Just what turned Natasha Cornett into a murderous ringleader?
In April 1997, a chilling crime rocked Pikeville, Tennessee. Norwegian Vidar Lillelid, 34, was found shot dead in a ditch. In his lap was his 6-year-old daughter, Tabitha. She’d been shot too and died the following day.
Nearby was Vidar’s American wife, Delphina, 28, also shot dead. Cradled in her lap was their youngest child, a boy, aged 2. The tot had been shot in the eye and chest. But lived.
The sole survivor…
The Lillelids’ van was missing. Two days later, it was stopped crossing the border into Mexico. Inside, were six youngsters – Natasha Wallen Cornett, 18, Edward Dean Mullins, 19, Joseph Lance Risner, 20, Crystal R Sturgill, 18, Jason Blake Bryant, 14, and Karen R Howell, 17.
Cornett was identified as the leader. But what made her team commit such a monstrous act?
Natasha Cornett was born in January 1979, and brought up in a poor rural area in Kentucky. Her mother, Madonna Wallen, had conceived Natasha while having an affair with a police officer. She left her husband and raised Natasha as a single mum.
In her teens, Natasha was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (BD). It was a tough start and she turned into a troubled teen.
During high school, Natasha was hospitalised for 11 days for her BD, but had to leave when her healthcare benefits stopped, even though she’d been classified as ‘a danger to herself and others.’ While it doesn’t excuse or explain her actions, it may have contributed to the tragedy.
It’s thought she dabbled in drink and drugs, as well as self-harming.
Cornett began listening to dark music and wearing black clothing. Her mood was even darker…
An officer who spoke to Cornett after her arrest described her as a ‘vampire who worshipped Satan.’ He went on to say: ‘She was on the dark side…very bitter towards everyone.’
Even Natasha’s mother later said there were three versions of her daughter.
‘There is the sweet, caring girl,’ she said. ‘There is the girl who would do anything for her friends, and there is a dark side that likes to play on a Ouija board, do seances and play vampire games.’
The more impressionable members of the group may have looked up to her and followed her ideas.
In April 1997, Natasha and five friends took Risner’s mum’s car and headed for New Orleans. But before they went on their killing spree, police believe they burgled two homes, stealing two guns.
Then they took the lives of an innocent family… They were heard laughing and shouting as they left their victims for dead, showing no remorse.
At their trial the six defendants pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in a deal that saw them avoid the death penalty. They were each sentenced to three life sentences.
Cornett blamed the information about her supposed Satanic occult obsession on her first lawyer, who was removed from the case.