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We all grow up hearing them—stories about a strange man crawling into the backseat of a car at a gas station or the rattling of a hook as it taps against the steamed window of a parked car. Urban legends represent our shared fears, the bad things trying so hard to burst through the seams of society we’ve sown up to protect ourselves. Most urban legends are simply tropes, but some have darker origins. Here are ten that might just be true.

Related: Top 10 Bizarre American Urban Legends

10 The Dog Boy

Despite the name, the Dog Boy isn’t a cryptid; Gerald Bettis was a regular human child born in 1954. He earned his nickname through his habit of collecting stray animals to torture. Years later, his neighbors would describe the yowls coming from the Bettis home with a shudder.

Gerald was cruel and selfish from an early age. By the time he became a teenager, he was both easily angered and incredibly large, looming over his elderly father at 6’4″ (1.93m) and 300 pounds (136kg). Gerald’s parents were his victims, and he continued to abuse them until his father died under mysterious circumstances and his mother broke her hip in a fall. That was when Alline Bettis was removed from the family home by adult protective services, and Gerald was sent to prison.

Today, the Bettis home is reportedly a hive of paranormal activity, all thought to be tied to Gerald’s cruelty and fueled by the suffering of his human and animal victims. It’s passed through the hands of multiple owners who have reported objects floating down the stairs, lights turning on and off unprompted, and sightings of a strange, large man inside the house carrying a cat in his arms.[1]

9 The Body under the Bed


The neon sign is a welcome one; you’ve been driving for more hours than you’d like to count, and you’re more than just tired. All you want in the world is a shower and to stretch out on a soft bed and fall asleep. The room is cheap. If you were inclined to make judgments, you’d think this motel might be a bit seedy, but right now, all that matters is hot water and cool sheets.

As soon as you turn the key in the lock and the door swings open, you’re hit with a smell that’s like a brick wall of stink. “There’s no way I’m sleeping here,” you think, and that’s what you tell the bored guy at the front desk. He doesn’t have any other rooms available, but he’ll send maintenance to check it out.

It takes all of five minutes to determine that the smell is coming from the bed. The maintenance man grabs the mattress and heaves, and what he uncovers will be seared into your mind’s eye for the rest of your life.

There have been at least a dozen verifiable cases of a bad smell in a hotel room leading to the discovery of a decaying body under the bed since 1982. Each time, the body has been placed there deliberately, sometimes by murderers and sometimes by partners in crime after a deadly accident. But every time, they’ve been found by a person unconnected to the victim, just looking to lay their head down for the night.[2]

8 Medicine Cabinet Killers

In the 1992 movie Candyman, set in Chicago, saying the titular villain’s name five times while looking into a mirror will summon a vengeful spirit and grant a swift and brutal death. In 1982, in the same city, in a housing project not far from the one depicted in the movie, a group of killers knocked down a medicine cabinet and climbed through the wall into Ruthie May McCoy’s apartment to rob and murder her.

The bathrooms of adjacent units in the housing project shared a wall, and they were built so that plumbers could simply remove the medicine cabinet and find easy access to the pipes. That also meant that it was possible to push out the medicine cabinet in the adjacent unit and climb into it through the bathroom. That’s exactly what happened to Ruthie May McCoy, and despite hearing the killers climbing through the walls and calling 911, she didn’t receive any help. Her body was found two days later.[3]

7 Polybius

During the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, ten years removed from MK Ultra and the illegal experiments performed by the CIA in that project, a new game showed up at arcades in Portland, Oregon.

The game had a plain black cabinet and featured a series of puzzles in different colors and geometric shapes. It had no name and was periodically serviced by different pairs of men in black suits. The game was hypnotic and addictive, and those who played it supposedly suffered from amnesia afterward. Stories say that at least two teenagers disappeared after playing it, and others have come forward claiming to have been abducted by men in black suits after playing.

The game, which came to be called Polybius by those who knew of it, disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. Today, there’s little more to the legacy of the game than questions: Who created it, and for what purpose? [4]

6 Creepy Clowns

Long before the creepy clown craze of 2016, a different jester was terrifying the children of Chicago: Homey the Clown, a terrifying real-life version of Damon Wayan’s Homey D. Clown from In Living Color.

In 1991, children all over the city were on the lookout for a man dressed as a clown cruising by schools in a white van. He was a kidnapper, they said, a predator. Reports flooded into the police department and newsrooms of an African American male dressed as Homey attempting to lure children into his vehicle with candy and cash.

Media coverage was a study in contrarianism; on October 9, WFLD TV claimed that police were treating Homey as an urban legend. However, two days later, the Chicago Tribune ran an article claiming police were taking reported clown sightings seriously. Homey ultimately faded into memory, either never captured or never having existed in the first place.[5]

5 Poisoned Halloween Candy

Whether you’re the kid or the parent, Halloween always ends the same way: a pail of candy tipped out on a dining room table for inspection. A few treats with partially opened wrappers always end up in the trash, and then a couple of pieces are handed out to sugar-crazed youngsters.

