Starting in the 1980s and lasting through much of the 1990s, North America suffered a satanic ritual abuse scare. This was a moral panic fueled by claims of Satan worship. Rumors of teenage abductions, human ritual sacrifice, and sexual abuse ran rampant, generating fear and anxiety across communities. Many of these crimes were tied to heavy metal rock and horrorcore music. This music has been consistently intertwined with religions for decades.
This period known now as the ‘Satanic Panic’ led to more than 12,000 unsubstantiated cases of satanic abuse in the United States. Elyse Marie Pahler, a 15-year-old girl living in Arroyo Grande, California, was an unfortunate victim of a satanic ritual during this time.
The satanic murder of Elyse Pahler is believed to have inspired the popular 2009 horror-comedy film, Jennifer’s Body. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, the movie tells the story of popular cheerleader Jennifer (Megan Fox) who is turned into a man-eating succubus after a sacrifice gone wrong.
Similar to the real-life event, Jennifer was a virgin sacrifice for the devil. This was implemented by a rock band that wanted fame and fortune.
Elyse Pahler’s Early Life
Born April 24, 1980, Elyse Mary Pahler lived in the small coastal town of Arroyo Grande. Arroyo Grande is a city on the Central Coast known as one of the “Five Cities.” During the 1990s, the quaint town had just 15,000 inhabitants and the crime rate was low.
Elyse lived with both her parents, as well as two younger siblings. As she reached her teen years, she attracted attention due to her blonde hair and blue eyes. She dreamed of participating in beauty contests and becoming an actress.
During her early teen years, Elyse spent a lot of time with her family, even attending church. Like many teens at this time, she would experiment with marijuana. This experimentation eventually got her taken to a drug rehabilitation center. This is where she met 15-year-old Jacob Delashmutt.
A Band Called ‘Hatred’
Jacob Delashmutt had a rocky past, having been kicked out of the same school that Elyse attended. However, Elyse looked past these indiscretions and formed a friendship with Jacob. Through Jacob, she would also meet two of his friends, Joseph Fiorella and Royce Casey. The boys ranged in age from 15 to 17 years old.
The teens decided to create a heavy metal band they named ‘Hatred,’ which was inspired by the world-famous American thrash metal band ‘Slayer’ which formed in 1981. Influences of satanism and the occult were evident in their band style, primarily due to Joseph’s fixation on these taboo subjects.
While the other two boys initially thought the plan was crazy, they decided to go through with it. The planning began as a result.
The Sacrifice and Murder of Elyse Pahler
In the early evening of July 22, 1995, Jacob Delashmutt, Joseph Fiorella, and Royce Casey convinced Elyse Pahler to hang out with them at a remote spot where the boys would often frequent, a eucalyptus grove in Nipomo Mesa. As Elyse was well-acquainted with the group of friends, she went along willingly.
After spending time watching TV with her father, David Pahler, Elyse told him that she was going to bed. Like many teens, she believed this to be an innocent lie that would not have any dire consequences for her or her family.
Once Elyse, Jacob, Royce, and Joseph arrived at the field, they began smoking. Elyse soon would relax but her relaxed state was short-lived. Soon after arriving, Jacob removed his belt and came up behind Elyse, strangling her. Royce held Elyse’s arms down as Jacob continue to strangle her. Joseph stabbed her in the neck with his hunting knife. The three boys then took turns stabbing her and kicking her as she lay on the ground praying and calling out for her mom.
The autopsy would later reveal that Elyse had been stabbed a total of 12 times. She did not die instantly from the strangling or the stab wounds, but instead, would die slowly from loss of blood. Once Elyse passed away, the three boys would take turns raping her dead body.
During this time, Elyse’s family had reported her as a missing person. Investigators may have never found her body if it had not been for a confession made by Royce Casey.
A Brutal Confession by Royce Casey
After claiming that he had found God, Royce would confess to the murder of Elyse Pahler in 1996. 17-year-old Royce contacted the police and admitted to what he and the other boys had done to Elyse. He would also lead investigators to Elyse’s remains. They were partially mummified and spread out in the grove just a quarter mile from her home.
When all three boys were arrested, they admitted that they had planned to kill Elyse sooner but were too afraid to proceed. They didn’t carry out their plan for murder until several weeks after failing to go through with their first plan. Following the arrests, the boys revealed that they had formed their musical band “Hatred” as a way to “glorify Satan and earn a ticket to hell.”
During the confessions, Royce stated that the murder plot was concocted by Joseph and Jacob.
The boys believed that these characteristics would make her murder the “ultimate sin against God.”
Heavy Metal Influence: Was Slayer to Blame
Heavy metal music has long been associated with satanism and the occult. Slayer was believed to play a direct role in the Elyse Pahler murder case. The band is one of the most influential in heavy metal history. Slayer was the favorite band of all three boys and was even the inspiration for Jacob, Royce, and Joseph to start their own heavy metal band.
