Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by a scary story. Hands up? If they’re not, you’re probably lying. Whether you were up past your bedtime at a slumber party, gathered around a campfire, or treating insomnia with a Wikipedia deep dive, you’ve probably heard at least one urban legend that still gives you chills. Read on for eight terrifying “true” stories that have been keeping the lights on at sleepovers for years.
THE SLENDER MAN
A silent stalker who stands between 6 and 7 feet tall, the Slender Man supposedly hides near wooded areas so he can blend in among the trees and the darkness. His face is white, featureless, and can morph into whatever you fear the most. His arms stretch and bend unnaturally to grab his victims, and his long fingers scratch at children’s windows. His victims, who often dream about him before they encounter him, are usually 16 years old or younger. Once the Slender Man captures you, you’ll wake up to find him standing above you, ready to ask you one question. If you get it right, he breaks both your legs and arms. That’s lucky, because if you get it wrong, he sticks his fingers down your throat and pulls out your heart.
Fact or fiction? Fiction. Slender Man originated on the website Something Awful back in 2009 and appears in many stories online. After two 12-year-old girls stabbed a classmate and blamed it on the Slender Man, the story popped up on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
THE CLOWN STATUE
A teenage girl is babysitting for a wealthy family in a cavernous house with a ton of rooms. It’s easy to get lost in, which is an adventure during the day but torturous at night. The parents tell the babysitter that after she puts the children to sleep, she can watch TV in a specific room; they don’t want her wandering the house. And so she does, only to find herself being watched by a creepy clown statue in the corner of the room. She tries to ignore it but soon calls the dad to ask if she can switch rooms because of the clown. The dad instructs her to get the kids, go to the neighbors’ house, and call the police. Once she leaves, she calls the dad again to ask what’s really going on. He tells her that the family doesn’t have a clown statue. The kids had been complaining about a clown watching them as they slept for weeks, but the parents chalked it up to nightmares. According to the police, the clown statue was actually a little person dressed in a costume who’d been stalking the family for months, lurking in the attic during the daytime and sneaking around the house at night.
Fact or fiction? Fiction. While the fear of clowns is a very real thing (better known as coulrophobia), this story originated online in the early 2000s and has never been confirmed as real.
THE ROOMMATE’S DEATH
There are two college roommates, one who is theatrical and one who is a bookworm. One night, the theatrical one returns home late after performing a play called Oh, Susannah. As she enters her room, she hears the bookworm’s rocking chair squeaking in the corner but can’t make out why because the lights are off. As she puts her stuff away, she hears a voice from the corner of the room singing, “Oh, Susannah, don’t you cry for me” over and over again. She assumes it is her roommate and asks her to stop, then flicks on the lights and sees her roommate’s body in the rocking chair and her head pinned to the wall with a butcher knife. From behind the chair comes maniacal laughter, then a man jumps forward and pins the girl to the wall next to her roommate’s head and starts cutting her, all while continuing the next verse of “Oh, Susannah.” It is later discovered that the man is a butcher who had escaped from the sanitarium in a nearby town.
In another variation, a girl returns home late after going to a party one night. Because she doesn’t want to wake her roommate who has an exam the next day, she doesn’t turn on the lights and quickly slips into bed. When she wakes up the next morning, however, light reveals what she’d missed. Her roommate’s body had been cut open, and a message had been written in blood on the wall: “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?”
Fact or fiction? Fiction. There are several variations of this story, which first appeared in the early 1960s. Despite the fact that it’s been around for more than 50 years (and is undeniably terrifying), there isn’t any concrete evidence that it’s true.
THE LICKED HAND
One night, a young girl is home alone for the first time, accompanied by her dog. While watching the news, she hears about a killer on the loose. Instantly terrified, she locks all the doors and windows, and goes to bed, taking her dog to her room to sleep under her bed. In the middle of the night, she wakes up to a dripping sound coming from the bathroom, but is too scared to get out of bed and find out what it is. Instead, she reaches her hand toward the floor for a reassuring lick from her dog, but the girl still can’t fall back to sleep. She lies awake listening to the dripping sound all night, continually reaching her for her dog and receiving a lick on her hand each time. Eventually she falls asleep. The next morning, she goes to the bathroom for a drink of water only to find her dog mutilated and hanging in the shower with his blood dripping onto the tiles. On the wall is a message written in the dog’s blood: “Humans can lick too.”
