What Led a Well-off Israeli Teen to Seduce and Murder a Sex Offender?

'A very sensitive kid' is how classmates describe the 16-year-old accused of murdering a convicted sex offender, after seducing him using Instagram. In a journal, he recounts the murder in detail, including carving a swastika with a knife

Ran Shimoni
Ran Shimoni
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A still of Haim Wizman and the youth accused of murdering him on August 8, taken by a security camera near the victim's house in Netanya.
A still of Haim Wizman and the youth accused of murdering him, taken by a security camera. The investigators said the accused “thought he was performing a good act for the benefit of the world."Credit: Israel Police
Ran Shimoni
Ran Shimoni

About two months ago, the central district of the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office filed an official indictment on the charge of aggravated murder. The victim: Haim Wizman, a 42-year-old convicted pedophile. His alleged murderer: a 16-year-old minor.

At first glance, that seems to be a mistake. The teenager, whose name cannot be published, lives in an affluent town in central Israel. By all accounts, his family is normative. He himself is a member of the student council, a budding actor, an exceptional writer and even attends a prestigious program for gifted kids at one of the country's universities.

But conversations with his acquaintances and a secret journal that the teen had kept reveal a hidden side of his personality. They may explain why such a teenager would murder a sex criminal he didn't know personally by stabbing him nearly 30 times, inside the man's apartment.

“He isn’t a psychopath, as has been written elsewhere. He is no Hannibal Lecter and no Dexter," relates one of his friends, referring to two murderous film and TV characters. "He is just a boy,” she continues, explaining that she agreed to talk only because of what she called “the media’s erroneous labelling of him.”

“When he spoke, it was just like they describe it in school: This is what a call for help looks like. We suspected that he had been subjected to sexual assault; that was pretty clear.”

“He often spoke about the sexual exploitation he had experienced," says a different friend. "He used to refer to himself as ‘a prostitute.’ He would always say that with a smile, as if it were a joke, but it felt way too dark to be a joke.”

None of those who spoke to Haaretz were able to describe in detail any specific episodes. But one said: “Anyone who knew him could tell that something was wrong. We told him to go to a psychologist, but he waved us off and was not interested. That is something that worried us, too, and we had a lot of conversations about it, among his friends.”

As far as the Israel Police and other authorities that have investigated the case know, there is no report on record of the young man having been subjected to a sexual attack, and neither he nor anyone in his family have ever been questioned by welfare authorities. Likewise, he has no criminal or psychiatric record.

The police and the prosecution gathered convincing evidence prior to filing the indictment in early September. The boy had left evidence at the crime scene allegedly linking him to the incident. Moreover, in the journal he kept on his personal computer, excerpts of which were published by Yedioth, he wrote a narrative account in the third person about an ostensible murder.

“The teenaged boy looks at the man and they start kissing,” he wrote. “The young man's pulse was racing, partly from the sex and partly from what he is about to do in another few minutes.” In fact, according to the charge sheet, just minutes later the teenager apparently said to Wizman, “Are you ready for your surprise?” while still laying on his stomach. Then, the indictment continues, the young man took out a knife and told Wizman to turn around before stabbing him.

Haim Wizman’s house in Netanya, where he was allegedly murdered by a 16-year-old youth, on August 8.Credit: Moti Milrod

In the journal he described his thoughts leading up to the act: “‘I can still stop,’ he said to himself. ‘Just put it back in the bag and keep on having sex, or leave. Get up and leave.’”

After stabbing Wizman, the boy apparently carved a swastika with a knife onto a floor rag that he placed in the sink, and then attempted to set fire to the apartment using alcoholic beverages. “They missed the swastika that I carved into the towel and placed in the sink. In a pretty obvious spot, in my humble opinion,” he wrote. “If they hadn’t missed it, the murder would have gotten a little more credit than a few days of fame until some other crime would have taken its place.”

Half an hour or so after entering the apartment, he left the scene, threw away the keys and deleted the fictitious Instagram account by means of which he’d corresponded with the murdered man.

Afterward, the youth described plans to murder additional people: “I am still undecided about whether to do it again," he wrote. "To start a pattern. This way, maybe, I would get a little more attention from the public. I would cause people to be fearful. And that’s it. This is what it is. It is written, black on white: ‘My first authentically moral act.’”

A police source told Haaretz that the investigators’ assumption regarding the motive for the murder was that “he thought he was performing a good act for the benefit of the world.”

