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While the search continues for the meaning behind the mysterious YouTube channel Pronunciation Book, 4chan’s paranormal community, /x/, is now trying to uncover the origin of one of the Internet’s creepiest photos.
Known as Jeff the Killer, the photo shows a washed-out face and a maniacal smile. Since October 2008, the photo has acted as the unofficial cover of the Internet’s creepypasta cannon—text blocks of “short horror stories and urban legends that are shared via message boards or email,” describes Know Your Meme.
The legend began on YouTube on Oct. 3, 2008, when user Sesseur uploaded the 2.5-minute video “Jeff the Killer.” The crudely produced clip features the fictional story of how Jeff accidentally spilled a bucket of acid on his face while trying to clean his bathtub.
On Oct. 14, 2008, the photo of Jeff resurfaced on Newgrounds after user killerjeff began posing as the man in question.
And with that, the cult of Jeff the Killer began. Jeff’s photo became the inspiration for countless horror stories on the creepypasta wiki, WikiAnswers, and QuoteV. On YouTube, dozens of users put their own spin on Jeff’s story, with some even collecting more than 618,000 views. Not to mention, a stop-motion Lego reenactment. And if Jeff’s photo wasn’t creepy enough already, his face has been remixed into all sorts of fanart on deviantART. One fan even created a Jeff the Killer video game.
Now, five years later, 4chan’s paranormal imageboard /x/ is tired of the fiction. It wants some facts.
On /x/ and Reddit’s r/creepy forum, users have been compiling their best theories. Here are the top four being tossed around organized by the most plausible to the most outrageous.
1) Viral marketing campaign for Saw V
About 10 days after Jeff’s photo popped up on Newgrounds, Lionsgate released the fifth installment of the popular slasher series Saw. In the series the antagonist, Jigsaw, uses a scary looking puppet named Billy to communicate with his victims. Billy’s resemblance to Jeff set /x/ off.
In June 2008 Lionsgate launched the site Disbeliefnet.com to promote its documentary Religulous. It featured tabloid-like stories on religion. Before the release of Saw V, the studio launched a website where people could plug in a phone number and have Jigsaw call and leave a startling message. This marketing campaign was ultimately shut down by the cops.
When one /x/ member asked YouTube user Sesseur where he found Jeff’s photo, he got this response:
2) Who is Katy Robinson?
In the fall of 2008, a girl named Katy Robinson allegedly posted a grainy photo of herself taken in a closet on 4chan’s random imageboard, /b/. As the story goes, the girl was bullied relentlessly for her weight and later committed suicide.
Redditor ninetofivehero claimed Katy’s original photo was Photoshopped to create what is now considered the Jeff the Killer photo.
“In one less photoshopped version of the Jeff picture, a mole is clearly visible that’s also visible in the picture of Katy,” ninetofivehero wrote on Reddit. “It looks in a different position on the face, but that would be a result of the new mouth Photoshopped on to help create Jeff.”
This is the less-Photoshopped photo ninetofivehero is referencing.
3) Jeff the Killer is not human
Not only is Jeff not a human, his photograph is really made up of the eyes from a cadaver along with the mouth of dog, claims redditors ninetofivehero and theawfulshirt.
“[S]omeone claiming to be an oldfag [a 4chan user who has been on the site a long time] says that the mouth came from a picture of a wolf with a broken jaw,” ninetofivehero added. ” Doesn’t sound too far-fetched at all and is worth considering.”
Click to expand:
4) Jeff the Killer is your favorite girlfriend
Despite the fact that the Overly Attached Girlfriend became Internet famous in June 2012, that hasn’t stopped /x/ from trying to pin this mystery on the woman behind the meme, Laina Walker.
Fernando Alfonso III served as an early Reddit and 4chan reporter and the Daily Dot’s first art director until 2016. He’s gone on to report at Lexington’s Herald-Leader and at the Houston Chronicle.