“I don’t necessarily think stories have functions any more than diamonds have functions, or the sky has a function…Stories exist. They keep us sane, I think. We tell each other stories, we believe stories. I love watching the slow rise of the urban legend. They’re the stories that we use to explain ourselves to ourselves.”—Neil Gaiman
Urban legends make for great stories, from the wacky to the horrifying, and everywhere seems to have at least one. The imaginations of some people are pretty incredible, which leads to good stories that people latch onto. Many of these tales are super creepy, but some are something else—truly terrifying legends that test the boundaries of human imagination. What makes them terrifying is always something different, but the scariest urban legends of all are the ones that are based in truth. Here are some of the urban legends that turned out to be true.
1. Toronto Tragedy
For the last several years in Toronto, gay men have gone missing in the Village. The community was convinced it was a serial killer on the loose, but the police said no, these murders and disappearances are unrelated. Turns out that’s totally the case and the guy was killing gay men, dismembering them and burying them in and around the properties he was working at as a groundskeeper/landscaper.
2. Ghost Cow
The Griggstown Cow was a supposed ghost-cow that wandered New Jersey. It was said to only appear on foggy days, and would disappear soon after. Local authorities discounted reports of the ghost-cow of course, as there had not been any dairy farms in that area for decades and no one was missing any cattle nearby. Then in 2002, a very old and arthritic bull, which matched the description of the ghost-cow, was found stuck in a ravine.
The old bull was unable to climb out of the ravine on its own, and, due to the animal’s poor health, local veterinarians decided that euthanasia was the best option. The cow must’ve escaped a dairy farm and lived in the wild for decades, and avoided humans all that time. It’s assumed that the bull was seen during fog because it couldn’t see people coming as easily.
3. Secret Police
In the 60s and 70s, there existed an urban legend in Poland that vampires in black limousines were kidnapping people, preferring little children. It was a tale parents told their kids, who would then tell their friends etc. Turns out it was a rumor that was spread by the polish secret police who actually used black cars to kidnap people. The aim was that no one would believe someone who would report they had witnessed a kidnapping.
4. Pennsylvania Green Man (Not Charlie)
Raymond Robinson: The Green Man. Dude lost his eyes and nose and wandered the streets at night in Pennsylvania because he couldn’t go outside in the daytime because of how he looked. People saw him and an urban legend in PA was born.
5. For The Fear of Aki
In Liverpool, kids are taught about Purple Aki from a young age. He’s been locally known and feared for honestly three decades. He likes feeling boys’ muscles and makes them do squats. He’s completely real, he’s even had court orders against him preventing him from feeling people’s muscles.
6. Time Traveling Tunnel
I went to a University near Valley Forge, PA. It used to be a POW camp and a military hospital before the college bought the entire property for one dollar in the 1960s (?). Since there are really only three universities near Valley Forge it will not be hard to deduce which college it was lol. Anyways, there was a rumor that underground tunnels and all sorts of stuff were left abandoned in the unused sections of the college.
Sure enough, it was true. We found a tunnel hatch under our carpet in our dorm room (two hatches on the first floor…furthest most first-floor dorm room of each building). It was literally like stepping into 1945. Everything was preserved down there and the tunnels were massive. We eventually ended up in an “underground garage” where there were four Jeeps parked but all the tires had dry rotted. We realized this was actually beneath our soccer field.
Anyways, the tunnels lead to the cafeteria, the admin building, every dorm, and then an old abandoned section of our campus that we had no way of entering topside. We soon realized this was the hospital/morgue. When we got out of the tunnels and walked the floor—it was still like 1945. All the hospital beds were still there, the surgical curtains were still there. Hell, even the tools (like the scalpel, saw, plyers, etc) were still on their trays.
It was like everyone all of the sudden up and left and nothing had been moved since then. The morgue still had its slabs and sometimes we would dare each other to slide in there for a period of time. But yeah, it was an urban legend on campus until three of us decided to risk expulsion to see if it was true. And it was.
7. The Man in the Woods
The North Pond Hermit. Things would go missing in this little vacation community and people attributed it to some mysterious dude. Turned out there was one, he lived out in the woods for 27 years without ever talking to anyone.
