Often, facts are stranger than fiction. In fact, sometimes real-life stories are more terrifying than those in horror movies. Some are equal parts horrifying and tragic. All of them serve to remind us yet again that there is true darkness to be found in our world, far beyond what our imaginations could ever conjure up.
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10 Child of rage
The story of Beth Thomas is as heartbreaking as it is frightening. She was a beautiful little girl with striking blue eyes who lost her mother when she was a year old. Beth and her brother, Jonathan, were left with their biological father, who sexually abused them. She was only 19 months old and Jonathan seven months when they were taken away by child protective services. The little boy had been left in his cot all day, every day, leaving him with an oddly shaped head.
The siblings were adopted by a childless couple who soon realized all wasn’t well with Beth. By the time she was six, a documentary had been made about the young girl and her extremely worrying and violent behavior. In the documentary, released in 1990, Beth talks about her adoptive parents’ habit of locking her in her room to prevent her from stabbing them to death. She also talks about how she herself had sexually abused her younger brother, tortured the family dog, and killed baby birds she had found in a nest. At one point Beth even smashed Jonathan’s head into a concrete floor, trying to kill him.
Beth was diagnosed with RAD (reactive attachment disorder), which left her unable to form any attachment to a caregiver. Her adoptive parents, Tim and Julie eventually turned to controversial therapist Connell Watkins who offered to help them. Within a year, Beth’s symptoms improved to the extent that she could show remorse for her actions towards her brother.
Years later, Beth Thomas has turned her situation around. She is a qualified nurse and has published a book with the help of her second adoptive mother, Nancy.
9 Horror on Chichijima
On 2 September 1944, 20-year-old George H.W. Bush was piloting the U.S. Navy’s Avenger aircraft. He and eight other airmen were on their way to the island of Chichijima, which forms part of Japan’s Bonin Islands, to attack a radio tower. Japanese soldiers on the island shot the aircraft down, along with the aircrafts of his comrades; all of them landing in the water. Bush made sure to drop the four bombs he had in the plane before he bailed out over the water.
All his comrades were captured, tortured, and executed by means of decapitation or stabbing. Japanese Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana ordered that four of the corpses be cooked and their livers and thighs eaten alongside vegetables and drenched in soy sauce.
Bush, who had avoided capture, floated in the water on a life raft for hours and was eventually rescued by an American submarine.
The Japanese officers responsible for the horrific cannibal incident on Chichijima were later found guilty of and executed for war crimes during trails held in Guam.
George H.W. Bush went on to become the 41st president of the United States between 1989 and 1993.
8 The porthole murder
Eileen Isabella Ronnie Gibson, better known as Gay Gibson, was an English actress who was rumored to have had a heart condition and would often ‘go blue’ at the lips and faint during play rehearsals.
Gibson appeared in a production of Golden Boy by Clifford Odets in South Africa in 1947. When the play wrapped, she boarded the Durban Castle which was headed from SA back to England. It didn’t take long for one of the cruise ships’ stewards to notice the beautiful 21-year-old actress. According to James Camb’s later claims, he and Gibson were intimate in her first-class cabin before both the steward and stewardess buttons sounded, and a night watchman arrived. Camb was found inside the cabin, but Gibson had vanished.
Camb’s story about Gibson’s fate changed several times, but he insisted that Gibson had had a fit during (consensual) sex and died. He later admitted that he had panicked when he realized she was dead and pushed her body through the ship’s porthole. He vehemently denied murdering her saying that he only got rid of the body because he was afraid of losing his job and his family.
Despite all his changing stories and denials, Camb was convicted of Gay Gibson’s murder and handed the death sentence. Soon after, however, the death penalty was suspended for all crimes in Britain and Camb served only 11 years for the crime. Up until his death in 1979, he denied murdering Gibson.
Gay Gibson’s body was never found.
7 Demon in disguise
35-year-old Danielle Harkins seemed to be a run-of-the-mill, harried but kind teacher who had a great relationship with her students. She taught at the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center in St. Petersburg, Florida and was going through a divorce and custody battle over her two young children.
Soon after her divorce was finalized in 2012, Harkins began acting strangely. She developed a fanatical interest in religion, in particular angels and demons, and pitched up at a fellow teacher’s house one day telling her ‘you’re okay’ and ‘you don’t have any demons.’
On 9 June 2012, Danielle Harkins got a group of her students to join her in creating a small ‘bonfire’ near the St. Petersburg Pier. The students thought that their teacher had planned a campfire evening for them and were completely shocked when she started accusing them of being infested with demons and demanding they be exorcised.
Confused and shaken up they half-heartedly followed her instructions to dance around the fire while chanting but drew the line when Harkins told them to cut each other in order to ‘free their demons.’ Infuriated by their refusal, Harkins doused one of the young people’s hands in perfume and set them alight. She slashed another student with a broken bottle and cauterized the wounds with a key she had heated in the fire. She forced several others to cut themselves and similarly ‘close’ the wounds, to keep the demons out.
It took a few days for the students to speak up about the incident and even after Harkins was arrested the students weren’t terribly forthcoming with information on what had happened. Harkins, too, refused to provide any details.
She was released from prison after serving only 6 months.
6 Pool of blood
Returning to their posts after a mellow and relaxing school holiday, teachers at Riverwood Primary School in Sydney’s southwest were expecting to have a lazy first day back. Nothing could have prepared them for what they stumbled upon when they entered the school’s cubby house that day, however.
