5 Horrifying Places Real People Got Trapped and Forgotten
The big difference between daily life now and a hundred years ago is that today you're always being watched. If you went missing, it wouldn't be long before your friends noticed you were no longer updating Facebook or Instagramming your lunch, and within hours the cops would find the security camera footage of you getting buried under a pallet of dog food at Costco.
The truth is that even in the modern world, people just ... fall through the cracks. The stories are more frequent -- and more horrifying -- than you'd think. And be warned: The entries on this list start escalating in severity fast.
Nicholas White Was Stuck in an Elevator for 41 Hours
On the evening of October 15, 1999, Nicholas White was working at the McGraw-Hill Building in New York City and went down to the ground level to have a smoke. After a refreshing nicotine hit, he headed back up to his 43rd floor office via an express elevator that skips floors 1 through 39.
"Good thing we installed these express elevators, otherwise it might take a long time to get up there."
On his way up, the elevator unexpectedly stopped. White hit the alarm and waited. Nothing. He investigated his surroundings -- there was nothing in his 6-by-6 box. No warning text, no elevator emergency phone, not even a mirror with which to check out his beautiful '90s mullet. So he waited some more. After all, how long could it really take for someone to notice that the elevator had never arrived? Half an hour? An hour?
Time passed. No one came. Starting to get desperate, White tried to pry the door open, presumably planning to climb down the elevator shaft like in Die Hard. Instead, he was met with a solid concrete wall with the number 13 stenciled on it. That's the thing about an express elevator -- it doesn't stop at those floors, so there were no openings. It was 39 floors of solid concrete shaft. White could do nothing but stand there for the rest of the afternoon. And into the night. And then overnight. Then all day the next day.
Giving all of his co-workers a free scapegoat for the day.
All told, White was stuck in that little metal box for 41 fucking hours, on the unlucky 13th floor, no less, with nothing but three matches, his wallet, and some cigarettes. No food, no water, no bathroom, and no indication that anyone was making any effort whatsoever to get him out. All he could do was pace around in dead silence (he kept the alarm going for as long as possible, but the constant ringing caused him to have auditory hallucinations). This is where you have to wonder if maybe your employers don't care about you quite as much as they say they do.
"That's horrifying," you say, "Why don't they have cameras or something in those elevators?" Oh, they do. Here's his entire ordeal, compressed into a three-minute clip and uploaded to YouTube:
At two minutes in, you see him try to climb out of the hatch at the top (it was locked) and repeatedly open the doors as if at some point he'd magically see something other than concrete there (some of those times, he's pissing down the shaft). So, yes, you now understand the truly disturbing part of this story: None of the security guards paid close enough attention to those video feeds to notice that there was a guy frantically trying to escape Car 30 for nearly two days. Five different shifts went by, this man trapped in plain sight, until finally someone noticed that, wait a second, there's a dude sleeping on the floor of one of the elevators.
At first a security guard thought a bum had sneaked into the building, so he buzzed the intercom to ask what was going on. After White determined that it wasn't God speaking, but an idiot security guard, he showed his ID to the camera and a mechanic was sent to free him from his prison. Yet the building staff couldn't even get that right -- when the elevator doors opened and White could see farther than 6 feet in any direction for the first time in 41 hours, he burst out into the hallway, only to see that the maintenance crew was waiting for him at the wrong elevator door down the hall.
"I don't think this is the right one. There's no poop corner."
White sued, and found himself embroiled in a much longer ordeal. The case dragged out for four years, until a homeless, penniless, and jobless White settled for a small undisclosed sum. That also means that he can't even sell his story, like that guy who got stuck in the airport whose story was made into a Tom Hanks movie.
A French Grandmother Got Stuck in the Bathroom for Three Weeks
You could argue that it's better to be trapped in a bathroom than an elevator -- at least there you can relieve yourself, and you have water to drink. But what if instead of a healthy young man, it was an elderly woman? And what if her imprisonment was 10 times as long?
If you're a boy in puberty, this is known as "the jackpot."