8. Shaolin Stories
Cropsey. Sort of like “the boogeyman” of Staten Island. During the 70s and 80s, kids on the island would go missing and the urban legend would attribute it to “Cropsey.” As it turned out, there really was a crazy kidnapper and serial killer who was responsible. He was caught and convicted. There is a great documentary about it (used to be on Netflix, not sure if it still is) called Cropsey, check it out if you get a chance.
9. The Fairy House
Out here in Washington, there were rumors of a “fairy house” in the woods somewhere. One park ranger decided to go hunting for it and he actually did find a treehouse in the woods. When he looked inside he found a ton of child pornography. He took it down and came back a while later and found it had been put back up. They eventually found who had been using the tree house and arrested him.
10. CIA Experiments
MKUltra. The CIA was experimenting with drugs to attempt to mind control people.
“One of the children was filmed numerous times performing sexual acts with high-ranking federal government officials, in a scheme set up by Cameron and other MKULTRA researchers, to blackmail the officials to ensure further funding for the experiments.” It’s not just “that experiment in which the government gave drugs to unsuspecting citizens.” Most documents were destroyed, but if this wasn’t, just imagine. This is all from In the Name of Science: A History of Secret Programs, Medical Research, and Human Experimentation by Andrew Goliszek.
11. Vice Presidential Bunker
When I was a kid, my dad would take me and my brother to High Rock. It’s a neat overlook and we could play on the rocks. It was fun, but also a little sobering (as much as things can be for kids) because a girl had died in a hang gliding accident if I remember right. As you drive up to the parking lot for the overlook the road continues on into the woods. We asked our dad where it went and he told us that you’d be driving down the road and suddenly armed guards would pop out of the woods to stop you because there was a secret government base there.
That’s the case, except it isn’t really secret. It’s Raven Rock, which is a nuclear bunker that can act as a remote Pentagon if the country is attacked. Cheney went there during Sept 11 while Bush was taken somewhere else. You will be detained if you trespass on the property. I went back to High Rock a few years ago while visiting family and while hanging out at the overlook a truck of teenagers showed up.
They asked if I knew what was up the access road and I told them Raven Rock and not to keep going because they’d be detained. They decided they wanted to check it out anyway. An hour later when I left High Rock those kids had not come back yet, so I figured they were getting their asses chewed out by a soldier. Fun fact: Raven Rock is the headquarters of the Enclave in Fallout 3!
12. Nightmares of a Knight
The rumors that Sir Jimmy Saville was a pedophile. It’s now estimated he abused ~500 children. And further to that, while still unconfirmed, the rumors (which he started) that he molested corpses while having (now confirmed) unsupervised access to NHS mortuaries are now more substantiated.
13. Nevada Disappearances Not From Aliens
That there’s “something” making people disappear in our area in Nevada. As a kid, it was more so they were hinting at aliens. Then as we grew up the disappearances have been a little too eerie and it’s been suspected that there are investigations that have been going on as to whether or not there’s a serial killer in our area. I carry a firearm when traveling through and don’t stop until I get to the cities, if you guys are ever coming through just don’t stop for anyone especially after the darkness sets in.
14. Whale Bone Cafe
A fish cafe in my home town says that its supports are made out of whale bones. Turns out many years ago a whale got stranded on a nearby island and died and the owner took some rib bones and used it as arches for his business.
15. Show Licker
This is, thankfully, a somewhat more light-hearted urban legend than a lot of the posted ones so far.
So, I’d heard several times from friends and whatnot hearsay tales about this creepy, near-mythical “shoe-licker” who resided in the Tampa area. Apparently, this dude would walk up to people in public spaces, and would ask them about their shoes, and ask to see the bottoms of them, and would then drop and do his best to lick the bottoms of the shoes before the person could step back down. Naturally, I thought that was just way too weird, and there was no way this wasn’t just people making up some bull story.
Then I ran into the guy, at a taco truck.
Skinny dude, longish hair, probably homeless from how he was dressed. Could have been 18, could have been 30. Walks up as I’m waiting for what turns out to have been the best taco I’ve ever had in my existence (a cochinita pibil, for the curious), and asks about the shoes I’m wearing. I’d just finished performing, and was still wearing some Doc Marten boots, and was more than a little soused. He asks if he can see the treads or something like that, I’m all confused and am like “Sure, why not,” and he drops to the floor, grabs my boot, and starts licking away at the sole. I yelled at the dude, sort of kicked at him, and he scampers off. Weirdest interaction ever.
