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10 Strange Urban Legends That Turned Out to Be True

You've probably heard that all legends have a basis in fact. That may not be true, but these bizarre urban legends are (or were at least inspired by truth).

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tunnels Puebla, Mexico
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The Puebla tunnels

Citizens of Puebla City, located in the southeast of Mexico, told folktales about a mysterious network of tunnels hidden beneath the city. For hundreds of years, no such tunnels were ever found, so people assumed that they were nothing more than the stuff of legends. But then in 2015, a construction crew discovered a very real tunnel beneath the city. Crews began excavating the site and eventually discovered around six miles of tunnels snaking under Puebla’s streets. The tunnels, which are believed to have been constructed from the 16th century all the way through the 19th century, have been opened as a tourist attraction today. On the other hand, here are some forbidden places no one will ever be allowed to visit.

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alice killings_creepy urban legends
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The Alice Killings

The story of the Alice Killings is one of Japan’s most famous urban legends, as well as one of its newest. The legend revolves around a series of killings that supposedly occurred between 1999 and 2005. The victims had no relationship to one another, and the killings seemed unrelated in every way, but they shared a haunting similarity. A single playing card was found by each body with the word “Alice” written in the victim’s blood. For an unsubstantiated urban legend, the specifics of these murders are very consistent, right down to the names (and grisly details) of the murder victims. The uniformity of this legend, as well as its popularity, is most likely thanks to the Internet. There is no evidence, however, that these killings took place at all, and whether or not they did is hotly debated. The truth is, though, that there was a serial killer who identified his murders with playing cards. But he operated in Spain, not Japan. Luckily, this Playing Card Killer was caught in 2003 and sentenced to 142 years in prison.

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staten island map
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Cropsey of Staten Island

According to this creepy tale, “Cropsey” lurked beneath the abandoned Willowbrook State School for children. In some versions of the tale, Cropsey was an ax murderer; in others, he was a monstrous boogeyman. In both, he was a murderous creeper hunting for lost children. And, sadly, he was based on a real murderous creeper. His name was Andre Rand, and he worked as a janitor at the Willowbrook State School before it shut down in 1987. After that, he continued living on the grounds of the school and is suspected to be responsible for the disappearances of several children. Though this was never proven to be true, he was found guilty of kidnapping in 1988 and again in 2004. There is even a documentary called Cropsey that examines the truth about the man and the myth. Check out these creepy stories from the most haunted places in America.

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creepy hall

The Dog Boy

This Arkansas-based urban legend about a werewolf-like dog man roaming around the town of Quitman merely embellishes a true tale. In 1954, a boy named Gerald Bettis was born. The rumors around town held that he was cruel and sadistic, and that he liked to capture stray animals and do twisted experiments on them. His cruelty only grew as he got older, and he was abusive to his aging parents. In 1981, his father was found dead in the family home, and his death is surrounded in mystery; the newspapers said it was illness, but many townspeople believed it was murder. Bettis then kept his mother basically imprisoned in the house until adult protective services placed her in protective custody. His mother testified against him in court and he went to prison, where he died in the 1980s. People say that his spirit still haunts the house where he grew up and where his father died. In many versions of the legend, his ghost walks on all fours and is shaggy like a dog, while in others he appears as a towering man wearing a brown jacket and bow tie. These are the spookiest urban legends from every state in America.

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man in bunny suit
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The Bunny Man

We’ll start with the legend behind this one. The unsubstantiated legend holds that, in 1904, a bus crashed while transferring patients from an asylum in Fairfax County, Virginia. The patients escaped, and all but one were eventually re-captured. Shortly after the bus breakdown, dead bunnies started appearing around the area, many hanging from the Fairfax Station Bridge. Yikes.

But none of that has been proven true, and historians claim that it actually can’t be, because there were no asylums in Fairfax County in 1904. What is true is that in 1970, a pair of mysterious and scary incidents occurred in that area involving a man dressed in a bunny suit. A young couple was taking a nighttime drive when a man dressed in a white bunny suit hurled an ax at their car (while it broke their car window, neither of them was hurt). Only two weeks later, another Fairfax County man discovered an ax-wielding guy in a bunny suit chopping up the porch of a recently built, unoccupied house. He was gone by the time the police arrived. The real-life Bunny Man was never apprehended, and Fairfax Station Bridge has been all but renamed Bunny Man Bridge. The name is so popular that even Google Maps uses it.