This one happened in a Paris suburb where, after using the facilities and trying to leave, a French grandmother found that her door lock was broken. While busting down jammed doors may simply be an inconvenience for burly Olympic athletes, it's a much tougher task for a 69-year-old grandmother with zero heavy sled-pushing experience, especially a French one. We suppose she could have surrendered to the door, but in this situation that probably wouldn't have helped.
Days passed. With no phone (an unthinkable prospect for most people going to the bathroom these days), she tried to alert neighbors to her distress by banging against the pipes at night, but all it did was annoy them. They had no idea the noises were a cry for help, and instead assumed the apartment complex was undergoing late-night construction. At one point a group of tenants started a petition to end the presumed maintenance work, as it was keeping them awake. To be fair, once they found out what had truly happened, they were appropriately horrified at the prospect. After almost three weeks of noise, someone finally caught on when they noticed the woman's absence and a stack of gathering mail.
But only after the petition to "move that old bag's mail" had gathered the required signatures.
By the time French firefighters broke through to free the woman from her apartment turned prison, she had been trapped for 20 days. She should be applauded for her feat of Les Stroud-ian endurance, considering she survived solely on tap water and (presumably) a previously untouched bowl of hard candies from the late 1970s.
If you're insisting to yourself that you wouldn't let a flimsy bathroom door keep you from kicking your way to freedom, even in old age, would you say the same about a bank vault?
A-91-Year-Old Got Locked Inside a Bank Vault
A 91-year-old Frenchwoman residing in Rennes had some business to attend to at her nearest BNP-Paribas bank as part of her Saturday errands. The bank employee locked the vault after leading the woman inside to her safety deposit box, which is most likely bank protocol. What was not bank protocol, however, was having an epic brain fart and forgetting about the customer, leaving her in there for the rest of the day.
"Uhh ... it is bank protocol to not tell my manager about this."
"But surely they remembered her at the end of the day, before going home?" you undoubtedly ask. "After all, somebody has to do some kind of vault check before everybody goes home for the night, right?" Nope, they just left her in there and turned out the lights, leaving her without any way to alert anyone of her predicament, since she was 91 freaking years old and didn't own a cellphone.
And if she was simply facing the prospect of an overnight stay in the vault until the staff came in the next day, that would be one thing. But remember, this was a Saturday, which meant the bank would not reopen until the following Tuesday (hey, it's Europe), which is a hell of a lot of time to be stuck in a vault for anyone at any age, but did we mention that she was 91? Yeah, if nobody intervened, they were going to open that door on Tuesday and find a goddamned corpse.
"But nobody would have been able to steal her body, and that's what is really important here."
Thankfully, her son was worried after not hearing from his mother for a whole day and called the authorities. After retracing her steps and visiting all the elderly woman hotspots she frequented, they wound up at the bank. After some frantic calls, the bank manager arrived and was at long last able to get the vault open ... the next morning, at 10:00 a.m. Fortunately the woman was unharmed, with only a bit of dehydration. And, we imagine, seething with 91-year-old-woman rage.
WARNING: The stories get much, much worse from here.
People Keep Getting Forgotten in Solitary Confinement
We said that the people in the previous entries were "imprisoned" in those rooms or elevators, but of course that's not really accurate -- you're never more watched than when you're in prison. You're meticulously supervised by staff, you have a lawyer you can call if things go sour, and everyone is operating under an umbrella of laws meant to preserve your rights. So, "Lock him up and throw away the key!" is really just a humorous figure of speech.
Slightly more frequent than "Do you feel lucky?" mostly because .44 Magnum rounds are kind of expensive.
But then we have stories like Daniel Chong's. Chong, a college student, was hanging with his buddy, who happened to be the friendly neighborhood drug dealer. While Chong was chilling on the couch, police crashed the buddy's house and took everyone to jail. After questioning, Chong was quickly identified as just a visitor and was put in a solitary cell to be dealt with later. And then they completely forgot about him. Literally -- it was just like how sometimes you'll stick something in the microwave and then get distracted and forget about it until hours later. Only it was a human being.
And they forgot about him for four days.
"Did you hear something from that cell?"
"Eh, we'll let Future Nick and Future Wayne deal with that."
That's four days during which Chong was stuck in a windowless cell, without food or water, still handcuffed (he started having hallucinations on Day 3).
