5 Terrifying Killers (That Turned Out to be Mass Panics)
Humans are hard-wired to function in groups. But it's a double-edged sword -- it takes a lot of us to build a city, but as anyone who has ever witnessed a riot can attest, people's ability to act like idiots also multiplies in crowds.
And this phenomenon can manifest itself in really weird and even fatal ways. That's how we wound up with bizarre stories like ...
The June Bug Disease
In 1962, some workers in an American textile factory came down with a mysterious infection that caused numbness, dizziness and vomiting. Basically, it had all the symptoms of a bad flu. But workers said it was no flu -- the sickness was the result of a sudden infestation of mysterious venomous insects. If you got bitten, you got sick.
"The only cure is a 30 percent raise and an additional 10 personal days per employee."
You can imagine the effect this news had on the factory floor -- the moment people heard that venomous bugs were crawling everywhere (and that there could be one IN YOUR HAIR RIGHT NOW), they freaked the hell out. But they were powerless to stop the plague -- soon, a whopping 62 employees were sickened by "the June bug disease," and a bunch of them even had to be hospitalized due to the attacks from these weaponized insects.
There was only one problem: No such bug was ever discovered in the factory, or anywhere else. They never existed. The venomous June bug was completely fictional.
If this thing has any poison, we're pretty sure it ends up smeared on the outside of your light bulbs.
What Really Happened?
In reality, the workers of the factory succumbed to a phenomenon known as hysterical contagion. It's a neat little trick of the mind that causes the body to react physically to things like stress and peer pressure, often manifesting in the form of nausea and other symptoms of illness.
And it's shockingly common. In 2006, 300 students in 14 separate schools in Portugal came down with similar symptoms after an episode of a popular teen soap opera called Strawberries With Sugar featured a plot about a mysterious and deadly virus outbreak (don't all teen soaps rehash that trope sooner or later?).
"Ebola will eat all our pretty faces! Yaaaaay!"
Or you may have heard about the notorious Pokemon epilepsy scare, in which blinking lights in an episode of the cartoon triggered nausea and vomiting in hundreds of Japanese kids. The original reported cases might have been real, but in the end, the number of kids reporting attacks was many times greater than the actual portion of the population that has sensitivity to flashing lights. At some point, healthy kids started convincing themselves they were having the seizures.
"Y-y-yeah, th-this is how J-j-japan enjoys th-things. You w-wouldn't understand."
Of course, it would be different if we were talking about symptoms like, say, blood shooting from your eyes -- it's hard for your body to spontaneously cause that due to peer pressure. But we all know that certain symptoms can be caused by a fear or stress reaction -- nausea, headaches, dizziness, hives -- and if the thing you're scared of supposedly causes those symptoms, you've got all of the makings of a very imaginary yet real disease. And it gets weirder ...
The Fort Worth Perfume Panic
In 2009, a strange smell began wafting through a Fort Worth call center that someone quickly recognized as a poisonous carbon monoxide leak. Soon, people started dropping like flies from chest pains, headaches, dizziness and breathing difficulties. The building was evacuated, and at the end of the day, 34 people were hospitalized and another 110 treated at the scene.
The only problem was there was no gas leak to be found, and there were no abnormal traces of carbon monoxide in the air. Also, carbon monoxide is odorless.
Skunks will maul you to death if you're not prepared.
Eventually, someone worked out that the strange odor that people were complaining about was ... perfume.
Someone had applied their Chanel No. 5 a little generously that morning, and the resulting Fort Worth perfume panic claimed over a hundred victims.
Other symptoms included soft focus and bizarre voice-overs.
What Really Happened?
Apparently, there is such a thing as contagious fear, and it works like this: If something smells suspicious and someone speculates that the smell might be, say, poisonous gas, everyone freaks the hell out. And not just in the average "Oh shit, did I leave the oven on?" way, but their mind actually lures the body to join in the panic train. This can and often does lead to actual physical symptoms.
"Jane gets a whole week off of work? I wish I had stage 3 syphilis."
In the case of Fort Worth, the whole incident was eventually traced back to two employees who started complaining about a co-worker's perfume being so strong that it made them dizzy. Someone overheard and made a slight misinterpretation of the statement, and the whole building got to experience an exciting crisis situation firsthand. Although we suspect they won't be telling this one to their grandchildren.
"You great-great-great grandfather may have served in World War II, but that is nothing compared to this."
The London Monster
In 1788, the headlines of London newsstands started screaming about the London Monster, a Jack-the-Ripper-like slasher of pretty women who stalked the city for two years. Unlike his more lethal counterpart, the Monster was content merely to stab women in the butt. No, really.
Yup. Of all the weird old-timey crimes, the one to survive into modern times was butt-slashing.
When the Monster went uncaptured, citywide panic ensued. Every man was thought to be the Monster, and any wrong move could earn a man the beating of a lifetime. Several people were attacked and beaten as Monster suspects, and women took to wearing copper pans over their asses. Again, really.
Eventually, a random dude was arrested as the London Monster and tried and convicted ... in an extremely confusing show trial, where it became apparent that pretty much all the witnesses were either heavily biased or obvious liars who admitted that they were only in it for the attention.
"At least you all now know that I have the most tremendous ass."
And indeed, despite the "guilty" party having been found and locked away, it started to look like there never was a London Monster in the first place.
What Really Happened?
Having a serial killer roaming around is one of the best ways to shake up a community, and there are always people who can profit from anarchy. Although somebody may have been stabbed in the ass at some point in the beginning, it seems that the entire idea of the Monster was based on herd mentality and a few opportunistic individuals.
"Hey babe? Don't get too freaked out, but I have this one weird kink ..."
