Urban legends are almost as ingrained in our society as actual history. These stories are told around a campfire, between giggling girls at a slumber party, or are passed down from generation to generation. Many of them are too old or too widespread to have traceable origins, while others have origin stories just as mysterious as the legend itself. Even fewer still have very real roots that could chill you to the bone. What happens when you take away the security blanket of knowing that these spooky tales are works of fiction and replace it with the possibility that they could actually happen to you?
This is a list of eight stranger than fiction urban legends that are based on terrifying true events, and seven that are still only myths…for now. Maybe knowing that a few of these stories are still safely on the fiction side of that line will quell your fear in some way, but maybe it won’t. Sometimes the line between reality and make-believe is too thin to recognize. Sometimes urban legends aren’t legends at all. True or otherwise, these stories will make you think twice about leaving your doors unlocked when you go to sleep at night. I suggest you turn on a light and cover your mirrors before jumping into this unnerving list. Buckle up, you’re in for a creepy ride.
15. Crazy Person Lives In Family’s Cabinets For Weeks
Every house has things that go bump in the night. The creaky pipes sounds like footsteps in the attic, or the washing machine chugging along mimics the sound of someone knocking on your door. Whatever the sound, there’s usually a way to explain it away. Unfortunately for the Gruber family, their spooky sounds were caused by something a little more malevolent. In mid-March of 1922, things started to go missing in the Gruber house, other things – like footprints – started appearing, and the sound of footsteps in the attic rang through the halls. They didn’t think anything of it until the entire family was murdered in their beds by an uninvited long-term guest. Inexplicably, the family’s animals were watered and well-fed before the murderer fled. The bodies were discovered four days later, but the man in the attic was never caught.
14. The Body In The Rug
This story always starts with someone coming across a beautiful old rug rolled up in an alley or a dumpster. They can’t help but take it home with them. Free rug, right? When they finally unroll it in their living room, out pops a heinous surprise. This one can’t be true, right? They’d definitely notice a body rolled up in a rug, right? Sorry, wrong. In 1984, three students from Columbia University found a rolled-up rug and decided to drag it home. It wasn’t until they got there that they noticed the 200-pound dead guy rotting away inside the carpet. The unidentified twenty-something-year-old man had two bullet wounds in his head. I guess the lesson here is to just take a trip to Ikea.
13. Man Cooked By Malfunctioning Oven
The story of Hansel and Gretel used to be scary when we were younger. An old woman lures the siblings into her candy house only to fatten them up to bake herself a delicious kid casserole in her human-sized oven. This story is like that without the fantasy. An industrial oven at a British kayak factory wasn’t working, so a diligent foreman decided to take a peek inside to see what the trouble was. The trouble was, another worker fixed the problem from the outside and turned the oven back on without realizing his supervisor was inside. The oven’s “safety” measures ensured that the door automatically shut and locked, and its size and solidness made sure the man’s screams for help couldn’t be heard. As temperatures rose to over 500 degrees, he managed to find a crowbar inside but passed out from shock before he could use it. His body was only found when factory workers noticed smoke billowing out of the oven.
12. The Text Is Coming From Inside The House
We’ve all heard the story of the babysitter who keeps getting mysterious phone calls from a killer that eventually get traced back inside the home she’s staying in. This story is an updated version of that. In 2014, a 16-year-old girl from England started getting text messages from a local 18-year-old boy. He said things like he was watching her and he wanted her to see him hanging outside her window. You know, normal stalkerish texts. He really ramped it up one day when he sent her the absolute last text I’m sure she wanted to read: “I’m in your house.” The girl shrugged the text off as a joke but spent most of the night sleeping in her mother’s bed just in case. When she did go back to her room she noticed that a row of shoe boxes under her bed had been moved. I think you know where I’m going with this. When she looked under her bed, there he was. She escaped unharmed, but will probably never sleep soundly again.
