Bone-Chilling Urban Legends That Turned Out to Be True
It’s easy to dismiss urban legends as fanciful tales designed to scare gullible people. Indeed, in most cases, you’d be right to do so. However, as we’re about to learn, some of those terrifying tales have a basis in reality.
If an urban legend has ever kept you up at night, pray that you don’t find it in the pages that follow because if you do, you’ll know it was true!
A Stranger in the House
The basic premise of a sinister stranger lurking in an innocent person’s home has been repeated so many times in books and films that we all instinctively connect it to fiction. However, this terrifying concept most certainly has a basis in reality.
There have been many real-life instances of people hiding and even living secretly in other people’s homes for long periods of time. However, today, we’re going to dig up one of the earliest stories that became an urban legend.
Our story takes us to a remote, rural part of Germany. The year is 1922. At this time, Farmer Andreas Gruber was growing increasingly perplexed as small items were going missing around his house. His kids insisted that they had nothing to do with it, but then who was meddling with their belongings?
Worse still, his wife was growing increasingly scared as she swore she heard footsteps in the middle of the night. Gruber wasn’t a superstitious man, but he did become suspicious when he spotted unusual footprints in and around the house.
A Shocking Conclusion
Gruber discussed these odd occurrences with neighbors, but sadly, before he could get to the bottom of it, he and his whole family were slaughtered in their home. It seems likely that there was an intruder lurking around the property, waiting for the right time to strike.
However, this person’s intentions seem bizarre. Why wait for so long? Why mess with their belongings? Wouldn’t that increase the killer’s chances of getting caught? Sadly, we will never get the answers to these and other questions surrounding the case, as the killer was never apprehended.
The Man in the Woods
Every region around the world has at least one myth about a malevolent being who lurks in the woods. Around the Maules Forest in Switzerland, these stories center around Le Loyon – a mysterious man who stalks the woods in a flowing camouflage cloak.
Perhaps the creepiest part about this Loyon character is that he wears a gas mask. That’s definitely not someone we’d want to encounter on an otherwise scenic hike through a forest in Switzerland (or anywhere else, for that matter)!
The Ghost of Maules
Also known to locals as the ghost of Maules, Le Loyon was only ever referenced in stories – there was no hard evidence of his existence. So, like many myths and urban legends, he was written off as little more than the work of someone’s overactive imagination.
It is feasible that if one person creates a character that supposedly haunts a region – like the Loch Ness monster or BigFoot – others will look for it and convince themselves they’ve seen it. However, as you’re about to learn, that wasn’t the case with Le Loyon.
The Ghost Who Lived
Finally, in 2013, someone caught Le Loyon on camera. They shared the photograph, and news quickly spread among the locals. Soon after, the infamous cloak and gas mask were found hanging on a tree. With them was a note.
Le Loyon’s note said that he could no longer take being seen as a monster to be feared. No one knows what happened to him, but from that day on, the sightings stopped. Though this poor mystery man lived far from where our next story is set, the similarities are astounding. Let’s uncover them, shall we?
The Man Without a Face
At this point, any readers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are probably thinking that the Ghost of Maules sounds a lot like a mythical character from their region – Charlie No-Face. This poor lost soul once wandered the roads around Pittsburgh at night, and his visage shocked many passersby.
Like Le Loyon, Charlie No-Face was a real person, not a mythical creature. And like the Ghost of Maules, there’s more sadness to his story than there is fear. Indeed, these two urban legends say more about society’s dark side and the way we’ve historically been quite unfair to people who exist outside the accepted norms.
The Tragic Tale of Charlie No-Face
If you listen to the urban legend about Charlie No-Face, you’ll hear of a man who was hideously disfigured, either as a boy or as an adult, in a workplace accident. The exact nature of his accident differs depending on who tells the story. However, the man’s reaction to it remains the same.
Also known by locals as the Green Man, this fellow hides from society, only coming out at night to stroll the empty rural roads around Pittsburg.
The Real Green Man
The real Green Man wasn’t green at all, nor was his name Charlie. However, some parts of his story are true. His name was Raymond Robinson, and he was involved in an accident as a child that led to severe injuries.
Ray lost an arm, his eyes, and his nose after climbing a pole to reach a bird’s nest and getting electrocuted. He certainly did become something of a recluse after this as, understandably, he didn’t feel comfortable with the reactions of strangers to his appearance. He did love night walks, but he was far from sinister. Instead, Ray was a sweet man who was loved by family, friends, and neighbors.
