According to most sources, the legend of Jeff began with a post in 2008 containing the horrific image of a featureless face with lidless eyes and a demonic grin. The first “Jeff” story to catch fire among social media (Reddit and 4chan paranormal groups in particular) was a simple but effective revenge tale involving a bullied boy who mutilated his own face before launching into a killing spree, murdering his tormentors while whispering the words “Just go to sleep.”
While this seemed to be the tale that “stuck” with readers, Jeff’s legacy has inspired hundreds of fan-created adaptations, sequels, spinoff fiction, artwork, comics and more than one proposed feature film adaptation [here’s one example]. Even Jeff’s horrific, moon-shaped rictus has inspired a few “side legends” of its own — the most popular of these parallel myths claims that the image was digitally altered from the last known selfie of a teenage girl, who committed suicide shortly after the photo was snapped.
Eight years after that nightmare-inducing smile first graced the web, Jeff’s tale has evolved into frightening new shapes, each one revisiting the killer’s origin story from a new perspective… and some of these turned out to be even more terrifying than the original concept.
While there are far too many variants on the theme to list out here, the administrators at the Creepypasta Wiki recently polled their readers and contributors, who chose their three favorites in terms of writing quality, originality and (of course) decree of creepiness.
I’ve broken down plot synopses of those entries below, concluding with the current winner. I’ve also tried to avoid serious spoilers, because I encourage you to read the original stories in their entirety (by clicking the title links). That is, if you don’t mind losing a little sleep tonight…
This account is presented in the form of a letter to an unnamed author, who is apparently compiling research for a book about the crimes of a serial killer known as Jeff Keaton. James Lamb, a retired police detective, comes forward after a long period of media silence about the unsolved murders, in response to the author’s inquiry.
Lamb recalls his first experience with the Keaton case, which begins with a series of burglaries throughout the (unnamed) community in his jurisdiction… but when he’s assigned to interview a six-year-old boy who may have seen the perpetrator, the case begins to take a dark and ominous turn.
The boy described waking up to see a figure dressed entirely in black — including a hood which obscured most of his face — looming over his bed in the darkness. But when the intruder came closer, he saw that his face was pure white, almost glowing within the recesses of the hood, and his eyes were unnaturally large and ringed with black. He smiled at the boy, whispering “Go to sleep,” before slipping out the bedroom window.
Lamb dismissed the boy’s eerie testimony as a faulty memory of a masked burglar embellished by fear and imagination… but a few months later, a seemingly unrelated homicide led him to change his mind.
A young man was found dead in his family’s low-rent apartment downtown, his body skinned, lacerated and crudely disemboweled. Fingerprints at the scene matched those of a Jeffrey H. Keaton, whose younger brother Liu also had a criminal record on file and was currently in juvenile detention. Both brothers were presumed to be involved in gang activity, but something about the nature of this grisly crime told Lamb this was no gang execution.
Two months later, the body of Tabitha Cromwell, wife of city councilman John Cromwell, was found in a similar state… and once again, Keaton’s fingerprints were all over the crime scene. Due to the Cromwell family’s connections, this case received far more attention than the downtown murder in both the media and among the department suits. The manhunt for Jeff Keaton had begun in earnest.
Lamb turned his attention to Liu Keaton, whom he expected to be defensive of his older brother… but he was shocked when the kid cut straight to the chase.
“I know what he did,” Liu told the detective.
Despite this admission, Liu initially refused to provide any more details which might incriminate Jeff. But after some persuasion, he agreed to a series of weekly questioning sessions… during which he began to weave a story of mounting horror.
He described Jeff as an emotionally unstable boy, who had severe difficulty socializing with others and was prone to angry outbursts. While Liu often came to his brother’s defense, he was still ostracized and belittled by his classmates… which one day culminated in a violent confrontation with a knife-wielding bully named Randy. The fight resulted in Randy being wounded with his own knife, overpowered by the enraged Liu.
It might have ended as a case of self-defense, given Randy had a history of violence… but Randy, as it turns out, is the son of John and Tabitha Cromwell — and the influential family managed to pull some strings and invert the blame on Liu, who was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. There was little evidence to support Liu’s testimony… but knowing the political machinations of the Cromwell family, Lamb sensed there might be something to the kid’s story.
During one of their sessions, Liu revealed that his brother Jeff had been disfigured in a fire, which Jeff insisted was an accident. Neither Liu nor the detective was convinced of this, and Lamb’s instincts told him to look up Randy Cromwell.
Randy admitted to planning an attack on the Keaton brothers… but his account of what happened that night took Lamb by surprise.
For reasons he couldn’t fully explain, Randy became convinced Jeff Keaton was possessed by something inhuman. Something evil. Something he realized would come for him and his family… unless he was stopped. As Lamb suspected, the fiery “accident” which destroyed Jeff’s face was the tragic result of Randy’s bizarre obsession.
Liu finally relented and offered to help Lamb capture his brother, on the promise that he would be given a fair trial. Though the detective was certain the involvement of the Cromwell family would make that impossible, he went through with the plan… which, as you’ll discover, didn’t turn out quite as expected.
