The best creepy campfire stories are always the ones that end with the words, "...And it’s all true, because I have the damned documentation here to prove it!"
In that spirit, we've tracked down five of the creepiest tales and urban legends that really happened to real people, proving once and for all that nothing is more terrifying than everyday life.
The Dead Body Under Your Freaking Matress
A couple checks into a hotel and have to put up with a foul odor in their room all night. They call the staff to complain and somebody figures out the stench is coming from the bed.
Now, there's no way that scenario is going to have a good ending. You're almost hoping at that point that it'll turn out the last guest just got drunk and pooped behind the headboard. But, no, the staff take off the matress and discover the couple has been sleeping over the rotting body of a dead girl who had been stuffed in the box spring.
This actually happened, in Las Vegas. Also, Kansas City, MO and Atlantic City, NJ and several times in Florida and California and, well, let's just say that in or under the bed in a hotel room seems to be a fairly popular destination for the recently deceased.
It makes sense if you think about it. The closet and under the bed are the two most popular places to hide just about anything, so it's not surprising a hell of a lot of corpses end up there as well. In fact, the odds are pretty good that at least once a guy has killed a prostitute, tried to stuff her under the bed, only to find there was already a body there.
The strangest part isn't that the bodies wind up in such a terrible hiding place (killers often aren't the type to plan ahead). No, the strange thing is that in almost every story people will sleep part of, or in many cases, the entire night, on top of the corpse before reporting it.
Most people we know will complain if they detect that someone might have smoked a cigarette in their room four months ago. Not these people, they slept inches above an oozing heap of rotting human flesh rather than inconvenience the hotel management by asking for a new room.
Or, at least we hope sleeping is all they did on that bed. Oh, man, can you imagine dying and then the first thing that happens is some middle age couple starts porking over you? Ew.
Hopefully they at least got a free continental breakfast out of the ordeal.
The Funhouse Mummy
A prop at a carnival was discovered not to be made of the usual combination of papier mache and carni spit, but human skin and bone. All the little kiddies at the haunted house had been poking and giggling at a real, mummified dead body.
Apparently the smell wasn’t just coming from the convict manning the corndog stand. Back in 1976, a camera crew filming an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man began to set up in the haunted house at the Nu-Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, Calif.
As they were moving aside a "hanging man" prop, they accidentally knocked off its arm and discovered human bones inside. Bionic, this poor sap wasn’t.
The story gets stranger. The body was actually that of criminal mastermind Elmer McCurdy, who was killed in a shootout after robbing a train in 1911. The princely sum old Elmer got killed for? $46 (and two jugs of whiskey).
McCurdy was embalmed by the local undertaker, and apparently the guy was so darn pleased with his work that he propped up the corpse in the funeral home as evidence of his skills. People were charged 5 cents to see the corpse, which they paid by dropping a nickel in the cadaver’s mouth. Remember that little bit of history the next time somebody turns their nose up at you for liking Hostel 2.
Think it can’t get any stranger? Oh, you naïve fool. After several years of raking in the nickels (how exactly these coins were retrieved after being dropped into the corpse’s mouth is something probably best left to the imagination) our enterprising undertaker’s scheme was ruined when McCurdy's brothers showed up to claim him. Of course, these guys weren’t his brothers at all, but wily carnival promoters. From that point on, McCurdy’s mummy went on a morbid mystery tour all around America, popping up at carnivals all over the country before finally coming to rest in Long Beach.
McCurdy is now buried in Oklahoma. Because McCurdy apparently had the most entertaining corpse in history, they prevented anyone else from taking him on tour by dumping concrete on top of the casket. No, really.
The Curiously Realistic Decoration
What was thought to be your typically charming Halloween decoration depicting a lynched woman hanging from a tree, turns out to be a genuine suicide.
In the town of Frederica, Delaware, a 42-year-old woman, perhaps distraught by the fact that she lived in Delaware, hung herself from a tree near a busy road on a Tuesday night. The body managed to hang there until the next day and was viewed by many unwitting (or perhaps retarded) spectators before somebody realized it wasn't a decoration and finally called the police.
