(Trailer from YouTube)

The Russian Sleep Experiment

Synopsis: Toward the end of the 1940s, Soviet researchers sealed five prison inmates in an airtight chamber and dosed them with an experimental stimulant gas to test the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation. Their behavior was observed via two-way mirrors and their conversations monitored electronically. They were promised their freedom if they could go without sleep for 30 days.

The first few days passed uneventfully. By the fifth day, however, the subjects began showing signs of stress and were overheard bemoaning their circumstances. They stopped conversing with their fellow inmates, choosing instead to whisper compromising information about one another into the microphones, apparently in an effort to win the favor of the researchers.

Paranoia set in.

On the ninth day the screaming began. First one subject, then another, was observed running around the chamber screaming for hours on end. Equally disconcerting was the behavior of the quieter subjects, who began ripping apart the books they’d been given to read, smearing the pages with feces and plastering them over the mirrored windows so their actions could no longer be observed.

Then, just as suddenly, the screaming stopped. The subjects ceased communicating altogether. Three days passed without a sound from inside the chamber. Fearing the worst, the researchers addressed them via the intercom. “We are opening the chamber to test the microphones,” they said. “Step away from the door and lie flat on the floor or you will be shot. Compliance will earn one of you your immediate freedom.”

A voice from inside answered, “We no longer want to be freed.”

Two more days passed without contact of any kind as the scientists debated what to do next. Finally, they decided to terminate the experiment. At midnight on the fifteenth day the stimulant gas was flushed from the chamber and replaced with fresh air in preparation for the subjects’ release. Far from being pleased at the prospect of leaving, the subjects began screaming as if in fear for their lives. They begged to have the gas turned back on. Instead, the researchers unsealed the door to the chamber and sent armed soldiers inside to retrieve them. Nothing could have prepared them for the carnage they witnessed upon entering.

One subject was found dead, lying face-down in six inches of bloody water. Chunks of his flesh had been torn off and stuffed into the floor drain. All of the subjects had been severely mutilated, in fact. Even worse, the wounds appeared to be self-inflicted. They had ripped open their own abdomens and disemboweled themselves with their bare hands.

Some had even eaten their own flesh.

The four who were still alive seemed terrified of falling asleep and refused to leave the chamber, again pleading with the researchers to turn the gas back on. When the soldiers attempted to remove the inmates by force, they fought back so ferociously they couldn’t believe their eyes. One suffered a ruptured spleen and lost so much blood there was literally nothing left for his heart to pump, yet continued flailing for a full three minutes until his lifeless body collapsed.

The remaining subjects were restrained and transported to a medical facility for treatment. The first to be operated on fought so furiously against being anesthetized that he tore muscles and broke bones during the struggle. As soon as the anesthetic took effect his heart stopped and he died. The rest underwent surgery without sedation. Far from feeling any pain, however, they laughed hysterically on the operating table — so hysterically that the doctors, perhaps fearing for their own sanity, administered a paralytic agent to immobilize them.

After surgery the survivors were asked why they had mutilated themselves, and why they so desperately wanted to go back on the stimulant gas. Each, in turn, gave the same enigmatic answer: “I must remain awake.”

The researchers considered euthanizing them to obliterate every trace of the failed experiment, but were overruled by their commanding officer, who ordered that it be resumed immediately, with three of the researchers joining the inmates in the sealed chamber. Horrified, the chief researcher pulled out a pistol and shot the commanding officer point blank. He then turned and shot one of the two surviving subjects. Aiming his gun at the last one left alive, he asked, “What are you? I must know!”

“Have you forgotten so easily?” the subject said, grinning. “We are you. We are the madness that lurks within you all, begging to be free at every moment in your deepest animal mind. We are what you hide from in your beds every night. We are what you sedate into silence and paralysis when you go to the nocturnal haven where we cannot tread.”

The researcher fired a bullet into his heart. The EEG monitor flat-lined as the subject murmured these last words: “So … nearly … free.”


It’s a given that human beings require a certain amount of sleep on a regular basis in order for our minds and bodies to function properly. Anyone who has experienced a night (or two, or three) of insomnia knows how critical even a few hours of refreshing sleep can be to one’s health and well-being.

What would happen if we went 15 or more days without the natural “downtime” virtually every sentient creature requires? Would we fall apart mentally and physically? Would we go insane? Would we die? It’s questions like these the Russian Sleep Experiment was supposedly designed to answer, with the horrifying, catastrophic results reported above.

