Did you hear about the one about the girl who went on holiday to some far-flung exotic location, drank the tap water there and afterwards complained of maggots inside her skull? No? Doesn’t sound familiar yet? Anyway, she went on a date with her boyfriend later on and they were making out in the car at Make Out Point when the boyfriend saw a weird Hallowe’en decoration that turned out to be little Jimmy Connors from 5th grade who had been pulling a self-hanging stunt to creep out the lovers which went horribly wrong. Poor little Jimmy snuffed it by mistake, and so did the girl and her boyfriend when the crazy fisherman turned up who knew all about what they had done last summer. No? You’re really never heard of that one? Well, that’s probably because I just fabricated it right here on the spot by lazily stitching together snippets of other ones. A patchwork Frankenstein quilt of urban legends. These ones that follow, though, are not only not made up by me; they actually happened to some poor schmuck.
1) Got your Kidneys!
This legend about waking up in a bathtub full of ice and with an ominously kidney-shaped incision in just the place where you’d expect your kidney to be has been doing the rounds since the 80s. However, in 1995, the myth became reality in parts of India. A law passed in that year requiring all organ donors to be family members of the intended recipient meant that there was a huge spike in the demand for illicit kidneys and a horrible new black market was born. In 1998 a kidney-stealing scam was uncovered and 10 individuals arrested for luring in unsuspecting (and unconsenting) “donors” with the dangling carrot of a job offer, then proposing a very thorough medical which involved chloroform, scalpels and icy soaks in the bath. Waking up short of a kidney the next day, the poor victim was to sit by the phone for months before realizing that the job offer was never going to rear its imaginary head. In 2002, acclaimed director Chan-wook Park immortalized the legend in his movie Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance; though interestingly, the legend had existed way before either the movie or the real event.
2) Saw-style Coercion
We’ve all seen the Saw series of horror films. We’ve all woken up in a cold sweat after a vivid nightmarish vision of that horrible grimacing mask bearing down on us. And we’ve all cried ourselves back to sleep. But did you know that such a sicko once tried to use similar methods to engineer a bank robbery in 2003? Pizza guy Brian Wells was called out to deliver two pizzas to a remote radio tower in the back of beyond. Hours later, Wells turned up in a Pennsylvania bank, with a Saw-style bomb device strapped around his neck and brandishing a custom-made shotgun. He professed to have been forced to commit the robbery – among other crimes – in a time allotted or the bomb would detonate. Police arrived on the scene and arrested him… and the bomb duly detonated, blowing a hole in his chest and killing him instantly. The entire unpleasant episode was broadcast live on TV and found its way onto the internet, earning an avalanche of negative press for the officers who had allowed it to happen. The FBI would later allege that Wells was part of the conspiracy; although presumably, the blowing up bit was not meant to happen.
3) Functioning Head, Post-Decapitation
The story goes that for a brief time after the head has been separated from the spinal column, it retains enough blood to continue to function; blinking, gesturing with eyes, reacting to stimulus and even attempting speech. Evidence for this as an actual happening dates back to the French, those pioneers of the guillotine. Apparently back in 1905 a Dr. Beaurieux was fascinated with the urban legend and decided to test it out on a nasty murderer named Henri Languille, who was destined for the chop. After the deed was done, Beaurieux noted that murderer’s eyes lolled about for 5 or 6 seconds, as newly-decapitateds are wont to do. Just as Languille was showing signs of having departed this world, Beaurieux then called out his name several times and each time received a definite response, with the subject locking eyes with the doctor for the first couple of tries. Afterwards, he presumably got bored with the taunting and succumbed to Death’s bony grip.
4) Carnival Dummy on the Ghost Ride is Real
Like the Saw legend, this one is also a case of life imitating art. The 1953 Vincent Price classic is a remake of an earlier 1933 effort; both of which tell the story of a wax sculptor who uses real bodies in the making of his models. Meanwhile, around 20 years before the first movie, gun-slinging bad-ass Elmer McCurdy was killed in a shoot-out with the law in 1911. The undertaker was so proud of his embalming job that he propped up his human taxidermy and charged people a small fee to see the fugitive. Some shrewd carnival operators saw the potential for the body and claimed it as their own brother, when in fact they bore no relation to McCurdy and simply wanted to parade him around the country as part of their macabre sideshows. McCurdy finally ended up in a Los Angeles Wax Museum, where he remained as a figure – his authenticity unbeknownst to the staff – until the 70s when the Six Million Dollar Man filmed an episode in the museum, snapping off one McCurdy’s limbs in the process and revealing his identity. He was finally buried in 1977, and to make sure he couldn’t somehow continue his lucrative posthumous career as a charismatic corpse, two yards of cement were heaped upon his grave (I’m not kidding!) Although his deathly adventures started before either of the movies, knowledge of them was not common until much later; another example of an urban legend coming true.
5) Pictures of the Deceased, Dressed up to look Alive
Have you ever found yourself perusing the photos of an unsettlingly eccentric centenarian who smells of moth-balls and soap? If you have, you may have noticed something a little bit not quite right about some of their old snaps. That’s because back at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries, it was all the rage to dress up your newly deceased relative to look like the life and soul of the party. The reason for this was the extortionate pricing of photograph back then, which poor families would only see as affordable on special occasions. And there’s nothing more special than a death in the family, is there? Although, to be fair, it is understandable to see why they would want a memento of their loved one; and I guess it’s better late than never. Fortunately with the advent of Instagram, such practices have gone out of fashion.
6) Prostitute call-out turns out to be Daughter
This one is a whole other sort of creepy. Back in 2002, an overworked businessman and sexually-frustrated husband from Israel was sent away on business to the resort of Eilat in the south of the country. Seeing his chance for a spot of hanky-panky, the unnamed Lothario summoned a prostitute to his room – only to find to his horror that it was his own daughter. He immediately cut short his trip, ran home to his wife (presumably with eyes shut tight, fingers in ears and shouting la-la-la-la all the way) and confessed his sordid secret. The wife promptly filed for divorce and expressed an interest to find a “proper job” for the daughter. Icky.