For one thing, when the rumor went out that the Monster only attacked pretty women, and newspapers showered attention on every new victim, it was only a matter of time before false reports started cropping up. They didn't have reality TV back then, so attention seekers had to find more inventive ways to get their names out there. What we're trying to say here is that women started stabbing themselves in the ass.
These imaginary attacks threw fuel to the flames of mass hysteria, until literally anyone was thought to be the Monster at the merest accusation. The local thieves and pickpockets happily exploited this by mugging people, then pointing at them and screaming "Monster!" in order to escape while the poor victim was attacked by the mob.
Luckily this was Georgian England, so you could just throw your wife to the mob and give chase.
Go ahead and laugh at how gullible old-timey Londoners were, but keep in mind that just in the last couple of decades there have been similar panics in the U.S. about AIDS. In pin prick attacks, supposed villains went around hiding HIV-tainted pins in cushions and other places where unsuspecting people were likely to get themselves AIDSified. Wherever the rumor emerged, bars and movie theaters saw business plummet as the scared public stayed home under the bed ... despite the story being 100 percent certified bullshit. There were never any real attacks ... but there were kids running around pranking people by sticking them with pins.
"Hahaha, AIDS is hysterical!"
The Real Life Rage Virus
Puchong Perdana National School, in Malaysia, is one of the few places on Earth that has had the chance to test its might against a goddamn rage virus attack, 28 Days Later style.
Yeah, if we had bugs like this, we'd get a little angry, too.
It all started on a perfectly ordinary Monday morning, when the 1,100 students of the school were gathered outside for their obligatory Monday assembly ... that is, until a full on, rapidly spreading zombie rage began tearing through their rank and file. It all started from one girl, who suddenly collapsed and went into a full rage frenzy, complete with screaming, thrashing about and violence. Then another one nearby followed the example. Then another. And another. The rage continued to spread from there, until 30 girls were infected.
The rest of the 1,100 students understandably panicked and, because they have obviously never seen a horror movie in their lives, ran inside and hid within the school's classrooms, as the girls roamed about thrashing and screaming. The whole school had to be temporarily closed. And although the affected -- all girls -- were detained, it took them four hours to shake out of the condition.
Meanwhile, a guy in a hospital gown was yelling and running around in a panic, but people just ignored him.
Of course, by now you know that there was no virus or chemical or mind-control ray behind the freakouts. It really does appear to just be a case of pent-up energy reaching critical mass.
What Really Happened?
Each and every one of the affected girls was suffering from heavy stress from both home and school, and stuck in an uncomfortable, crowded place. When one of them just snapped in the confined situation, one after another their brains just decided to use the opportunity to take a couple of hours off and let their bodies vent for a while. They just needed an excuse.
And that excuse was human flesh.
Likewise, a similar outbreak occurred in a Tanzania school in 1969, although on this occasion, it was the opposite of a rage epidemic -- an outbreak of hysterical laughter. The Tanganyika laughter epidemic was a particularly bizarre episode of mass hysteria in which students at a boarding school broke out into uncontrollable laughter and reportedly spread it to hundreds of people across the countryside. The theory goes that the ongoing fear of the laughing disease triggered its onset again and again (and every person reading this can think of at least one occasion where they succumbed to uncontrollable laughter that could not be stopped, no matter what).
"I have my hand stuck in the shredder, hahaha!"
An alternative theory is that the Joker was testing some kind of doomsday weapon.
Mystical Monkey Men
In 2001, some people in the Indian city of Delhi fell victim to animal bites, and others came to the obvious conclusion that the bites had been inflicted by horrible monkey men, who are apparently the meaner South Asian cousins of Bigfoot.
And before you ask, yes, the bites were real.
And one of the perpetrators was apparently the Great Gazoo.
The panic circulated to such an extent that terror and mob rule took over large sections of the populace. Police were powerless in the face of the giant city's full-fledged panic mode. Within days, at least two people were dead and 35 injured, all while trying to escape what they thought was the monstrous monkey man, running in blind panic until they fell down the stairs or whatever.
By the end, there was one person left in Delhi, so she split herself up to look for clues.
Masked gangs started running around, robbing and scaring people, because some folks are just dicks like that. In response, mobs began roaming the streets, all set to administer quick and unthinking justice to anyone deemed even remotely monkeymannish. One mob even mugged a particularly short and ugly Hindu holy man for looking suspiciously like what they imagined the monkey beast as.
Eventually, the panic dwindled down and the city set to its usual slightly less hectic pace. In case you were wondering, no monkey men were ever found.
Except for Bhavik, who everyone agreed got hit with the reincarnation stick a little too hard.
What Really Happened?
Understandably, no two descriptions of the monkey man were alike, nor did its modus operandi ever become clear. Even the police got into the misinformation wagon -- one officer said they were definitely looking for an animal, while another was convinced they were after a masked gang.
Really, the only evidence pointing at any kind of real attacks were the original bite wounds on several people, which is pretty mysterious in itself ... unless, of course, you take into account that there are loads of perfectly ordinary monkeys roaming around the city. Monkeys that, in fact, enjoy pouncing on people every now and then, and have always done so. Because monkeys are assholes.
Fuck you, monkey, we were looking forward to that.
If you're shaking your head and muttering about those silly superstitious Delhi people, remember that people hold protests today to stop imaginary chemical contrails and refuse to vaccinate their kids based on phony autism fears. At any time and at any place, you can get people to be scared of some incredibly crazy bullshit if you're loud and afraid enough.
Which is exactly what he wants you to think.
For more panics caused by fiction, check out 7 Bullshit Rumors That Caused Real World Catastrophes. Or learn about the 5 Myths That People Don't Realize Are Admitted Hoaxes.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn what we did with our army of Monkey Men.
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