Now for a dose of reality gas.


While the premise that keeping a group of people awake for 15 days straight would end in a cannibalistic bloodbath makes for a gripping fictional horror story, it’s not borne out by scientific evidence. The so-called Russian Sleep Experiment never took place.

In point of fact, no human experiments of the type and duration described above have ever been conducted (none that have been made public, at any rate), though we do have the results of a 1964 high school science fair project in which the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation were monitored by a bona fide sleep researcher from Stanford University and a professor of neuropsychiatric medicine. By default, it has come to be considered one of the seminal studies in the field.


Randy Gardner, a student at Point Loma High School in San Diego, California, went without sleep for 11 days in a bid for the Guinness World Record for continuous wakefulness. He suffered bouts of dizziness, memory loss, slurred speech, hallucinations, and even paranoia over the course of the 264-hour experiment, but at no time did he exhibit anything resembling the extreme behaviors allegedly observed by the Russian researchers.

Gardner reportedly slept for 14 hours straight when the project was over and awoke feeling rested and alert. He suffered no lasting ill effects.

While Gardner did, in fact, beat the existing benchmark for days gone without sleep, his feat was never actually listed in the Guinness Book of World Records because he missed the submission deadline. The most recent title holder in that category (before Guinness retired it for fear of encouraging risky behavior, that is) was Maureen Weston of Cambridgeshire, England, who stayed awake for 18 days and 17 hours during a rocking chair marathon in 1977. She neither ripped open her own abdomen nor ate her own flesh. Ms. Weston holds the Guinness World Record for sleep deprivation to this day.


“The Russian Sleep Experiment” is an example of creepypasta, an Internet nickname for frightening images and fictional horror stories that circulate virally online. The oldest version I’ve found was posted to the Creepypasta Wiki on August 10, 2010 by a user calling him- or herself “Orange Soda.” The original author is listed as unknown.

(by David Emery on




(Trailer from YouTube)

They Hurt Her (The Death of David Gregory)

Description: Chain letter / Ghost story / Internet hoax
Circulating since: 2006
Status: False

Analysis: Not to be confused with the still-living TV journalist of the same name, the David Gregory of Internet fame is a fictional character who allegedly died at the hands of a vengeful ghost named Carmen Winstead.

Winstead herself supposedly died after being pushed down a sewer drain by a gang of bullies from her school and suffering a broken neck.

According to an online chain letter circulating since 2006, Winstead returned from the dead to take revenge on her tormentors, killing them one by one before turning her murderous attention to those who failed to share the story of how she died. The hapless David Gregory was one of them.

“16-year-old David Gregory read this post and didn’t repost it,” an addendum to the chain letter claims. “He said good night to his mom and went to sleep, but five hours later, his mom woke up in the middle of the night from a loud noise and David was gone. A few hours later, the police found him in the sewer, with a broken neck and the skin on his face peeled off.”

Why, exactly, his skin was peeled off is never explained.

Carmen Winstead is a classic ghost story chain letter (see below for more specimens). It’s also an example of creepypasta, an Internet phenomenon consisting of brief horror stories, videos, and creepy images shared online and via social media. Creepypasta is a subcategory of copypasta (as in “copy and paste”).

In the case of the David Gregory story, a fragment snipped from a larger text (the Winstead chain letter) has taken on a life of its own thanks to social media.

There is no reason to believe, of course, that the story of Carmen Winstead is true, in whole or in part, nor that a teenager named David Gregory (or any other human being in the real world, for that matter) has had his neck broken and skin peeled off as punishment for failing to repost a chain letter. It’s just a ghost story, the only real point of which is to scare you enough to get you to pass it along to someone else.


(by David Emery on




(Trailer from YouTube)

The Killer in the Window

Killer silhouette behind door with frosted glass

Also known as: “The Face in the Window” and “The Killer’s Reflection”

Example #1
As told by reader Destinee (Aug. 25, 2000):

This girl was home all alone watching TV on a cold winter night. The television was right beside a sliding glass door, and the blinds were open.

Suddenly she saw a wrinkled old man staring at her through the glass! She screamed, then grabbed the phone next to the couch and pulled a blanket over her head so the guy couldn’t see her while she called the police. She was so terrified that she remained under the blanket until the police got there.

It had snowed a lot during the day, so the police naturally decided to look for footprints. But there were no footprints at all on the snowy ground outside the sliding door.

Puzzled, the police went back inside the house – and that’s when they saw the wet footprints on the floor leading up to the couch where the girl was still sitting.

