25 Creepy Urban Legends That Are Actually True

Posted by , Updated on November 12, 2021

Have you heard rumors that some of the most popular Urban legends are actually true? Believe it or not, these rumors are correct! Urban legends spread like wildfire because they are simultaneously believable and frightening. The trouble is, most of them aren’t true, but it’s still difficult to determine between urban legend fact and fiction. Just in time to creep you out for Halloween, we’ve compiled a list of true urban legends which will have you shaking in your boots. (Does anyone even use that line anymore?) From a tug-of-war match which will literally cost you an arm (keep the leg) to an ex-boyfriend living in a woman’s attic to waking up in an ice bath without a kidney, these 25 items are creepy occurrences we’d never want to happen to us (or you for that matter). Keep the lights on as you explore this list of 25 creepy urban legends that are actually true.


The tug-of-war match to tug your arm off

Mirfield_Show_2007_-_Roam's_Tug_of_WarSource: Snopes, Image: Wikimedia

In one of the largest tug-of-war matches ever held, 800 people lined up on each side of a nylon rope to be crowned the winners at Retrocession Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan. Each side pulled as hard as they could, exerting three times more force than the rope was capable of withstanding, causing the rope to snap along with the arms of the two men in front. Yang Chiung-ming and Chen Ming-kuo each had their arms ripped apart between the shoulder and elbow due to the force of the rebounding rope. Thankfully, they were rushed to hospital where doctors spent seven hours reattaching their limbs.


Death by chimney

santa going down chimneySource: AP, Image: Let's Go Out Bournemouth and Poole via Flickr

Santa Claus somehow manages to make it down millions of chimneys every year without a hitch – and that’s real magic. Humans aren’t so magical, as a Californian doctor with relationship problems found out. In an attempt to infiltrate her boyfriend’s house. Dr. Jacquelyn Kotarac tried to climb down the chimney but got stuck in its confines. Three days later, a housesitter saw fluids dripping down the fireplace and smelled rotting flesh, soon discovering the decomposing cause.


The chef who cooked his own wife

Contract_worker_prepares_a_big_pot_of_food_at_GuantanamoSource: NBC News, Image: Wikimedia

A truly accomplished chef can turn even the toughest meat into a tender, satisfying meal. Chef David Viens must have really thought himself skilled when he tried cooking some tough meat – his wife. After an argument, Viens duct-taped his wife up and found her dead the following morning. Trying to destroy the evidence, he cooked her in a massive pot (yes, her whole, intact body) for four days.


Flesh-eating maggots in your head

maggotsSource: Huffington Post, Image: Wikipedia

British national Rochelle Harris had a wonderful time on her hiking trip in Peru – until she got back home. Initially ruled as an ear infection, doctors soon found a “writhing mass of maggots” feeding on the flesh of Harris’s ear. A New World screwworm fly had laid eggs in her ear canal which soon caused seething pain down her face and a strange discharge from her ear. Doctors successfully removed the maggots and Harris made a full recovery.


Eating nails for breakfast

grill brushSource: Snopes, Image: izik via Flickr

In a serious lesson on food safety, a Galveston, Texas, girl showed up to the emergency room with severe pain in her throat. After x-raying her esophagus, doctors found a piece of metal wire lodged therein. What had happened? Some days earlier, her father was cleaning the barbecue grill with a metal wire brush. Since he didn’t wipe the grill down with a cloth afterwards, shards of metal remained and lodged themselves into the next meal the family cooked, which the girl ate.


Sleeping on the deceased

hands under bedSource: Snopes, Image: Black Starry Sky via Flickr

One of the urban legends which is often shockingly true is the dead body under the hotel bed. On multiple instances, including 2003 in Kansas City, 1994 in Miami, and 1996 in Pasadena, hotel guests complained to staff about a foul, noxious odor emanating from the room. After hotel staff checked (most times they already smelled something foul and ignored it), they found a dead, decomposing body under the mattress frame.


