55 Of History's Creepiest Pictures — And Their Equally Disturbing Backstories (2024)

Table of Contents
Genie Wiley, The "Feral Child" The Trophy Heads Of The Māori The Human Dolls Of Anatoly Moskvin The 25-Year Captivity Of Blanche Monnier Victorian Postmortem Portraits "The Pioneers Defense" "4 CHILDREN FOR SALE" The Exorcism Of Anneliese Michel The Spontaneous Combustion Of Mary Reeser Michael Rockefeller's Death By Cannibalism The Last Moments Of Regina Kay Walters The Creepy Photo Of The Mutated Piglet From Chernobyl The Death Of Robert Overacker The Nuclear Shadows Of Hiroshima "The Most Beautiful Suicide" The Stanford Prison Experiment Vintage Halloween Costume Radium Girls The Creepy Image Of The Soviet Scientist And His Two-Headed Dog Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy As An Infant The Disappearance Of Tara Calico And The Creepy Picture Left Behind The Real-Life "Shining" Hotel John Lennon And His Killer The Final Moments Of Keith Sapsford The Creepiest Image Of Joachim Kroll, The "Ruhr Cannibal" Beck Weathers, The Frozen Man Of Mount Everest The Last Victim Of Jack The Ripper The Creepiest Picture From The Eruption Of Mount St. Helens The Death Of Omayra Sánchez The Hilo Tsunami Of 1946 The Amityville Horror House The Amityville Ghost Boy The Assassination Of Reynaldo Dagsa A Chilling Message From The Lipstick Killer Pete Spence, Hardened Killer Of The Old West The Rape Of Nanjing The Creepy Pictures Captured Inside Serial Killer Ed Gein's House The Rothschild Surrealist Ball A Shell-Shocked Soldier Of World War I The Creepiest Photos Of The Mummies Of Venzone The Salem UFO The Slaughter Of The American Buffalo "A Student's Dream" The Death Of Vladimir Komarov Hannelore Schmatz, The Skeleton Atop Mount Everest Inside A Mental Institution In 1900 The Creepy Photo Taken Just Before The Dyatlov Pass Incident Unit 731 The Ice Mummies Of The Lost Franklin Expedition The Creepy Picture That Foreshadowed The Columbine Massacre The Omagh Bombing Of 1998 The Prayer Of The Doomed Apollo 1 Astronauts The Expressionless Face Of A Waxwork Dummy The Heaven's Gate Cult The Prelude To The Jonestown Massacre

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Genie Wiley, The "Feral Child"

The young girl seen in this 1970 photo is Genie Wiley of California, otherwise known as the "feral child," barely able to walk at age 13.

For her entire life, her father had abused her viciously, keeping her in a makeshift straitjacket and tying her to a children's toilet in a locked room all day. When she made any sound or did anything he didn't like, he'd growl and bare his teeth at her like a dog.

Under such brutal conditions, Wiley never learned how to walk or speak. When this creepy photo was taken at a hospital just after she was rescued, her life inside a series of abusive institutions was only beginning. Her whereabouts today are unknown.

Wikimedia Commons

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The Trophy Heads Of The Māori

Long before Europe colonizers arrived in New Zealand, the native Māori people were preserving the severed heads of the fallen. Known as mokomokai, the heads were chopped off, boiled, smoked, dried in the Sun, and dipped in shark oil before being displayed or paraded around like trophies.

But when the British moved in during the 1840s, they soon pillaged the mokomokai for themselves. Major General Horatio Gordon Robley (featured in this creepy old picture with his collection), who served in the British Army during the New Zealand Land Wars in the 1860s, was particularly fascinated by the Maori and stole at least 35 heads for himself.

Wikimedia Commons

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The Human Dolls Of Anatoly Moskvin

Anatoly Moskvin is a Russian former journalist, college professor, and self-dubbed "necropolyst" with expert knowledge of cemeteries. For years, his hobby of collecting dolls hid a macabre obsession that drew upon his particular interests: digging up the dead and making dolls out of their corpses.

After making his human dolls, he kept them in his home as his companions and lovers. "I kissed her once, then again, then again," Moskvin wrote about one of his dolls, made from the body of an 11-year-old girl.