Fact or fiction? Fiction, with roots dating back to an M.R. James story published in 1919. But it’s definitely a fact that both humans and dogs can lick.
THE VANISHING HITCHHIKER
Two boys are on their way to a dance, driving down a desolate country road when they spot a young girl with her thumb out. They stop and she asks if they’d take her home; instead they invite her to the dance. She accepts their invitation and borrows one of the boys’ coats because she is cold. After a night of dancing, she asks again to be taken home and the boys drive her to her house. Later, they remember they forgot to get the coat back but decide to go back the next day because it is late. When they return to the house, the girl’s mother greets them. She tells the boys that her daughter was killed in a car accident 12 years ago at the corner where they picked her up and points toward the cemetery down the road. The boys go to the cemetery to see for themselves, and see the coat draped over a headstone engraved with the girl’s name and the date of death — exactly 12 years ago to the day.
Fact or fiction? Fiction. Like many other urban legends, there are several different versions of this story. In one, a chivalrous driver picks up a girl named Lydia who’s hanging out on a bridge (which is real and located in North Carolina).
KILLER IN THE BACKSEAT
One night, a woman is driving home late after having drinks with her girlfriends. After driving for a few minutes on an empty highway, she notices another pair of headlights in her rearview mirror. As the car pulls up behind her, she sees it has its turn signal on, preparing to pass her, but then the car suddenly swerves back behind her, gets dangerously close to her bumper, and flashes its brights. The woman gets nervous but fights the urge to look at the car behind her. The car follows her all the way home, continuously flashing its brights, until she pulled into her driveway. She runs from her car to the front door, only to be followed by the man from the car that was following her. He tells her to lock the door and call the police. When the police arrive, she is finally told the truth: The man behind her was trying to save her. As he pulled up to switch lanes, he saw the silhouette of a man with a butcher knife rising up from the backseat to stab her.
Fact or fiction? Fiction — it would be pretty difficult for a killer to hide in your car for so long without you noticing someone back there. Still, in 2007, the Decatur Daily reported that an armed man popped up in the backseat of a woman’s vehicle and threatened her. Always lock your doors!
As the legend goes, the evil spirit Bloody Mary can be summoned by chanting “Bloody Mary” anywhere from three to 1,000 times into a mirror in a darkened room lit only by a candle. After the right number of chants, the spirit will appear in the mirror either as a corpse, witch, or ghost, sometimes covered in blood, then she’ll lean forward and claw your eyes out, or pull you toward her, trapping you with her in the mirror for eternity.
Fact or fiction? Fiction, though Bloody Mary herself may have been real. Some people believe she was a witch that dabbled in the black arts, while others claim she was a regular woman involved in a fatal car accident. Then there are those who believe she’s Mary Worth of Salem Witch Trials fame, or Queen Mary I of England. No matter what, it’s probably best to avoid saying her name into a mirror.
THE BABYSITTER AND THE MAN UPSTAIRS
While babysitting one night, a teenage girl watches TV after putting the children to sleep upstairs. The phone rings, and she picks it up but doesn’t hear anyone on the other end — just silence and then a hang-up. After a few more minutes, the phone rings again. This time, a man asks, “Have you checked the children?” and hangs up. Thinking it was the father of the children calling to check in, the babysitter ignores it, but soon the phone rings again and the same man asks the same question. She calls the police, who tell her they’ll trace the next call, and soon enough, the phone rings again. This time, the stranger says, “It’s me. Why did you turn the lights down?” The police then call to say the calls are coming from inside the house and she must get out immediately. The girl runs upstairs to grab the kids, only to see the profile of a man in the children’s bedroom. She runs out and the police search the house, where they find an intruder who’s covered in blood after killing all three of the children.
Fact or fiction? Fiction. It arose in the early 1960s and will probably keep circulating as long as teenagers keep babysitting.
Consulting Analyst at Computer Crime Research Center.
Engineering Electronics and Telecommunications.
Seminar Analysis of Violent Crime University of Rome.