned through the lens of the “whore” narrative. Siobhan Weare describes a similar category (sexually “deviant”, “bad” women).[82] “Whores” are women whose “traditional, feminine sexuality is somehow broken”, are thereby themselves broken, and are thereby portrayed as more likely to commit violence.[83] For Weare, violent women who “demonstrate sexual deviency [...] within their lifestyle generally, are most certainly bad and must therefore be controlled through punishment. Not only have they offended against appropriate feminine behaviour by being murderers, they have also offended against appropriate female sexuality through demonstrating sexually deviant behaviour.”[84] For Gentry/Sjoberg, “when men do bad things, it is because there is something evil about them; when women do bad things, their evil is sexualized.”[85] Miranda is depicted as ritualistically masturbated with Elytte’s semen and sexually enticing men (both Elytte and Laferrara). In the “whore” narrative, women sometimes  “commit violence because of [...] men’s control and ownership of their bodies” and depict “men as (actually or metaphorically) the owners and controllers of women, physically and emotionally choosing their violence for them”.[86]  Recall the way in which the cult were portrayed as introducing Miranda to violence (i.e., a male cult member held his hands over Miranda’s as she squeezed the trigger on her first kill). Recall the cult -- especially Forrest -- was said to have control over Miranda’s body, engraving a swastika and other writing into her flesh. They are said to have forced Miranda into an abortion, an inversion of the control conservative religious movements seek to exert over women’s bodies. In the Dr Phil episode, Miranda’s sister describes LaFerrara as a sexual predator, and she felt sympathy for Miranda for having killed LaFerrara (“I honestly don't know if I would stop stabbing”). Simultaneously, she offers the conflicting explanation that Elytte’s influence is to blame. In other words, the narrative explains Miranda’s violence by laying accountability at the feet of two men who attempted to exert control.

[1] Kenneth V. Lanning, Investigator's Guide to Allegations of 'Ritual' Child Abuse, Behavioral Science Unit, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia 22135 (1992). Louise Boyle, in an article for Daily Mail, identified Miranda as a “satanic killer” without qualification ("Satanic Craigslist thrill-killer and her husband admit luring man to his death with promise of sex to avoid the death penalty". August 26, 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2734863/Satanic-Craigslist-killer-Miranda-Barbour-dodges-death-penalty-pleading-guilty.html).

[2] Michelle Theriault Boots, “Troopers: No evidence Miranda Barbour linked to Alaska killings” in Anchorage Daily News (2/18/2014). From http://www.adn.com/2014/02/18/3333277/troopers-no-evidence-beyondmiranda.html; “No Evidence of Mass Murder in Alaska” in TMZ (2/19/2014). From http://www.tmz.com/2014/02/19/accused-craigslist-murderer-miranda-barbour-alaska-police-no-mur ersreported-missing-persons/; Philip Caulfield, “Scant evidence of satanic 'Craigslist killer' Miranda Barbour's claims of mass murder” in NY Daily News (2/19/14). From http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/scantevidence-satanic-craigslist-killer-claims-mass-murder-authorities-article-1.1619443.

[3] The DA has stated: "As of this date, there has been no verification of any of the information that has been the subject of media coverage regarding prior acts of the defendant, Miranda Barbour." See Will Payne, "Sex abuse and Satanism with a man called 'Forrest' twice her age: How depravity, drugs and divorce warped the fragile mind of teen girl 'Dexter' killer who claims to have murdered 22", 2/21/14, Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2564896/Sexually-abused-age-four-uncle-sex-Satanist-twice-age-drugs-spells-mental-institution-The-making-warped-mind-teenage-girl-killer-claimed-murdered-22.html#ixzz3PDSWMNt9

[4] Susan Candiotti, “Jailed husband of self-professed serial killer to CNN: 'I still love her'” in CNN Justice

(2/19/2014). From http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/19/justice/craigslist-thrill-killing-husband/.

[5] “Is Alleged "Craigslist Killer" Miranda Barbour a Serial Murderer?” in Dr Phil. Originally aired 4/28/2014.

[6] From the record of Richard Joseph Fernandez, Jr, in the Alaska Department of Public Safety's Sex Offender Registry (http://www.dps.state.ak.us/sorweb/offender.aspx?LOOKUP_KEY=971166413240155710). Also, see Jill Burke's “Accused Craigslist killer Miranda Barbour had traumatic start in life” in Alaska Dispatch (3/16/2014). From http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20140316/accused-craigslist-killer-miranda-barbourhad-traumatic-start-life;

[7] “Is Alleged "Craigslist Killer" Miranda Barbour a Serial Murderer?” in Dr Phil. Originally aired 4/28/2014.

