I loved urban legends as a kid because that was the only time in my life I believed they were real. If you grew up on the internet, I'm sure you were the same way: the late-night copy-pasted soliloquies about organ harvesters, and haunted underpasses, back-masked satanism, and VHS tapes that would make you go insane. I pored over alleged ghost stories about sick Spongebob Squarepants episodes and oblique footprints of the Mogollon Monster on a nightly basis. It's fun to be a little gullible sometimes.
The vast majority of this stuff is fake, of course. Spring-Heeled Jack didn't traipse through 19th century London, there was no Mothman in West Virginia, and the Foo Fighters were an optical illusion. But recently I've been captivated by the very, very few urban legends that have some veracity behind the myth-making. The ones that are grounded, at the very least, in a skewed version of the truth. After all, sometimes weird shit happens in this world, and sometimes we see it up close. So here are five real urban legends.
The Bunny Man
Here are the facts: In 1970 an Air Force Cadet named Robert Bennett was returning from a football game with his wife in the small northern Virginia town of Burke. They had parked a car in a field to visit an uncle who lived across the street, and as the engine was running, they saw a figure dash across the rearview mirror. A few seconds later, their passenger-side window was smashed open. Bennett immediately sped away, but not before catching a glimpse of a man dressed in white yelling at them about trespassing onto his private property. As they got further away, the couple discovered a hatchet on the floor—ostensibly the tool the assailant used to break through the glass.
Later, in the police report drafted up for the assault, Bennett swore the man was wearing two pointy white bunny ears. This is something his wife refuted. She said she saw something similar to one of those steeple-y KKK hats. No big deal right? Probably just a case of your imagination filling in the gaps with the worst thing possible. (In this case, a dude in a murderous rage dressed in a Donnie Darko-style bunnysuit.) But then, a week later, the same thing happened. A security guard named Paul Phillips approached a man dressed in a "gray, black, and white bunny costume" standing on a porch that was currently under construction. In Phillips' recollection, he started chopping at a wooden pole with an axe, warning, "If you don't get out of here, I'm going to bust your head."
Since then there have been no official, documented sightings of the Bunny Man, but the mystery was certainly seductive enough for the Washington Post to cover both instances voraciously. Given how high-profile the case was, there's a chance that, in the second encounter, a kid just wanted to dress up as a bunny to spook a hapless security guard, or maybe Phillips wanted to get himself into the paper. Regardless, the Bunny Man quickly became an eternal piece of Virginia folklore, and the crime mutated into a ghost story.
The urban legend version of the Bunny Man says he was an asylum detainee who escaped in 1904, and started skinning rabbits and hanging his victims around the Colchester Overpass, (now informally known as "Bunny Man Bridge.") Eventually, he was killed by a passing train when police came to arrest him. Of course, we know all that phantasmagoric stuff was nonsense, but it's still pretty crazy that the core elements of the Bunny Man legend are intact. It's a lesson for us all, really. Don't trespass, you never know whose property you're on.
For years, there were sightings of a mysterious figure in Switzerland's Maules Forest who wandered around in a heavy-duty camouflage boiler suit and a vintage gas mask. The natives gave him the name "Le Loyon," and he existed mostly as a tongue-and-cheek ghost story until 2013, when someone snapped a pretty unambiguous photo of the legend in the flesh. "Oh shit," the world gasped. "There is some guy in gas mask stalking through a dense forest. That's knowledge that I was better off living without."
This spurred a brief bit of Loyonmania in the region. Locals pored over the Maules Forest looking to find the creature in his natural habitat. This clearly rubbed Le Loyon the wrong way, because in late 2013, someone found a neatly-folded boiler suit in the forest alongside a long, verbose note. In that letter, Le Loyon called its apocalyptically-geared hikes "happiness therapy," and seemed extremely annoyed that the media blew their cover. No longer could Le Loyon unwind in this remarkably specific way!
Some people do yoga, some people wear gas masks and haunt obscure European woodlands. We shouldn't judge. Le Loyon hasn't been seen since it delivered his "suicide note," and personally, I hope whoever it was found some other way to blow off steam.
