Warning: Some readers may find the content of this article disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
There's a reason why so many horror movies claim to be based on actual events. Reality can be scary as hell, and it's often weirder and more nightmare-inducing than anything on the big screen. Here are seven events that sound like the plots of some terrifying horror movies -- except they're much more disturbing. Because they're completely true.
1) The Watcher Letters
You may remember this eerie tale, because it's recent and it was very highly publicised. A New Jersey family sued the previous owners of their home after they received three disturbing letters from someone who called him or herself "the Watcher", who was fixated on the 1905 Colonial-style home and its new occupants. The unidentified letter-writer certainly had a spectacularly creepy way with words, referring to Derek and Maria Broaddus' three children as "the young blood you have brought to me", and asking things like, "Have they found out what's in the walls yet?" (You can read the entire lawsuit, which is filled with nightmare material, here.)
The lawsuit, which is still in court, was filed after the Broaddus family abandoned the house, fearing for their safety. Its basis is that the previous owners knew about "the Watcher" but didn't bother to warn them ahead of time. The house was put up for sale in February 2015, but the listing was removed once the story began receiving media attention.
The house at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, NJ. Note the For Sale sign. Image: Google
Last month, the Broaddus family made a bold move, according to NJ.com. Since nobody wants to pay a million bucks for a house that has such a strong stigma attached to it, they applied for a planning board permit to tear the house down and replace it with two new dwellings. It's one way to assuage their financial burden while their suit is still in court, and as a bonus, it's a tidy FU to the stalker, too.
2) The Russian Grave Robber
In this case, a photo -- even a kinda blurry one -- says a lot.
Image: AP Photo/guvdnn.ru/HO
This is just one of 29 "dolls" made from mummified female corpses recovered from the home of 45-year-old Anatoly Moskvin, described by the BBC as a "local historian and cemetery explorer" in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. Each human doll was carefully dressed, with the hands and face covered in cloth. Some were perched on furniture; others on shelves. One body had been made to look like a teddy bear, with a stuffed animal head atop the neck.
The Mirror, which reports that the bodies were of girls ages three to 12, pilfered from dozens of dug-up graves, claims that Moskvin had a specific purpose in mind while assembling his collection:
Moskvin, who speaks 13 languages and was described by some as 'a genius', also gave the mummified corpses names and organised birthday parties for them... Moskvin also compiled up-to-date information about the lives of each girl he had dug up and printed off instructions on a computer for how to produce dolls out of human remains.
His grisly activities were apparently discovered when his parents paid him a surprise visit; though he was arrested in 2011, he was deemed unfit to stand trial.
3) The Spooky House Incident
In August 2006, just before the start of their final year in high school, a group of girls were driving around their hometown of Worthington, Ohio. The boring night was suddenly filled with exciting potential when they decided to cruise by what the local kids called the "spooky house", a run-down dwelling with an overgrown yard that was perfectly situated across the street from a cemetery. The teens thought it was abandoned. They were, unfortunately, quite mistaken.
The Ohio "Spooky House" as it appeared in 2007, a year after the shooting. Image: AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, James D. DeCamp
It wasn't the first time 41-year-old Allen S. Davis, a recluse who lived in the house with his elderly mother, had been beset by unwanted guests; he'd thwarted a couple of break-ins in 2006. He had a rifle as protection, and when he heard the girls outside, he figured he'd fire off some warning shots, since it had worked before. But this time, a wayward bullet struck 17-year-old Rachel Barezinsky in the head.
Miraculously, she survived, and the ensuing case divided the community. Some people believed Davis was likely mentally ill, but still acting within his rights to protect his property. But as Fox News reported in 2007:
Police determined the girls were not trespassing because they had not gone far enough onto the property and no clearly visible signs had been posted.
Davis said in jailhouse interviews that he did not intend to hurt anyone. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of felonious assault to avoid a drawn-out probe into his personal life.
In 2009, Davis' mother died in the home while her son was in prison serving his 19-year sentence. In 2013, Barezinsky's family said that the young woman was "90 per cent recovered" from her injuries. That same year, the "spooky house" was purchased at auction by new owners who were determined to completely renovate the place. A Google Earth search proves they did an amazing job, though there's no hiding that view of the cemetery.
4) The Chowchilla School Bus Kidnapping
In July 1976, 26 kids aged five to 14 were on their yellow bus, heading home from their second-to-last day of summer school in Chowchilla, California. The mood was festive until an apparently broken-down van blocked the road, and masked men with guns burst through the front door of the bus. The children and their driver were soon herded into a pair of vans and driven around for 11 hours in stifling heat, eventually stopping at a rock quarry near Livermore -- some 161km north of Chowchilla.
The ordeal only got stranger and scarier from there. In a 2015 look back at the case, CNN spoke to a number of the kidnapping victims, including Lynda Carrejo Labendeira, who was in Year 4 at the time.