The policemen looked at each other nervously. “Miss, you’re extremely lucky,” one of them finally said to her.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because,” he said, “the man wasn’t outside at all. He was in here, standing right behind the couch! What you saw in the window was his reflection.”
Example #2
As posted online (May 29, 2010):

A 15 year old girl was babysitting her little sister while her parents went out to a party. She sent her sister off to bed around 9:30 while she stayed up to watch her favorite T.V. show.

She sat in her recliner with a blanket and watched until it went off at around 10:30, after it went off she turned around in her seat to face the big glass door and watch the snow fall. She sat there for about 5 minutes or so when she noticed a strange man walking toward the glass from outside. She sat there staring as he stared at her back. He started to pull a shiny object out from his coat. Thinking it was a knife she immediately pulled the covers over her head. After about 10 minutes she removed the covers and saw that he was gone. She then called 911 and they rushed over.

They examined outside for any footprints in the snow, but there were none to be found. Two cops walked into her house to tell her the bad news and they noticed a trail of big wet footprints leading up to the chair where she was sitting.

The cops came to their conclusion and immediately told the girl she was very lucky because the man she saw staring at her was not standing outside, but he was standing behind her and what she saw was his reflection.
Analysis: This chilling variation on the familiar trope of the threatened babysitter (see also “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” and “The Clown Statue”) makes effective use of the “shocking reveal” — our protagonist learns after the fact that the prowler hadn’t been watching her from outside the house as she had assumed; but was inside the house the whole time, making her close call with the boogeyman all the closer, and all the more horrifying in retrospect.

As in “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs,” the cautionary message of this tale is aimed at the teenage protagonist: stay alert, be careful, mind your responsibilities. The consequences of distraction can be dire. “The moment that the sitter relaxes (eat a snack and watch TV) and lets her guard down,” notes Simon J. Bronner in American Children’s Folklore (August House, 1988), “is when dangers lurk.”

But though the babysitter’s main job is to protect the children (and in some variants of these tales the children are killed), it’s the young woman whose safety is directly threatened, a motif that links “The Killer in the Window” to other close-call-with-intruder narratives like “Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn on the Light” and “Humans Can Lick, Too.” Subtextually, these stories convey a decidedly more retro message than the one mentioned above, namely that young woman set themselves up to be victims merely by going about their business unchaperoned. For better or worse (surely the former), they no longer pack the moral punch they once may have had.

(by David Emery on




(Trailer from YouTube)

Skinned Tom

As told by B. Bailey, 07/29/00…

Where I live (semi-rural east Tennessee) we have our very own version of Freddy Krueger. He’s known as “Skinned Tom.”

In life, Tom was a good-looking guy who liked the ladies. Once he’d dated all the available girls in the area, he started seeing a girl in the next town — not knowing she was married. Eventually her husband got wind of what was going on and vowed revenge on the two of them. He told his wife he was going out of town for the weekend, then hid in the woods behind their house. As he’d guessed, that evening Tom showed up to take the lady out. The husband followed them to the nearby Lovers’ Lane.

Things were getting pretty hot and heavy (if you know what I mean) when all of a sudden the car door was jerked open and Tom came face-to-face with one very huge, very angry-looking dude wielding a hunting knife.

“Oh no!” screamed the girl who had started all the trouble in the first place. “It’s my husband!”

“That’s right, you cheating @#%&*!” yelled her husband. “And I’m about to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget!” He pulled her off Tom, rammed the knife into her stomach once, and tossed her aside. Then he turned back to Tom, grinning maniacally.

“Don’t hurt me!” Tom begged. “I swear to God I didn’t know she was married!” But the wronged husband didn’t listen. He dragged Tom out of the car and skinned him alive with the hunting knife. Then he went to town and turned himself in to the police.

When the police arrived at the crime scene, they found the woman, who was miraculously still alive. But Tom was nowhere to be found.

They say he’s still hanging around Lovers’ Lane, waiting to catch a couple and “teach” them the same lesson his girlfriend’s husband taught him. He’s described as a bloody skeleton in ’20s clothes, carrying the knife he himself was skinned with. All the teenagers around here grow up hearing “Don’t go to Lovers’ Lane if you don’t want to be Skinned Tom’s next victim!”

To me, it sounds like a crock, like something parents and cops made up to keep their kids from going parking. But still, you won’t catch me around there.