Funny-tasting water

water tapSource: The Independent, Image: Wikimedia

When visiting a foreign city or country, it’s natural to think the water tastes a little funny. This feeling was stepped way up when vacationing families at Los Angeles’s Cecil Hotel noticed black water coming out of the tap. A maintenance worker went to investigate the source, discovering the decomposing body of a missing twenty-one-year-old Canadian student in the water tank. It’s not sure how her body ended up in the tank but we’re sure those guests won’t be staying at the Cecil anytime soon.


The real, dead mummy

MummySource: Snopes, Image: Wikipedia

As Jimmy Fallon would say, dead bodies are “ew”. Though some people like to get nasty with dead bodies (necrophilia), we generally shy away from them except during the haunted house craze which pops up every Halloween. It’s a good thing they’re made out of papier-mâché and old bandages, right? Nope. The movie crew of “The Six Million Dollar Man” found out via the accidentally-breaking-a-limb-off kind of way that a prop mummy was no prop at all. In fact, it was the handy-work of an embalmer who, so proud of his work, displayed the corpse in a funeral home, charging visitors a nickel to see it (which they would drop in its mouth). The mummy, train robber Elmer McCurdy, was claimed by his “brothers” a few years later. His “brothers” were actually carnival promoters who showcased the body all over the USA.


A dead body in a carpet

guys carrying rolled up carpetSource: New York Times, Image: Gareth JM Saunders via Flickr

Three Columbia University students looking to cheaply redecorate their place found an unwelcome surprise in their dumpster carpet after they got it home. Unrolling their new carpet, the boys found a dead body with two bullet wounds to the head inside.


The teenager frozen solid

Massachusetts-New_Hampshire_border_during_the_January_2015_nor'easterSource: Montreal Gazette, Image: Wikipedia

Jean Hilliard, a Minnesota teenager, was frozen solid after spending six-hours in the snow. Hilliard was trying to find shelter after a car accident and collapsed in the -8°F (-22°C) temperatures on the way to a nearby farmhouse. When finally found and taken to the hospital, her heart was beating eight times a minute and she was breathing two to three times per minute. She survived after being warmed back up by hospital workers and surprisingly experienced no noticeable side effects. Now, if we could only work out cryogenic freezing like in Futurama.


The needle-prick which leads to HIV

needleSource: Snopes, Image: pixabay

One of the more popular urban legends that makes its rounds through our email inboxes and Facebook walls is that of a stranger stabbing a random person with a needle before whispering, “Welcome to the world of AIDS.” Thankfully, this random-attack HIV-infection method is untrue. (Whew!) But, there is a true aspect to this urban legend. In the only recorded-case of infection by HIV-infected needle attack, inmate Graham Farlow of the Long Bay Jail in Sydney, Australia, stabbed guard Gary Pearce. Though Pearce only had a 1-in-200 chance of being infected, he indeed tested positive for HIV and died from its complications seven years later.


Death by compression in a garbage compactor

Waste_Management_Truck_TorontoSource: NBC News, Image: Wikipedia

Garbage is a pretty messy thing and is best kept far at bay. Though many people hear urban legends about a child playing in a garbage can being crushed to death in the compactor, this one has actually happened (many times). In one instance, a seventeen-year-old was hiding inside a garbage container when he felt it lift off the ground. He screamed once he realized what was happening but by the time the garbage workers heard him, his body was already being crushed.


Humans harvested for their fat

Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, D.C. (Dec. 4, 2002) -- Surgeon Dr. Hans Janovich performs a bone marrow harvest operation on Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Michael Griffioen. The procedure consists of inserting a large-gauge syringe into an area of the hip and extracting the bone marrow. It is transfused into the recipient, and helps to recreate and replenish T-cells and the white and red blood cells killed while undergoing chemotherapy. Griffioen is assigned to the Pre-commissioning Unit Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and was matched with an anonymous cancer patient through the Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program. U.S. Navy photo by PhotographerÕs Mate 2nd Class Chad McNeeley. (RELEASED)Source: Slate, Image: hiperactivo via Flickr

A terrifying urban legend relates to human traffickers extracting human fat and grease for use – and the director of Peru’s criminal investigations unit claims they broke up such a gang in 2009. Though a bit exaggerated (the story said human fat was being extracted and sourced to Europe by Italian mafiosos for the cosmetics industry), this is a true urban legend. Members of the gang weren’t selling the extracted human fat to Nivea but rather to shamans and sorcerers who used the fat to make candles for Satanic rituals.