Police finally caught Moskvin in 2011, after years of increasing suspicion at the growing number of desecrated graves in his home city of Nizhny Novgorod. When they searched his home, they found 26 life-sized dolls — or rather, mummified corpses — scattered throughout.

Pravda Report

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The 25-Year Captivity Of Blanche Monnier

When French authorities received an anonymous tip in 1901 that a woman was being held prisoner at an aristocrat's house in the city of Poitiers, they sent out officers to search the home. Behind the locked door of the pitch-black attic, they found a skeletal middle-aged woman lying on a straw mattress laden with her own excrement while insects and rotting food littered the floor.

The room's odor was so rank that officers couldn't even continue their investigation, but they were able to learn that the 55-pound woman still clinging to life after 25 years trapped in that same room was named Blanche Monnier — and that her captor was her own mother.


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Victorian Postmortem Portraits

Life expectancies in Victorian England were tragically low due to the high frequency of disease and lack of proper medical treatment. And because photography was extremely expensive, most people were never able to get their portrait taken.

So, when young children passed away, their parents often dressed them in their finest clothes to sit for their first portrait, creating eerily lifelike images of kids who had already been gone for days.


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"The Pioneers Defense"

Known as "The Pioneers Defense," this creepy historical image was captured in 1937 by Russian photographer Viktor Bulla.

While certainly an ominous sight, the men, women, and children depicted here were merely members of the Young Pioneers, the Soviet youth group that was akin to the Boy Scouts.

They're seen here donning gas masks during a military preparation drill in the Leningrad area — uncertain of what tomorrow might bring in the years just before World War II, while their home country was seeing waves of death and terror under dictator Joseph Stalin.

Viktor Bulla/Wikimedia Commons

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This haunting photo from 1948 reveals just how much poverty can destroy a family. Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux were facing eviction from their Chicago apartment at the time and desperately needed money. So, the unemployed coal truck driver and his wife opted to sell their kids.

Though members of the Chalifoux family have claimed that the mother was paid to stage the image, the children in fact were sold to different homes within two years.

Worse yet, the children —Lana (six, top left), Rae (five, top right), Milton (four, bottom left), and Sue Ellen (two, bottom right) — were known to have been terribly abused by their new families thereafter.


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The Exorcism Of Anneliese Michel

Anneliese Michel was a devout Catholic teenager living a normal life with her parents in Germany in the late 1960s. But then she began blacking out at school before exhibiting increasingly strange behaviors like routinely convulsing, hallucinating, eating spiders, and even drinking her own urine.

Michel claimed to be possessed by the devil, and her parents soon came to the same conclusion. They ultimately subjected her to 67 exorcisms, none of which improved her condition before she died of malnutrition at age 23 in 1976, weighing just 68 pounds.

Her story was so disturbing that it eventually inspired the 2005 horror film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.


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The Spontaneous Combustion Of Mary Reeser

On the morning of July 2, 1951 in St. Petersburg, Florida, Mary Reeser's landlady went to the old woman's apartment to deliver a telegram and noticed that her door was warm to the touch. Upon opening the door, she found Reeser almost completely reduced to a pile of ashes lying on the scorched remnants of her chair. A part of her left leg and her skull, shrunken far beyond its normal size, were all that remained.

Local authorities were unable to determine any cause of the blaze and the rest of the apartment was largely devoid of fire damage. When they sent the case to the FBI, they determined that Reeser had gone up in flames like the wick of a candle, with her own body fat steadily feeding the fire — but they too were baffled as to how the blaze started in the first place. To this day, it's widely believed that this was a case of spontaneous human combustion.


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Michael Rockefeller's Death By Cannibalism

Michael Rockefeller (center), the son of New York governor and soon-to-be U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared somewhere in Papua New Guinea in the early 1960s.

Seen here on his first trip there in May 1960, Rockefeller's smile belies his grim fate. It's believed he was killed and eaten by the Asmat people — a cannibal group known to behead their enemies and consume their flesh.

President and Fellows of Harvard University/Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology

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The Last Moments Of Regina Kay Walters

"Truck Stop Killer" Robert Ben Rhoades may have killed more than 50 women while driving commercial trucks back and forth across America throughout the 1970s and '80s. But perhaps his most chilling murder is the one believed to be his last.