Once again it's the lack of complaints from passers-by that amaze us. Even if the hanging thing wasn't a body, it was something that looked exactly like one and would be considered an extremely distasteful Halloween decoration (unless she put on a wacky witch's costume before doing the deed).
With the political correctness these days, you'd have expected two special city council meetings and 30 letters to the editor within the first ten minutes of someone seeing it.
We can't help but wonder, if the person who eventually called the police hadn't bothered, how much longer would the body have hung there? This happened five days before Halloween. Add five days of decomposition to the equation and suddenly you have something a whole lot more terrifying.
Also, did the woman plan this? She knew what time of year it was, and intentionally hung herself in a public place. Did she want her corpse to blend in with the bed sheet ghosts and stuffed witches around the neighborhood? If so, it sounds like she may have been a fascinating person.
A Halloween Stunt Goes Wrong in the Least Surprising Way Possible
A teenager manages to provide the Halloween show he’s in with the ultimate finale when, while pretending to hang himself in front of the audience, he actually hangs himself.
While the fine citizens of Frederica we discussed were perhaps a bit slow on the uptake, the people involved in this hanging-related legend are on the dipshit honor roll. Mainly because it's happened more than once.
Yes, people have repeatedly tried to pull off an imitation hanging for a Halloween show, forgot to include the "imitation" part and went ahead and accidentally killed themselves. Yes, they were pretty much all teenage males.
In one instance, an entire working gallows was built for a show, with the "victim" secured by a harness so that he’d stop just short of actually being hung (take a wild guess how that turned out). Now we’re just thinking aloud here, but if we were standing on a gallows, fake or not, with a rope around our necks, we’d want to take a few precautions. For example, and again just blue-skying, maybe don’t use a real rope that is tied into a real noose that is wrapped around your real neck in a way that could really kill you.
Perhaps the saddest thing about the story was how completely unnecessary the whole thing was. Here’s a tip for anyone trying to thrill kids on Halloween in the future: You don’t need to hang yourself. Just give out full-sized chocolate bars instead of those not-so-fun "fun-sized" ones. We can guarantee the tykes will be talking about the house that gave out full-sized Snickers bars long after some life-risking stunt was forgotten.
Some poor schmuck is committed to his or her eternal resting place, even though they aren’t quite ready to take that final dirt nap. Scratch marks are later found on the coffin lid along with other desperate signs of escape.
This not only happened, but back in the day it happened with alarming regularity. In the late 19th century, William Tebb tried to compile all the instances of premature burial from medical sources of the day. He managed to collect 219 cases of near-premature burial, 149 cases of actual premature burial and a dozen cases where dissection or embalming had begun on a not-yet-deceased body.
Now, this may seem ridiculous, but keep in mind this was an era before doctors such as the esteemed Dr. Gregory House gained the ability to solve any ailment within 42 minutes. If you went to the doctor with the flu in those days, he’d likely cover you in leeches and prescribe you heroin to suppress your cough. Their only method for determining if a person had died was to lean over their face and scream "WAKE UP" over and over again. If you didn't react, they buried you.
The concern over being buried alive back then was so real that the must-have hot-ticket item for the wealthy and paranoid were "safety coffins" that allowed those inside to signal to the outside world (usually by ringing a bell or raising some type of flag) should they awake 6-feet under. Though, answering that bell sounds like a good way to get ambushed by a zombie if you ask us.
Unfortunately safety coffins aren’t in vogue anymore, so if you’re at the cemetery and hear a muffled voice calling out "OK guys, joke’s over. Let me out!" it might be a good idea to inform someone with a shovel quickly.
Of course, that last sentence was merely facetious, there’s no way something like this could still happen today. Uh, well, except for this story about a Venezuelan man waking up during his autopsy. On second thought, you might want to consider adding a line in your will that states you’re to be buried with a gas-powered auger in your casket when you go.
Nathan Birch also writes the disgustingly cute webcomic Zoology.