November 2019

Featuring Lana Rhoades

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Scared Stiff: Truly Terrifying Tales


Every location holds a story. Residual hauntings speak to the belief that a place can contain memories of its own. When a traumatic, violent or tragic incident occurs, its echoes are etched into the location. In almost every city there are ghost stories or cautionary tales associated with a legendary building or landscape. Los Angeles—and in particular Hollywood—has had its fair share of reported hauntings.
The Comedy Store in West Hollywood was once a notable, golden age-era nightclub named Ciro’s. Today it maintains a reputation of lingering terror—and not just as a result of open-mic night. Some of the most famous comedians of all time—Williams, Leno, Pryor—got there start here. A grim local legend received its start here as well. The mob allegedly committed murders in the basement, and it’s said that the victims’ spirits still live here. Numerous comedians swear they’ve experienced inexplicable phenomena or direct paranormal incidents. Reports include doors slamming inexplicably, furniture rearranging itself, seeing phantom staff members and hearing the screams of women in torment.
The iconic Hollywood sign, the symbol of so many dreams, is the spot where Peg Entwistle’s ghost is said to wander, following her tragic suicide in 1932. The 24-year-old actress jumped to her death from the letter H. When her role in the movie Thirteen Women was cut, she felt her career was over and scaled the sign. Her body was found by a hiker the next day, along with a note that read, “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.” Many present-day hikers claim to have felt an eerie presence at that spot, and several have actually sighted an apparition. Megan Santos, one such witness, told Vanity Fair, “There was this woman with blond hair, and she seemed to be like walking on air. I immediately ran the other way.”
Permanently moored in Long Beach, the cruiseliner Queen Mary, known as the “Grey Ghost” during the Second World War—one of Time magazine’s Top 10 Haunted Places—is said to house a shroud of malevolent spirits. “Screams and violent noises were reported in the boiler room, where an 18-year-old sailor was severed in half by a heavy door where he was trapped. A young girl also haunts the ship as she plays a nightly game of hide-and-seek with the guests in the empty swimming pool,” reports Forbes, adding, “It is believed that many spirits attach themselves to antique furniture or personal items remaining on the ship.” The vessel now capitalizes on its reputation, offering séances and ghost tours as attractions.
La La Land has no shortage of haunted history. The Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, now known as the Stay on Main, has held a sinister reputation for the better part of a century. In the ’40s it became a notorious hangout for drunks and transients and the spot of countless suicides, murders and drug overdoses. It was even said to have been the home of serial killer Richard Ramirez, the infamous Night Stalker, and Elizabeth Short, dubbed Black Dahlia, who drank merrily in the decorative bar a short time before her disappearance and subsequent mutilation. Ghosts purportedly stalk the once-glamorous corridors. In fact, the building was the primary inspiration behind American Horror Story: Hotel, and the Cecil’s guests have continued to report weird phenomena to this day.
In 2013 guests began complaining about foul-tasting, discolored water and low water pressure, prompting an investigation. Hotel staff eventually searched the water tanks on the roof and discovered the decomposing, naked corpse of a Canadian woman who had been missing for weeks. When the last known footage of the woman, Elisa Lam, was released, it immediately went viral. Video surveillance showed Lam acting erratically, panicking inside the elevator and peering out of the open doors, as if being followed or pursued. There was no one else present in the corridors or the elevator. What exactly she saw or was running from or what happened to her in the direct aftermath of the video remains a complete mystery.
Much like ghost stories, urban legends are horrific, tantalizing tales that are passed from person to person. Though seemingly ficticious, a truthful origin story can sometimes be unearthed.
One of the most commonly told legends, along with alligators in the sewers, concerns a couple who check into a room only to discover a pungent stench they can’t identify emanating from somewhere. Even after searching extensively, they find it impossible to locate the source of the nauseating odor and so make a complaint to reception. It takes some time and persistence to get the hotel to assist them, but when they do, a further inspection uncovers a body in the advanced stages of decomposition stashed under the bed.
This commonly regaled story actually has several sources. Apparently storing bodies inside a box spring or under a sofa isn’t as uncommon as one might imagine. In 2013, at the Capri Motel in Kansas City, a guest complained about a foul smell in his room for three nights before he couldn’t take it anymore and checked out. Only then did the cleaners find a rotting body underneath the mattress. The same thing happened at the Burgundy Motor Inn in Atlantic City in 1999, when a German couple spent the night sleeping on the festering corpse of a 64-year-old man named Saul Hernandez. With almost a dozen cases since the early ’80s, it’s easy to see why this story became one of the most common urban legends of the pre-internet era.
Haunted houses and ghost trains are interactive attractions designed to terrify visitors. The more ghoulish and gory the props, the better, but many stories exist about such places using genuine human remains. This dates back to the carnival days, where actual mummified bodies would be laid out for all to see—criminals and outlaws were among the biggest draws. Nu-Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California, once hosted the mummified corpse of gunslinging outlaw Elmer McCurdy as part of its fun house display. Not everyone knew he was a cadaver though. His body was only identified properly during a shoot prep for an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. One producer didn’t like the vibe of the “decoration” and went to move it, only for a dusty arm to break off, exposing a yellowed, chalky bone.