'A gentle soul'

In spite of the concerns the boy raised among them, his friends claim that the cruelty attributed to him in the indictment does not accord with the person they know. All of his acquaintances who spoke with Haaretz describe him as extremely charismatic and friendly. “Always at the center of attention of lots of people, always nice to everybody,” as one girl put it. Another friend talked about “a charming, funny guy, who always went with the flow, with the nonsense.”

The accused also had a girlfriend, with whom he broke up shortly before the murder, although they had remained good friends. According to his friends, it was a meaningful relationship for him. Until his arrest, the boy was active in his community, busy with various pastimes and activities. “He is very intelligent,” added another friend, “he’s one of the sharpest people around.”

One month before the murder, he won first prize in a short story competition for youth, held by the local authority where he lives. And just a few days before the murder he starred in a play, in which he was the lead actor.

His friends also describe him as someone with a great sense of humor, “who always found the comedy in every situation.” And yet, it was also said that he often tended toward dark humor in a way that caused concern among others. “He said a few times that the people around him didn’t care about him as a person, and that they used him as a sex object,” said one friend. “It would sound as if he was just making fun of himself. It wasn’t always clear when he was serious and when he was joking.”

One girl said he is “a very sensitive fellow, a gentle soul, in the positive sense.” But she also commented that he is inclined toward “dramatic and theatrical” reactions that are excessive, even in comparison with the behavior of other people his age. “It was all or nothing with him, and that was a bit worrying,” she added, in reference to one particular episode.

The teenager was arrested eight days after Wizman’s body was discovered by two minors who allegedly arrived at his apartment on August 9 to have sex with him.

Born in Beit She’an, Wizman had lived alone in Netanya in recent years; in 2009 he had served a jail term after having masturbated in front of minors. For six years he remained under observation by the Israel Prison Service’s Tzur unit, which is tasked with supervising sex offenders who have completed their prison sentence. At a certain point he was exempted from the unit's supervision.

Immediately after the murder, the teenager deleted from his cellphone the correspondence he had with him – but forgot to take the victim’s phone. In his journal, he wrote: “He throws the keys away far from the house. Far from life, far from Nehemiah Street 24, far from the mistake he made when he left behind the telephone (of the murdered man) that would be able – with the help of enough searching – to track him down.”

Wizman had kept the messages they'd sent each other, which is how the police found their way to the young man’s house.

“He denied everything, said he didn’t know what it was all about,” a police source told Haaretz. Another source added that, in contrast to his father, the youth was not surprised by the officers showing up at his home.

The head of the Israel Police investigation team, Senior Staff Sgt. Maj. Oscar Kirgiz, told Yedioth that when the boy was informed that he was a suspect in the murder, he was in shock. “And then, without us saying anything to him about how the murder was committed, he blurted out: “'So you are looking for a knife?' He pointed at the bag, and pulled it out.”

He was placed under arrest for 20 days, the maximum amount of time a minor can be held in detention without the authorization of the attorney general. Under questioning, he maintained his level-headed demeanor. Later on, his version of events changed: He confirmed that he had in fact been in Wizman’s apartment in Netanya, for the purpose of “a sexual encounter, stemming from youthful curiosity.” Nevertheless, the accused claimed that he was disappointed by what happened and asked to leave, but his exit was blocked by Wizman.

Act of self-defense?

In response, as an act of self-defense, he said, he stabbed the older man. The teenager purchased the knife, he claimed, at Wizman’s request. The police refute these claims, in part on the basis of the diary entries.

Aside from a small circle of people, his friends say, no one knows that he is being accused of murder. Few know that he was even arrested. “What was said was that it is not possible to contact him because he is going through a difficult period,” says one friend. A female friend adds, “We connected the dots on our own, the gossip spread only after the first publicity came out.”

Only a few in the circle knew about previous sexual encounters their friend had with “people who were older than him by too many years,” as one young woman put it. “He didn’t exactly share the details, no more than a sentence, but you could tell that it was all true.” Now, she added, she realizes that she “should have told his parents about my concerns, but I didn’t feel close enough.”

Last year, when the gang-rape case in Eilat came to light (involving a 16-year-old girl, at a local hotel), he wrote a letter to the victim, in the name of his school. In it, he wrote that she was not alone, and that her cry was for all those who had not managed to cry out. He added that they must not live in fear.

Attorney Guy Flanter, who is representing the minor, provided this response: “We understand the public’s interest in this affair. At the same time, we are talking about a minor, and about a trial that is being held in camera with a gag order, in a youth court. It is our intention to conduct his trial within the walls of the courtroom and not in the media.”

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