'Horrorcore' Rap Adds to Mystery of Slayings in Va. Town

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

FARMVILLE, Va., Sept. 23 -- The town is what its name suggests, a little crossroads burg swaddled in crop fields and pastureland for miles around. God and country-western span the radio dial, the main street is Main Street and the barber sells Lucky Tiger flat-top wax.

Folks in Farmville figured that the town, population 7,000 or so, was their haven, an oasis of quiet sanity in what a lot of them think is a mixed-up, gone-to-hell world. That was before a 20-year-old Californian, a rapper of luridly violent lyrics who billed himself as Syko Sam, alighted in their central Virginia community last week.

On Friday, four people in the house where he had been staying -- a college professor; her estranged husband, a minister; their teenage daughter; and a young friend of the girl's -- were found bludgeoned to death. Police said Richard Alden Samuel McCroskey III, aka Syko Sam, was a guest of the two teenagers', who shared his enthusiasm for "horrorcore" rap.

McCroskey is in the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, charged with murder. And Farmville, in the rolling countryside 70 miles west of Richmond, doesn't feel so insulated anymore.

"Most of the people are in shock," said Gerald Spates, town manager.

The killings, which remain unexplained, have stirred plenty of chatter among residents about what was at the root of the tragedy, with many blaming toxic Internet influences. "I guess we have to realize that these things are going to happen anywhere, society being the way it is today," Spates said. "We're not as isolated, being a small town, as we once were."

As police continue an investigation this week that the chief prosecutor described as "coast to coast" and "unparalleled" in scope for rural Prince Edward County, details have emerged about McCroskey and his music, his connection to the teenagers and the quadruple homicide at 505 First Ave. in a gray colonial shaded by oaks and maples.

Two of the victims, Debra S. Kelley, 53, a professor of criminal justice at Longwood University in Farmville, and her 16-year-old daughter, Emma Niederbrock, lived in the house, a short walk from the 4,700-student campus. Also killed were Kelley's estranged husband, Mark A. Niederbrock, 50, an unordained Presbyterian pastor, and their daughter's friend Melanie Wells, 18, of Inwood, W.Va. All died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to autopsies.

McCroskey, of Castro Valley, Calif., near Oakland, is a self-described performer and promoter of horrorcore, or death rap, a screechy subgenre of hip-hop that celebrates homicidal lunacy in songs that are the musical equivalents of slasher movies. Many devotees keep in touch with one another on MySpace.com, as McCroskey and the two teenagers did.

Although McCroskey has been charged only in Mark Niederbrock's death, James R. Ennis, the Prince Edward commonwealth's attorney, said that "additional homicide charges are anticipated" after crime lab technicians test evidence from the house. Authorities declined to speculate on what role, if any, the gore-themed music played in the killings. McCroskey's court-appointed attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Ennis said police think McCroskey acted alone and declined to say whether drugs might have been a factor in the slayings.

"I mean, things like this don't happen in Farmville," said Diane Poindexter, 59, echoing a remark heard again and again on Main Street. She sat on a bench in front of Hill's Consignment shop, passing time with 50-year-old Tonya Hill, the owner. "Everybody's blaming it on MySpace," Hill said. "They say it's the Internet just bringing in creeps."

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