The chemical warfare body

Navy Hospital Corpsmen and Medical Officers assess the treatment and prognosis of a patient with a gunshot wound to the head in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Los Angeles County, University of Southern California (USC) Medical Center. The students are part of an outreach cooperative training program between Navy Medicine and the medical center. The Naval Trauma Training CenterÕs (NTTC) mission is to provide trauma experience and knowledge to Naval medical personnel before they deploy. The students from Naval Hospitals, clinics and commands at Naval Installations around the world, work in the emergency room, operating room and intensive care unit, to learn about the wide range of situations they may encounter when sent into the field. U.S. Navy photo by PhotographerÕs Mate 2nd Class Johansen Laurel (RELEASED)Source: Discover Magazine, Image: Wikipedia

A woman dying from cervical cancer was brought to the emergency room in Riverside, California, one chilly February morning. After administering a host of drugs to sedate her and calm her heartbeat, a nurse pulled a blood sample. She noticed a strange smell and manila-colored particles in the sample and a garlickly smell emanating from the patient’s mouth. Seconds after, she collapsed followed by two fellow nurses. In total, 23 of 37 emergency room workers experienced symptoms from the body. The staff weren’t able to save the dying woman and the only conclusions logically proposed were that either the chemical cocktail in her blood created a noxious nerve gas or the workers were over-worked and over-stressed.


Trapped in an elevator and cut in two

Me in Westport elevatorSource: Houston Chronicle, Image: Wikipedia

Hitoshi Nikaidoh, a surgeon, was decapitated in his own hospital. The culprit wasn’t some deranged patient or murderer, rather an elevator. As Nikaidoh was entering the elevator, its doors shut around him and refused to open despite his frantically pressing every button. The elevator, with another hospital worker inside, ascended, taking Nikaidoh’s body with it before severing his head.


That creepy feeling of being watched

Two_ladies_in_the_dark_-_being_watchedSource: Huffington Post, Image: Wikimedia

Ever feel as though you’re being watched? If you were one South Carolina woman in September 2012, you were right. The single mother of five found her ex-boyfriend (who she hadn’t seen in 12 years) living in her attic and watching her through the house’s heating vents. After hearing noises above her bedroom and seeing nails pop out, she sent her adult children to investigate which sent the man fleeing (leaving behind the drink cups he had been urinating and defecating in).


A real-life hanging body

Witch_in_a_tree,_Shipton_under_WychwoodSource: WBOC, Image: Commonswikimedia

Halloween is a great time to scare our friends with pranks related to the macabre and the dead – except they’re not always pranks. In 2005, a Delaware woman took her own life by hanging herself off a tree next to a busy public road. The next morning, scores of drivers passed by, amused by what they thought was a Halloween decoration just a few days before October 31. Hours later, neighbors realized it was a still-warm body and called the police.


The dead body out for a swim

public swimming poolSource: ABC News, Image: Wikimedia

If you think public pools are gross due to little kids peeing in the pool, that will be the least of your worries after reading about this urban legend which turned out to be true. Two days after her disappearance, Marie Joseph was found by a passerby, limp and lifeless at the bottom of the pool. The cause of death? Drowning – two days earlier. Joseph had gone down a slide with her neighbor’s son. Upon landing in the pool, she began to sink. Her neighbor’s son reported it immediately but the lifeguards ignored the claims, not even noticing the dead body at the bottom of the deep end for the next two full days as locals swam above.