[8] But see Burke (3/16/2014).

[9] Judith Butler, 1993, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Routledge: New York: p 1.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid: p 8.

[12] Biographical details taken from Troy LaFerera's obituary. http://www.dailyitem.com/obituaries/x602336785/Troy-ALaFerrara-42-Port-Trevorton

[13] Francis Scarcella. “Barbour body count at 22?” in The Daily Item (2/15/2014).


[14] Francis Scarcella, “Husband of stabbing suspect says his wife is not a 'cold killer'” in The Daily Item

(12/4/2013). http://www.dailyitem.com/0100_news/x853084522/Newlywed-Wife-not-cold-killer/.

[15] Francis Scarcella, “Slaying was in the stars” in The Daily Item (2/17/2014).


[16] Mark Gilger, “Miranda Barbour's attorney disputes assertion of aggravating circumstances” in newsitem.com (4/17/2014). http://newsitem.com/news/miranda-barbour-s-attorney-disputes-assertion-of-aggravatingcircumstances-1.1669785.

[17] Francis Scarcella, “Truck connected to murder found” in The Daily Item.


[18]  Matthew Lysiak, “Exclusive: Craigslist Killer Miranda Barbour Tells How and Why She Killed” in Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/09/exclusive-craigslist-killer-miranda-barbour-tells-how-and-why-shekilled-248670.html.

[19] 2 Francis Scarcella, “Cops: LaFerrarra Strangled by Elytte Barbour, Stabbed by Miranda Barbour” in The Daily Item (12/6/13). http://www.dailyitem.com/breakingnews/x853087346/SECOND-ARREST-IN-WORKS.

[20] Francis Scarcella, “Miranda defender: Toss knife cops took” in The Daily Item.


[21] Francis Scarcella, “Cops: LaFerrarra Strangled by Elytte Barbour, Stabbed by Miranda Barbour” in The Daily

Item (12/6/13). http://www.dailyitem.com/breakingnews/x853087346/SECOND-ARREST-IN-WORKS.

[22] Francis Scarcella, “Barbour body count at 22?” in The Daily Item (2/15/2014).


[23] “The Thrill of the Kill – Chilling Interview” in Eyewitness News (2/16/2014).


[24] Will Payne, "Sex abuse and Satanism with a man called 'Forrest' twice her age: How depravity, drugs and divorce warped the fragile mind of teen girl 'Dexter' killer who claims to have murdered 22", 2/21/14, Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2564896/Sexually-abused-age-four-uncle-sex-Satanist-twice-age-drugs-spells-mental-institution-The-making-warped-mind-teenage-girl-killer-claimed-murdered-22.html#ixzz3PDSWMNt9

[25] “Satanic Murderer: 'I've killed less than 100” in TMZ (2/17/2014). http://www.tmz.com/2014/02/17/satanicmurder-miranda-barbour-jailhouse-interview/.

[26] “Real-life 'Dexter,' 19, reveals she 'had favorite knife and added a notch to it every time she killed' as she pleads to be spared death penalty” in The Daily Mail (2/18/2014). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2561790/Miranda-Barbour-19-reveals-favorite-knife-added-notch-time-killed-pleads-spared-death-penalty.html.

[27] Michael Pearson and Matt Smith, “Murder suspect's bombshell claims raise questions” in CNN Justice. http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/17/justice/craigslist-thrill-killing-confession/.

[28] Peter Jackson, “'No verification' for PA. wife's killing claim” in Associated Press.


[29] Peter Gilmore, “Church of Satan on Miranda Barbour” in The Daily Item (2/19/2014).


[30] Francis Scarcella, “Miranda's dad supports daughter's execution if verdict is guilty” in The Daily Item.


[31] Will Payne, "Sex abuse and Satanism with a man called 'Forrest' twice her age: How depravity, drugs and divorce warped the fragile mind of teen girl 'Dexter' killer who claims to have murdered 22", 2/21/14, Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2564896/Sexually-abused-age-four-uncle-sex-Satanist-twice-age-drugs-spells-mental-institution-The-making-warped-mind-teenage-girl-killer-claimed-murdered-22.html#ixzz3PDSWMNt9

[32] Francis Scarcella, “Miranda Barbour: Two men escaped with lives” in The Daily Item (3/29/2014).


