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5 Strange Happenings in History You’ve Never Heard About

Get ready to be freaked out by the cases of real-life vampire Mercy Brown, mummy Elmer McCurdy, a modern-day cannibal, and more.

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  • Photo Credit: Thomas Lohnes / Getty Images

If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that the world is an incredibly strange, creepy, and often flat-out terrifying place. With a wealth of information at your fingertips, it can be all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole and discover some gruesomely compelling stories.

These creepy historical happenings are just a few of the terrifying stories we’ve dug up over the years. From the real-life inspiration for Open Water to a literally toxic woman—and no, we don’t mean like that one kind of cruel friend of yours—these cases are all too real.

1. The Toxic Woman

Gloria Ramirez
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  • Photo Credit: Still from 20/20 via ABC

When Gloria Ramirez was brought to the Riverside General Hospital on February 19, 1994, the staff assumed her issues were simply related to her advanced-stage cervical cancer. She was in pain, confused, suffering from poor breathing and an incredibly high pulse.

The nurses on staff took their usual action, giving Ramirez sedatives, and eventually resorting to defibrillating her. It was around this time that they began to notice something even stranger about their patient.

Ramirez’s body was covered in some sort of oil, and she smelled of fruit and garlic, which some of the staff blamed on her breath. One of the RNs in the room tried to draw blood from Ramirez, only to notice an ammonia smell from her blood. Smelling ammonia under normal circumstances is bad enough, so noticing it coming from someone’s blood? A bit alarming for even the most seasoned of nurses.

Related: The Scariest Books You’ve Ever Read 

The RN passed on the syringe, blood still inside, to a resident. The resident noted particles floating around in the blood, just before the RN fainted and had to be removed from Ramirez’s bedside. Soon after, the resident began to feel nauseous. Moving outside to sit at a nurse’s desk, she also passed out.

Soon, a third person assisting passed out. After 35 minutes of a crew continuing to work on Ramirez despite these alarming occurrences, she passed away due to kidney failure related to her advanced cancer.

Some scientists later said that the staff were simply suffering from mass hysteria, but the staff fervently deny this. The resident affected spent two weeks in the ICU, developed hepatitis, and had breathing problems. Another scientist believed that Ramirez may have been using a home degreaser as a pain reliever, which could have created a gas in the room, causing the workers’ pain. To this day, Ramirez’s family, the workers, and investigators have not settled the debate.

2. Armin Meiwes, the Hannibal Who Advertised Online

Armin Meiwes
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  • Photo Credit: Thomas Lohnes / Getty Images

Armin Meiwes seemed like your average computer technician.

But the German frequented a number of sites with less than normal ideas about cannibalism—namely, that they were in favor of it. Meiwes was a fan of The Cannibal Cafe, a blog where people shared their interest in cannibalism. Soon, he began placing advertisements on the Cafe, looking for someone to volunteer themselves to be eaten. Um, yeah. Seriously.

He said he was “looking for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. To his credit, Meiwes didn’t force anyone to be slaughtered and eaten. Instead, he would talk to those who responded, and if they backed out, he respected their wishes.

Even though Meiwes didn’t force anyone to join him in his quest, the end of his story is pretty gruesome. He found a (seemingly) willing volunteer, Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes. Brandes went to Meiwes’s house on March 9, 2001.

Related: 13 Terrifying Real-Life Cannibals That Will Make You Sick to Your Stomach 

Brandes gave Meiwes permission to amputate his penis. The two then attempted to eat Brandes’s penis together, but the penis was “too chewy” to be consumed. Before the attempt to eat the penis, Brandes took 20 sleeping pills with half a bottle of schnapps. After the amputation, Meiwes set up a bath for Brandes, whom he checked on every 15 minutes.

After some time, Brandes got out of the bath and became unconscious due to his immense blood loss. At this point, Meiwes began to waver over whether or not he should kill Brandes. Although the man had given Meiwes permission to cut off and eat his penis, he had not said that he could be killed.

Meiwes did eventually kill the man, stabbing him in the throat, then hanging the body on a meat hook to begin to prepare it for eating. All of the events of the night up to this point were recorded by the pair.

Meiwes continued to eat from Brandes’s corpse for 10 months after the killing. A year and a half later, he was reported to the police by a college student for soliciting more victims online. When the police searched his home, they discovered the videotape and body parts. Since his conviction, Meiwes has apologized for his actions and become a vegetarian.

3. The Mercy Brown Vampire Incident

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  • Photo Credit: Josh McGinn / Flickr (CC)

In the late 1800s, New England was in the midst of a vampire fad—but it was nothing like the Twilight vampires of today.

No, these New England vampire scares were a bit too real. Not so real that the supposed vampires were, in fact, vampires, but real enough that a disease was spreading and consuming humans.

Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont were all suffering from outbreaks of tuberculosis, called consumption at the time. Its cause was still unknown at the time, although people knew that once one family member got the disease, others were soon to follow.

The popular theory of the time was that the first infected member of a family was draining life force from their relatives, functioning as a sort of living dead. Those who died from consumption were exhumed and examined. If their body seemed “too fresh”, it was assumed to be still feeding on the living.

Related: Mercy Brown and the Great Vampire Panic of Rhode Island 

There were a number of ways proposed to stop this vampiric feeding. The simplest and least gruesome was turning the body in its grave, so it faced toward the earth. Others would burn the organs of the body. Sometimes, this was combined with decapitating it. Some even believed that inhaling the smoke and ash from the burned organs would cure their tuberculosis.