Just before Rhoades murdered 14-year-old Regina Kay Walters in an Illinois barn in early 1990, he took a series of photos of her cowering in fear as he moved in for the kill. Authorities found this photo and a collection of others like it inside Rhoades' home after he was finally caught several months later.

Public Domain

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The Creepy Photo Of The Mutated Piglet From Chernobyl

The Chernobyl disaster of April 26, 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine remains the most catastrophic nuclear accident in history.

Although the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone slowly seems to be returning to semi-hospitable conditions for wildlife, the animals who inhabited the area in the late 1980s weren't as lucky. This piglet, on display at the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum in Kiev, is a prime example.

Labeled simply as "mutated piglet," the creature was born with dipygus, a congenital deformity that causes the body to fork left and right along the torso, and the pelvis and legs to duplicate. Nearly 40 years later, this animal is a stark reminder of the havoc that nuclear power can wreak.

Wikimedia Commons

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The Death Of Robert Overacker

While countless attempts at traversing Niagara Falls have been made over the years, Robert Overacker had an admirable reason for attempting his crossing: to raise awareness for the homeless. Unfortunately, his October 1995 attempt didn't go as planned.

Overacker planned to ride through the water on a jet ski and then open the parachute on his back as he went over the edge and let his vehicle plummet down into the river below the falls. But when his parachute failed to open, it was the 39-year-old Californian who fell 180 feet to his demise.

"It's like hitting cement," said Niagara Parks Police officer Thomas Detenbeck of Overacker's last moment alive. "I don't really think people respect the power of the falls."

Buffalo News/Facebook

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The Nuclear Shadows Of Hiroshima

On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States of America dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. And for some of the approximately 80,000 people who lost their lives, only a nuclear shadow remained.

When the bomb detonated at 1,900 feet above the city center, the subsequent explosion caused temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit to annihilate nearly everything within 1,600 feet of the bomb's blast zone. Almost anything and anyone within a mile was destroyed.

The bomb's light and heat were so extreme that they bleached the city's exposed surfaces, except in places where an unsuspecting person shielded the building or sidewalk or bridge from the blast with their own body in their final moments alive.

Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images

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"The Most Beautiful Suicide"

On May 1, 1947, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale intentionally jumped to her death from the 86th floor observation deck of New York's Empire State Building and landed on top of a United Nations limousine, where this creepy image was captured by photography student Robert Wiles.

Although the photograph became famous around the world, McHale's dying wish was that no one see her body. Time magazine nevertheless printed the photo in full and called it "the most beautiful suicide." Even Andy Warhol used it in one of his prints, Suicide (Fallen Body).

While the photograph remains recognizable to this day, her motive for jumping is still a mystery. We may never know why a seemingly happy young woman who was a month away from her wedding decided to end her own life.

Wikimedia Commons

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The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment commenced on Aug. 14, 1971, after university psychology professor Philip Zimbardo divided student volunteers into two groups comprised of 11 guards and 10 prisoners in order to see how they would behave on their own inside a fabricated "prison."

The goal was to assess how quickly and intensely even educated and intelligent people can turn cruel and sad*stic under the right conditions — and find out once and for all whether humans are inherently good or evil.

In just six days, before the experiment had to be called off, the "guards" had repeatedly abused and humiliated the "prisoners" by spraying them with fire extinguishers and forcing them to clean toilet bowls with their bare hands. The study and the creepiest photos left behind provide a chilling look at what humans are capable of.

Duke Downey/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

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Vintage Halloween Costume

From doll masks and bags over heads to this terrifyingly enlarged skull getup, children's Halloween costumes of decades past made for some intensely creepy pictures that remain disturbing even today.Instagram

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Radium Girls

Hundreds of young girls and women who worked in American watch factories during the 1920s were exposed to so much radium that they came home glowing in the dark.

The prolonged exposure to radium — used in the luminous paint that coated the watch faces — caused their vertebrae to collapse, their jaws to swell up and fall off, and their lives to slowly end in agony while battling cancer.


