On the 22nd of July, 1995, 15-year-old Elyse Pahler was reported missing from her home in Arroyo Grande, California. Elyse was a freshman at Arroyo Grande High School when she vanished without a trace.
The case would go cold for eight months, but in 1996, somebody came forward with a confession. 17-year-old Royce Casey contacted police and led them to Elyse’s body. Her partially mummified remains were splayed out in a south eucalyptus grove located around a quarter of a mile from her home. Elyse had been strangled and stabbed to death. She had been stabbed a total of 12 times but none of the stab wounds were fatal. She died by slowly bleeding to death.
In addition to Casey, two other teenagers – 16-year-old Jacob Delashmutt and 15-year-old Joseph Fiorella – were arrested and charged with murder, gang involvement, rape, torture and conspiracy.
Following the arrests, prosecutors would reveal that the three teenagers had formed a “musical group to glorify Satan and earn a ticket to hell.” They were accused of killing Elyse to “commit the ultimate sin against God by sacrificing a virgin.”1 They believed that in killing Elyse, the success of their band, named Hatred, would improve.
The murder plot had been concocted by Fiorella and Delashmutt, according to Casey. They picked Elyse in particular for their victim because she was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed reputed virgin. They thought that these specific characteristics would make her murder the “ultimate sin against God.”
Over the course of the weeks leading up to Elyse’s disappearance, Delashmutt, Fiorella, and Casey had stalked Elyse.
On the night of her murder, they lured Elyse out to the eucalyptus grove on the Nipomo Mesa under the promise of giving her drugs. Here, the foursome smoked some marijuana before Delashmutt put a belt around Elyse’s neck. She was raped and tortured by the trio. Delashmutt strangled Elyse with the belt while Fiorella stabbed her in the neck with a hunting knife they had brought along. Afterwards, Delashmutt and Casey took turns stabbing her.
As Elyse was being murdered, she begged for help. She called out to her mother and to Jesus. Her pleas fell on empty ears. As she lay bleeding to death, the trio beat and kicked her.2 Casey admitted to police that Elyse “was on the ground praying to God and calling for her mom.”
Police believed that they then raped the corpse of Elyse. They determined this by the disposition of her body. Fiorella’s mother had told police that he had told her Delashmutt and Casey had committed necrophilia while one of Delashmutt’s friends told police that he had boasted of returning to Elyse’s body to have sex with it.3
In the aftermath of the murder, Elyse’s family would file a lawsuit against the band, Slayer, alleging that their lyrics had incited the teenagers to murder Elyse. They were seeking monetary damages as well as a halt to the practice of marketing violent music towards juveniles. Ultimately, the lawsuit would be thrown out. “Slayer lyrics are repulsive and profane. But they do not direct or instruct listeners to commit the acts that resulted I the vicious torture-murder of Elyse Pahler,” wrote Judge Burke.
Fiorella would reach a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life in prison with a minimum of 26 years. At the sentencing phase, Elyse’s father, David Pahler, said: “Joseph, it’s a parents worst fear and lifetime pain to outlive their child. It’s even worse knowing she was murdered, tortured, and raped as a virgin, sacrificed on the altar of Satan so that you can earn a ticket to Hell.”4
Casey pleaded no contest to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 21 years. Delashmutt also pleaded no content to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 26 years.
In 2021, Casey had a shot at parole. Some members of Elyse’s family, including her father, said that they did not oppose to the release. Casey was said to express sincere remorse over the murder and had been the one to confess and lead police to her body. In prison, he had a 20 year record of model behaviour and had participated in a number of rehabilitation programs, earned his GED and was working towards a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology.
During his parole hearing, he described Elyse as “a truly wonderful person.” He said that while behind bars, he had learned self-acceptance and that when he was a teenager, he had a desire to “portray an image of being violent.” He stated that when he thinks of Elyse, he thinks “how immense the suffering is that I caused, that Elyse doesn’t have her life anymore because of me.” He added: “She had to feel so much pain while I was murdering her.”
Casey would be granted parole by the California parole board. However, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow wrote a letter to the governor opposing the release. In the letter, he wrote that Casey “has never adequately explained why he participated in such a sadistic and heinous crime.” Ultimately, Gov. Gavin Newson would deny the grant of parole, reversing the parole board decision.5
All three men remain incarcerated. It has been reported that the murder of Elyse Pahler inspired the 2009 movie, Jennifer’s Body.
- Associated Press, 2 May, 1996 – “Boys Accused of Satan Worship”
- The Tribune, 20 June, 2021 – “1995 Murder of Elyse Pahler”
- San Francisco Chronicle, 8 March, 1997 – “Youth Sentenced in Girl’s Horrific Slaying”
- The Tribune, 20 June, 2021 – “A Timeline of the 1995 Satanic Killing in SLO County”
- The Tribune, 12 July, 2021 – “Gavin Newsom Rejects Release of 1 of SLO County Teen’s Killers”