And then there are the hanging victims who were mistaken for decorations or props, their bodies swinging without anyone realizing the terrible truth. Caleb Rebh was a 14-year-old working at a haunted hayride event at Alpine Ridge Farms in Sparta, Michigan, in 2001. The thin teenager wanted to prank his friends and the visitors by putting on a noose and pretending to have been strung up. Before he could prepare himself properly, and with the noose already wrapped around his neck, the tree branch whipped him off the ground, and he began choking, unable to get free. Kicking, flailing and yelling before a crowd of jovial onlookers, Caleb slowly and painfully expired. They all thought he was acting until it was too late. All attempts to resuscitate him proved futile.
Brian Jewell was 17 years old in 1990, when he suffered the same demise at a pre-Halloween hayride, this time as part of an arranged stunt that went awry. Workers got concerned when Jewell didn’t deliver his planned speech as the hay wagon passed. That’s when they made the grisly discovery. The noose he hung from wasn’t supposed to tighten, but that night something went horribly wrong.
Further stories tell of bodies lying in driveways, hanging from fences and slumped in gardens, left for days under the mistaken assumption that they were elaborate Halloween decorations. Remember these tales the next time you walk past a house where the spooky seasonal decor looks just a little too real.
If you’ve ever been trapped in an elevator, you’ll know that it’s a claustrophobic, tense affair. It’s definitely not an appropriate time to think about all of the things that could go wrong. You may even recall a story about a guy who tried to climb out of a stuck elevator, only to have it start moving and slice off his head. We’re sorry to confirm that this story is true.
An elevator in a Houston, Texas, hospital in 2003 had been out of order for several days before someone unwittingly removed the sign informing staff that it wasn’t working. When surgery resident Hitoshi Christopher Nikaidoh asked a colleague if it was up and running again, she said she hoped so.
Nikaidoh went to step inside, and the doors unexpectedly closed on him, leaving him trapped by the shoulders. As he struggled to free himself, the elevator started to rise. The Houston Press reported that Nikaidoh struggled, “trying to shrug out of the elevator, or possibly pull himself inside…but the elevator kept moving upward.” What happened next is one of the most horrifying and gruesome deaths imaginable: “The ceiling sliced off most of his head. His left ear, lower lip, teeth and jaw were still attached to his body, which fell to the bottom of the elevator shaft” as the elevator kept climbing.
This incident is not isolated. Every year there are dozens of elevator deaths in the U.S. Another good reason to take the stairs.
Consider, if you will, a half-man, half-rabbit—like Frank from the 2001 film Donnie Darko—and you are picturing the Bunnyman. The legend of this crazed maniac has a clouded backstory, one which several have adapted for their own nefarious means over the last century. The most common version of the tale begins in 1904, when several mental asylums and prisons in the Clifton area of Fairfax County, Virginia, were closed down. During transportation, ten prisoners escaped. A search party found all but two, Marcus Wallster and Douglas J. Grifon. So a second search party went out after them only to discover a trail of brutally mutilated rabbits, many of which were left hanging from trees. Soon afterward, Marcus was found swinging from a small railway bridge. A note was pinned to his body that simply said, “You’ll never find me no matter how hard you try. Signed, the Bunnyman.”
While the original account has been long disputed, the site of the railway bridge where the supposed murder took place has become a macabre tourist attraction. And strangely enough, several Bunnyman sightings and incidents have taken place nearby, including assaults and even attempted murders. Whether that’s the result of opportunistic criminals taking advantage of local lore to disguise their crimes or something more sinister and unexplained, no one really knows for sure, and so the story grows.
Staten Island, New York, was home to the Willowbrook State School, a neglectful, barbaric institution, the source of many horrific tales, most of which came with a stern warning to stay as far away from the place as possible. One name began to circulate amongst the locals: Cropsey. Legend had it that he was a deformed child killer who lurked around the asylum and would come for any unattended children, leading them to a grisly demise. Some said he was an escaped mental patient himself; others claimed he was a sinister ghoul sent to torture and maim. Whatever the truth, children began disappearing in the ’70s, and when Jennifer Schweiger, a 12-year-old girl with Down syndrome, went missing in the summer of 1987, a manhunt ensued.
The discovery of the girl’s body in the wooded area surrounding the school prompted the hunt for more missing children. Eventually a local drifter and former custodian named Andre Rand was convicted of kidnapping Schweiger and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. In 2004 he was convicted for the kidnapping of another Willowbrook student, Holly Ann Hughes, as well. But only Schweiger’s body was ever recovered.
Forests and dense woodland are prime locations for horror stories. Escaped prisoners or mental patients, sometimes with superhuman abilities or insatiable desires to kill, have all been reported to roam through the woods. Sometimes real monsters lie behind the legends—like with the Bunnyman or Cropsey—other times it’s simply a misunderstanding. Such was the case with Charlie No Face, aka the Green Man.

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