What causes children and teenagers to commit murder? The reasons can be deeply complex, layered with private traumas, deep grievances and perverse compulsions. Sometimes, the reasons stun even the most seasoned detectives and therapists. Just take the case of Matthew Hardman, featured in Kids Who Kill: Evil Up Close – the 17-year-old who butchered a pensioner in 2001 because he wanted to become a vampire.
The elaborate, horrific murder took place on the placid island of Anglesey in North Wales. It shocked those who knew the boy, who was described as 'remarkably normal' in the press after the case came to light. His mum was a nurse, while his firefighter father died when Matthew was a youngster, upsetting the boy deeply. But this was not some trigger for him to off of the rails. Instead, he proved to be a diligent, well-behaved school pupil. A former teacher who helped Matthew deal with dyslexia recalled he had a “good sense of humour” with an appetite for education, despite having problems with writing and spelling.
His extra-curricular interests seemed absolutely unremarkable. He liked video games, music, going drinking with mates, and also had a real interest in art and design. He landed a place in college and seemed set for a happy and productive period of studying and partying with other people his age.
But, beneath the smiling, surface-level personality people saw, there was something strange and obsessive building. Matthew had developed a fixation on vampires, to the point where he became convinced that the creatures existed in reality. As the prosecution barrister explained during the trial, Matthew Hardman “believed they existed, believed they drank human blood, and believed most importantly that they could achieve immortality.”
It’s notable that this was at the turn of the millennium. While vampires were of course on young people’s radars thanks to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, films like Blade and the novels of Anne Rice, it was well before the Twilight franchise would help usher in a new era of vampires being a completely ubiquitous, cliched component of teen culture. Matthew Hardman’s obsession would probably been thought of as niche and unlikely, especially given how mainstream he seemed in all other respects.
In the months leading up to his crime, Matthew’s own girlfriend, a teenage German exchange student, was perturbed by the things he would say and do. As she later testified, he had casually described the region as a “perfect” stalking ground for vampires, because – as he put it – the locals were so old that people wouldn’t be suspicious if they died. Most disturbingly, he seemed convinced that the girl was a vampire herself. He begged her to bite him, literally shoving his neck into her mouth and screaming at her to sink her teeth into him.
The devil has been to Anglesey
“I was really afraid because he had this lunatic look in his eye,” the girl would tell the court. She was clearly right to be alarmed, because this was no fleeting moment of teenage exuberance. Matthew Hardman was deadly serious about vampires being real, and he was determined to initiate himself into their secret community.
One November night in 2001, he put his plan into motion. His chosen target was Mabel Leyshon, a 90-year-old widow he actually knew from being her paperboy a few years before. The murder was meticulously planned, with the teenager breaking into her bungalow as the pensioner sat watching television in her living room. He crept up behind her and launched a sustained and savage knife attack, stabbing her 22 times.
But that was only the first step in this ritual sacrifice. Once Mabel Leyshon was dead, he proceeded to drain some of her blood into a saucepan from her kitchen. He drank some of this blood. With grisly, painstaking effort, he also cut the heart out of her chest before placing two brass pokers at her feet, arranged in the shape of a cross.
The grotesque scene was discovered by a carer who came to visit Mabel with her usual Sunday lunch, and a manhunt was immediately launched. Detectives were understandably stunned by the nature of the crime, with one shellshocked police officer telling a journalist, “The devil has been to Anglesey”.
But it was not the devil. Merely a local boy with an unfathomably troubled imagination. Matthew Hardman was implicated by a wealth of evidence, including DNA he left on the scene, and Mabel’s blood traces on the knife, which he’d for some reason kept stashed in his bedroom.
Sentencing him to life, the judge highlighted the uniquely delusional nature of Hardman’s urges, his “irresistible attraction” to the mythology of vampirism. But he also noted the grim irony that, while he had craved immortality, “all you have achieved is the brutal ending of another person’s life and the bringing of a life sentence upon yourself.”