8 Frightening Urban Legends Debunked as Hoaxes

Updated June 8, 2021
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.

The 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.

The thing is, there isn't a single report to corroborate any suicides related to the puppet. The puppet itself was created by artist Keisuke Aisawa. He created the sculpture, titled Mother Bird, for a 2016 Tokyo's Horror-Art Vanilla Gallery display. He later dismantled the piece when it began to rot.

Razor Blades in Halloween Candy

People who grew up in the 1980s and after may very well remember their parents carefully inspecting the Halloween candy they got while trick or treating, searching for razor blades. This urban legend persists to this day, but there's absolutely zero proof that it ever happened in the first place.

The closest actual incident of tampering was in 1982, when bottles of Tylenol were tampered with. It's quite likely that this is what inspired whoever started this hoax in the first place.

Slender Man Urban Legend

The Slender Man is entirely an internet-age urban legend. Appearing in photographs as a tall, skinny, pale, creepy supernatural creature, often in deserted or abandoned places, the Slender Man was created in 2009 and posted to an online forum for people who used Photoshop software to pull pranks. At the time, people even joked that someday he'd probably show up on sites with people claiming he was real.

And they were right. Slender Man spread all over the internet, and unfortunately, beyond. In 2014, two girls murdered another Wisconsin girl claiming they wanted to gain Slender Man's attention by killing for him. While the news story of the murder is true, the fact is that the perpetrators were obsessed with the story of Slender Man and took that belief to murderous levels.

But this is one case where it's easy to see exactly where and how the Slender Man legend began. So despite what may have been done in his name, the legend that he ever really existed at all has been thoroughly debunked.

Creepy Clown Statue Email Chain Letter

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 story goes that 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.

There's zero proof that this ever actually happened, though creepy clowns definitely have their fair share of notoriety and urban legends:

  • 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 re-surged 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.
Creepy clown in woods at night

Hook on the Car Door Handle Urban Legend

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.

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.

Either way, there is no record of this ever actually happening.

Car Make Out Sessions Lead to a Dead Boyfriend

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, but, once again, there is no corroboration or evidence that this has ever really happened.

Teen couple kissing in parked car

The Tale of the Stolen Kidneys

This is another email chain hoax, usually with the recipient being warned to share to raise awareness.

The sender 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.

This has been debunked for multiple reasons.

  • 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. This is likely what inspired this hoax.

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.

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."

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.

Despite how long it's held on, this urban legend is very much debunked.

Close-up of American alligator

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.

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8 Frightening Urban Legends Debunked as Hoaxes