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The Creepy Image Of The Soviet Scientist And His Two-Headed Dog

In 1959, Soviet scientist Vladimir Demikhov actually managed to create a two-headed dog. After 23 tries that left his canine subjects dead in short order, he was finally able to achieve a small measure of success.

He grafted one head onto the other's body, sewed their circulatory systems together, and connected their vertebrae with plastic strings. After the procedure was completed, both heads could hear, see, smell, and swallow.

Sadly, his methods were still relatively crude and the dog only lived four days before dying. While his research was a pioneering foray into head transplantation, experts debate the ethics of such procedures to this day.

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

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Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy As An Infant

Before American serial killer John Wayne Gacy was finally caught in 1978, he raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and men in his Illinois home.

But long before his murderous reign, during which he worked as a clown at children's birthday parties, John Wayne Gacy was just a normal boy. However, knowing what was to come after this photo was taken makes it one of the most undeniably creepy images of all time.


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The Disappearance Of Tara Calico And The Creepy Picture Left Behind

On Sept. 20, 1988 Tara Calico vanished from the face of the Earth. The 19-year-old left her New Mexico home to go on her daily bike ride — and never came back. Just before leaving, she jokingly told her mother she'd better come looking for her if she didn't return.

To this day, she has never been found. But in June 1989, a mysterious Polaroid turned up in a parking lot in Florida, nearly 1,500 miles away from where Calico had disappeared. Though unconfirmed, it appears to show Calico — based on matching scars and the dog-eared paperback next to her — and a young boy, both bound, gagged, and absolutely terrified.


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The Real-Life "Shining" Hotel

Though its story remains lesser-known, the hotel that inspired The Shining is just as chilling as its fictional counterpart.

Long before his stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado prompted author Stephen King to write The Shining, this Rocky Mountain lodge was leaving its visitors terrified. Seen here under construction in the early 1900s, the hotel was home to an unexplained explosion in 1911 that left a chambermaid maimed. She returned to work, but after her death years later, guests reported seeing her ghost stalk the halls, especially the scene of the incident in Room 217.

This was the exact room where King spent his fateful and terrifying night at the Stanley in October 1974.

The Stanley Hotel

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John Lennon And His Killer

On Dec. 8, 1980, John Lennon signs an autograph on his way out of his New York apartment building for a fan named Mark David Chapman — who would murder the iconic musician on this very spot when he returned home just a few hours later.

As Lennon made his way back into the building at about 10:50 p.m., Chapman stepped out of the shadows and fired four shots into his back. Lennon was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital some 25 minutes later.

"He was very kind to me," Chapman later said of their encounter earlier in the night, "very cordial and decent man."

Paul Goresh/Getty Images

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The Final Moments Of Keith Sapsford

Keith Sapsford was just 14 years old when he stowed away on an airliner, fell out of the wheel well, and plummeted to his death on Feb. 22, 1970. His harrowing final moments were captured by photographer John Gilpin, who happened to be casually snapping photos while waiting to board his flight.

The Australian teenager had just run away from boarding school and longed to see the world. After sneaking onto the tarmac of Sydney International Airport, he hid inside a Tokyo-bound plane — but fell to his death soon after takeoff.

"All my son wanted to do was to see the world," his father Charles Sapsford later recalled. "He had itchy feet. His determination to see how the rest of the world lives has cost him his life."

John Gilpin

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The Creepiest Image Of Joachim Kroll, The "Ruhr Cannibal"

German serial killer Joachim Kroll began acting on his macabre urges in 1955 —and didn't stop for two decades.

The "Ruhr Cannibal" took at least 14 lives, with victims as young as four and as old as 61. His preferred method was to strangle them to death, engage in necrophilia, and then slice off parts of their flesh to eat.

Kroll was finally caught in 1976 after police discovered that the intestines from one of his victims had clogged the plumbing in his apartment building. Taken soon after his capture, this photo shows Kroll reenacting one of his murders for the police.

Michael Dahlke/WAZ FotoPool

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Beck Weathers, The Frozen Man Of Mount Everest

In May 1996, mountain climber Beck Weathers and his team attempted to complete their ascent of Mount Everest. Although they only had a small stretch to go, Weathers came down with a bad case of snow blindness.

