It’s that time of year when Halloween costumes are sprouting on shop shelves across the world.
But this year’s top entry in the bad taste stakes has to be Slender Man – the internet bogey man which has been linked to a series of near fatal stabbings and murders.
Fox News reports that one such costume is for sale for $40 (£24) at numerous outlets in Waukesha County – the same county where a 12-year-old girl was stabbed 19 times by friends after attending a slumber party in May.
Two 12 year olds are alleged to have carried out the attack, before leaving their victim in the woods in Wisconsin.
Miraculously, the unnamed girl survived and managed to crawl to a nearby road where she was found by a cyclist who raised the alarm.
The suspects have claimed they were trying to prove the existence of a fictional horror character called “Slender Man”.
Both have been charged as adults with first-degree attempted homicide and face up to 60 years in prison if convicted.
Fox News spoke to parent Jodi Didenko, who said: “I don’t think it should be sold in the stores.
“Just the reaction with the neighbourhood and the girl’s finally back in school and feeling good and I just think this would set her back.”
The news channel said it did not hear back from the stores selling the costume when it asked for comment.
And it’s not just a stateside phenomenon – you can pick up a Slender Man costume in the UK too.
It says: “Yes, it’s the internet PHENOMENON brought to life, it’s the Slender Man Costume Morphsuit!
“Beginning life as a ‘meme’ and then spreading around the world in various forms, Slender Man is freakishly thin and absurdly tall and loves to scare kids.
“The costume includes a black suit with a white shirt sown [sic] into it, a black tie and a removable white morph mask so you have everything to look just like Slender Man.”
Huffington Post UK has sought comment from the company.
Slender Man has also been cited in a case where a Cincinnati mother told how her 13-year-old daughter stabbed her multiple times in an attack apparently planned to please the fictional character.
The internet creation has also been linked to the murders of two Las Vegas police officers.
According to Know Your Meme, which tracks internet trends, Slender Man came into being in 2009 after an entry for a competition on the online forums Something Awful to create “paranormal pictures” was submitted by Eric Knudsen.
The popularity of the character promptly exploded, with numerous fan sites creating their own Slender Man stories, putting him in fan art, videos, video games and other media. Some websites host what appear to be photographs of him, lending the creation an air of authenticity.
Shira Chess, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia who has researched Slender Man's origins told the Associated Press: "It feels real. A 12-year-old isn't potentially going to know the whole origin of the story."
Knudsen’s creation appears to be a mysterious figure who stalks children.
He is most distinctive for his blank, featureless face, his extreme height and dapper appearance – (“He often keeps his long, pale hands crossed politely behind his back or hanging loosely at his sides. He has long coattails which he lets flow proudly. He wears long dress shoes, which are always shined a perfect, gleaming black”).
According to some descriptions, he has between four and eight long black tentacles, which protrude from his back. He is also said to be capable of causing memory loss, insomnia, paranoia and coughing fits.
The two 12-year-olds charged with first degree attempted homicide reportedly told detectives they learned about Slender Man on online fiction forum Creepypasta Wiki.
Literature on the site reads: “Whether he absorbs, kills, or merely takes his victims to an undisclosed location or dimension is also unknown as there are never any bodies or evidence left behind in his wake.
“His face is pale and slightly ghostly and almost appears to have been wrapped in a type of gauze or cloth. His facial features are also an object of debate and many people believe that his face looks different to each person, if it is seen at all.”
The site has distanced itself from the Wisconsin stabbings, issuing the following statement to CNN: "This is an isolated incident, and does (not) represent ... the Creepypasta community as a whole.
"This wiki does not endorse or advocate for killing, worship, and otherwise replication of rituals of fictional works. There is a line of between fiction and reality, and it is up to you to realise where the line is. We are a literature site, not a satanic cult."
Claire Lilley, Head of Child Online Safety at the NSPCC told Huffington Post UK via email: “Things are not always what they seem online and children can get sucked into unhealthy and dangerous situations.
"While the web is a wonderful resource it also harbours risks. Parents should talk to their children about what they are viewing.
"And it's vital youngsters know who to turn to if they ever feel threatened or frightened by any online encounter. This way we can hopefully avoid more tragedies like this.”Suggest a correction