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charlie no face_creepy urban legends
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Charlie No-Face

This twentieth-century urban legend haunted residents of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The legend had it that a figure with a severely burned face lurked around an abandoned train tunnel at night and made electricity go haywire with his very presence. Curious teenagers would sneak out to the tunnel to try to catch a glimpse of him. Well, it turns out that Charlie No-Face was actually a real person—but his name wasn’t Charlie. His name was Raymond Robinson, and he had suffered a severe accident involving an electrical line that left him with a disfigured face. Because of this, he became a bit of a recluse, staying inside during the day and only venturing out at night. But he didn’t do any haunting—in fact, he was friendly and would occasionally let curious teens take pictures with him in exchange for cigarettes.

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polybius_creepy urban legends

The Polybius video game

According to this legend, a video game called “Polybius” was released for about a month in 1981 Portland, Oregon. The game was designed by the government to be a psychological experiment. It functioned like a drug, and it gave its players seizures and nightmares. Government officials would come in and extract information about the players through the arcade machine. Though the game was almost certainly not real, there were a few video-game-related happenings that probably spurned the legend. One was the game Tempest, which did cause epileptic reactions and motion sickness among some players when it was released in 1981. Another was that FBI agents did inspect an arcade around the same time, investigating reports of gambling. Here are some more conspiracy theories that turned out to be true.

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An American alligator

Gators in the sewers

This isn’t a single urban legend, but you’ve no doubt heard at least one cautionary tale about fully-grown alligators lurking in city sewers. Some of the more outlandish legends claim that New York City, of all places, has a whole colony of gators living beneath its streets. While this is far from the norm, there have been several real accounts of fully grown gators living in sewers, especially in the southern United States. In states like Florida, where alligators live in the wild, storms and flooding can wash full-sized gators into the sewer system. And police officers did pull a two-foot-long baby gator from a New York City sewer in 2010. But the gator colonies are pure myth—a full-grown gator couldn’t survive a New York City winter.

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le loyon_creepy urban legends

Le Loyon

Recently, the people of Switzerland began telling stories about a mysterious figure who walked through the Maules Forest wearing camouflage and a gas mask. For ten years, there was no evidence that this figure existed; just a few eyewitness accounts in the newspapers. According to those accounts, he didn’t show any signs of being dangerous or malicious, but he sure was creepy. With no concrete evidence of his existence, the figure remained in the realm of folklore. People began calling him “the ghost of Maules” or “Le Loyon.” In 2013, though, his existence was proven when a pedestrian snapped a photograph of Le Loyon. A few months later, his gas mask and camouflage coat appeared in the woods, along with a mysterious note hinting that he was harmless and could no longer stand being viewed as some kind of monster. Whether Le Loyon actually committed suicide or simply abandoned his persona and wandering habits remains unknown. These are some of the most bizarre unsolved mysteries of all time.

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Murderous medicine cabinets

In 1992, the film Candyman earned its place as one of the scariest movies of all time. One of its most famous scenes involves a murderous spirit with a hook for a hand bursting through the heroine’s medicine cabinet. As if that weren’t scary enough, the idea that an apartment can be breached through its medicine cabinet isn’t just silver-screen fiction—and, in fact, it did happen. In 1987 Chicago, a woman named Ruthie McCoy was killed by a group of intruders who entered her apartment through the gap in the wall made for the medicine cabinet. The shabby Grace Abbott housing projects, where McCoy lived, were built with holes in the walls for the medicine cabinets, which provided the only (flimsy) barrier between adjacent apartments. While Candyman was mostly based off of the short story “The Forbidden,” the filmmakers also drew inspiration form “They Came in Through the Bathroom Mirror,” a detailed journalistic account of the murder and the horror of the housing projects. Want some more chilling true stories? These horror movies were inspired by reality.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.