After getting stuck in a harrowing blizzard with a wind chill of 100 degrees below zero, he fell into a hypothermic coma. Frostbite set in on his nose and hands, both of which were later amputated. Miraculously, he managed to survive, walk back to camp, and be airlifted for treatment.

"Initially I thought I was in a dream," Weathers later recalled. "Then I saw how badly frozen my right hand was, and that helped bring me around to reality."


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The Last Victim Of Jack The Ripper

The final victim of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper, Mary Jane Kelly was found murdered and mutilated on Nov. 9, 1888. When a rent collector entered the room she was staying in, he found Kelly on her bed with various body parts and organs cut out and placed beside her corpse.

Kelly was far more mutilated than any of the other four victims that Jack the Ripper had killed in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields districts of London in the preceding months. Concealed behind Kelly's closed door, the Ripper took his time and spent nearly two hours carving up her body in various ways before sneaking away, never to be caught or even heard from again.

Wikimedia Commons

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The Creepiest Picture From The Eruption Of Mount St. Helens

When Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington on May 18, 1980, photographer Robert Landsburg was within a few miles of the volcano — and he knew there was no way out.

Aware that any escape attempt would be futile, he stayed in the thick of the action and took as many pictures as he could before securing his camera in his backpack. As the ash grew thicker, Landsburg covered the backpack with his body, determined to ensure that his images would survive — even though he knew he wouldn't.

National Geographic

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The Death Of Omayra Sánchez

On Nov. 13, 1985, a volcanic eruption sent an enormous mudslide through the village of Armero, Colombia, trapping 13-year-old Omayra Sánchez in the debris. She was immediately pinned down by the wreckage of her own house, with only her head and arms above the floodwaters.

For almost three days, rescuers tried in vain to free her as she slowly succumbed to gangrene and hypothermia in the water. Finally, on Nov. 16, she passed away as helpless relief workers watched from mere feet away.

Just before she died, photographer Frank Fournier captured this haunting image. Fournier later recalled that he "felt totally powerless in front of this little girl, who was facing death with courage and dignity."

Wikimedia Commons

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The Hilo Tsunami Of 1946

On April 1, 1946, an 8.6-magnitude earthquake off the coast of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska sent shockwaves throughout the Pacific. An ocean-wide tsunami quickly began to form, causing waves to reach as high as 13 stories.

Soon, the tsunami struck Hilo, Hawaii, leaving more than 170 people dead in what remains one of the worst disasters in Hawaiian history.

This chilling image captures the final moments of the unknown person at the bottom left.


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The Amityville Horror House

The infamous house in Amityville, New York where Ronald DeFeo Jr. slaughtered his parents and four siblings, as seen just hours after the murders.

On Nov. 13, 1974, DeFeo stalked from room to room and shot his sleeping family dead with a .35 caliber rifle. The Amityville murders were said to leave the house haunted, a story that eventually inspired The Amityville Horror.

Though skeptics have since called the haunting story into question, DeFeo claimed that otherworldly voices emanating from the house itself ordered him to kill.

Getty Images

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The Amityville Ghost Boy

Captured inside the Amityville Horror house in 1976, this creepy vintage photo remains one of the most chilling paranormal images of all time.

After the DeFeo murders, the house's next owner, George Lutz, claimed that the home was haunted and called in famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to help.

One night, the automatic camera they'd set up on the second floor caught what appeared to be a ghostly boy staring back. Some believe it is the ghost of young John DeFeo — who was murdered in the house by his brother years earlier.


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The Assassination Of Reynaldo Dagsa

Shortly after midnight on New Year's Day in 2011, Filipino politician Reynaldo Dagsa took this picture of his family on the streets of Caloocan — and inadvertently photographed the man who was about to kill him.

Although Dagsa was dead, his photo survived and helped police catch the killer, Arnel Buenaflor, who was arrested a few days later.


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A Chilling Message From The Lipstick Killer

"For heavens sake catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself"

On December 10, 1945, William Heirens left this note scrawled in lipstick on the wall of Frances Brown's Chicago apartment. Just before writing this message, Heirens brutally stabbed Brown to death and left a knife sticking out of her neck.

