Also known as “The Clown Doll,” “The Killer Clown,” “It the Clown,” “The Clown Serial Killer”
So-and-so’s friend, a girl in her teens, is babysitting for a family in Newport Beach, Ca. The family is wealthy and has a very large house — you know the sort, with a ridiculous amount of rooms. Anyways, the parents are going out for a late dinner/movie. The father tells the babysitter that once the children are in bed she should go into this specific room (he doesn’t really want her wandering around the house) and watch TV there.
The parents take off, and soon she gets the kids into bed and goes to the room to watch TV. She tries watching TV, but she is disturbed by a clown statue in the corner of the room. She tries to ignore it for as long as possible, but it starts freaking her out so much that she can’t handle it.
She resorts to calling the father and asks, “Hey, the kids are in bed, but is it okay if I switch rooms? This clown statue is really creeping me out.”
The father says, seriously, “Get the kids, go next door and call 911.”
She asks, “What’s going on?”
He responds, “Just go next door and once you call the police, call me back.”
She gets the kids, goes next door, and calls the police. When the police are on the way, she calls the father back and asks, “So, really, what’s going on?”
He responds, “We don’t have a clown statue.” He then further explains that the children have been complaining about a clown watching them as they sleep. He and his wife had just blown it off, assuming that they were having nightmares.
The police arrive and apprehend the “clown,” who turns out to be a midget. A midget clown! I guess he was some homeless person dressed as a clown, who somehow got into the house and had been living there for several weeks. He would come into the kids’ rooms at nights and watch them while they slept. As the house was so large, he was able to avoid detection, surviving off their food, etc. He had been in the TV room right before the babysitter right came in there. When she entered he didn’t have enough time to hide, so he just froze in place and pretended to be a statue.
— As told by a reader
Analysis: Like “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs,” this urban legend pits a lone teenage babysitter against a male intruder who has surreptitiously entered the house. It’s disturbing on many counts, not least the hint of pedophilia in the revelation that the “midget disguised as a clown” has been spying on, playing with, or, in some versions, actually touching someone’s children before his presence in the house is discovered.
In some variants — for example, this one submitted by a reader in 2006 — it’s explicitly stated that the intruder is a sex offender with designs on the babysitter herself:
A girl is babysitting a sleeping infant. She goes up regularly to check on the baby and the third time notices a life-size clown standing in the corner/sitting in the crib. A few minutes later the parents call and the babysitter mentions the clown and how unnerving it is. The parents relate that they’ve never bought a clown and the police are called.
The “clown” is discovered to be a local sex offender waiting for babysitter to go to sleep before attacking her.
The chain letter version
Another variant circulating in the form of a chain letter (“if you don’t repost to 10 peeps within 5 minutes,” the message warns, “the clown will be standing next 2 your bed at 3:00 a.m. with a knife in his hand…”) makes the “midget clown” out to be a murderer who has escaped from prison:
Subject: Fw: clown
this creepy or what?
:: a few years ago a mother and a father decided they needed a break, so they wanted to head out for a night on the town. So they called their most trusted babysitter. When the babysitter arrived the two children were already fast asleep in bed. So the babysitter just got to sit around and make sure everything was okay with the children.
Later in the night, the babysitter got bored and so she wanted to watch tv but she couldn’t watch it downstairs because they didn’t have cable downstairs (the parents didn’t want their children watching too much garbage) so she called them and asked them if she could watch cable tv in the parents room. Of course the parents said it was ok, but the babysitter had one final request. She asked if she could cover up the large clown statue in their bedroom with a blanket or cloth, because it made her nervous. The phone line was silent for a moment, and the father (who was talking to the babysitter at the time) said….. take the children and get out of the house….. we’ll call the police… we don’t have a clown statue….. the children and the babysitter got murdered by the clown. it turned out 2 be that the clown was a killer that escaped from jail.
if you don’t repost to 10 peeps within 5 minutes the clown will be standing next 2 your bed at 3:00am with a knife in his hand….
Real-life killer clowns
Though urban legends are sometimes inspired by real-life events, I’ve found no clear precedents for “The Clown Statue” in news reporting of the past 20 years — no stories in which a miscreant poses as a clown doll inside people’s homes, at any rate.
In 1990, a West Palm Beach, Florida woman was shot and killed on her doorstep by a clown sporting a bright orange wig (a crime which remains unsolved, so far as I know). Then there’s John Wayne Gacy, of course, who during the mid-1970s murdered 33 young men and buried their bodies under his Chicago home. The media christened him the “Killer Clown” because he was known for hosting neighborhood parties at which he dressed up as a clown.
It was probably the Gacy case and the publicity surrounding it that sparked a wave of “phantom clown” sightings in 1981. The phenomenon, as documented by Loren Coleman in Mysterious America (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1983), originated in Boston with unconfirmed reports of men dressed as clowns trying to lure children into vans. Over the course of a few days, more reports of “clown men in vans” bothering children came in, then more, and soon the sightings had spread to neighboring cities and towns.
Eventually there were sightings reported in as many as 10 other states in various parts of the country. No abductions occurred, no arrests were made, indeed no evidence was ever found to substantiate any of these reports, nearly all of which had been made by children under 10 years old.
Similar rumor outbreaks have occurred since the early ’80s, and while “The Phantom Clowns” and “The Clown Statue” have little in common as narratives apart from a malevolent clown character, it’s possible that the latter was inspired by the former.
It’s also possible that it was inspired, at least in part, by various horror films made over the past several decades. The 1982 movie Poltergeist contained scenes in which a very creepy clown doll terrorizes two young children in their bedroom. Stephen King’s It, a 1990 TV movie, featured a child-killing monster called “Pennywise the Dancing Clown.” Demonic clowns also drove the plots of Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 1988, andClownhouse in 1990.
Coulrophobia: fear of clowns
In any case, an irrational fear of clowns is a recognized clinical phobia known ascoulrophobia. It’s more widespread than one might think, especially among children. A study conducted by the University of Sheffield in England found that all of the more than 250 children surveyed disliked clown images as part of the decor in hospitals.
Even some of the older children in their mid-teens found the images frightening.
“As adults we make assumptions about what works for children,” one of the authors of the study was quoted as saying. “We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them frightening and unknowable.”
That “unknowability” the researcher speaks of may be the key to clowns’ essential creepiness, not to mention the horror they’re capable of evoking in movies and urban legends. We’re accustomed to reading people’s emotional states and motivations in their facial expressions. Who knows what evil might lurk beneath a clown’s painted-on grin? Children do, apparently. Perhaps it’s a lesson worth remembering.
Sources and further reading:
Clowns Not a Laughing Matter
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 30 January 2008
Clowns ‘Too Scary’ for Children’s Wards in Hospitals
Sky News, 16 January 2008
Profile: John Wayne Gacy, the ‘Killer Clown’
Search for Clown in Shooting Death Points at Woman
Gainesville Sun, 7 September 1990
Police Question Suspected Clown
Washington Times, 8 June 1994
By Loren Coleman (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1983), p. 66 ff.