16. The Bicycle Thief of Amarillo
Ours was mild. There was an eccentric guy who ran a used bicycle shop. He also built these super tall artsy bikes and rode them all over town. Legend had it he uses that to look over fences and plan which bikes to steal. Years later, he was arrested on hundreds of counts of theft and selling stolen goods. This was in Amarillo, TX, late 70s to early 80s for those guessing. I can’t remember his name, was going to see if I could find a newspaper article on it but no luck. He usually rode in T-shirt and shorts, but he did ride in parades in a top hat and tails.
17. How Things Have Changed
Ten years ago I used to laugh at all the crazy people who thought the government listens to all your phone calls…
18. Monster of Ontario
When I was young living rural Ontario we were told as children not to wander too far into the forest saying that a monster would get us and we wouldn’t come home. If anybody knows who Roch Thériault is, that actually turned out to be painfully true.
19. Keeping the Family Tradition Alive
We had an older couple that would come into the store I worked at when I was 15. They clearly had mental development/mental health problems and the rumor was they were siblings and the two teenage girls with them were their children. About five years later I’d find out someone had called the state about them and turns out (from what I remember) to be mostly true. The parents were apparently the result of incest and they carried on the family tradition, as it were. I think the state removed their daughters and put them in state custody since they weren’t able to take care of themselves, and I don’t remember what happened to the parents.
20. Living Next to the Golden State Killer
That creepy old guy living down the street was actually the Golden State Killer.
21. Shelter Beneath the School
My old school really did have a secret pool and a shelter in its basement. They installed the shelter in the 50s, complete with classrooms and unused desks. It was creepy as heck and only accessible from the basement, under the auditorium stage, and a small hole in the principal’s office as the ones on the outside had been sealed.
The pool was closed because the rumor was a girl drowned herself, but that was a myth—it was really a guy who drowned and he was high on coke he stole from his father (the gym coach at the time). An inspector came and found the school wasn’t even allowed to build it in the first place so they drained it, filled it with dirt, bricks, tires, and trash then covered it in cement. The only indication of it was there is a picture in the main office and the odd cement rectangle in the basement.
22. Cain and Abel
It was only a legend for like a week, but a kid went missing on the same property we lived on and everyone thought his brother had something to do with it but police said no, he was kidnapped. Turned out the brother had killed his brother and buried him in our backyard.
23. Not Taking Pedophiles Seriously
Creepy Pete that used to hang out in the kids’ pool every Saturday at the Leisure Centre actually turned out to be a paedo. He got arrested a couple years ago. When we were little the kids in the pool would swim through his legs and the parents would just laugh. Paedos were basically urban legends back then. Way too true now.
24. The Creepy Janitor
This is a very recent and local story as it happened at a middle school that I used to attend.
There was this janitor (though he actually left when I was still at the school) and substitute bus driver at our school that everyone loved. He would give all of the kids candy and show them around the areas of the school that kids weren’t supposed to go (like the boiler room). I even heard that he ate dinner at a kid’s house once.
Even after he left the school he would still visit sometimes just say hi to the kids. There were always some jokes that he was a pedophile, but everyone at the school loved him and thought that he was a great guy. Recently he was arrested for having thousands of pictures and videos of child porn. Makes things pretty weird in hindsight.
25. Tree Hugger
In my hometown, there was a local legend about a man who would sometimes be seen having sex with trees. Some called him Mr. Woodcock but he was more commonly known as the tree shagger. I thought it must be nonsense, but one night a friend and I were out walking his dog along a narrow, tree-lined lane we heard a grunting sound from the undergrowth, and there he was. He was wearing a long overcoat which had wrapped around a poor innocent tree and he had his trousers around his ankles as he defiled the shrubbery with a flagrant disregard for splinters.
26. Running Through a Skyscraper
The man that worked in a law firm on the 24th story of a building. As a running gag, he would tell everyone that the windows in the building were unbreakable, then proceed to run at one of them full force. Once, he did it and the glass didn’t break, but the window popped out of the frame, and he fell to his death 24 stories.