Heirens became known as "The Lipstick Killer" and took one more victim before police finally caught him six months later.

Wikimedia Commons

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Pete Spence, Hardened Killer Of The Old West

This 1883 mugshot of Pete Spence is the only known photo of this Old West outlaw who terrorized Arizona alongside the infamous Frank and Tom McLaury.

Already a known thief, Spence became the prime suspect in the 1882 murder of Morgan Earp, brother of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp. But there was only one witness — Spence's own wife. The judge decided to rule her testimony inadmissible due to spousal privilege, despite the fact she claimed to have heard Spence plotting the murder with several friends.

However, a year later he was arrested for pistol-whipping and killing a man. He served only 18 months of a five-year sentence, as the governor decided to pardon him.

Wikimedia Commons

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The Rape Of Nanjing

Few of the countless atrocities committed in Asia both before and during World War II were as ghastly as those perpetrated during the infamous Rape of Nanjing starting in December 1937.

Within a matter of weeks, the Japanese troops that had invaded this Chinese city raped as many as 80,000 people and killed up to 350,000.

Beheading by katana, as seen here, was a regular occurrence during this horrific invasion. Two Japanese soldiers even held a contest to see who could kill 100 people with their sword first and newspapers covered it like a sporting event.


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The Creepy Pictures Captured Inside Serial Killer Ed Gein's House

When police finally caught serial killer Ed Gein in 1957, they found a trove of grim evidence that revealed the horrors of his years of grave-robbing, murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism.

Officers' search of Gein's Wisconsin home turned up furniture and kitchen utensils made from human remains, a gutted corpse in his shed, a belt fashioned out of human nipples, and jars of organs.

Though Gein was quickly locked away in an institution for the rest of his life, the creepy photos taken in his home remain chilling to this day.

Bettmann/Getty Images

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The Rothschild Surrealist Ball

The elaborate masks, robes, and decorations on display at the 1972 Rothschild Surrealist Ball are unsettling enough on their own even before you consider the people behind it. Wild conspiracy theories have swirled around the Rothschilds for centuries with believers claiming that this German banking family does everything from control the world's wealth to instigate wars for their own gain.

Whether or not any such rumors are true, Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild's Surrealist Ball at Chateau de Ferrières in France has only stoked outsiders' imaginations about what goes on behind closed doors at parties attended by the rich, powerful, and famous.

In this case, attendees included Salvador Dalí and Audrey Hepburn while dessert was a life-sized naked woman made of sugar.


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A Shell-Shocked Soldier Of World War I

Before shell shock was called "war neurosis" or "post-traumatic stress disorder" and before experts actually began to understand the psychological trauma that war could cause, veterans of World War I were largely left to fight their own mental health battles.

The creepy historical image of the shell-shocked soldier seen here starkly highlights the horror of war—and what being stuck in a trench during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette could do to a man. Captured in September 1916, this photo was taken years before World War I even ended. By the time the end came, countless other men would suffer a similar fate.

Public Domain

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The Creepiest Photos Of The Mummies Of Venzone

In 1647, laborers working on a cathedral in Venzone, Italy found the eerily preserved remains of a man inside a tomb in the churchyard. His body had dried and shriveled to just 33 pounds, leaving his skin like parchment, but he hadn't decomposed.

After more corpses like this one were found in the ensuing decades and centuries, locals and experts alike were long baffled as to how these bodies had been naturally mummified. Since the early 20th century, many have believed that a certain fungus was responsible, while more modern theories say that the particular soil and water conditions are the explanation. However, the mummies of Venzone remain largely mysterious to this day.


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The Salem UFO

Captured on the morning of Aug. 3, 1952, this creepy photo appears to show four unidentified flying objects hovering across the skies of Salem, Massachusetts. We know that the photographer's name was Shel Alpert, that it was taken at Salem's Coast Guard Air Station, and that the objects were spotted above the Winter Island and Cat Cove areas, but little else is known about this bizarre image.

Some have claimed that the lights are simply reflections in the window through which it was taken. Others point to incidents throughout the 1950s in which supposedly similar crafts were seen. But the truth will likely remain a mystery forever.