[33] “Pa. Craigslist Killing Suspect Says Two Never Showed” in Associated Press.


[34] Frances Burns, “Woman charged with 'Craigslist killing' in Pennsylvania claims more killings in interview” in UPI (3/31/2014).

[35] John Kays, “Is Miranda Barbour the Next Lady Serial Killer, Taking the Lives of 22?” in SOP.


[36] Steven Kennif, “Miranda Barbour's Sister Claims She Is Not A Serial Killer” in American Live Wire (4/1/2014). http://americanlivewire.com/2014-04-01-miranda-barbour-sister-claims-not-serial-killer/.

[37] David Asup, “Alaska: No evidence Miranda Barbour killed someone here”, in CNN (2/19/2014), http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/18/justice/craigslist-killing-confession/index.html

[38] “No Evidence of Mass Murder in Alaska”, in TMZ (2/19/2014), http://www.tmz.com/2014/02/19/accused-craigslist-murderer-miranda-barbour-alaska-police-no-murders-reported-missing-persons/

[39] Nicole Egan, “Miranda Barbour's Sister: She is Lying About Murder” in People (4/2/2014).


[40] “Is Alleged "Craigslist Killer" Miranda Barbour a Serial Murderer?” in Dr Phil. Aired: 4/28/2014.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Peter Jackson, “Couple In Craigslist slaying sentenced to life”, Associated Press. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/52d888439fa5427e822129015989489d/couple-face-life-prison-craigslist-slaying

[46] Nick Davies, Flat Earth News (London: Vintage, 2009), pgs 49-51.

[47] The study results were published as  Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams, & Bob Franklin, 2008, “A Compromised Fourth State? UK news journalism, public relations, and news sources”, Journalism Studies 9(1). Also see Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams, & Bob Franklin, 2008, “Four Rumours and an Explanation: A political economic account of journalists’ changing newsgathering and reporting practices”, Journalism Practice 2(1).

[48] Davies, p 52.

[49] Ibid, p 53.

[50] Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams, & Bob Franklin, 2008, “A Compromised Fourth State? UK news journalism, public relations, and news sources”, Journalism Studies 9(1), p 5. While Lewis, et al, examined British newspapers, Davies suggests similar results would obtain for American newspapers. For comparison, I’ve described empirical results from the American context. Moreover, British newspapers played an important role in disseminating the Satanic narrative around Miranda (see the several references to, i.e., The Daily Mail earlier in this paper).

[51] Thorsten Quandt, “(No) News on the World Wide Web? A Comparative Content Analysis of Online News in Europe and the United States,” Journalism Studies 9 (October 2008): p 729.

[52] Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams, & Bob Franklin, 2008, “A Compromised Fourth State? UK news journalism, public relations, and news sources”, Journalism Studies 9(1), pp 17-18.

[53] Davies, p 60.

[54] Ibid, p 62.

[55] Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams, & Bob Franklin, 2008, “A Compromised Fourth State? UK news journalism, public relations, and news sources”, Journalism Studies 9(1), pp 2-3.

[56] Norman Lewis & Bu Zhong, 2012, “The Root of Journalistic Plagiarism: Contested Attribution Beliefs”, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 90(1), p 158.

[57] Ibid, p 159.

[58] David Simon, Jan 16, 2006, “Michael Olesker Is A Plagiarist? Who Isn’t?”, Baltimore City Paper.

[59] Eileen Berrington  & Päivi Honkatukia, 2010, “An Evil Monster and a Poor Thing: Female Violence in the Media”, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, Volume 3, Issue 1, p 56.

[60] Ibid, p 57.

[61] Bill Ellis (1989), “Death by Folklore: Ostension, Contemporary Legend, and Murder”, Western Folklore 48(3): p 202. The term ‘ostension’ originates in analytic philosophy, where it was used by Wittgenstein and Russell, and, through the intermediary of semiotics, eventually ‘ostension’ made its way to folklore studies. ‘Ostension’ was introduced to folklore studies in Linda Dégh and Andrew Vázsonyi, 1983, “Does the Word ‘Dog’ Bite? Ostensive Action: A Means of Legend-Telling”, Journal of Folklore Research 20(1): pp 5-34.

[62] Bill Ellis (1989), “Death by Folklore: Ostension, Contemporary Legend, and Murder”, Western Folklore 48(3): p 208.

