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Urban Legend Hoaxes Debunked

Sally Painter
Women reacting to urban legend

Urban legend hoaxes can be debunked with a little investigative research. Tracing these stories to their sources, especially those that seem absurd and impossible, is one way to debunk them.

Momo Challenge Urban Legend Hoax

It began in 2018 via WhatsApp and then resurfaced on Twitter in 2019. The Momo Challenge is a dire and urgent warning to parents that Momo is a suicide challenge targeting their kids. Supposedly, the grotesque female puppet pops up on the child's cellphone or device and challenges the child to participate in a game of suicide. Naturally, when parents see social media and mainstream media posting about the Momo Challenge, they panic and repost, perpetuating the hoax to a heightened level of fear.

  • It's said that a 12-year-old girl in Argentina played the challenge and killed herself, but this is unsubstantiated.
  • There are no reports to corroborate the stories of the Momo Challenge or that any child took their life in connection with this urban legend.
  • Artist Keisuke Aisawa created a sculpture titled Mother Bird for a 2016 Tokyo's Horror-Art Vanilla Gallery display. He later dismantled the piece when it began to rot.

Chain Letter Urban Legend Hoaxes Debunked

Urban legend hoaxes are often advanced through email chain letters. This type of hoax usually has a demand at the end of the email to forward to a specific number of people within the next few minutes or suffer some tragedy.

Creepy Clown Statue Urban Legend

One of the most famous chain letter email urban legend hoaxes is the Clown Statue. This email explains how a babysitter called the parents for permission to watch cable TV in their bedroom then asked if she could cover up the creepy life-size clown statue with a blanket. The father shouted to grab the kids and run from the house! They didn't have a clown statue. The police found the babysitter and children murdered by an escaped prisoner. The email message warns recipients to resend within five minutes or a clown will visit them, and they'll suffer the same fate.

Creepy clown in woods at night

Killer Clowns Urban Legend Hoaxes Debunked

There are several versions of the "clown urban legend". There are a few possible explanations for the origin and perpetuation of this creepy urban legend.

  • John Wayne Gacy was a notorious serial killer in the 1970s. Gacy murdered 33 young men (ages 16-21). Gacy was a children's party clown, Pogo, and was later dubbed, the Serial Killer Clown.
  • The Phantom Clown Scare of 1981 was a wave of clown costumed men attempting to entice and kidnap children.
  • During the 1980s and 1990s, horror movies and books used the evil clown theme to generate a Killer Clown genre.
  • The real-life 1990 killer clown murder of Marlene Warren fueled more killer clown hoaxes. However, in 2017, Shelia Keen "Debbie" Warren, the real clown costumed killer, was arrested.
  • In 2013 (UK) and 2014 (USA), clown sightings resurged with creepy clowns popping up in strange places and odd settings. Authorities dismissed the incidences as pranks.
  • In 2016, a rash of "evil clowns" showing up near schools, along roads or in the woods became a worldwide phenomenon.

Urban Legends to Control Teenage Passion

There are numerous urban legends clearly invented as a way to curtail hormonal teens from exploring sex. Each version of this legend depicts a teenage couple barely escaping death by abandoning their plans to have sex, typically in a car. Another version is the dead boyfriend urban legends where the boyfriend is killed while the couple is parked at the end of a lonely road. Both types of stories are designed to strike fear in teenagers to dissuade them from indulging in their sexual urges. The car versions are still the most popular stories.

Teen couple kissing in parked car

Hook on the Car Door Handle

In this urban legend, a couple is spooked while parked in a lonely isolated area and abruptly leave after hearing odd sounds moving outside the car. They speed off. On the return to the girl's house, the couple is frightened to discover a hook dangling from the car door handle.

1950s and 1960s Horror Movies

This urban legend dates itself circ 1950s - 1960s based on car door handle style and the boy opening the door for the girl. However, this story could easily have been spawned from that era's horror movies that often depicted a night scene of a couple parked near a wooded area and a raging monster emerging from the darkness to attack the unsuspecting lovers.

Boyfriend Killed While Couple Parking

A more modern spin on this urban legend tells of a couple in a parked car at night. The two teenagers hear a noise just beyond the car and eventually, against the girl's protests, the boy steps from the car to see what it might be. Soon after, the terrified girl hears this odd noise like something swinging back and forth. She overcomes her fear and opens the car door, stepping out of the vehicle only to discover her dead boyfriend hanging from the tree overhead. Again, this is the stuff of horror movies for a different generation. The underlying message is don't sneak around to remote places to have sex.

Waking Up in Tub of Ice With Missing Kidneys

Another modern form of this type of messaging is found in the warning email circulated as true. A person claims to know someone and offers what seems like authentication but doesn't provide names, dates or details to back up their claims. The story unfolds about a sister, brother, someone they know waking up in a tub of ice with a note not to move but to use the cell phone left on the stool to call 911 immediately that their kidneys have been harvested. The person recalls meeting someone at a party but after that they don't know what happened until they woke up in an apartment or hotel bathtub.

  • According to the National Kidney Foundation, recipients must be blood and tissue typed for compatibility.
  • While organ trafficking is a reality, it requires medical personnel and the setting of a hospital with appropriate equipment (not an apartment or hotel) to perform organ removal and transplantation.
  • The stolen kidney scenario was used in the movie, The Harvest (1992) and again in Pound of Flesh (2015), where each man had one kidney stolen and sought revenge.

Alligators in New York Sewer System

This urban legend has circulated the streets of New York since the 1960s. The stories described how New Yorkers returned from Florida vacations with baby alligator pets, grew tired of them and subsequently flushed the poor creatures down the toilet. With an ample supply of rats these creatures grew to frightening sizes.

Close-up of American alligator

Alligator Urban Legends Debunked

This urban legend is debunked in Chapter 89, Alligators Below of Richard J. Heggen's book titled In Underground Rivers: from the River Styx to the Rio San Buenaventura with occasional diversion. Heggen quotes Herpetologists, Sherman and Madge Rutherford Minton saying they hadn't been able to track down any alligators and could "assure New Yorkers that alligators are not among their urban problems."

New York Sewer Systems and Alligators

Nature writer Diane Ackerman states the alligators wouldn't survive very long in New York sewers because, "they [alligators] can't live long in salmonella or shigella or E. coli, organisms that one usually finds in sewage." In addition, she explains alligators wouldn't survive the cold since they require 78°F - 90°F.

Urban Legend Hoaxes Debunked With Facts

It helps to research the origins of urban legends. If you can trace the facts behind some urban legends, it's often easy to debunk them.

Urban Legend Hoaxes Debunked