Library of Congress

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The Slaughter Of The American Buffalo

Once a symbol of the seemingly limitless opportunity of America's westward expansion, the bison eventually symbolized the dark realities of "manifest destiny." Before European settlers arrived on the North American continent, there were at least 30 million buffalo roaming the land. Between 1800 and 1900, that number was reduced to around 325.

This disturbing historical photo taken in 1892 in Michigan shows an actual mountain of buffalo skulls waiting to be ground down for uses such as refining sugar, producing fertilizer, and making bone china. More disturbing still is the fact that the U.S. government purposefully slaughtered some buffalo in order to deprive Native Americans of this crucial natural resource.

Wikimedia Commons

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"A Student's Dream"

At the turn of the 19th century, medical students commonly posed for photographs with their deceased subjects. "Privileged access to the body marked a social, moral, and emotional boundary crossing," wrote John Harley Warner and James M. Edmondson in Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930.

As the quote scrawled on the table in this photo explained, it was this particular students' dream to change places with the cadavers and have them "pose" with him. How exactly he arranged all of the cadavers before taking the photo remains a bit of a mystery.


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The Death Of Vladimir Komarov

When Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was tapped to pilot the Soyuz 1 mission slated for April 23, 1967, he knew he was doomed. The craft had showed problems during testing and it was clear that the man put inside it would not come back alive.

Although the dangers were clear, no one was willing to back out and risk disappointing the Soviet high command.Even Komarov refused to back out because doing so would have doomed the next pilot in line, friend and fellow cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Sure enough, upon re-entry, the craft's parachute failed and Komarov burned to death as the Soyuz hurtled through the atmosphere at unthinkable speeds. With that, Komarov became the first human to ever die in space flight. Even before his fateful flight, he was so sure that he would die that he asked for an open casket funeral (pictured above) that'd force his superiors to see what they'd done to him. To this day, this creepy historical photo of his remains continues to tell his tragic story.


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Hannelore Schmatz, The Skeleton Atop Mount Everest

Hannelore Schmatz was the fourth woman in the world to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Tragically, she was also the first woman to die on it.

The German mountaineer and her husband embarked on their journey in 1979 with high hopes. But during the descent after reaching the summit, Schmatz grew weak from the trek and succumbed to exhaustion and the cold.

For years after Schmatz died, her body lay frozen on the mountainside just as she had fallen — sitting down against her backpack, her hair blowing in the wind, and her eyes wide open. Other climbers who passed her corpse on the trail would say that they could feel her eyes follow them as they walked by.


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Inside A Mental Institution In 1900

Few creepy old photos are more disturbing than those captured inside the mental institutions of decades and centuries past.

Seen here is one of countless patients being restrained in a French mental institution in 1900. It's unclear what condition this unfortunate patient suffered from. At the time, people could get committed for anything from depression and shell shock to schizophrenia and learning disabilities.

With the abuses of patients like this one happening behind closed doors, we'll surely never known the extent of the trauma that these people suffered inside the institutions of old.


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The Creepy Photo Taken Just Before The Dyatlov Pass Incident

In February 1959, nine young Soviet hikers mysteriously died while trekking through the Ural Mountains in what's become known as the Dyatlov Pass incident. While their bodies were found mangled in various gruesome ways including missing tongues and eyes, no cause of death has ever been determined, with theories ranging from secret government experiments to aliens to the Yeti.

This creepy photo shows the determined group traversing the harsh terrain just before they met their fate on the night of February 1.

Even though the Russian government reopened the case in 2019, it remains unsolved.

Public Domain

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Unit 731

Both before and during World War II, Japan's biological and chemical weapons division Unit 731 carried out some of the most grotesque human experiments in history.

Determined to master germ warfare and test the limits of human suffering, Unit 731 conducted a wealth of torturous tests on captured Chinese civilians that ranged from purposeful frostbite and vivisection on conscious patients to weapons testing on live prisoners and rape.

Seen here is Unit 731 personnel conducting a bacteriological trial on a test subject in November 1940.

