Last week I poked fun at torture and murder on the dark web. I’m writing on the same topic today, but I’m not laughing.
A few months ago I wrote about the apparent over-representation of Australians in all things dark web. This blog touches on that too, but you won’t find me smug and vaguely proud about it.
Four Australians have now been jailed for the roles they played in relation to a series of sites on the dark web. This is the abyss, the cesspool, the darkest part of the dark web.
Looking for the darker dark web
The ISIS Red Room hoax spawned several articles examining the motivations behind people who post the constant barrage of requests on Reddit, 4Chan and similar fora asking where find the really dark stuff on the dark web. Well, you can stop looking.
Yesterday I sat in court as a young man, Matthew David Graham, pleaded guilty to 13 charges relating to running the dark web child abuse empire he ran under the name of “Lux”. The sites he ran included pedophilia-related wiki, chat, video streaming and image upload services; but it was the site known as Hurt2theCore that was his most popular and active.
Hurt2theCore is part of a sub-genre of pedophilia abuse materials known as “hurtcore”. Hurtcore is just what it sounds like – hardcore hurt inflicted on innocent children. Even most pedophiles recoil from it. The child’s pain is not a by-product of sexual contact – it is deliberately inflicted, recorded and posted for the gratification of hurtcore enthusiasts.
Matthew Graham was the third Australian to be jailed as a result of Taskforce Astraea which worked to shut down the hurtcore sites. Others included Adelaide childcare worker Shannon McCoole, also known as Skee and owner of The Love Zone. He sexually abused seven children in his care and uploaded the videos.
Another Melbourne man, who I can’t name because it would reveal the identity of the victim of his most heinous crimes who was a relative, was jailed earlier this year. Among other things, he made his 9-year-old victim hold up a sign with a shout-out to Lux; a twisted farewell when Lux announced he was closing Hurt2theCore last year.
I first came across Hurt2theCore when I was researching the book Silk Road. It was one of those places you click on and then just nope the fuck out of there. It’s not like a person could stumble into a hurtcore site and not realise what was behind the registration page. If the name itself wasn’t enough to tip you off, the pre-registration agreement left little to the imagination:
Hurt 2 the Core (H2TC) is a forum dedicated to open discussion and images (as well as video) sharing. This is a censorship free forum, and thus all topics are allowed here, this means we accept both the ‘child love’ and ‘hurtcore’ aspects of pedophilia. If you do not agree with that or are easily offended, then this is not the place for you. Otherwise, welcome to H2TC!
H2TC didn’t just provide a space to chat and share whatever videos and images people had; Lux provided advice on cleaning metadata from videos and disposal of bodies. There were sections of the site dedicated to “renting” or “buying” orphaned children for sex. The site actively commissioned new videos tailored for specific tastes. Lux boasted to Patrick O’Neill in an interview in 2013 that H2TC averaged 326 new accounts and around 160 posts every day. He claimed to be getting around 15,000 video downloads daily.
Discussions on the website revealed a depth of depravity rarely encountered:
- – Producing kiddie porn for dummies
- – Toddler childporn star
- – Three Men and a Baby
- – Butchered Bitches
- – Young’uns bound
- – Crying rape
- – Need ideas for blackmailed girl. (15)
Those who created original material for the site were rewarded with access to an exclusive part of the site, the Producers’ Lounge, a sort of hurtcore green room. The most notorious producer was the man who created the series Daisy’s Destruction. We later found out this was yet another Australian, Peter Scully.
Even prior to any arrests, Daisy’s Destruction had moved into dark web lore. A mythology had risen around it spurred by rumour, whispers and misinformation. Not content with the fact that a video of torture of a toddler had gone what passes for “viral” on the dark web, those dedicated to finding the “darkest parts of the dark web” spread exaggerated half truths.
Creepypasta whispers insisted a child was murdered on the film. Stills from the old “guinea pig” movies started circulating with claims they were photos of Daisy post-mutilation. People swore they had a “friend” who wound up in a mental institution afer watching it, so depraved were the acts depicted.
Youtuber “Takedownman” who specialises in posting videos about the dark web that mix a little fact with a whole lot of fiction, created a video where he purported to show screenshots of a site called “Daisy’s Destruction Shop” where customers could purchase stills from the film. The site was later shown to have been created by Takedownman himself.
Vile and disturbing as the series was, it was not snuff. People conflated two stories about Scully – he created Daisy’s Destruction, a series of four films which depicted rape and torture of several young girls; he was also arrested for murder of a child whose body was found in his house. However, toddler Daisy was found to be alive and put into care, as were other children in the videos. The deceased girl’s murder may have been filmed, but no evidence has surfaced that this was the case.
Matthew Graham was supposed to attend Melbourne Magistrates court at 9:15am by video conference from the remand centre that is holding him. However, his lawyer advised the court he had complained that the room wasn’t private enough and he was afraid of other prisoners overhearing his charges. He wanted to come to court.
When he finally arrived at 4:00 pm, it was to an almost empty courtroom. A reporter from The Age who had been following the story (and wrote a great feature about it), the informant (ie the cop who brought him down), the prosecutor, his defence lawyer and me.
He’s 22, but looks younger. Skinny and nerdy, he hasn’t yet grown out of the acne phase. He looked around the bare courtroom, giving a bright, expectant smile – like he hoped to make a new friend – to anyone whose eye he managed to catch. The magistrate got one, as did his lawyer, and so did I as I openly gawped at him. It’s not every day you are in the same room as a bona fide monster.
When O’Neill interviewed him in 2013, he described Lux as one of the most influential people in dark web pedoland. He prevaricated over whether he should interview him at all, but decided it was in the public interest.
“The reader doesn’t need me moralizing to them to come to their own conclusions on a subject like this”, O’Neill told me over email, “so instead I tried to talk calmly to Lux and get as much information as possible from him as an objective third party. This is a world where interviews are exceedingly rare, so the vast majority of what you hear comes out in either indictments or from unreliable rumor. You almost never hear from the actors themselves while they’re free, especially one so influential as Lux was for a time.”
Until a few months ago, I only knew of Lux through O’Neill’s interview and whispers and rumours on dark web forums, where the general consensus was revulsion. But mostly, he was so “other”, hurtcore so evil, that we tried not to talk about him at all.
So coming face to face with this simple kid who looked around the courtroom with a kind of bemused interest in the proceedings was jarring. Shouldn’t he be grotesque and deformed or something? Shouldn’t there be some sort of outward appearance that betrayed he was the kind of child-man who facilitated some of the most heinous crimes even hardened, experienced detectives had ever encountered?
Well, he didn’t look like a monster. There was nothing particularly “off” about him. He could walk among us and we would never suspect; in fact he seems to be one of those instantly forgettable people. He doesn’t seem like the brightest spark in the box either, apparently trying to convince police that he set up Hurt2theCore as a honeypot to catch child abusers.
They weren’t buying it.
The darkest dark web
I can’t imagine anything darker than the sites these men have been jailed for running, using and contributing to. Yet still the questions persist: Where’s the really dark stuff? What else will I find on the dark web if I go digging? Still some people don’t find made-to-order torture of a toddler bad enough and create even more evil adjuncts to the video for a good story or a few extra Youtube hits.
As for me, I live in hope that we have gone as dark as it goes.
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