Elizabeth McCutchen and a friend were walking to book club two weeks ago in quaint Farmville, Virginia, when they strolled by a home on First Avenue. “Something smells dead,” her friend said.
They were thinking animal. A dog, a cat, something like that. They never imagined they were smelling the remains of massacred humans. It was Thursday, September 17. But another 24 hours would pass before police made the gruesome discovery. Richard Samuel McCroskey III — a 20-year-old rapper in the underground genre of “Horrorcore” who sang of chopping people into pieces — has been arrested in connection with the slayings. The crime scene was so horrifying police would not even describe it, saying only that the victims died of blunt force trauma. The victims were Mark Niederbrock, 50, the beloved pastor at Walker’s Presbyterian Church; his 16-year-old daughter, Emma Niederbrock; Melanie Wells, Emma’s 18-year-old friend from West Virginia; and Niederbrock’s estranged wife, Debra Kelley, 53, a professor at Longwood University. McCroskey has been charged only in the killing of Mark Niederbrock. Police and the prosecutor’s office did not return repeated phone calls from CNN. But in late September, authorities said more charges are pending. Emma was described as a fan of Horrorcore and had met McCroskey through their mutual affection for the little-known music genre. Police said she invited McCroskey to fly from his northern California home, stay with her in Virginia and then attend the Strictly for the Wicked Festival, a Horrorcore fest in Michigan featuring bands with names like Dismembered Fetus and Phrozen Body Boy. Nobody saw what would come next.
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The slayings have been the talk of Farmville, a town of 7,000 that is home to Longwood University and nearby Hampden-Sydney College. Senseless is the word you hear most. It’s not just the macabre nature of the killings that has people talking. It’s the grotesque lyrics of the Horrorcore singer; it’s that it happened under their noses. McCroskey is a young man with no criminal record who took delight in the blend of horror hip-hop that celebrated macabre killings. He went by the name Syko Sam. In one YouTube video, he holds a hatchet and sings about killing people and putting their remains in black bags: “Last night I was the murderous rage. Now, I gotta get rid of the bodies before the corpses start to get to rotting.”
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‘Stinkiest rascal I’ve ever smelled’ Authorities have not specified when the Virginia killings occurred, but at 4 a.m. on Friday, September 18, tow-truck driver Elton Napier was called out to Poor House Road to help McCroskey, whose car was stuck. Napier said McCroskey was wearing a black-hooded sweatshirt and “was really smelling bad, like real bad. I can’t describe it.” McCroskey was driving Mark Niederbrock’s Honda. Napier said two sheriff’s deputies were at the scene and McCroskey was ticketed for driving without a license. At the time, authorities didn’t know the pastor had been slain. When McCroskey hopped into Napier’s flatbed, the tow-truck driver said he started gagging from the odor and immediately rolled down the windows. “I just held my head out the window so the wind would hit me in the face,” he said. “That was the stinkiest rascal I’ve ever smelled.” Napier drove McCroskey about four miles to a convenience store. McCroskey told Napier he was visiting his girlfriend and her father lent him the car. McCroskey fetched a black bag from the Honda before they parted. Napier went inside to get a cup of coffee. According to police, McCroskey eventually caught a cab to Richmond International Airport. By mid-afternoon that same day, police found the bodies at the home on First Avenue. McCroskey was arrested the next day at the airport, where he had spent the night. When he was being led to jail, McCroskey told reporters, “Jesus told me to do it.” Suspect’s family, community grieve Sarah McCroskey of California told CNN-affiliate WWBT that her brother had been looking forward to his visit to Virginia for weeks. She mourned his arrest and struggled with the accusations against him. “I want to hear his voice. I am so concerned, so worried — not just for him [but] other people, other families involved dealing with this loss,” she said. Read WWBT’s special coverage Defense attorney Cary Bowen told CNN, “I don’t want to say he’s in shock. That’s a medical term, but it’s a big experience for him. … I’m not sure he gets the severity of everything right now.” The community is still devastated by the events as it struggles to move forward. Memorial services were held over the weekend for Emma Niederbrock and her mother, Debra Kelley. The Rev. Sylvia Meadows of Farmville United Methodist Church baptized Emma at age 5 and her father when he was an adult. The pastor said the church has invited an occult specialist to speak with members of the community to help them come to grips with the dark side of humanity. “We have looked evil in the face and cannot deny that it exists,” Meadows said. “God is stronger than evil. God is bigger.” Luther Glenn, a member of Walker’s Presbyterian Church where Niederbrock was pastor, took issue with McCroskey’s comment about Jesus telling him to act. “I think it’s deeply rooted in Satan, if you want to know the truth.” Elizabeth McCutchen, who passed the First Avenue home some time after the slayings, said the killings have affected every fabric of the community: the churches, the colleges, and their youth. “This is the kind of town that goes to the rescue of survivors, but there’s nobody [left] — we can’t do anything about it,” she said. “It’s been really, really upsetting.”