The real-life Green Lantern

walking aloneSource: Week in Weird, Image: Pixabay

The Green Lantern may be just be a comic book superhero (though we hope he’s real and out there somewhere), but an urban legend of a green man wandering Pennsylvania turns out to be true. Also known as Charlie No-Face, Raymond Robinson was a normal boy who took on a friend’s dare to climb a trolley bridge. Reaching the top, he accidentally touched an electricity line which sent 22,000 volts of electricity through his body, severely disfiguring his face. To avoid being seeing by the locals (many of whom were scared by his appearance), Robinson took walks late at night, sometimes meeting teenagers or others who would drive along Route 351 in an attempt to grab a glimpse of him. It’s unknown if his skin was a pale shade of green or if he was just frequently seen in his favorite-green shirt.


Buried alive (in 2011)

Curtis_Lovell_II_buried_aliveSource: Daily Mail, Image: Wikimedia

It has become well-known in recent years that, before medicine’s understanding of comas, humans were buried alive; to combat this, a string was attached to the deceased’s wrist and connected to a small bell above ground which a caretaker would listen for. Well, this 2011 case proves love can make us blind and crazy. Polish woman Michelina Lewandowska found that out when she awoke in an old TV box, with hands and feet duct taped up, after being tasered by her (now) ex-boyfriend – but Lewandowska was the more clever one, using her sharp engagement ring to break the tape before digging her way out through the earth piled above her.


Frozen alive (again, in 2011)

MorgueSource: Reuters, Image: Wikimedia

If being buried alive isn’t enough of a shock for you, how about dying in another type of box for the dead? A morgue locker. Eighty-year-old Maria de Jesus Arroyo was (incorrectly) presumed dead after a heart attack in 2011 and taken to the morgue. Two-thousand-fricken-eleven! (Thanks, modern science.) Funeral workers later came to pull her body from the frigid lockers to prepare her for the funeral. Rather than a normal dead body, they found an unzipped body bag and a corpse filled with bruises – evidence that she awoke in the locker and tried to escape.


The nearly-exploding, engorged ship

container shipSource: The Milwaukee Journal, Image: Pixabay

After a fire broke out in a freighter’s cargo of lumber, the crew continuously doused the smoldering wood with water over the next 3.5 weeks to keep it from reigniting. What they didn’t consider was other cargo which could be affected. Fifteen hundred tons of tapioca (enough to serve a million eaters) in the cargo hold slowly simmered (due to the heat and water) and expanded so much it nearly burst the ship.


The real-life accidental hanging

hayrideSource: The Michigan Daily, Image: Wikimedia

Sparta, Michigan, was rocked by the startling death of fourteen-year-old Caleb Rebh choked to death. While acting at a Halloween experience, Caleb replaced a skeleton hanging from a noose to scare hayride visitors. Though his feet were still on the ground after letting go of the rope, the line was pulled so taut that he soon suffocated as his fellow workers looked on in amusement at what they thought was acting.


The escape artist's routine that went all wrong

HoudiniSubmergedCrateSource: Ain't No Way to Go, Image: Wikipedia

Though they look dangerous, escape artists’ stunts are far-from-it. Whether it’s being straight-jacketed at the bottom of a pool or locked in a burning, run-away car, escape artists always make it out just in time – almost. Joseph “Amazing Joe” Burrus, in going for the biggest stunt of his career, was locked up in a transparent plastic coffin seven-feet (2.1 m) down. Above him was three feet of dirt followed by four of concrete, the weight of which came crashing down on him, killing him in another wild but true urban legend.


Waking up in an ice bath with a kidney missing

TF Knighthawk gets dirty in 'Mustang Mudder' competitionSource: New York Times, Image: Wikimedia

One of the most fraudulent urban legends out there relates to waking up in a bathtub filled with ice; after drinks with a stranger the night before, you read a note saying you’re missing a kidney and need hospital care. Though this exact reading of the urban legend is false, there have been hundreds of true stories like it. From 2000-2008, about 500 Indians were caught up in an illegal kidney-transplant ring run by four doctors, five nurses, twenty paramedics, and three private hospitals. Many of the victims were day laborers picked up on the streets with the promise of work. Naseem Mohammad was one such man who had his kidney removed in early 2008.

SEE ALSO: 25 Terrifying Dating App Stories That Are Actually True »


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