Urban legends are fun! Except they turn out to be true and then the terrifying realization happens that at any moment you could be appearing in the starring role of a tale that gets told around camp fires, at Halloween parties, and around the office. You know, like that one day Susie was dressed as a bunny and met a mystery man dressed as a ghost and they had weird, awkward, costumed sex on a pile of coats and then it turned out they were related? Yeah, like that. Is that worse than discovering a severed limb in your newly-purchased barbecue? Who can tell, but here are ten ghastly stories that prove it is a strange and often tragic world out there, folks!
Did you hear the one about the man in North Carolina who lost his foot in a plane accident and kept it in a barbecue grill that he had tucked away in a storage unit? The man, Shannon Whisnant, let his payments on the storage facility lapse, and so all of his possessions were sold at auction to a man named John Wood. When Josh discovered the severed limb inside the barbecue, he refused to give it back.
As detailed in the recent freakish documentary Finders Keepers, this is a case of truth being far, far away stranger than fiction. They even went on syndicated court show Judge Mathis to solve ownership of the amputated appendage. Of course, the story is actually a tragic one, given Whisnant lost his food in a plane crash that also claimed the life of his father.
Did you hear the one about the carnival fair that used a real-life human body to decorate their horror-themed festivities? It’s 1976 and the makers of The Six Million Dollar Man are using the Nu-Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach as the set to an episode. While decorating the interior of the park’s haunted house, they discovered what they thought was a papier-mâché dummy was actually the real-life mummified body of a local criminal who had died in 1911.
The funeral home operator liked his embalming work on the body of infamous Elmer McCurdy so much that he kept the body and charged visitors a nickel to see it. Men claiming to be McCurdy’s relatives came by and retrieved the body of their kin, but it turns out they were just carnival promoters. The body spent the next half a century being shipped around the country to fool crowds who had no idea who or what they were actually brushing past in the dark of an exhibit. The body of McCurdy was eventually buried in Oklahoma, with his coffin being buried under concrete to stop any further entrepreneurial antics from occurring after being laid to rest.
Did you hear the one about the doctor’s head in the hospital elevator? This gruesome story is like something out of a particularly-grisly entry of the Final Destination franchise. Dr. Hitoshi Nikaidoh was a surgical resident at the Christus St. Joseph Hospital in Houston, Texas, and in August of 2003, he wound up decapitated.
He simply found himself trapped between the door and the entryway after running to reach the closing elevator, at which point his head got improbably stuck. He was lifted up and his head severed across his jawline. Dr. Nikaidoh’s colleague was in the elevator car with the cranial remains while his body fell to the bottom of the shaft. As it turns out the elevator had recently been out of service.
Maggots for Brains
Did you hear the one about the woman who came back from vacation and discovered maggots chewing through her brain? Well, it almost goes like that. Just two years ago, Rochelle Harris visited Peru and on her way back noticed a scratching sound inside her ear. She later found fluid leaking out of her ear, and upon visiting the hospital, a brain x-ray discovered that maggots had burrowed a 12mm hole into her ear canal.
Luckily for Ms. Harris, the feisty critters hadn’t reached her brain, but that’s probably little comfort to the woman. It’s suspected a screw-worm fly lay its eggs in her ear while she slept. This, of course, is nothing new and all sorts of creepy crawlies have found their way inside people’s ears. Most commonly grotesque are spiders — which you can Google and find all sorts of gruesome pictures to terrify yourself and your friends with. Better stock up on caffeine, since you won’t ever be sleeping again.
The Green Man
Did you hear the one about the old disfigured man who glows green and haunts the backstreets of Pennsylvania? Well, in 1918, an eight-year-old boy by the name of Raymond Robinson was horrifically electrocuted, leaving him disfigured, with no eyes or nose and only one ear and one arm. Due to his appearance, he only ventured out at night, walking along State Route 351 to the horror of motorists, many of which deliberately went out in search for him. His skin glowed green as a result of the electricity.