Analysis: This is not a ghost story I was familiar with until I was sent this version, nor have I seen it in other collections. Unlike most lovers’ lane urban legends, which typically revolve around a pair of necking teens who experience a close call with a random murderer but live to tell the tale (or at least one of them does), “Skinned Tom” is a tale of betrayal revenge, pure and simple. Here, the killer is a scorned husband; the victims are his cheating wife and her lover, who pays the most horrific price imaginable for sleeping with another man’s wife. She, of course, survives to rue her infidelity and the carnage that ensued. The moral of the story is impossible to miss.

(As told by David Emery on




(Trailer from YouTube)

Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn on the Light?

Also known as “The Roommate’s Death”

As told by reader W. Horton:

Two dormmates in college were in the same science class. The teacher had just reminded them about the midterm the next day when one dormmate — let’s call her Juli — got asked to this big bash by the hottest guy in school. The other dormmate, Meg, had pretty much no interest in going and, being a diligent student, she took notes on what the midterm was about. After the entire period of flirting with her date, Juli was totally unprepared for her test, while Meg was completely prepared for a major study date with her books.
At the end of the day, Juli spent hours getting ready for the party while Meg started studying. Juli tried to get Meg to go, but she was insistent that she would study and pass the test. The girls were rather close and Juli didn’t like leaving Meg alone to be bored while she was out having a blast. Juli finally gave up, using the excuse that she would cram in homeroom the next day.
Juli went to the party and had the time of her life with her date. She headed back to the dorm around 2 a.m. and decided not to wake Meg. She went to bed nervous about the midterm and decided she would wake up early to ask Meg for help.
She woke up and went to wake Meg. Meg was lying on her stomach, apparently sound asleep. Juli rolled Meg over to reveal Meg’s terrified face. Juli, concerned, turned on the desk lamp. Meg’s study stuff was still open and had blood all over it. Meg had been slaughtered. Juli, in horror, fell to the floor and looked up to see, written on the wall in Meg’s blood: “AREN’T YOU GLAD YOU DIDN’T TURN ON THE LIGHT?”

As told by reader Jon Little:

I heard about a girl who went back to her dorm room late one night to get her books before heading to her boyfriend’s room for the night. She entered but did not turn on the light, knowing that her roommate was sleeping. She stumbled around the room in the dark for several minutes, gathering books, clothes, toothbrush, etc. before finally leaving.
The next day, she came back to her room to find it surrounded by police. They asked if she lived there and she said yes. They took her into her room, and there, written in blood on the wall, were the words, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?” Her roommate was being murdered while she was getting her things.

(I’ve heard this several different times. Each time it was at a different university.)

Analysis: This is a variant of a popular urban legend given the title “The Roommate’s Death” by folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand (see his book, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, published by W.W. Norton, in 1981). In every version of “The Roommate’s Death” someone is murdered right under the nose of an unsuspecting female protagonist, but because the lights are out, or the crime takes place in another room, the victim’s body isn’t discovered until later, usually the next morning. As the story is sometimes told, the protagonist hears suspicious noises while the crime is being committed but is afraid to investigate because she thinks it could be an intruder coming after her.

The “creepiness factor” is very high in “Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn On the Light?” On discovering the body, the main character can’t help but realize what a close call she’s had. And the murderer rubs it in with a message scrawled in blood.

While the general form of the legend dates back at least 40 years (and surely more), it has a timeless appeal as a specimen of the “American adolescent shocker story,” to borrow Brunvand’s phrase. As he wrote in The Vanishing Hitchhiker,

One consistent theme in these teenage horrors is that as the adolescent moves out from home into the larger world, the world’s dangers may close in on him or her. Therefore, although the immediate purpose of these legends is to produce a good scare, they also serve to deliver a warning: Watch out! This could happen to you!

As is often the case with so-called “cautionary tales,” however, the warning is of little practical use to the young people who hear and repeat the legend apart from providing catharsis vis-à-vis the normal trepidations that accompany growing up and moving away from home.

(By David Emery on




(Trailer from YouTube)

The Charlie Charlie Challenge

You never know when you might need to contact a demon, right? But what’s the best way to do that? Don’t worry, Twitter will show you how. Just search for tweets using the hashtag “#CharlieCharlieChallenge” and gain access to literally thousands of Vines and YouTube videos demonstrating a simple procedure for interacting with an alleged “Mexican demon” by the name of Charlie.