[63] Alan Dundes, “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety” in Western Folklore, Vol 57, No 2/3, (Spring - Summer, 1998), pgs 119-135. The term ‘pseudo-ostension’ is introduced in Linda Dégh and Andrew Vázsonyi, 1983, “Does the Word ‘Dog’ Bite? Ostensive Action: A Means of Legend-Telling”, Journal of Folklore Research 20(1): p 19.

[64] Thomas A. Green, “Accusations of Satanism and Racial Tensions in the Matamoros Cult Murders” in The Satanism Scare, ed. James T. Richardson, Joel Best, David Bromley (Hawthorne, NY: Walter de Gruyter, Inc, 1991).

[65]  Bill Ellis (1989), “Death by Folklore: Ostension, Contemporary Legend, and Murder”, Western Folklore 48(3): p 201-220.

[66] The term ‘quasi-ostension’ is introduced in Linda Dégh and Andrew Vázsonyi, 1983, “Does the Word ‘Dog’ Bite? Ostensive Action: A Means of Legend-Telling”, Journal of Folklore Research 20(1): p 20.

[67] Ellis (1989), pg 208.

[68] Ibid, pgs 216-217.

[69] Sara Knox, “The Productive Power of Confessions of Cruelty” in Postmodern Culture, Vol 11, No. 3 (May, 2001).

[70] Caron Gentry & Laura Sjoberg, 2015, Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking About Women’s Violence in Global Politics, Zed Books: London, p 3.

[71] Patricia Easteal, Lorana Bartels, Noni Nelson, & Kate Holland, 2015, “How are women who kill portrayed in newspaper media? Connections with social values and the legal system”, Women’s Studies International Forum 51: p 32.

[72] Paula Gilbert, 2002, “Discourses of Female Violence and Societal Gender Stereotypes”, Violence Against Women 8(11): p 1283.

[73] Amy Kiefer and Diana Sanchez, “Scripting sexual passivity: A gender role perspective” in Personal

Relationships, 14 (2007), pg 269. Paula Gilbert writes, “Overt aggression by a woman is also a cultural transgression— threatening not only to the social structure but also to the mythology that separates women into demons and angels” (2002, “Discourses of Female Violence and Societal Gender Stereotypes”, Violence Against Women 8(11): p 1287).

[74] Africa, A. “Standpoint: 'Murderous women'? Rethinking gender and the theories of violence” in Journal of Feminist Africa (2010). pgs 80-84.

[75] Caron Gentry & Laura Sjoberg, 2015, Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking About Women’s Violence in Global Politics, Zed Books: London, p 2.

[76] Asad states: “Today the law requires that a prisoner condemned to death be prevented from committing suicide to escape execution; it is not death but authorized death that is called for. [...] The power over life and death can be held legitimately only by the one God, creator and destroyer, and so by his earthly delegates. But although individuals have no right to kill themselves, God (and the state) gives them the right to be punished and to atone.” (Columbia University Press: New York, 2007), pg 67.

[77] Caron Gentry & Laura Sjoberg, 2015, Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking About Women’s Violence in Global Politics, Zed Books: London, p 8.

[78] Patricia Easteal, Lorana Bartels, Noni Nelson, & Kate Holland, 2015, “How are women who kill portrayed in newspaper media? Connections with social values and the legal system”, Women’s Studies International Forum 51: pp 31-41.

[79] See, especially, Belinda Morrisey, 2003, When Women Kill: Questions of agency and subjectivity, Routledge: London.

[80] Paula Gilbert, p 1293.

[81] Snapped: Killer Couples. Season 5, Episode 6 (“Miranda & Elytte Barbour”). Aired May 31, 2015.

[82] Siobhan Weare, 2013, “‘The Mad’, ‘The Bad’, ‘The Victim’: Gendered Constructions of Women Who Kill within the Criminal Justice System”, Laws 2(3): 347.

[83] Caron Gentry & Laura Sjoberg, 2015, Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking About Women’s Violence in Global Politics, Zed Books: London, p 142.

[84] Siobhan Weare, 2013, “‘The Mad’, ‘The Bad’, ‘The Victim’: Gendered Constructions of Women Who Kill within the Criminal Justice System”, Laws 2(3): 347.

[85] Caron Gentry & Laura Sjoberg, 2015, Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking About Women’s Violence in Global Politics, Zed Books: London, p 117.

[86] Caron Gentry & Laura Sjoberg, 2015, Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking About Women’s Violence in Global Politics, Zed Books: London, p 115.