Mercy Brown's was perhaps the most infamous case of exhumation. Her family did not agree that vampires were to blame for consumption and did not want her body exhumed. However, when the other villagers insisted, her father capitulated, wisely noting his neighbors’ mob mentality.

When Mercy was dug up, her body showed signs of “fresh blood”. It had also turned, seemingly by itself, in its grave. The villagers panicked and burned her corpse. They reserved the ashes made by the heart and mixed them with water.

Then, they forced Mercy’s brother, who was currently suffering from consumption, to drink those ashes. Although the villagers thought that this would cure his illness, brother Edwin died two months later.

Some people suggest that Bram Stoker’s Dracula character Lucy Westenra was based on Mercy. The story has remained popular in Exeter, the Rhode Island town the Browns called home.

4. “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up”

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  • McCurdy's body on display

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Elmer McCurdy was not the type of man one would expect to remain infamous over a hundred years after his death. Born in 1880, even his arrival in the world was a bit ignominious. His mother, Sadie McCurdy was only 17 years old at the time of his birth—and she was unmarried.

Elmer was adopted by Sadie’s brother and raised by him and his wife. Not long after Elmer’s “father” died, Sadie admitted that she was Elmer’s mother. Shocked and traumatized by this revelation, Elmer went from a normal child to a teen alcoholic, prone to acting out.

Elmer moved in with his grandmother and found work as an apprentice plumber, a job at which he excelled, making a comfortable living for quite some time. But in 1898, the economic downturn that had begun in 1893 made its way to the McCurdy household. Elmer lost his job. Within three years, Elmer’s mother and grandfather had died, and Elmer, no longer able to hold a job, began drifting around the Northeast, offering his services as a miner and plumber whenever possible.

Eventually, Elmer ended up in Missouri, where he joined the army. There, he was trained in the use of nitroglycerin, the most popular explosive material at the time. After his honorable discharge, Elmer began using his skills to help him burglarize homes, people, and trains. At one point, Elmer and a friend were even arrested and sent to trial for possessing tools used for burglary, like his setup for nitroglycerin. They were able to convince a judge that the tools were just for a machine gun they were inventing.

After leaving the trail, Elmer began his stint as a train and bank robber in earnest, although the limited training he had received in nitroglycerin often meant that his robbery attempts were less than professional.

Once, attempting to blast a safe door off, Elmer used far too much nitroglycerin, causing most of the money and goods inside the safe to be destroyed. In another attempted robbery, Elmer’s charge failed to ignite, leaving the would-be robbers to scrounge whatever cash was not locked up. Hardly the stuff of Jesse James.

Related: 10 Famous Dead Bodies You Can Actually Visit 

Elmer’s next attempt took place in October 1911. He and two friends heard that a train coming through would be carrying $400,000, cash. The men stopped a train—but quickly discovered that it was only a passenger train. They managed to eke $46 out of the people on board and two large bottles of whiskey, which Elmer quickly commandeered.

Elmer holed up in a barn with his whiskey. He was ill and drunk when police showed up to make good on the $2,000 reward on his head. On October 7, he was shot and killed. Now, this is where the story gets truly weird.

Elmer’s body was taken to a funeral home and left unclaimed. Joseph Johnson, the owner of the home embalmed the body with a preservative that kept his features and body intact. When months stretched by without the owner receiving payment from a relative for his services, he decided to start exhibiting the body to make back his costs.

The body of “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up” became far more popular an attraction than Johnson could have dreamed. In fact, he soon was attracting offers from carnival owners for the purchase of McCurdy’s body. Johnson refused these offers.

But then, five years later, two men claiming to be McCurdy’s brothers showed up. Unable to refuse them, Johnson handed the body over. The men were actually James and Charles Patterson, owners of a carnival. They featured McCurdy’s body for seven years, at which point the carnival was sold, wholesale, to Louis Sonney.

When Louis Sonney died, the body was placed in storage. It made an appearance in 1967’s movie She Freak with his son’s permission. It was sold to a few other oddity displayers through the 1960s and 70s. At some point, it was left hanging inside an amusement park’s funhouse.

McCurdy’s body was rediscovered by a television crew in 1976. After a long examination, it was re-identified as McCurdy. After 75 years of odd exhibitions and displays, McCurdy’s body was finally laid to rest—and covered in two feet of concrete to dissuade any possible graverobbers.

5. The Terrifying True Story Behind Open Water

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  • Photo Credit: Lions Gate Films

The most frightening horror movies are those based on real life. The story behind 2003’s Open Water was all too real.

In 1998, Louisiana couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan went on vacation in Australia after completing a two year tour of duty with the Peace Corps. While they were in Australia, the couple decided to go scuba diving through the Great Barrier Reef.

They, and 18 others, went out to St. Crispin’s Reef. When the time came to get in the boat and return to shore, the Lonergans were underwater. Although the divers were counted upon returning to the boat, the dive master somehow miscounted. They left, without the Lonergans.

Related: Aquatic Horror Movies 

Two days later, it was realized that the couple was missing when their belongings were found on the boat. A three-day long search, through the air and water, commenced. The couple’s diving gear and a diver’s slate inscribed with “Monday Jan 26; 1998 08am. To anyone who can help us: We have been abandoned on A[gin]court Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help to rescue us before we die. Help!!!” was found, but not their bodies.

Open Water assumes that the couple were eaten by sharks. Whether they simply drowned or were in fact eaten, this terrifying story has us thinking twice about going diving in the open water anytime soon.

Featured photo: Thomas Lohnes / Getty Images; Additional photo: Josh McGinn / Flickr (CC)