Here’s the Charlie Charlie Challenge in a nutshell:

1. Take a sheet of paper and draw two lines, one horizontal and the vertical, to form a simple cross.

2. Write the word “YES” in two of the diagonally opposing quadrants thus formed, and the word “NO” in the remaining two.

3. Place one ordinary pencil over the horizontal line, and balance another vertically on top of it, again forming a simple cross.

4. Ask a yes-or-no question. “Charlie, Charlie, are you there?” for example. Or, “Charlie, Charlie, can you come out to play?”

5. Wait for it. If Charlie is present, the top pencil will rotate to reveal his answer.

Make sure you say goodbye

The reactions of those videoed performing the challenge range from nervous giggles to outbursts of profanity to uncontrollable shrieks before dashing out of the room. They’ve clearly bought into the demonic scenario described in this viral Tumblr post:

Charlie, Charlie is an old Mexican game, a traditional spiritual performed to contact a ghost by the name of Charlie. What people don’t know whos not educated on paranormal research and demonology, everybody is not coming in contact with a friendly ghost name Charlie, but yet several demons. These demons that are being contacted may seem friendly at first, but have sinister plans. If you do not say goodbye to “Charlie” you will experience paranormal situations as in hearing voices, things being moved, shadows, sinister laughing, and more depending on the atmosphere. This game is not safe and I advised nobody to play this game unless they are educated and know what to do because if you do not say goodbye to Charlie you are inviting the demon along with chaos into your home. SPREAD THE WORD, Charlie is not a friendly Casper it is a powerful DANGEROUS demon. To say Goodbye: to break contact with Charlie’s spirit you must chant, “Charlie, Charlie can we stop.” When the pencils move either upwards or inwards, drop the pencils on the floor and finish by saying goodbye. If you do not say goodbye to Charlie you are leaving a portal open for demons to come in and out of your house as they please. These demons will cause chaos and you might possibly even channel an poltergeist (which is the very last thing you want in your life) I advise doing a cleanse afterwards for safe keeping. Now, if Charlie says no and doesn’t want to stop playing still go through with the directions I just gave you, and say a prayer and hope that you actually break contact with the spirit being summoned. DO NOT RUN AWAY WITHOUT SAYING GOODBYE.

That’s all rather scary if taken at face value, but is any of it true? Take the claim that the “Charlie Charlie” game is Mexican in origin. According to BBC Mundo correspondent Maria Elena Navez, it is not. “Mexican legends often come from ancient Aztec and Maya history, or from the many beliefs that began circulating during the Spanish conquest,” Navez is quoted as saying on

“In Mexican mythology you can find gods with names like ‘Tlaltecuhtli’ or ‘Tezcatlipoca’ in the Nahuatl language. But if this legend began after the Spanish conquest, I’m sure it would’ve been called ‘Carlitos’ (Charlie in Spanish).”

She’s right. I’ve not found any references in texts on Mexican folklore to a demon named Charlie (or Carlitos), or traditional games or rituals involving the summoning of said demon. Some of the online videos feature people speaking in Spanish, and in a few of those the name “La Llorona” (from the famed Mexican ghost story) is invoked instead of “Charlie,” but that doesn’t make the pencil ritual a “Mexican tradition.”

An “old” tradition by Internet standards only

The oldest mention I’ve found of anything resembling the Charlie Charlie Challenge was a question posted on Yahoo! Answers in 2008:

Who has heard of the game “Charlie, Charlie” ?

You say, “Charlie, Charlie, can we play?” you play like this: you grab 6 pens, pencils, markers….3 for each person. you put 2 pens facing down in your hands and another pen horizontaly in the bottom. u and your friend both do this and hold them together STEADILY. you ask “charlie, do you want to play?” if it moves inwards, it means yes, outwards means no.

it was a big thing @ my school, and i came home and played it w/ my mom, and my mom and dad got all mad and said that the game was just like the wuigi board.
supposedly its a call to the devil….
is it? have you played it b4? tell me about it!

Note that in the above variant six pencils (or pens, or markers) are called for, and the players hold them in their hands instead of laying them crosswise on a sheet of paper (a 2014 video shows two kids playing that version of the game).

The oldest video I’ve found is dated September 26, 2008 and features the more familiar version of the game, though the name “Charlie” is never uttered in it.

Demons or physics?

So, why does the pencil move? Is it a demon or someone else trying to make contact from “the spirit world,” or can the phenomenon be explained in more ordinary terms? It’s easily the latter. For one thing, the pencil doesn’t always move. When it does move, it could be caused by a slight breeze, someone breathing or blowing on it, or the mere fact that one pencil is balanced so precariously on top of the other in the first place.