11. The Legend Of Cropsey
Cropsey was a boogeyman-like figure for the children of New York. Sometimes he has a hook for a hand, sometimes he carries an ax, but he’s always an escaped mental patient from a mental hospital. This legend supposedly kept kids safe and aware by convincing them that a crazed lunatic could snatch them up at any moment so they’d stay close to home. It was totally fiction, until 1972 when a string of Staten Island children started to actually go missing. Most of the children were never found, but when a 12-year-old girl with Down Syndrome went for a walk one day and never came back the community got together to form a search party. On the grounds of, you guessed it, an abandoned institution for mentally disabled children a firefighter found her buried in a shallow grave. An old janitor for the school had been camping nearby and he was quickly arrested. The man was charged with kidnapping and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
10. The Candy Man
Check your apples for razor blades. Make sure the candy isn’t open or ripped before you eat it. Don’t take anything homemade from strangers. These are the unofficial rules of trick or treating in order to keep children safe from the real-life monsters who are always a threat. While the blades and poison aren’t as big of a threat as my mom wanted me to believe, they’re not unheard of. On Halloween in 1974, it wasn’t the strangers that the children should have been worried about, it was their own parents. The O’Bryan family started their night with a dinner at a neighbor’s house before the two dads took their children out to collect their candy. Mr. O’Bryan soon appeared with five giant Pixy Stix claiming that their rich neighbor was giving them out. He told his five-year-old son he was allowed to have one piece of candy before bed and he chose the Pixy Stix, but couldn’t finish it because it was bitter. It wasn’t long before the boy was doubled over in pain. He died soon after. The Stix was filled with enough cyanide to kill three grown men. The police quickly figured out that there was no rich neighbor and the devilish dad replaced the candy with cyanide himself.
9. A Very Realistic Halloween Decoration
Everyone has a neighbor who gets way too into decorating around the holidays. Their Halloween display always has to be the creepiest on the block and sometimes you aren’t sure if the skeleton on the lawn is real or fake. Usually, it’s just a case of dedicated decorating, but sometimes a prop shows up that wasn’t meant to be there. Five days before Halloween in Delaware, a 42-year-old woman decided to take her own life by hanging herself from a tree next to a busy road. No one knows if she knowingly hanged herself for all to see, or if she just wasn’t thinking about how she’d blend right in with all the other scary things strewn about the neighborhood, but the body managed to stay hanging there through the next day before someone realized that it wasn’t a terrifyingly realistic Halloween decoration at all. It was just terrifying.
8. Slender Man
No self-respecting millennial hasn’t heard of the internet sensation Slender Man. Created in 2009 and posted as a creepypasta internet meme, the character is depicted as a tall, thin, and featureless man usually wearing a dapper suit. He mostly targets children and young adults, silently stalking his prey until he’s close enough to trap them in his tentacle-like arms. And while Slender Man is decidedly fiction, he’s inspired a few very real events. In 2014 in Wisconsin, two 12-year-old girls kidnapped one of their classmates and stabbed her to death in the woods. They claimed that committing a murder was the first step to becoming Slender Man’s henchmen. One of the girls also claimed that Slender Man was watching her, could read her mind, and could teleport wherever he wanted to go. The girls have been charged as adults, but both avoided jail time citing mental illness as their defense.
7. Bloody Mary
I’m not sure I’ve ever gone into a bathroom at night without worrying that there might be another face that’s not my own looking back at me from the mirror. As a child, I was much too afraid to even attempt to play the slumber party game where you’d all go into the bathroom, turn off the lights, and say, “Bloody Mary” three times before turning the lights back on again. If you were lucky, or unlucky, she’d appear in the mirror alongside you covered in blood. There really wasn’t a woman in the mirror, but that didn’t mean preteen girls everywhere weren’t seeing something. A phenomenon called “strange-face illusion” may account for the myth. Staring into a mirror in dimly-lit room for a prolonged period of time can cause a person to experience visual hallucinations. A person’s own face might begin to distort, or another face may appear. Whatever it is, it’s creepy as all get out. Nowadays, the only Bloody Mary I want to see is in a glass on a Sunday morning.