The Night Witches
Also known as the Night Doctors (which, for some reason, is infinitely creepier), this legend had a significant impact on the African American community. The legend tells of doctors who prowled the night, looking for African American victims to capture so they could perform hideous experiments on them. Sadly, this was very much grounded in reality.
The history of horrors committed by medical institutions against African Americans is nothing short of brutal. There certainly was a widespread practice of grave robbing and body-snatching for the purposes of experimentation. And all of this predates the nightmarish Tuskegee experiments.
The Nightmarish Night Doctors
Though the night doctor myth was founded in reality, it was also used cynically by white landowners in the south who wanted to prevent former slaves from moving to the north. They spread fear of the night doctors to keep people from fleeing.
This story represents an incredibly dark moment in American history that still resonates in the Black community to this day. Atrocities like body-snatching and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study created a completely understandable mistrust of the medical community among Black people.
The Consequences of the Night Doctor Legend
This legend only served to widen racial divides and cause problems for Black people when they needed medical interventions. Studies have revealed that, over the years, many African American people have been hesitant to seek medical assistance for fear of what may be done to them without their consent.
There are recorded instances of Black people being denied pain medication because they’re not believed by the medical establishment. And the deeper you dig into this topic, the more issues like this you’ll find. The night doctor story is the tip of a massive pile of problems and injustices.
An Urban Legend From Japan
Let’s move on from the US for now (we will return later) and visit Japan for a more recent urban legend. The Legend of Alice revolves around a series of murders committed between 1999 and 2005. At each crime scene, detectives found the word “Alice” written somewhere in the vicinity.
Adding to the mystery, the Alice killer also left a playing card at the scene of each crime. The twist here is that the murders didn’t really happen. Well, at least not in Japan, where the Alice myth was circulating.
The Real Alice Murders
The Alice murders certainly did take place, but they happened in Madrid, Spain. Of course, the Japanese legend made the murders far more mysterious than they actually were. In reality, a fellow by the name of Alfredo Galán shot his victims and dropped a playing card before fleeing the scene.
The Madrid murders were tragic, of course, but they really weren’t that mysterious. The real mystery centered around this question: How did this random killing spree in Spain become so huge in Japan?
The Alice Myth Is Born
The Madrid murderer was dubbed “the Playing Card Killer.” However, he never intended to leave these calling cards. He dropped one by accident at the first crime scene, and when the media sensationalized it, he decided to just go with it.
Some creative soul ran with the basic set-up of the Playing Card Killer and transformed it into a Creepypasta set in Japan. With its similarities to popular anime series like Death Note, the mythical version of the story quickly took off and spread among young people in Japan.
Another American Boogeyman
After our brief trip to Japan, we’re now back in the US and on our way to Staten Island, New York. We’re hot on the heels of Cropsey – an ax-wielding killer who supposedly escaped from a local mental institution. At this point, the story probably sounds incredibly familiar. You definitely heard this urban legend as a kid, right?
Though there have been many iterations of the murderous mental institution escapee, the story had its origin in real events that happened in Staten Island. In this region, the urban legend states that Cropsey hangs out in the tunnels beneath Willowbrook State School – a place with its own dark past.
The Horrific Willowbrook School
Willowbrook was once a school for kids with intellectual disabilities. However, it was closed down when allegations of torture and horrific mistreatment emerged. Though the school closed down, the horrors continued in the minds of locals who were told that Cropsey might kidnap them and drag them into the abandoned Willowbrook school to kill them.
Shockingly, there’s a whole lot of truth to this story. Let’s dive into the history of Willowbrook to discover the truth behind this urban legend.
Back in the 1960s, schools weren’t so careful about who they hired, and Willowbrook offers a shocking example of what can go wrong when you hire the wrong person. They allowed a man named Andre Rand to work as a janitor – a man who eventually served time for kidnapping children.
We won’t go into his entire criminal history here as it is disturbing reading, but suffice it to say he is not the kind of man you would want within reach of children. Thankfully, Rand (who has shuffled through many different names in his lifetime) is currently serving time and not even eligible for parole until 2037, when he will be 93.
The Tunnels of Puebla
Heading south now, let’s stop off in Mexico to see whether there’s any truth to the legend that a network of tunnels creates a kind of underworld inversion of the city of Puebla. This legend has persisted for more than a century, and as you’ve probably already surmised, it has some truth to it.
Some locals wholeheartedly believed the legends, while others dismissed them out of hand. In this case, it was the believers who took the win. The tunnel system – which is at least 500 years old – was rediscovered in 2015.