As in any case where science can sufficiently explain why a phenomenon occurs, there’s no reason to assume supernatural forces are at work.

(As told by David Emery on



(Trailer from YouTube)

Attack of the Butt Spider

Email prank warns of deadly South American “Blush Spiders” (scientific name: Arachnius gluteus, or “Butt Spider”) migrating to the U.S. in airliner bathrooms and lurking under public toilet seats everywhere. Read all about it in the Journal of the United Medical Association (JUMA)!

Description: Email hoax / Joke
Circulating since: Aug. 1999
Status: False (see details below)

Email text contributed August 31, 1999:

FW: Warning! Spider in the toilet!
Importance: High

I’m told this isn’t a joke. Take it or leave it!: Please pass this on to everyone on your email list:

According to an article by Dr. Beverly Clark, in the Journal of the United Medical Association (JUMA), the mystery behind a recent spate of deaths has been solved.

If you haven’t already heard about it in the news, here is what happened. 3 women in Chicago, turned up at hospitals over a 5 day period, all with the same symptoms. Fever, chills, and vomiting, followed by muscular collapse, paralysis, and finally, death. There were no outward signs of trauma. Autopsy results showed toxicity in the blood.

These women did not know each other, and seemed to have nothing in common. It was discovered, however, that they had all visited the same restaurant (Big Chappies, at Blare Airport), within days of their deaths.

The health department descended on the restaurant, shutting it down. The food, water, and air conditioning were all inspected and tested, to no avail.

The big break came when a waitress at the restaurant was rushed to the hospital with similar symptoms. She told doctors that she had been on vacation, and had only went to the restaurant to pick up her check. She did not eat or drink while she was there, but had used the restroom.

That is when one toxicologist, remembering an article he had read, drove out to the restaurant, went into the restroom, and lifted the toilet seat. Under the seat, out of normal view, was small spider.

The spider was captured and brought back to the lab, where it was determined to be the South American Blush Spider (arachnius gluteus), so named because of its reddened flesh color. This spider’s venom is extremely toxic, but can take several days to take effect. They live in cold, dark, damp, climates, and toilet rims provide just the right atmosphere.

Several days later a lawyer from Los Angeles showed up at a hospital emergency room. Before his death, he told the doctor, that he had been away on business, had taken a flight from New York, changing planes in Chicago, before returning home. He did not visit Big Chappies while there. He did, as did all of the other victims, have what was determined to be a puncture wound, on his right buttock.

Investigators discovered that the flight he was on had originated in South America. The Civilian Aeronautics Board (CAB) ordered an immediate inspection of the toilets of all flights from South America, and discovered the Blush spider’s nests on 4 different planes!

It is now beleived that these spiders can be anywhere in the country. So please, before you use a public toilet, lift the seat to check for spiders. It can save your life!

And please pass this on to everyone you care about.

Analysis: Don’t panic, it’s a joke. It gives itself away as such in the very first sentence:

According to an article by Dr. Beverly Clark, in the Journal of the United Medical Association (JUMA)…

There is no such medical journal. There is no “United Medical Association.” If “Dr. Beverly Clark” has ever had an article published in any legitimate scientific publication, for some mysterious reason it does not turn up in online searches. Moreover, there have been no recent news reports of spider-caused deaths among air travelers in Chicago.

Nor, for that matter, is there a “Blare Airport” in Chicago (try O’Hare International Airport); nor a restaurant in Chicago (or anywhere else on earth) called “Big Chappies.”

Lastly, there is no real genus of spider known as Arachnius gluteus (apparently meant to be translated “butt spider”).

Update: New Variant – A new version of this hoax first spotted in 2002 alleges that an Asian spider called the Two-striped Telamonia is now migrating to the U.S. under airliner toilet seats and has already killed five women in North Florida.

Note: Australian Redback Spider – I’ve heard from several Aussie readers keen to point out that there is a spider in Australia known as the Redback (Latrodectus hasselti), the bite of which can be toxic and which is famous in popular lore — much like its American relative, the Black Widow — for residing under outdoor toilet seats. Though “Arachnius gluteus” remains a fiction, it is not without its precedents in real life and world folklore.

(As told by David Emery on



(Trailer from YouTube)

The Bell Witch

The tormenting spirit of America’s best-known poltergeist case

ADAMS, TENNESSEE, in 1817 was the site of one of the most well-known hauntings in American history – so well known that it eventually caught the attention and then the involvement of a future president of the United States.