I saw this on an urban legend show when I was a kid, but found out later that this really happened in my city, Toronto, Canada. My boyfriend works in the same building and rumor has it that the man landed on a concrete bench at concourse level, a woman and her child had just been sitting there minutes before his fatal plunge.
27. Cult Roads
There’s this road called Whipporwhil. Apparently, it’s either haunted or is a nesting ground for KKK / other creepy local cults. There are several articles about it on the internets. Anyway, myself and two friends drove there one night and a big white bronco came out of nowhere behind us with huge LED lights and tried to drive us off the road.
A very narrow dirt road surrounded by dense trees. They were on us—like making us speed. A big hill came in the road—it’s about a mile long and you should be going slow. When we went over the top—the bronco stayed behind and disappeared. It was intense. I figure they were patrolling for a cult/ klan meeting. But there is some truth to that urban legend, that’s a fact.
28. Ongoing Serial Killer
There’s a serial killer targeting gay men in Pittsburgh. Gay men keep turning up in the river after they’ve been on the Grindr app. Look up Dakota James from Pittsburgh, the police won’t release all of the CCTV because they don’t want the hysteria. But yes, there’s a serial killer here. It keeps happening. And no one is doing anything about it.
29. Hmong Nightmare Attacks
Freddy Krueger is based on a real story.
Hear me out. There’s a small ethnic group local to Southeast Asia, the Hmong people. They’ve been oppressed for years by various countries, so they fought with the US during the Vietnam Civil War. As you know, we lost, and the North Vietnamese were gearing up to kill the Hmong people who had fought for the Southern Vietnamese. So the US airlifted a bunch of Hmong families to the US, primarily in California and Minnesota.
One of the recent immigrants was a young man. He was perfectly healthy but suddenly died in his sleep. No one knew how he died (it’s guessed it was a heart attack, but an autopsy wasn’t done). This sent a panic throughout the community. There is a Hmong legend of a spirit that enters your dreams and kills you.
Hmong people were terrified. They were also in a new community without access to some old traditions to protect them. Young men started staying awake, trying to avoid the monster. They downed caffeine. They were actually scared enough that it caused stress to their hearts and they died. Eventually, 117 men died from Hmong Sleeping Sickness.
30. The Professional’s Secret
In my small rural hometown, there was a rumor that a bunch of city officials, cops, teachers, business owners, etc (basically anyone a kid would see as an authority figure) had massive orgies. Obviously, as you grew up you came to your senses. Until one year when a teacher’s husband stomped the absolute crap out of a local business owner in broad daylight. Turns out the legend wasn’t just a legend. His wife was apparently a member of what was called “The Hot Tub Club” and he wasn’t invited. A good chunk of local leaders got outed as hosting orgies somewhat regularly. I’m more surprised it was kept secret as long as it was.
31. The Real Asylum Lake
The Asylum Lake tunnels in Kalamazoo are real! There’s a small lake and wildlife area just off of WMU’s campus and for a long time, there were rumors going around that they were still there and accessible! Well, turns out that was true and there was an old set of stairs that was partially buried that led to a walled up tunnel entrance.
A few people used hand tools and ended up breaking part of the wall down and got inside only to find the tunnels fully intact, albeit a bit damp and murky. Somehow the authorities got wind and went and sealed the entrance again, but it’s still very obvious where that was if you are really looking for them!
32. Hanging Out In The Sewers
Sewer alligators. If alligators and other animals are “flushed” or disposed of into plumbing…yea they can survive and hangout.
The most famous Los Angeles alligator was Reggie, who now lives in a zoo. He was six feet long when captured and lived in a lake in South Bay for years.
33. The Sleepwalking Lady
In Mombasa, Kenya there was a story about a woman with long black hair and a white dress who would be seen around the beach at night and it was to stop people at the beach from swimming in the ocean. Turned out to be true—it was an older lady would sleepwalk on the beach in her nighties. Even she didn’t know until locals found the courage to follow her home.
34. Dead Dog Suitcase
There’s an urban legend about a thief stealing a suitcase containing a dead dog. In the 70s, my crazy artist aunt & uncle lived in Manhattan and their German Shepherd died. Having the city come to dispose of the dog was expensive, lugging it up to the Animal Control Office in the Bronx was cheaper. So they folded up the (50+ lb) dog into a suitcase and headed for the subway.