6. The Black Dog
Symbols of death are found almost everywhere in folklore and urban legends. One of the most prevalent being the Black Dog of the British Isles. It’s often seen at night, always black and a little bigger than a regular dog, sometimes with big, glowing eyes. It’s supposed to signify death, but is also associated with electrical storms, crossroads, places of execution, and ancient pathways. It’s easy to mistake a regular dog for this hellhound in the dark of the night, which is probably why it’s such a prominent figure, especially in pop culture. The Black Dog has made cameos in Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter (Hello, Sirius Black), Faust, Supernatural, and many more stories. Black Dogs are a grim reaper’s best friend
5. Paul Has Passed Away
This one’s more silly than scary. It’s been heavily rumored that everyone’s favorite British band lost one of its main members in a car crash in 1967. This was just around the time that Abbey Road dropped and the band was beginning to, well, disband. Paul McCartney started making fewer and fewer public appearances as he prepared to launch his solo career and fans became suspicious. The rumor spiraled out of control when an article was published called “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” and fans began finding “secret messages” when the played Beatles records backward. The Beatles press office tried combating the theory, but the rumors wouldn’t start to decline until Paul addressed them in an interview with Life magazine. There are even still a few holdouts to this day that believe the real Paul was replaced by an impersonator after the accident. My guess is that Beatles fans will never Come Together on this issue.
4. Black-Eyed Children
Have you ever seen a scary movie where the creep-factor is bumped up tenfold by the addition of children? There’s nothing more unnerving than the sound of children singing nursery rhymes, except for maybe thinking about those kids having pitch black eyes. Black-eyed children are normally between the ages of 6 and 16 and are often seen panhandling or hitchhiking on the side of the road. The origin of the myth is often credited to a couple postings on a ghost-related mailing list about sightings of these children in Texas and Oregon. The fairly new legend is taken pretty seriously by ghost hunters who believe the kids to be aliens, vampires, or ghosts. The spread of the story is all thanks to the internet, whether we like it or not.
3. The Clown Statue
Clowns are scary. End of story. People who think otherwise are objectively wrong. People who keep statues of clowns in their homes are out of their minds. This story starts like all the best of them do, in an email forward chain from 2006. A babysitter arrives at the house to find the two children she’s watching already asleep. Understandably bored, she wants to watch TV, but there isn’t one downstairs. She calls the parents to ask if it’s okay if she watches TV in their bedroom and they give her permission, but she has one more request. Would it be alright if she covers the creepy clown statue in the corner with a blanket? The parents don’t respond right away but when they do there’s fear in their voices. The father told her to grab the children, call the police, and get out of the house. They don’t own a clown statue. In some versions of the story the babysitter and the children escape, but others they don’t. One thing is the same in every version, clowns are creepy af.
2. Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn On The Lights?
Getting your first college roommate often comes along with all sorts of horror stories, but I’ve yet to hear one more horrific than this. One roommate had to pull an all-nighter to prepare for an exam the next day, while the other liked to go to bed early. Being a respectful roommate, the first girl finds an empty study room in their dorm to do her work. When she finally returned for the night, she tried to walk as quietly as possible and didn’t turn on any lights so as not to wake up her roommate. The air was filled with a strange, metallic smell but she didn’t think anything of it because it was a dorm and dorms smell. She could hear a dripping noise and her roommate’s heavy breathing. She figured the first was the old sink. Eventually, she fell asleep. When the sun started to rise in the morning, she opened her eyes to see a terrifying message written on the wall above her roommate’s in what looked to be blood: “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the lights?”
1. A Headache Turns Out To Be Brain Parasites
Do you ever feel an itch in your ear and your mind drifts off to the worst possible scenario before sticking a finger in to relieve the discomfort? It’s probably a spider. Oh my god. A spider crawled into my ear while I slept and now it’s living in there. For one woman, this fear became a reality. A 31-year-old Texan woman began getting frequent headaches and vision problems. Clearly, something was wrong and she made an appointment with her doctor. When the results came back, she found out that her brain was riddled with tiny sacks that each contained an even tinier baby tapeworm. She was told that she picked up the parasite from Mexico, a place she hadn’t been to in two years. Turns out, she had been living with worms in her brain for that entire span of time without ever knowing it.
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