Known as The Bell Witch, the strange and often violent poltergeist activity that provoked fear and curiosity in the small farming community has remained unexplained for nearly 200 years, and is the inspiration for many fictional ghost stories, including the horror classic, The Blair Witch Project.

The facts of The Bell Witch case share little in common with the mythology created for The Blair Witch Project, except they both attracted a great deal of public interest. And because it really happened, The Bell Witch is far scarier.


One early account of The Bell Witch haunting was written in 1886 by historian Albert Virgil Goodpasture in his History of Tennessee.

He wrote, in part:

A remarkable occurrence, which attracted wide-spread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled near what is now Adams Station about 1804. So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the “Bell Witch.” This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. The freaks it performed were wonderful and seemingly designed to annoy the family. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfiture of its victims. At first it was supposed to be a good spirit, but its subsequent acts, together with the curses with which it supplemented its remarks, proved the contrary. A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted.


What was the Bell Witch? Like most such stories, certain details vary from version to version. But the prevailing account is that it was the spirit of Kate Batts, a mean old neighbor of John Bell who believed she was cheated by him in a land purchase. On her deathbed, she swore that she would haunt John Bell and his descendants.

The story is picked up by the Guidebook for Tennessee, published in 1933 by the Federal Government’s Works Project Administration:

Sure enough, tradition says, the Bells were tormented for years by the malicious spirit of Old Kate Batts. John Bell and his favorite daughter Betsy were the principal targets. Toward the other members of the family the witch was either indifferent or, as in the case of Mrs. Bell, friendly. No one ever saw her, but every visitor to the Bell home heard her all too well. Her voice, according to one person who heard it, “spoke at a nerve-racking pitch when displeased, while at other times it sang and spoke in low musical tones.” The spirit of Old Kate led John and Betsy Bell a merry chase. She threw furniture and dishes at them. She pulled their noses, yanked their hair, poked needles into them. She yelled all night to keep them from sleeping, and snatched food from their mouths at mealtime.


So widely spread was the news about The Bell Witch that people came from hundreds of miles around hoping to hear the spirit’s shrill voice or witness a manifestation of its vile temper. When word of the haunting reached Nashville, one of its most famous citizens, General Andrew Jackson, decided to gather a party of friends and journey to Adams to investigate.

The General, who had earned his tough reputation in many conflicts with Native Americans, was determined to confront the phenomenon and either expose it as a hoax or send the spirit away.

A chapter in M. V. Ingram’s 1894 book, An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch – considered by many to be the best account of the story – is devoted to Jackson’s visit:

Gen. Jackson’s party came from Nashville with a wagon loaded with a tent, provisions, etc., bent on a good time and much fun investigating the witch. The men were riding on horseback and were following along in the rear of the wagon as they approached near the place, discussing the matter and planning how they were going to do up the witch. Just then, traveling over a smooth level piece of road, the wagon halted and stuck fast. The driver popped his whip, whooped and shouted to the team, and the horses pulled with all of their might, but could not move the wagon an inch. It was dead stuck as if welded to the earth. Gen. Jackson commanded all men to dismount and put their shoulders to the wheels and give the wagon a push, but all in vain; it was no go. The wheels were then taken off, one at a time, and examined and found to be all right, revolving easily on the axles. Gen. Jackson after a few moments thought, realizing that they were in a fix, threw up his hands exclaiming, “By the eternal, boys, it is the witch.” Then came the sound of a sharp metallic voice from the bushes, saying, “All right General, let the wagon move on, I will see you again to-night.” The men in bewildered astonishment looked in every direction to see if they could discover from whence came the strange voice, but could find no explanation to the mystery. The horses then started unexpectedly of their own accord, and the wagon rolled along as light and smoothly as ever.


According to some versions of the story, Jackson did indeed encounter The Bell Witch that night:

Betsy Bell screamed all night from the pinching and slapping she received from the Witch, and Jackson’s covers were ripped off as quickly as he could put them back on, and he had his entire party of men were slapped, pinched and had their hair pulled by the witch until morning, when Jackson and his men decided to hightail it out of Adams. Jackson was later quoted as saying, “I’d rather fight the British in New Orleans than to have to fight the Bell Witch.”


The torment of the Bell house continued for years, culminating in the ghost’s ultimate act of vengeance upon the man she claimed had cheated her: she took responsibility for his death.

