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10 Creepy urban legends and the terrifying truths that inspired them


1. The Carnival Corpse

skeleton smoking a cigarette

Legend has it: A travelling carnival wheeled into town with an incredibly lifelike mummy to scare kids with. Little did the children know that the ‘prop’ was in fact…a real dead person!

The truth: Back in October 1911, an American outlaw named Elmer J. McCurdy had robbed a train in Oklahoma for a whopping $46 and two jugs of whisky. He fled with his spoils, only for police to catch up and kill him in a shoot-out on the Kansas border.

In the funeral home nobody would claim his body. Spotting a money-making opportunity, the undertaker embalmed the body and allowed visitors to see the preserved criminal if they agreed to place a nickel in his mouth. Five years later, a carnival man would arrive, claim to be the long-lost relative of McCurdy and whisk the stiff away, only to make him an all-star attraction of his own.

Sixty years later, while filming a television show named The Six Million Dollar Man at the Pike Amusement Park in California, a crew member spotted a ‘mannequin’ hanging from a noose. He went to move its arm, only for the arm to break off in his hand and reveal bone beneath the outlaw’s preserved flesh.

Elmer McCurdy’s final resting place is now at the Summit View Cemetery in Oklahoma.

2. The Halloween Hanger

hangman and his noose

Legend has it: What was thought to be your average charming lynched-woman-hanging-from-tree Halloween decoration was, in fact, another real dead person!

The truth: There are actually three very recent cases of people mistaking the deceased for decorations, the first of which dates to 2005 in the town of Frederica, Delaware. A woman hung herself from a tree beside a busy road, only for the suicide to go unreported for hours because passers-by thought it was a Halloween holiday prank. “It looked like something somebody would have rigged up,” the wife of the town mayor told The Wilmington News Journal.   

3. Buried Alive!

kill bill grave hand

Legend has it: On occasion, after saying our final goodbyes and eating all the cucumber sandwiches at the funeral buffet, the deceased ‘wake up’. Problem is, they’re six feet under, where nobody can hear you scream. Scratch marks on the inside of coffins act as proof of a reanimated struggle to escape the grave.

The truth: There are dozens of cases of this happening. In fact, it happened as recently as August 2015, when a 16-year-old girl from Honduras ‘woke up’ in her grave. “I heard banging, then I heard her voice,” her father told TV news. “She was screaming for help.”

In the Victorian era, people were so freaked out at the idea of being buried before their time was up that ‘safety coffins’, coffins with bells to ring if you’ve decided you’ve had enough of death, became popular. Unfortunately, there are no documented cases of anybody being saved by one. Bummer. 

4. The Legend of Cropsey 

cropsey missing person

Legend has it: An escaped mental patient in the US haunts an abandoned institution, only coming out at night to kill children with a bloody axe and/or his hook hand.

The truth: In the summer of 1987 a 12-year-old girl named Jennifer Schweiger disappeared from the Staten Island neighbourhood of Willowbrook – the same year its nearby mental institution was shut down. Over time, more children went missing, culminating in reports of somebody lurking in the grounds of the abandoned building and the arrest and murder conviction of Andre Rand, an ex-employee (not patient) of the institute. But don’t take our word for it – check out Cropsey, the documentary all about it, on Netflix.

5. The Organ Thieves 

human organ box

Legend has it: There’s a gang of right ‘orrible chaps that will drug you and steal your organs for profit as you sleep.

The truth: Indian construction worker Mohammad Saleem started on a new building site in 2009. While he was waiting for work to begin, two masked men forcibly pumped him full of anaesthetic. On waking up, he found himself in a hospital… minus a kidney. “The men said, ‘We have removed your kidney, you better not breathe a word about it.’” Saleem told reporters. Indian police believe he was the latest in a long line of victims of an organ-trafficking racket based in New Delhi, which had been operating for almost a decade and selling organs to rich patients around the globe. Mind. Blown.

6. The Cold Caller… from Beyond the Grave!

haunted phone

Legend has it: The afterlife has pretty decent phone signal, because someone once dialed their loved ones from the other side of death.

The truth: After a tragic train crash that killed 26 in Los Angeles in 2008, the family of deceased Chuck Peck received 35 calls from his phone on the night of the incident. There was no voice at the other end though, just static noise. And when you consider Peck died on impact, and the calls were only made to various members of his immediate family, it all seems pretty weeeird. 

7. The Hotel Guest Who Never Checked Out

creepy hotel room

Legend has it: A couple checks into their hotel room, only to quickly head back down to the desk clerk to complain about a rotting smell rising from under the bed. One inspection, they find the cause of the stink is none other than… another real dead person!

The truth: Here’s another myth that has its roots in a number of real life incidents, be it the case of the German couple finding the remains of a 64-year-old man inside the bed of room 112 of the Burgundy Motor Inn in New Jersey back in 1999, or the 29-year-old deceased woman who was discovered in a New York motel in 1988. Apparently, the latter had been there so long that at least two separate guests had unknowingly slept on the bed, just inches above her corpse, before the body was found. Jesus. 

8. The Bloody Tug O’ War

tug of war

Legend has it: During a ‘friendly’ tug of war contest, a participant put so much effort into beating the rival team that he tore his own arm off.

The truth: Uh huh, it actually happened. TWICE. Bleurgh. Back on October 25 1997, Yang Chiung-ming and Chen Ming-kuo were participating in a huge tug of war in Taipei, capital of Taiwan. How huge? Approximately 1600 people joined in. Yeah, huge. Anyway, within seconds of the contest starting, the rope snapped, and off popped one arm from each of the men, just below the shoulder. Luckily, the victims were taken to Mackay Memorial Hospital where both their limbs were reattached. Do yourself a favour, though: Do not Google ‘Amputated Tug Of War’. Ever. 

9. The Corpse Collector

hammer horror behind the scenes

Legend has it: Your quiet friendly neighbour is actually sneaking into your local cemetery at night and nicking all the fresh corpses for his own pleasure.

The truth: Alright, this one is crackers. When bodies started to go missing from local cemeteries around Nizhny Novgorod in Russia, an investigation led police to the pretty normal-looking flat of historian Anatoly Moskvin. And Anatoly Moskvin had a dirty little secret…

See, Mr Mokvin had himself a collection of very, very human dolls, all dressed up in women’s clothing and wigs, posed around his flat - all mummified dead bodies. “During a search of his flat and garage, 29 self-made, life-size dolls dressed in clothes of buried people were found,” a police spokesman said. “It was ascertained that he used mummified human bodies from graves to make them.”

10. The Axe-Wielding Bunny Man 

evil bunny man

Legend has it: A sinister figure in the US countryside terrorises the local neighbourhood with an axe, whilst wearing white bunny suit and mask

The truth: In reality, this one’s less scary and just plain odd. Back in October 1970, an Air Force cadet named Robert Bennett and his fiancé were chilling in his car when a bunny mask popped up at his window, screaming “You’re on private property!”. Things got even wackier when the bunny lobbed an axe through the car window before running into the nearby woods.

Bunny Man cropped up again a fortnight later, this time while standing on the porch of an abandoned house. The security guard who spotted him then saw the figure start hacking away at the porch with his axe, again screaming about trespassers before, once again, hopping back into the nearby woods. Since then, the axe-wielding Bunny Man has been an urban myth that’s haunted the dreams of local kids in the Washington DC area. 

Written by the wandering mind of Chris Sayer, follow him on Twitter: @ChrisSayer00



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