Eighteen-year-old Brian Blackwell was so bright his nickname was “Brains.” But that intelligence, which earned him top marks in school, also enabled him to craft an elaborate fantasy world—one he needed his parents’ money to sustain, and one he was willing to kill for.

Brits Sydney and Jacqueline Blackwell were 71 and 60 when Brian was 18; they’d had their only child later in life, and they had big dreams for him. They hoped the next step of his education would lead him to medical school, and a career as a surgeon. His grades were more than good enough. But his ambitions led him elsewhere, and it came to a head on July 25, 2004.

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The Blackwells were well-off, but were far from being one-percenters; Sydney was a retired accountant and Jacqueline was an antiques dealer. They had started to suspect that Brian had been acting irresponsibly with money—to the point where Jacqueline had visited their bank to check up on his spending habits. The news wasn’t good: Brian had applied for 13 credit cards and numerous loans to bankroll his lavish tastes.

He was motivated, in part, by his need to impress his girlfriend, who was also 18 and a fellow student at Liverpool College, where parents forked over five grand per school term. Though they were classmates, she apparently believed his elaborate lie about being a professional tennis player. And she though he was filthy rich, so she didn’t question it when he invited her on a lavish vacation. They flew first-class to America (including a three-night stay in a suite at New York City’s Plaza Hotel), made a stopover in Barbados, and returned to Merseyside, where Brian moved in with his girlfriend and her parents, explaining his folks were on vacation in Majorca. The total cost of Brian’s trip was estimated at around fifty grand, all charged to cards in Sydney Blackwell’s name.

In fact, Sydney and Jacqueline had been dead for weeks. Their bodies weren’t discovered until September 4, when a concerned neighbor called the police to report a rotting odor emanating from their home. It was a terrible scene, as the Guardian reported:

Inside, officers found Mr Blackwell’s decomposing body in the living room. He had been beaten with the hammer while he sat in his armchair. Mrs Blackwell’s remains had been dragged into the bathroom. She had been stabbed with a kitchen knife after seeing her son batter her husband to death.

Brian was brought in for questioning, and after a time (and quite a few lies), he finally admitted what he’d done. The Liverpool Echo published his full confession (under the grim headline “The day I killed mum and dad”); it’s a fascinating read that winds from Brian insisting “I believe I should be dealt with more as a witness than a suspect” to him giving up the truth about what happened that July night.

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There had been an argument—possibly over Brian’s financial irresponsibility, though he also told police that his parents disapproved of his relationship with his girlfriend, and that he didn’t believe they loved him anymore—that turned violent. In his confession, Brian describes hitting his father with a claw hammer, and then attacking both parents with a knife:

DC Lockie: You stabbed her (your mum) repeatedly?

Blackwell: Yes but it didn’t seem hard. It didn’t seem like it was doing anything. I’ve never stabbed anyone but it didn’t feel like it was going in or anything.

DC Lockie: How many times did you stab him (your father)?

Blackwell: A few ... it didn’t seem to have much effect on him and I had to push him away to stop him. He pushed back an awful lot. (Sobbing) I couldn’t believe what I’d done. I just couldn’t believe what I’d done.

In all, he stabbed his mother 20 times. His father was stabbed 30 times. Their injuries were so violent that investigators initially assumed the cause of death was gunshot wounds.

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Despite his confession, Brian Blackwell wasn’t convicted of murder, though that’s what he was initially charged with. As the Guardian notes:

Blackwell had been charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility. His lawyers said he was suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, a mental illness that causes sufferers to become obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, power and brilliance.

It was determined that the murders were not premeditated, as the BBC notes:

David Steer QC, prosecuting, said there was nothing to indicate that he had premeditated the killings.

He told the court that sufferers of narcissistic personality disorder typically flew into a rage if their fantasy world was challenged or threatened.

He said the killings could have been linked to the trip he was planning with his girlfriend. Mr Steer said Blackwell’s rage may have been prompted by his parents discovering his travel plans and thwarting them.

He described Blackwell as “a highly abnormal young man”.

“It is also a diagnosis that is very rarely used for someone as young as Brian Blackwell,” said Mr Steer.

Despite the lesser charge, Brian was still sentenced to life in prison. The judge recommended that he never be released.

Image of the Plaza Hotel by Jason Kuffer