In October 1820, Bell was struck with an illness while walking to the pigsty of his farm. Some believe that he suffered a stroke, since thereafter he had difficulty speaking and swallowing. In and out of bed for several weeks, his health declined. The Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, tells this part of the story:

On the morning of December 19, he failed to awake at his regular time. When the family noticed he was sleeping unnaturally, they attempted to arouse him. They discovered Bell was in a stupor and couldn’t be completely awakened. John Jr. went to the medicine cupboard to get his father’s medicine and noticed it was gone with a strange vial in its place. No one claimed to have replaced the medicine with the vial. A doctor was summoned to the house. The witch began taunting that she had place the vial in the medicine cabinet and given Bell a dose of it while he slept. Contents of the vial were tested on a cat and discovered to be highly poisonous. John Bell died on December 20. “Kate” was quiet until after the funeral. After the grave was filled, the witch began singing loudly and joyously. This continued until all friends and family left the grave site.

The Bell Witch left the Bell household in 1821, saying that she would return in seven years time. She made good on her promise and “appeared” at the home of John Bell, Jr. where, it is said, she left him with prophecies of future events, including the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. The ghost said it would reappear 107 years later – in 1935 – but if she did, no one in Adams came forward as a witness to it.

Some claim that the spirit still haunts the area. On the property once owned by the Bells is a cave, which has since become known as The Bell Witch Cave, and many locals claim to have seen strange apparitions at the cave and at other spots on the property.


A few rational explanations of The Bell Witch phenomena have been offered over the years.

The haunting, they say, was a hoax perpetrated by Richard Powell, the schoolteacher of Betsy Bell and Joshua Gardner, with whom Betsy was in love. It seems Powell was deeply in love with the young Betsy and would do anything to destroy her relationship with Gardner. Through a variety of pranks, tricks, and with the help of several accomplices, it is theorized that Powell created all of the “effects” of the ghost to scare Gardner away.

Indeed, Gardner was the target of much of the witch’s violent taunting, and he eventually did break up with Betsy and left the area. It has never been satisfactorily explained how Powell achieved all these remarkable effects, including paralyzing Andrew Jackson’s wagon.

But he did come out the winner. He married Betsy Bell.

(As told by Stephen Wagner on



(Trailer from YouTube)

Killer in the Backseat

One night a woman went out for drinks with her girlfriends. She left the bar fairly late at night, got in her car and onto the deserted highway. After a few minutes she noticed a lone pair of headlights in her rear-view mirror, approaching at a pace just slightly quicker than hers. As the car pulled up behind her she glanced and saw the turn signal on — the car was going to pass — when suddenly it swerved back behind her, pulled up dangerously close to her tailgate and the brights flashed.

Now she was getting nervous. The lights dimmed for a moment and then the brights came back on and the car behind her surged forward. The frightened woman struggled to keep her eyes on the road and fought the urge to look at the car behind her. Finally, her exit approached but the car continued to follow, flashing the brights periodically.

Through every stoplight and turn, it followed her until she pulled into her driveway. She figured her only hope was to make a mad dash into the house and call the police. As she flew from the car, so did the driver of the car behind her — and he screamed, “Lock the door and call the police! Call 911!”

When the police arrived the horrible truth was finally revealed to the woman. The man in the car had been trying to save her. As he pulled up behind her and his headlights illuminated her car, he saw the silhouette of a man with a butcher knife rising up from the back seat to stab her, so he flashed his brights and the figure crouched back down.

The moral of the story: Always check the back seat!

Analysis: In another common variant of this legend, the imperiled female (and it’s always a female, please note) pulls into a gas station and is frightened by the odd behavior of the attendant, who keeps trying to get her to leave the car and join him in the office. It turns out he has glimpsed a knife-wielding murderer in the backseat and is trying to save her life!

Folklorists have traced the legend back to the 1960s and believe it may have been inspired by a vaguely similar real event in 1964 involving the discovery by a New York City policeman of an escaped murderer hiding in the backseat of his (the cop’s) own car.

“The Killer in the Backseat” was among the legendary horror stories dramatized in the 1998 film Urban Legend. Let us not assume, however, that real-life evildoers never lie in wait for their victims in the backseats of vehicles. As reported in the Decatur Daily News on September 14, 2007, a female college student in Alabama was threatened by a man with a gun who popped up suddenly in the backseat of her SUV. She escaped, fortunately, by slamming on the brakes and bolting from the car.

(As told by reader Emily Dunbar on