#2: “My Liu”
Styled more as traditional short fiction, this tale focuses more directly on troubled teen Jeff (now with the surname “Walters”), and Liu is presented here as Jeff’s older brother. The pair are living in separate houses following the separation of their parents, and Liu is suffering regular abuse at the hands of their alcoholic father. Afraid to interfere, Jeff is constantly tormented by guilt.
Despite being a good student and having no real issues with his classmates, Jeff is nevertheless moody and mostly keeps to himself, reluctantly undergoing regular therapy sessions with a psychologist. Life progresses more or less without incident… until the day Jeff crosses paths with Randy.
Recognizing the same signs of abusive behavior that he’d seen so often in his own father, Jeff insinuates himself between the overly aggressive Randy and his timid girlfriend — which, as you can probably guess, eventually leads to a cruel revenge, in which Randy reveals to the entire class that Jeff is in therapy, which leads the others to avoid him, all the while circulating nasty rumors about the class “psycho.”
For weeks, the taunts and name-calling continue; knowing his victim is totally humiliated and distraught, Randy finally suggests to Jeff that he just end it all… and even gives him a knife to do the deed. Little did the bully know the seeds of destruction he’d sowed that day… and the awful, tortuous acts that would eventually be performed with that knife.
Still unable to see his brother, Jeff becomes increasingly withdrawn and erratic… until the day he discovers that his father has brutally injured Liu while on a maniacal, violent bender. Emotionally devastated, Jeff suffers a total breakdown… until something inside him suddenly breaks.
Jeff decides at that moment that everyone who had hurt, betrayed or abandoned him would pay in blood.
He takes up the knife Randy had given him… but before he embarks on his deadly mission, he turns the blade on himself, slashing his face in a grotesque, agonizing act of transformation.
Jeff Walters is dead. “Jeff the Killer” is born.
Randy would be the first to receive the gift of horror that he had once given Jeff… but his pain would take a new form.
Next, Jeff would “rescue” Liu from their father’s clutches, but not before the old man tasted the pain he put his children through… though magnified a thousand times.
Despite Jeff’s insistence that he had their best interests at heart, and the two would soon begin a new life elsewhere, Liu knew he had to escape his now-psychotic brother before he killed again.
But blood ties can be very strong indeed…
Author: K. Banning Kellum
The winning entry, also told in a traditional short fiction format, is set in New Orleans, where brothers Jeff and Liu (their surname here is “Woods”) have recently moved with their family. Though they’re not initially happy in their new home, they resolve to make the most of their situation.
It’s not long before the Woods brothers encounter our antagonist Randy, along with his sidekicks Troy and Keith, who immediately start off on the wrong foot by stealing the brothers’ bicycles. Jeff and Liu manage to stand up to the bullies, and the situation turns from verbal taunts to violence. When the trio suddenly gangs up on Liu, Jeff explodes in a shocking display of primal rage, and manages to fight them off single-handedly.
They assume that’s the end of it… until they come home to find the police waiting.
As in the tale of James Lamb, it seems Randy’s family has some influence in the area, and the blame for the scuffle is inverted onto Jeff. Despite Liu’s injuries, their parents shockingly refuse to accept their own children’s side of the story.
The situation becomes even more surreal and nightmarish when Jeff discovers his parents have been making a concerted effort to patch things up between him and Randy… because, to his horror, his dad works for a company owned by Randy’s father.
Despite this twisted situation, Jeff actually tries to patch things up with his former adversary, and he actually seems to succeed… or so he thinks.
After lulling Jeff into a false sense of reconciliation, and luring him into his basement to show him his father’s flare gun, Randy springs a trap on him, along with his two toadies. Just as before, Jeff cuts loose with maniacal rage, easily devastating all three opponents… but in the resulting panic, the flare gun accidentally fires, and discharges point-blank in Jeff’s face.
By the time Jeff regains consciousness, he’s heavily sedated in the hospital burn ward, his facial features virtually destroyed by the white-hot magnesium flames.
All through his agonizing recovery, Jeff felt that same rage bubble up from deep inside again… and this time there was no way to release it.
Not yet, anyway.
“There is a sickness here,” he later confides to his brother Liu. “The only difference is, now my sickness shows on the outside as well. One day, you’ll see it too.”
When Liu tells their parents that something seems terribly wrong with Jeff — not just on the outside, but deep within his mind — they dismiss the entire thing as the byproduct of the strong painkillers Jeff’s taking.
It’s only when Jeff confronts them with a kitchen knife that they realize they should have listened to Liu’s warnings. But, by that fateful night, it was too late to stop what was about to happen.
“Go to sleep,” Jeff whispers, hissing the words… before gutting his mother and father like fish.
The first phase of his vengeance complete, Jeff comes to Liu’s bedroom, his bandages removed exposing his horrific scars, their parents’ blood still dripping from his hands.
“You’re free now,” he whispers to his brother — his only friend in the world — before Jeff the Killer vanishes into the night.
If you’re really serious about losing all the sleep ever, you can curl up with a terrifying movie-length audio adaptation of Kellum’s winning tale, produced and performed by the storytelling & filmmaking team Chilling Tales for Dark Nights and presented in its entirety below. We dare you…