The reason for this TSA-esque Halloween security checkpoint is, of course, the threat of poisoned candy. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who works with someone whose kid bit into a caramel apple with a razor blade buried in it or who had to be rushed to the emergency room after eating a poisoned Tootsie Roll. Nobody really believes these stories, but everyone still checks that candy.

The reality is that these stories gained popularity in the 1980s after bottles of Tylenol on store shelves were famously poisoned, leading to multiple deaths. There have also been documented cases of poison being handed out on Halloween, most notably when an eight-year-old boy died after ingesting cyanide-laced pixie sticks in 1974. His father was convicted of murder after being found to have taken out a life insurance policy on the boy.[6]

4 The Richmond Vampire

An ancient evil, run out of England after being discovered for the monster it was, supposedly sleeps away the daylight hours in a mausoleum at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1925, a railway tunnel collapsed near the cemetery, burying several men alive. Rescuers rushed to the scene and came upon something horrific: a vampire was crouched over one of its victims, covered in blood, with jagged teeth and bright red skin. A group of men pursued the creature, which disappeared into the mausoleum housing the remains of W.W. Pool.

Records of the tunnel collapse reveal that the creature rescuers encountered that day may have actually been Benjamin Mosby, a railway worker who was shoveling coal into a boiler when the tunnel collapsed atop the train he was working in. Mosby survived the initial collapse but suffered multiple broken teeth and serious burns from the accident. Bewildered and in agony, he burst from the rubble and headed immediately for the cool waters of the nearby James River. Mosby died in a local hospital the same day and was laid to rest in the Hollywood Cemetery.[7]

3 Organ Thieves

Accept a drink from the wrong person in a bar while traveling, and you just might wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a throbbing pain in your lower back. That’s the legend, anyway. In 1997, a viral email claimed that a well-financed criminal organization was targeting business travelers in major cities nationwide, drugging them, and harvesting their kidneys to sell on the black market.

The inspiration for this urban legend may well have come from a Turkish man described in an article for Reuters as having been lured to a hospital in Britain, drugged, and having had his kidney removed. Further reporting eventually revealed that the man had previously placed an ad in a newspaper offering to sell his kidney and that he had been one of four Turkish men to do so on that trip to Britain. His claims about being lured and tricked were lies.

Still, it’s probably better to pay for your own drinks.[8]

2 The Vanishing Lady

Near the turn of the twentieth century, a young woman and her mother decided to take a trip to Paris. Upon arriving in the City of Lights, the mother fell atop her bed, ill and exhausted. The dutiful daughter summoned the house doctor, who spoke rapidly to the hotel attendants in French before explaining that the elder woman was seriously ill and that she desperately needed medication.

The problem was that there was only one place to get the specific medication she needed: the doctor’s private office, all the way across town.

The daughter set off in the doctor’s private carriage, but the trip took much longer than it should have. The driver seemed to be in no hurry to reach his destination, and hours passed before she returned to the hotel. When she inquired about her mother at the front desk, though, she received no answer but a blank stare.

“Your mother, mademoiselle? But you arrived alone.”

Panicked, the young woman raced up the stairs only to find her mother’s room occupied by strangers. The linens and drapes were different, too. Eventually, a French police officer confided in the woman that her mother had suffered from the plague and that the hotel had disposed of her body and covered it up out of fear of the panic the presence of the plague in the city was sure to generate.

The story was told by a handful of reporters across multiple newspapers in the late 1800s. When pressed years later about its veracity, one reporter replied that he simply could not remember if the story had been related to him or if he’d simply made it up.[9]

1 The Choking Doberman

A young woman returns home after a night out with friends to a terrible sight: her beloved Doberman lying on its side, struggling to breathe. She rushes her pet to the emergency veterinary hospital, where she’s told that the necessary surgery could take hours and that she should return home and wait for news.

As she arrives home for the second time that night, the woman’s phone begins to ring. Breathless, the vet implores her to get out of the house right away. They’ve removed the obstructions from her dog’s throat, and they turned out to be three human fingers.

A would-be burglar is eventually discovered hiding in a closet, unconscious due to blood loss.

The idea that our dogs would do anything to protect us is an enduring one. The roots of this tale likely come from the historic legend of Llywelyn the Great and his dog Gelert. Llywelyn, the Prince of the Welsh in 1228, returned from a hunting trip one day to find his home in disarray. His infant son was missing, the crib overturned, and loyal Gelert’s snout was smeared with blood.

Convinced his dog had eaten his child, Llywelyn didn’t hesitate to draw his sword and strike Gelert down. It was only after doing so that he heard the chirping of his child from beneath the overturned crib and, when moving about the room to retrieve the baby, discovered the bloodied body of the wolf Gelert had killed to protect the child.[10]

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