Except my uncle set down the heavy suitcase at a crosswalk while they waited for the light and a couple of kids ran by and snatched it. My uncle gave chase but obese alcoholics don’t get far in New York in the summer. For years they laughed, speculating what those kids said when they opened the luggage. And I wonder again and again: were they the source of that tale?
35. Living Sea Monster
I live near a lake and there was an urban legend that there were huge lake monsters near the Hydroelectric dam. Most people thought it was just some fishermen’s tall tales, we all guessed it was just a twist on the classic “the one that got away.” Turns out divers went into the water behind the dam for a routine inspection to see if there was any damage after months of heavy flooding in the area.
Apparently one of the divers got too close to what he originally thought was a large moss-covered rock/boulder until it moved and tried to latch on to the diver’s arm. Apparently there are +-200 lb catfish behind the dam which thrive on the dead fish that go through the hydroelectric portion of the dam, the agitated water makes it easier for the large catfish to breath and grow past what is commonly found in the area, and the lack of fishermen, as all commercial fishing is banned for at least 1,000 meters, means these fish are truly free to grow to truly enormous sizes.
36. Scaring The Janitor Away
There was an urban legend at my high school that one of the janitors quit because he saw a set of bloody footprints down the hallway. My bad, that was me.
One day, I was staying late to complete a class project and dropped a heavy glass pane on my toe. It left a huge gash that I couldn’t get to stop bleeding. Now, my school was the kinda place where having a shoe full of blood would get you a week’s detention instead of a hospital visit, so I make sure to check around before I limped on home to bandage myself up.
Our high school was a rectangle with a sunken library in the middle so we had hallways that framed it. I was at one corner and at the other end was the janitor finishing up mopping the hallway. As soon as he turned the corner, I took off my shoes and socks since they were so full of blood I couldn’t properly walk, and walked down the hallway and out the door.
This left a perfect trail of bloody footprints all the way until the hallway dried out, which happened to be exactly where the exit door was. As the rest of the story goes, he turned around when he heard the door close and found a trail of bloody footprints down the hallway with no one there to take responsibility. Dude quit on the spot. Sorry to freak you out Janitor, ghosts aren’t real (or at least don’t do that).
37. Meeting The Rat Man
The Rat Man. In Southampton, it was rumored that the reason there were so many rats about was that there was a mysterious man who would find secluded spots of unlit footpaths at night and feed the rats raw meat. He would go somewhere else each night so the council couldn’t catch him. I always assumed it was a silly campus legend. Then my friend met him!
38. The Snowsuit Man
Oh man I have one! When I was a teen, there were rumors of “snowsuit man.” A dude that used to wander the big park in my city at night, in the summer, in a snowsuit all done up from head to toe…hood and everything. It was rumored he used to ask people walking through the park to beat him up. I know, pretty outrageous right?
One night a bunch of us were chilling in said park being teens, smoking weed and goofing around. All of a sudden in the distance we see a person. It wasn’t unusual to see other people in the park, even in the middle of the night like this. What is unusual is that you could see the person was dressed in white from head to toe. As he got closer a silence fell over all of us as we realized that is a person…in a snowsuit! We were terrified and amazed all at once.
He sat on a bench a little down the path from us. Just…sitting there. One of my more adventurous, or stupid maybe, friends went over. Sat on the bench a bit then came back over. Snowsuit man didn’t ask to get his butt kicked like we had heard. In fact, he didn’t respond or even acknowledge my friends’ presence.
He did apparently smell absolutely awful. It was obvious, my friend said, that he didn’t take that thing off. And poop and piss in there, as evidenced by the massive stains he saw when he got closer. So there you go. While not exactly like we heard, unless it wasn’t a night he felt like getting beat up, the damn snowsuit man exists.
39. Death Valley Legends
I lived in the desert and went to school near Death Valley. We had two urban legends, both turned out to be true. First was a man that got lost in the salt flats in Death Valley was found mummified a few days later. Apparently heat + salt will do that to you. Talking with one of the rangers that were there, he said he could hear the bones rattle when they carried the body. The second one was more fun—apparently, the Manson family used to sell drugs to the students at the school I went to. Neat stuff.
40. Still Roaming Sao Paulo
In Sao Paulo, there is—”there IS,” as in “never got caught”—a person that injects random women with an unknown substance using a syringe.