The Catman of Greenock
The Catman of Greenock is probably the only urban legend to have his very own Facebook fan page, where a small group of devotees post sightings, rumors, and custom-made Halloween costumes in tribute of the strangest resident in their town. It's easy to see why, Catman cuts a pretty memorable silhouette; balding, face black with dirt and soot, usually with a rat carcass dangling from his mouth. He was a fabled, Nessy-esque ghoulie in the quaint mythology of the West Scottish town of Greenock for years. That is until 2007, when someone uploaded a grainy video of the man mid rat-chomp—confirming the urban legend on the world stage.
Week in Weird has a good breakdown of some of the drummed-up local explanations for Catman's origin story. Some say he was a Russian sailor who got stranded in Scotland and lost his mind, others say he found himself on the wrong end of the mob who broke his legs, (which would explain why he's never been photographed standing upright.) Either way, the first reports of his existence date all the way back to the mid '70s, which means Catman has been subsisting this way for quite some time. That being said, the Facebook page hasn't reported any new sightings since the summer of 2017, and some of his most ardent fans are worried about his well-being. Wherever you are Catman, we hope you're doing OK.
If you were on the internet at the turn of the millennium, there's a chance you received a piece of chain mail in your inbox warning you about an AIM user named "Slavemaster"—a serial killer who lures women to his house through public chat rooms. There's like, hundreds of different permutations on the basic email template. Sometimes he's called MonkeyMan935 or SweetCaliGuy4evr instead of Slavemaster, sometimes he's on Myspace or Yahoo instead of AIM. But the basic idea is that he's responsible for the death of 56 people, all of whom he met online.
On paper, this looks like the basic set of internet spookiness that was rampant during those hellish early days of email spam, but the story here turned out to be more true than you might expect. John Edwards Robinson, a man in Kansas City, Missouri, was a serial killer who first started murdering in the '80s, but he found a sick modus operandi in the late '90s by trolling internet BDSM communities looking for hookups. His screen name on those sites? You guessed it: "Slavemaster."
The bodies of two of the women Robinson met online would later turn up in a pair of industrial barrels on his property in 2000, after police were dispatched to apprehend him once his name kept popping up in missing person reports. He was officially convicted in 2002, and remains on death row to this day. The infamous "Slavemaster" chain mail made its way into inboxes long after Robinson was arrested, but some were sent out as early as 2000. Maybe someone put together the letter after the details of Robinson's arrest were made public, or maybe someone had a tip before police did. Either way, this is one of the rare instances where a piece of chain mail paranoia turned out to be true.
The Green Man of Pittsburgh
If you grew up in Pittsburgh in the '50s and '60s, you probably caught a few stories about the legendary "Green Man" or "Charlie No-Face." They say if you venture out to State Route 351, in between the modest townships of New Galilee and Koppell, you might find a man with no eyes, no nose, and a missing right arm out for a nightly stroll. Teenagers used to pull their cars into an abandoned railroad tunnel near the modest Peters Creek, turn off their headlights, and call out to him. Depending on who you talked to, The Green Man was a ghost, or a zombie, or a demon, but the origin story always fixated on a boy who suffered a devastating electrical accident.
That last part is actually true. The Green Man was an ordinary guy named Raymond Robinson, who was born in Beaver County in 1910. As a nine year old kid, he took a dare to climb a girder on a railway bridge to take a look at a nearby bird's nest, and burned himself horrifically on the overhanging wires. Robinson survived, miraculously, but not before suffering his soon-to-be-famous deformations. Robinson lived a fairly normal life after the accident. He worked with leather with his family during the day, and he ventured out for walks down the highway at night. Like all of us, Robinson wanted fresh air, but he also knew his appearance was frightening to passerbys. Under the cover of darkness, he could get the peace he so desperately coveted.
That didn't end up working as planned. Over the years Robinson went on more walks, and his infamy grew through the power of local gossip. Eventually, people started regarding him as a bogeyman or a vengeful spirit. (That's when "The Green Man" named popped up. For some reason, word went around that Robinson's skin was turned green by the accident, which wasn't true.) He was undeterred, however, and kept his nightly routine up until his final years and death in 1985. Of course, this being an urban legend, there are those who still believe that Charlie No-Face stalks Western Pennsylvania, though you're probably not going to have much luck finding him at that tunnel.
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