Convinced that he'd been left to die and distraught at not being able to talk to his family one more time, Chong tried to carve a message to his mother into his body. Finally, officers became curious about the weird banging in what was supposed to be an empty cell, and probably only investigated because they thought the jail was haunted. They opened the door to find Chong, covered in his own filth. He was rushed to the hospital and spent five days recovering from dehydration, kidney failure, cramps, and a perforated esophagus. He was also 15 pounds lighter. The DEA issued an apology and gave Chong a $4 million settlement as a sort of "Sorry for almost killing you" coupon.
"Do you have a card along the lines of 'sorry for the wrongful imprisonment and almost death'? Maybe like a talking cat, or something?"
And yet his story is nothing compared to Stephen Slevin's.
In 2005, Slevin was pulled over in rural New Mexico for a suspected DUI. Normally this means an overnight stay while you sober up, but Slevin showed signs of mental illness, and the police feared he was a suicide risk. So, they stuck him in solitary confinement. And then, once again, they kind of just left him there. Days passed, and then weeks. Slevin's pleas for information about his case fell on deaf ears.
Weeks turned into months. Slevin wasn't allowed to shave and was only rarely allowed to shower. His clothes were rotting off his body, and the prison staff refused to give him more. Every day, prison staff walked by his cell and gave him food, but ignored his increasingly desperate attempts to get help. After his tooth started to rot, they refused him a trip to the dentist, so Slevin had to pull it out himself.
He was still charged a $50 copay by his HMO.
So, how long do you think a man could be left in solitary before somebody -- a jail official, a lawyer, somebody -- stopped to ask why this dude's overnight stay had turned into an indefinite detention? A couple of months? Three?
Try nearly two goddamned years.
At that point they just dropped the charges and set him free. The county appeared to have no explanation for why Slevin was left there (at one point he had been transported to a mental hospital, then inexplicably returned to solitary), and when he sued, he won $22 million, but settled for a lesser amount on appeal (shit, we hope it wasn't much less).
"After attorney fees and taxes, you owe the U.S. government $65,000. Cash only."
So how in the hell can we possibly top that story?
A Man Was Imprisoned for 53 Years Because No One Could Speak His Language
Getting sent to a POW camp is no fun, regardless of the war or which army took you prisoner. But there is one benefit -- despite what Rambo would have you believe, usually you get to go home when the fighting is over. But sometimes, in the mass confusion following a horrific conflict, people just ... fall through the cracks.
Take Hungarian Andras Tamas, who was just one of millions of POWs in World War II. He had fought for the Germans and was captured by the Soviets in 1944. The problem was that Tamas went nuts while in the gulags (they'll do that to a person), and thus lost the ability to tell anyone who he was or why he was there. And after he got transferred to a mental hospital, the Soviets (whose system was not exactly a model of efficiency) eventually forgot, too.
Understandable, what with them being so busy building nukes and killing and oppressing their citizens.
With the war long over, the staff who knew the truth -- that he was a Hungarian POW who didn't speak Russian -- moved on to different assignments or just retired. Years passed, and eventually there was no one left who knew Tamas' case history, and they were too lazy to check his files. They were content that there was a crazy man who spoke no Russian, only a weird gibberish, and left it at that.
For half a century.
In their defense, Rosetta Stone doesn't have a Hungarian version.
It wasn't until the late '90s that a visiting foreign doctor recognized that Tamas was actually speaking Hungarian and not an alien tongue he was making up on the fly. Cracking open his medical file for the first time in decades, the doctor found Tamas' case history and quickly notified the authorities in Budapest. The POW finally returned home to a hero's welcome, where he was dubbed "the last prisoner of World War II." Which is a nice title, but we're hoping somebody in Russia is checking to see if there are any more.
Yosomono writes about being forgotten and locked away in the nuclear wastelands of Japan.
Of course, things aren't ALWAYS this scary. For your relief, check out 25 Real Facts That Make Common Fears Way Less Scary.
Related Reading: If you think it's crazy these people got trapped, you'll flip out when you realize all the critical things that have been lost...like these sayings from Jesus. And then there's the Gospel of Eve, which made semen-eating into a religious act. And if those RFK assassination photos hadn't been lost, we might have a REAL different understanding of history.