The story has obviously been exaggerated and embellished over the years. He died in 1985 at the age of 74 and lived his life quietly making mats and wallets to sell. While his appearance was the subject of local taunts and innuendo, he is said to have been a kind man and would take photos for people in exchange for beer or cigarettes.
Did you hear the one about the man who accident hanged himself in front of a Halloween audience? One such incident occurred back in 1990 when a teenager pretended to hang from the gallows during a pre-Halloween hayride in Chicago. Only when the boy failed to deliver a speech to the spectators did a tractor driver suspect something had gone horribly wrong with the stunt that had otherwise gone off without a hitch many times.
As if one of these flukes wasn’t enough, a 15-year-old boy in North Caroline was accidentally hanged after a noose tightened around his neck in a basement that had been decorated for Halloween with fake spider webs and other scary paraphernalia. Don’t try this at home, folks.
Did you hear the one about the man on Staten Island who murdered little children? The name given to him was “Cropsey,” and while locals may use the legend to scare kids, there really was a man named Andre Rand. Believed to be an occultist and drug addict, Rand had previously worked at Willowbrook, a now-notorious institution for mentally handicapped children.
Rand is currently jail for kidnapping and murder, but he is also believed to have been the one responsible for other disappearances. His story was told in the 2009 documentary Cropsey, and was also the inspiration for the killers that appear in both The Burning (1981) and Madman (1982).
The Toxic Lady
Did you hear the one about the woman whose body became toxic? In 1994, a cancer patient named Gloria Ramirez began suffering from confusion, elevated heart rate, and respiration problems. Upon visiting Riverside General Hospital, she began emitting fumes that sent hospital staff into fits of illness. When the nurses tried to get a blood sample from Ms. Ramirez, they noticed an ammonia-like smell. The toxic fumes unleashed from her body were so strong that people became lightheaded and then passed out. Upon waking, they had no control over their motor-functions. The woman died later that evening.
You may have seen this story play out on TV shows like The X-Files and Grey’s Anatomy. It was believed the toxicity resulted from a build-up of dimethyl sulfoxide, a solvent used as a home remedy for pain, in the woman’s system, potentially combining with her cancer medication to turn lethal. Moral of the story? Bleach is not medicine.
The Water Supply
Did you hear the one about the hotel guests who drank water from a water tank with a decaying corpse inside? The Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles experienced that when the body of a 21-year-old missing Canadian woman was found in one of the four rooftop water towers. Guests of the hotel had reported instances of off-coloured water and drinking water that tasted “funny”, but they chalked it up to one of those risks you take staying at a place like The Cecil Hotel. You probably shouldn’t expect much for $65 a night.
As it turns out, The Cecil is known for attracting the darker elements of life. Many murders and suicides have taken place there, and during the turbulent ‘80s, when prices dropped dramatically they even had — unbeknownst to them, obviously — serial killer Richard Ramirez stay on the 14th floor. Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger also stayed there briefly. Inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel, maybe?
Did you hear the one about the TV network that broadcast the death and possessions of several high-profile entertainment personalities? Okay, so this one isn’t real – but people thought it was. In 1992, British television channel BBC1 broadcast a Halloween special called GhostWatch. Hosted by and featuring real TV personalities, the 90-minute show proposed to be entering a real haunted house. Presented “live” with a studio audience and viewers calling in to help explain the so-called paranormal activity, the film terrified a nation with the BBC receiving a flood of complaints — especially revolving around the demonic fates of two well-loved UK entertainers, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson. Centered on a ghost charmingly nicknamed Pipes due to its habit of banging and clanging of household pipes, GhostWatch was at least partly inspired by the Enfield Poltergeist and baby killer Amelia Dyer.
Five days after the program aired, an 18-year-old mentally handicapped man, Martin Dunham, committed suicide after the pipes in his own house started to make noises. In his farewell letter he wrote “if there are ghosts I will be… with always as a ghost.” GhostWatch has never been re-aired on British television.