The kidnappers asked each child his or her name, age, address and phone number. They also took a piece of clothing or a belonging from each student.
But the gunmen never explained why they were abducting the children.
"I only recall them ever telling us to shut up and be quiet," Carrejo Labendeira said.
With only some construction lights illuminating the dark quarry, the kidnappers ordered the children and bus driver into what looked like a massive grave -- a moving van hidden underground.
"It was buried into the earth. It was like a tomb," Carrejo Labendeira said. "It was like a coffin. It was like a giant coffin for all of us."
Each hostage had to descend a ladder into the back of the hidden vehicle, which had been transformed into a crude holding pen for the group. There was minimal food, and no ventilation. After 16 hours, the only adult present, driver Edward Ray, and some of the older kids came up with a plan, stacking mattresses as high as they'd go, shoving through a metal plate on the roof of the van and digging their way to freedom.
After the children fled, the moving van that had been their prison was extracted from the quarry by police. Image: AP Photo/Jim Palmer
The kidnappers, who snoozed through the escape, weren't hard to track down; one of them was the son of the man who owned the quarry. All three men hailed from wealthy families, so their motive for the crime -- a $US5 million ($6.5 million) ransom that they never got to demand, since the Chowchilla police were taking so many calls from the frantic parents of the schoolchildren -- remains somewhat baffling. (Their attorney explained it as, "They're greedy.")
Two of the kidnappers have since been paroled; the third, who's had a tumultuous time behind bars, is next eligible in 2018. Survivor Jennifer Brown Hyde was just nine years old in 1976; last year, she told CNN that the experience still haunts her.
"It's not normal for someone who's almost 50 years old to be afraid of the dark," Brown Hyde said.
Until recently, she had to sleep with a nightlight on. And she still has chronic nightmares.
"The types of nightmares I have, I was prepared to die," she said. "I actually had nightmares where somebody killed me ... I saw myself at my own funeral."
5) Albert Fish's Letter
Albert Fish was a child molester, torturer (he had a set of what he referred to as "implements of Hell" including a meat cleaver), serial killer, faeces fetishist, cannibal and self-mutilator. But he had one more nasty trait that elevated him from mere monster to something even worse: His urge to gloat. Witness the obscene anonymous letter he penned to the mother of his last known victim, 10-year-old Grace Budd.
Albert Fish (not wearing a hat) with detectives. Image: AP Photo
It's addressed to "My Dear Mrs Budd" and that's the only polite thing about it. Here's the worst, most gruesome part (and you seriously may want to skip reading it):
On Sunday June the 3 -- 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese -- strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said Yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in the closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How did she kick -- bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take the meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little arse was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did NOT fuck her tho I could have had I wished. She died a VIRGIN."
Shudder. Police were able to trace the letterhead used by Fish to send this toxic missive, leading to his arrest. He confessed, and in 1936 he was executed in "Old Sparky" at New York's Sing Sing prison.
6) The Porthole Murder
Cruise ship deaths make headlines with disturbing frequency. One of the very first to achieve notoriety was the murder of English actress Eileen Gibson, also known by her stage name, Gay Gibson. In 1947, the 21-year-old was heading back to England from South Africa aboard the Durban Castle, fresh off her appearance in a production of the Clifford Odets play Golden Boy.
She never made it home, having caught the eye of James Camb, the ship's steward, whose reputation as a womaniser earned him the nickname "Don Jimmy". However, it seems that his crewmates didn't realise his conquests were rarely willing. Camb's story changed multiple times as he was quizzed by police, but at one point he admitted to shoving the young woman's dead body through the porthole in her cabin, where it made "a helluva splash" upon hitting the water below.
Even without a body, there was enough evidence to convict him. His death sentence was eventually commuted to life, and then he was paroled, despite the fact that he'd since been accused of rape by other women who'd been passengers aboard the Durban Castle. In 1967 he was arrested again, for attacking a 13-year-old girl, but it was only after he assaulted three more young women that he was finally put back in prison for life. [World Encyclopedia of 20th Century Murder]
7) The Woman Who Was (Almost) Buried Alive
From the Washington Bee, 14 July 1894:
The South Carolina Anderson Intelligencer, dated a few weeks later, had an even more vivid report of the incident, quoting the not-dead-yet Eleanor Markham as she recalled her ordeal:
I was conscious all the time you were making preparations to bury me, and the horror of my situation is altogether beyond description... I prayed to God for strength, and making another attempt succeeded in tapping on the lid of the coffin. At first I fancied the bearers would not hear me, but when I felt one end of the coffin falling suddenly, I knew that I had been heard.
Markham's near miss is one of the most notable cases of accidental premature burial on record -- though, of course, there's no way of knowing how many non near misses there have been over the years.