Descending Into the Underworld
Americans, Mexicans, and history buffs will be familiar with Puebla as the site of the Cinco de Mayo battle. Researchers believe the tunnel system may have been instrumental in the Mexican soldiers’ fight against (and victory over) the French Empire.
Some of the tunnels are expansive enough that you could quite easily ride a horse through them. However, it’s also likely that they were used by common folk as researchers have found many everyday artifacts like toys and kitchen accessories among the bullets and military gear.
Snaking Beneath the City
Exploration of the tunnels commenced in 2015, revealing a whole network of passageways snaking and intersecting beneath the city of Puebla. By 2017, the local government had completed the restoration of certain tunnel sections, making it possible to open this underworld up to the public.
While the Puebla tunnel legend isn’t scary, it does have a creepy aftereffect – if this persistent myth turned out to be true, how many other urban legends are based in reality? What if the one that scares you most is real? Let’s read on to find out!
Someone Calling From Inside the House
This is one of the most common urban legends, told by kids in torchlight and used as the basis of an endless stream of slasher films. It’s also one of the most terrifying legends since most of us have been asked at one time or another to babysit younger siblings, nieces, nephews, and neighbors.
We hate to break it to you, but this horrifying urban legend was based on a shocking true story. Let’s trace it back to its origins.
Why Is It Always the Babysitter?
Horror filmmakers seem to have it out for babysitters, regularly making them the targets of killers, ghosts, and demonic children. From the 1979 classic When a Stranger Calls to more recent films like Nanny (2022), babysitters are surprisingly popular characters in Hollywood.
It seems this obsession with victimizing babysitters has an origin in real life, and that origin includes the infamous moment when the babysitter realizes the killer is calling from inside the house. The real-life incident in question happened in 1950.
We’re back in the US for this story, this time in Missouri, where 13-year-old Janett Christman is babysitting a three-year-old neighbor. Once again, we’re not going to describe the details of what happened because it is beyond horrific. However, poor Jannett became the victim of a violent intruder.
Her killer was never captured, so it’s understandable that locals spread the word about this story, hoping to save other kids from becoming victims. Eventually, the story spread so far that it became the stuff of legends and Hollywood films.
The Terrifying Tale of the Bunny Man
From Missouri, we’re heading due east to Virginia, where we’ll uncover one of the most unnerving stories on this list. We’ll also need to dial back the clock over a century to arrive at 1904. What we’re looking for is a bus loaded with patients from a mental institution.
Unfortunately, this bus crashed, killing all but ten of the patients. Thankfully, a search party successfully rescued these lost patients – all but one of them. That one missing patient was responsible for the Bunny Man myth.
Animal lovers may wish to skip this section and move swiftly along to the final urban legend. The rest of you should brace yourselves because soon after the bus crash, the locals started finding the bodies of murdered bunnies hanging eerily from a nearby bridge.
You can see the bridge – the Colchester Overpass – in the picture above. While hanged bunnies are sad and terrifying, the next discovery was truly horrific. A passerby discovered a man hanging from the same bridge. This part of Clifton, Virginia, is said to be haunted by the ghost of the Bunny Man.
The Infamous Hookman
This is perhaps the most prevalent urban legend, one that comes in all sorts of variations. It even featured in cartoons like Daria, Spongebob Squarepants, and Shrek the Halls. For the few of you who’ve never heard the story, it generally starts with a couple making out in a car parked in the woods somewhere.
The music on the radio is interrupted by a report that a crazed killer with a hook for a hand is on the loose in the area.
Tough Luck for the Lovers
While the story varies greatly from this point on, it generally involves the man leaving the car to take a leak and then the woman hearing a strange sound. Her boyfriend is always doomed, but occasionally the storyteller will allow the woman to escape. Do you want to know what happened in the real story?
To find out, we have to head down to Texarkana, Texas. Here, we need to dig up the files of the Phantom Killer and the Texarkana Moonlight Murders he was responsible for committing.
The Texarkana Moonlight Murders took place over a two-week period in 1946. The killer attacked eight people in a place called “lovers’ lane.” He killed five of them and, shockingly, got away with it. The police never caught up to him.
The Phantom Killer is a strong match for the Hookman apart from one crucial element – he didn’t kill with a hook. Instead, he used a gun to kill his victims. The similarities are certainly eerie, but it’s also worth noting that urban legends like the Hookman are often invented to scare kids and teenagers into behaving themselves.