The boys got inspiration from the lyrics of Slayer songs, such as “Alter of Sacrifice” which has lyrics like “spilling the pure virgin blood” and “Satan’s slaughter, ceremonial death.”
The group’s violent messages and influential music deal with death, carnage, satanism, and torture. Jacob, Royce, and Joseph were among Slayer’s cult followers and admitted that they believed that the songs had a deeper meaning. Joseph stated after the murder that the “music started to influence the way I looked at things.”
In November 1996, the Pahler family filed a lawsuit against the band Slayer, stating that the band’s hateful lyrics incited the teens to kill and that the songs gave instructions on how to torture, murder, and rape. The case was ultimately thrown out as there was not a legal position that could make Slayer responsible for Elyse’s death. The Pahler family would try again to sue Slayer, saying that their lyrics were “harmful to minors,” but this lawsuit too would be thrown out in court.
A Shocking, Premeditated Revelation
As more information about the murders came to light, Royce admitted that the night of the murder wasn’t the first time the bandmates had attempted to take Elyse’s life. Royce said that the boys, along with another friend, had previously lured Elyse to a remote area. The friend had pretended to slip down a steep ravine and Elyse followed suit.
Joseph then tossed the boy a knife as the other boys began chanting “Do it! Do it!” However, the boy just stood there, making Elyse believe that they were simply fooling around. Elyse never reported this incident and continued to spend time with the group of boys.
The Trial for Murder of Elyse Pahler
The preliminary hearing began in February 1997. District Attorney’s Office chief investigator, Doug Odom, testified that Royce had told him that the boys plotted to kill Elyse due to how she looked and that she would make the perfect sacrifice. The gruesome events that occurred on July 22nd were recounted in detail and many in the courtroom wanted to see the boys behind bars.
After one month, Joseph decided to take a plea deal and was sentenced by a Superior Court Judge to 26 years to life in prison. In exchange for a guilty plea to first-degree murder, prosecutors had to dismiss all other charges, including rape. In a probation report, Joseph denied Royce’s version of what happened the night that Elyse was murdered but did not deny that he was the first to stab her. He did say that he “wishes it never happened.”
During the trial, Royce’s defense lawyer admitted that the allegations were “grossly overstated” and tried to change the public’s opinion. However, Royce still received 25 years to life in prison but avoided life without parole by pleading no contest. If Royce would have been tried as a juvenile, he would have received just seven years.
Like Royce, Jacob pleaded no contest to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 26 years to life. The terms of his sentence state that he would have to serve 85 percent of the term before he could become eligible for parole. Witnesses say Jacob did not seem bothered throughout the case, even after committing unspeakable crimes. Jacob would ultimately say that Elyse was murdered because Joseph became obsessed with her.
Was Royce Ready for Parole
In July 2016, Royce had his first parole hearing but was denied for an additional five years. While his defense lawyer did admit that Royce partook in one of California’s most despicable crimes. He had spent over two decades in prison and had managed to rehabilitate himself during that time. In 2017, Jacob was also denied parole for seven years and will not have another hearing until December 2024.
In 2021, Royce was granted parole by California parole board commissioners. However, the decision was soon after reversed by Governor Gavin Newsom after County District Attorney San Luis Obispo opposed the release. While Elyse’s father, David Pahler, claimed that he believed that Royce was repentant, he said he and Elyse’s siblings would not feel comfortable knowing that the killer lives freely. The three men are still in prison as of January 2023.
The Aftermath Murder of Elyse Pahler
No one should ever have to lose a child and the Pahler family has suffered more than any family should. In the weeks and months following the murder, Elyse’s parents were too depressed to leave the house most days. As a result, their income suffered and they eventually lost their home.
In 2017, a motion was filed by the District Attorney’s office to reimburse the state Victim’s Compensation Board. They paid a total of $34,871 to the Pahler family for counseling and funeral costs. Additional restitution was also requested for Elyse’s father’s lost wages. More than 22 years after the murder, Elyse’s family has still not received compensation from her killers.
The murder caused David Pahler to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which played a role in a road rage incident in 2014. According to a police report, someone cut off Pahler and he proceeded to follow the vehicle to a nearby parking lot before pulling the person out of their vehicle. Pahler was charged with battery but the charge was ultimately dismissed.
Jacob, Royce, and Joseph are all serving their sentences at separate prisons: Jacob at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, Royce at RJ Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, and Joseph at High Desert State Prison in Susanville. The family has stated that they are prepared for Royce Casey to be paroled, and know that it will happen at some point. The Pahler family strongly opposes any type of parole for either Joseph Fiorella or Jacob Delashmutt.