When urban legends come true

It has often been said that the truth is stranger than fiction. This is certainly the case with urban legends that come true.

Jan Harold Brunvand

On the off-chance that you don’t know what is an urban legend, check out a few on-line.

If you want more, check out the website of the man who pioneered their study, the 80 years young Jan Harold Brunvand, who is himself a living legend.

Although it was not his first book, he first hit the headlines big time with The Vanishing Hitchhiker, which he followed up with The Choking Doberman.

Back in the 1980s there arose the urban legend of the snuff film. Women or more often young children were said to be kidnapped and murdered by a sexual predator, often tortured to death, purely for the pleasure of reliving it time and time again on video, to share with other like-minded degenerates, and to sell commercially.

The led to Mrs Mary Whitehouse making outrageous and frankly ludicrous claims such as a million children kidnapped and murdered worldwide annually. When Mrs Whitehouse founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association, there was probably no such thing as a snuff film, although executions had certainly been filmed before, and likewise deaths had been caught on film.

Now though, there have been a number of confirmed cases of people being murdered including tortured to death simply for the fun of it. The perpetrators of these crimes include serial killer Maury Travis and killer couple Leonard Lake and Charles Ng. Lake committed suicide shortly after his arrest; Ng has been on death row since 1999. A “torture video” they made has now been released. If you are hesitant about clicking the link, be advised there this six-minute clip contains no violence. * The same cannot be said for the video of Daniel Pearl released by his murderers. * This and a number of even more graphic beheading videos can now be found on YouTube and similar sites.

Attempts have been made to remove such videos, but painful as it is to watch them it is important that we understand the nature of the men who would carry out such inhuman acts on innocent people, and that given half the chance they would do the same to us.

One of the more unpleasant urban legends collected by Jan Harold Brunvand for his book The Mexican Pet is that of the cocaine baby. This involves a woman who boards a plane to the USA with a dead baby. When she is stopped on arrival, the baby is found to be stuffed with cocaine. Attempts to trace this report turned up nothing, but the thoroughly documented story of Caroline Beale is far more unbelievable than this plausible legend.

In October 1994, Caroline Beale was arrested trying to board a plane in New York with a dead baby concealed under her clothing. She had been on holiday with her lover – with whom she had apparently been sleeping – and although a slightly-built woman, no one, including him, realised she was heavily pregnant. She gave birth to the baby which didn’t survive. She claimed it was stillborn, but prosecutors claimed she drowned it in the toilet, and she was charged with murder. In the UK that would almost certainly not have been the case, especially in view of Beale’s state of mind; her own lawyer said what she did was crazy in anyone’s language. Fortunately for Beale, she was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and sent home where she was treated rather than punished. If you saw the documentary Caroline’s Baby, you’d understand why.

It was in New York a hundred years before, that Mary Mallon lived. Mary was born in Ireland on September 23, 1869, and like many poor people of that era from these islands she set sail for the Promised Land in search of a better future. She found work as a domestic servant, her forte being cooking. Unfortunately, she was one of those rare people who carry a disease without its affecting her, typhoid in her case. When she was identified as the cause of a number of outbreaks, she was exiled to North Brother Island in the Bronx, but was allowed to leave and find work on condition that she did not handle food. For whatever reason, she ignored this warning, so the appellation Typhoid Mary is well deserved.

With the rise of AIDS, another urban legend emerged, that of AIDS Mary, about a woman who deliberately infected men with AIDS. Sadly, there have been a number of cases since then of both women and men who while suffering from some unmentionable disease, had sexual relations with some unsuspecting person, sometimes deliberately as an act of revenge, either on a specific individual, the opposite sex or the entire world.

Here are some more urban legends that were not so legendary. At the risk of lowering the tone, the latest to hit the headlines concerns a toilet. In the original (or one of the originals), a man throws a cigarette down the toilet while answering a call of nature, and it explodes. You can read the latest version in a report filed earlier today. Unlike the fictional version, this one was no laughing matter.

[The above article was first published October 13, 2013. By the time I created this page in September 2022, the videos concerned had been removed from YouTube. Doubtless they have been uploaded elsewhere but I see no benefit in seeking them out. There are now countless videos of inhuman acts on YouTube alone. ]

To Brunvand — His name is Legend
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