Xinhua/Getty Images

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The Ice Mummies Of The Lost Franklin Expedition

Back when maritime expeditions were voyages into the complete unknown, setting out to sea was as adventurous as it was deadly. For John Hartnell of the infamous Franklin Expedition of 1845, the Arctic quest to find the Northwest Passage ended in icy doom.

The 134-man crew set out on two ships, determined to find the elusive shortcut to Asia and thereby further open up British trade. But soon after departing England in May, they were never seen again.

It was only in the 1980s that an anthropologist finally found some of the buried bodies, preserved by the cold, on an icy island in the Canadian Arctic. Hartnell's twisted expression here makes for one of the creepiest images of seafaring expeditions ever taken.

Brian Spenceley

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The Creepy Picture That Foreshadowed The Columbine Massacre

On April 20, 1999, the Columbine High School shooting left all of America in shock after teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold massacred 12 of their classmates and one teacher before turning their guns on themselves.

In the aftermath, everyone attempted to make sense of how the shooting could have happened, how two "normal" teens could be capable of something like this. Parents, police, pundits, and survivors alike searched for clues and retroactive warnings in the pre-shooting behaviors of Harris and Klebold.

Perhaps the most chilling artifact uncovered in the wake of the shooting was this class photo taken a few weeks before the massacre, which appears rather standard at first. But a closer look at the top left corner shows the two shooters posing their hands like guns and pointing them at the camera.

Columbine High School

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The Omagh Bombing Of 1998

The Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland on Aug. 15, 1998 killed 29 people and injured more than 200 bystanders. Carried out by members of the Real Irish Republican Army, it was the deadliest attack during the three-decades-long conflict known as the Troubles, which pitted those who wanted Northern Ireland to remain unified with Great Britain against those who didn't.

Arguably the most chilling photo taken during the entirety of the Troubles, this image shows a happy father and his carefree son standing next to a car in Omagh that was wired with explosives and about to blow. They both died moments later.

Wikimedia Commons

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The Prayer Of The Doomed Apollo 1 Astronauts

Although this photo was taken as a lighthearted gag, the image of the Apollo 1 crew jokingly praying over a miniature of their command module turned deadly serious in retrospect. The three men — Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom, and Ed White — would burn to death during a test launch on January 27, 1967.

Tragically, the three men had even voiced concerns about the craft's amount of flammable materials to Joseph Shea, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. They then took this portrait and presented it to Shea shortly before the fatal accident with a caption that read: "It isn't that we don't trust you, Joe, but this time we've decided to go over your head."


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The Expressionless Face Of A Waxwork Dummy

This expressionless waxwork dummy flanked by two student nurses in training was captured by photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1968 for his book Assignments.

There's no ominous story behind this photo, butit's certainly one of the creepiest vintage pictures of the 20th century.

Armstrong-Jones, meanwhile, went on to have enormous personal and professional success. His photography captured the imagination of millions, while he himself captured the heart of Princess Margaret and became the 1st Earl of Snowdon after they married in 1960.


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The Heaven's Gate Cult

Members of the Heaven's Gate cult believed they were destined for another world where they would transcend to the next level in human evolution when 39 of them killed themselves en masse inside their California home on March 26, 1997.

Indoctrinated by cult leader Marshall Applewhite, who claimed that a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet would transport them to a utopian planet, devotees eagerly followed his instructions.

On that fateful day in March, the 39 cultists consumed a mixture of barbiturates and applesauce and washed it down with vodka. Group by group, bags were tied over their heads to ensure asphyxiation. Applewhite himself was the 37th to die. They were found wearing matching Nike sneakers and "Heaven's Gate Away Team" armbands a few days later.

Public Domain

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The Prelude To The Jonestown Massacre

Until the September 11 attacks, the Jonestown Massacre was the single greatest deliberate loss of American civilian life in history.

Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones convinced his followers that the government was coming to kill them and take their children — and that swallowing a fatal dose of cyanide was the only answer. So, on November 18, 1978, 918 people died at the cult's Jonestown settlement in Guyana after drinking a poison-laced fruit drink.

This creepy picture shows Jones (center) and a number of his followers pleasantly enjoying life at Jonestown not long before the massacre.


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55 Of History's Creepiest Pictures — And Their Equally Disturbing Backstories (2024)
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