On the floor was a pool of blood, later established to be human and being more than a litre’s worth. Police noted that whoever’s blood it was would have needed extensive medical treatment because of the extreme blood loss. Despite an extensive search of the surrounding and extending areas, no victim was found. There was also no blood splatter or trail leading to or from the cubby.
The lack of a victim was extremely strange considering the school was enclosed with a 2-metre high barbed wired fence and it would have been impossible for the injured person to scale it.
Tests later showed that the victim was male. The case remains unsolved.
5 Halloween prop that wasn’t
Residents of the Marine del Rey apartment building in Los Angeles were amazed to see a very realistic-looking Halloween prop on one of their neighbors’ balconies in October 2009. The prop consisted of a figure slumped over a chair and what looked like bedding draped over the railing.
However, when deputies were called to the building a few days later, residents were beyond shocked when they realized the ‘Halloween decoration’ they’d been gawking at that week, was in fact the decomposing body of 75-year-old Mostafa Mahmoud Zayed. Zayed had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. A suicide note was found near the corpse.
Zayed had lived in the building for 34 years and was a structural engineer who had worked on high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles.
4 Isle of Bute terror
Six-year-old Alesha MacPhail was visiting her grandparents on the Isle of Bute in 2018 when the unthinkable happened. 16-year-old Aaron Campbell crept into the family’s home, looking to steal cannabis. When he saw the little girl sleeping, all thoughts of the drug escaped his mind. Instead he abducted her, carried her to an abandoned hotel and raped her. He then applied pressure to her face and neck until she stopped breathing.
Alesha’s body was found within 3 hours of her being reported missing on 2 July 2018. A post-mortem revealed the little girl had suffered 117 injuries. Campbell was arrested two days later.
After initially denying that he had anything to do with the horrific crime, Campbell confessed that once he had laid eyes on Alesha, he couldn’t stop thinking about killing her. During his trial he also claimed that in the year preceding the murder, he constantly thought about killing or raping someone.
Campbell was amused that it took police two days to arrest him and said it took great restraint on his part to keep from laughing during the trial. While confessing to the murder, he even told authorities that he was ‘quite satisfied with the murder.’
He was handed a 27-year sentence, which was reduced by 3 years in 2019.
3 The Fresno case
On 20 January 2016, a dead man was found in a burning home in central Fresno. The Fresno police department’s public information officer, Lt. Joe Gomez, reported at the time that 51-year-old local activist, John Lang, was found with stab wounds to his abdomen and upper back. Later, a spokesperson for the Fresno County sheriff refuted these claims, saying that Gomez had released incorrect information and that John Lang had three self-inflicted stab wounds to his chest only and had started the fire in a suicide mission.
Five days before Lang’s body was discovered in the blazing house, he left a Facebook message for ABC30 reporter, Corin Hoggard, stating “Corrupt Fresno cops are going to try and kill me this weekend, possibly tonight. This is no joke.” On his own social media accounts, he posted several rants about the Fresno Police Department and County Sheriff’s Office being corrupt. Lang followed this up with videos of a security camera outside his house which he claimed was being used by police officers to watch him. Lang also believed that his car was being tracked.
Several websites and forums have since claimed that Lang may have been truthful in his claims that he feared the police would kill him, expressing doubt about the ‘bungling’ of the information that Lt. Gomez originally provided. Some are also convinced that there are several corrupt police officers in the Fresno police department who would have done anything to silence Lang.
2 Left alone for hours
On 16 November 2015, 25-year-old Racqual Thompson and her 21-year-old boyfriend, Cornell Malone, left her four children unattended in their northeast Houston apartment to get pizza and visit Malone’s brother. They returned after midnight to the sound of the children (all under the age of five) crying.
Entering the kitchen, they found their oven range overturned. When Malone picked up the range, the youngest child, 19-month old J’Zyra, fell out of it. She had been severely burned. It was revealed that one of the children had put J’Zyra inside the oven and then turned it on. The kids panicked when the toddler started crying and kicking the door from inside, but it was too late by the time Thompson and Malone arrived home. Thompson attempted CPR on her daughter, but the infant had already died.
Thompson and Malone both faced two years in prison on charges of child endangerment. At the time of her court appearance, Thompson was eight months pregnant with her fifth child.
1 The girl on Church Hill
On 12 June 1977, George Childs and his son were driving down Holicong Road in Buckingham Township when he spotted an object in the underbrush of a steep rise known as Church Hill.
He drove across the railroad tracks and headed up the hill to get a closer look. He and his son then made the terrifying discovery of the naked body of a woman lying face down about 10 feet down the slope. They continued driving on to the next house and asked that the owner call the police.
15 minutes later the area was swamped with police officers. A team of officers and paramedics were tasked with turning the body over, and it was only then that the true extent of the crime was revealed. 20-year-old Shaun Eileen Ritterson had been eviscerated, with nearly all her lower organs removed. Her insides had been washed out and stuffed with a towel. She had bruising at the back of her scalp, indicating that she had been struck with a heavy object and had multiple stab wounds to her chest.
At the time, detectives thought the viciousness of the murder may have been part of a dark ritual or even to tear out an unborn child.
The young woman’s uncle, Harry Ritterson, was initially suspected of her murder and many family members also believed that he was the murderer. However, he was never charged, and no other suspects were ever identified.
Shaun Ritterson’s murder remains a mystery.