5 Urban Legends That Could Be Real

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For centuries, people transmitted messages and passed down social norms by telling stories. Urban legends are the modern manifestation of folklore—in fact, some of them are simply updated versions of morality tales that have been with us in some shape or form for millennia. Almost any urban legend has at least a grain of truth to it, however distorted – but some of these disturbing stories reflect a grim reality.

5 Biker Beheaded

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As the urban legend goes, a motorcyclist riding behind a truck is beheaded by a piece of sheet metal or other material that flies off the back of the truck. One 1978 version has the headless biker cruising past the truck, causing the truck driver to die of a heart attack. While this specific convergence of circumstances may not have any basis in fact, motorcyclists are occasionally decapitated. For example, a 2007 case report from a Bulgarian department of forensic medicine recounts the complete decapitation of a 20-year-old motorcyclist who collided with the side of a car while traveling at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour.

4 Underground Railroad

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Of all the things rumored to be buried beneath the busy streets of New York City, a locomotive may seem the most improbable. Nevertheless, legend has had it a 19th century steam engine remains underground, and engineers found evidence in 2012 the story might be more than just a myth. As the story goes, the train was originally used in 1861 to pull dirt from one end of a tunnel running beneath Atlantic Ave. By the time the job was completed, the locomotive was obsolete and there seemed no point to go to the expense of bringing it back to the surface, so workers simply left it there. A geological survey of the tunnel discovered a 20-foot long metallic object believed to be the remains of the legendary train.

3 Stop Staring at Me!

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The story of a dead body riding on a bus or train has been around as long as cities have had public transportation. Typically, someone gets creeped out by another passenger who won’t stop staring at them—only to discover the individual is actually deceased. Although any truth in the story’s origin has been lost to history, dead bodies are found periodically on public transportation. In 2006, for example, a man’s lifeless body was found on a subway in the early hours of the morning. He appeared to have died of natural causes. Unlike the staring corpses of the urban legend, these people appear to be napping, which explains why no one disturbs them.

2 Organ Heist

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We’ve all heard the story of the drugged tourist who wakes up in a bathtub full of ice, only to discover he’s had a kidney removed. Various versions may alter details and context, but the message is clear: if you travel to a foreign country, someone may abduct you and steal your organs. Sadly, in some parts of the world this myth holds more truth than it does fiction. For example, a 2011 CNN report detailed Bedouin tribes in Egypt smuggling refugees from Ethiopia and the Sudan. Among other atrocities, evidence suggests some Bedouin groups harvest the organs of those refugees unable to pay for their services and sell them on the black market.

1 What’s That Smell?

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The story usually begins with a couple relaxing in a hotel room, perhaps at the start of a romantic getaway. Maybe they’re just beginning the romance portion of their vacation, when suddenly one of them smells something disgusting. As they begin to investigate the source of the odor, they make a grisly discovery—a dead body has been stowed beneath the bed. As it turns out, while this is by no means a common occurrence, it has happened on multiple occasions. In 1988, hotel employees discovered a body hidden in the box springs of a New York hotel bed after several guests complained of the smell. Similar instances have been reported in Virginia in 1989, in Florida in 1994, in California in 1996 and in New Jersey in 1999.

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