The best and worst thing about a photograph is that it captures a moment in time forever. If it’s a happy event, the picture can be great; if it’s a sad or scary one, the story that image tells is very different.
Each of these photographs is scary enough on its own, depicting something quite obviously terrible…but it’s only when you learn the backstories behind them that you realize just how horrifying they are.
1. This photo taken in the Soviet Union during a severe famine shows a Siberian couple selling body parts, which the photographer claimed were those of the couple’s own children. Hunger leads people to make drastic actions, but this is simply unthinkable.
2. Maria de Hoya suffered from tuberculosis and passed away at 21 years old. During her illness, her doctor Carl Tanzler fell in love with her, and after she died, he kept and mummified her body, equipping it with a terrifying mask. He kept the corpse for seven years before he was finally caught and imprisoned for grave robbing and necrophilia.
3. In 2015, masked man dressed as Darth Vader walked into a Swedish school with a sword, and a number of students, believing it to be some kind of joke, posed with him for pictures. After the cameras were put away, though, he took out the sword and went on a rampage killing two people and injuring several more.
4. In Chicago in 1948, Lucille Chalifoux and her husband actually sold off their four children as farm laborers and used the money to start a new life. Though many claim this photo was staged, the children were nonetheless separated, sent with other families, and none of them saw each other again until 2013.
5. In 1985, Omayra was trapped under debris from a mudslide caused by a volcanic eruption in her home country of Columbia. She spent 60 hours waiting for someone to come by the equipment to move the debris that kept her partially submerged, but sadly she died waiting for help, comforted by her distraught and helpless family.
6. During a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, James Holmes entered an Aurora, Colorado theater and opened fire on the audience. He later told authorities his apartment was rigged with explosives that would go off should anyone enter. Thankfully, the bomb squad managed to neutralize the threat — and capture this haunting picture.
7. In 1947, the Thomas family went out for a picnic near the Hansen dam in Los Angeles, but the children Patricia and Raymond disappeared. A huge search party set out to find them, and this photo captures Mrs. Thomas’s reaction to seeing the drowned body of her daughter. Her son would be found dead soon after.
8. This photo shows a rubber worker in the Belgian Congo staring at the severed hands and feet of his 5-year-old daughter, who was killed because he didn’t meet his quota for the day. The picture serves as a stark reminder of the brutality at the heart colonialism.
9. This iconic photograph is known as the “The Last Jew of Vinnitsa,” and it shows a Jewish man being executed in the Ukrainian town of Vinnitsa’s third and final massacre after the Nazis invaded and took over. Chillingly, this photo was found in a soldier’s scrapbook after the war, a memento of his time with the SS.
10. Serial killer Harvey Glatman would pose as a photographer and promise young women fame as models to lure them into his home where he would later rape and murder them, taking pictures the whole time. This photo shows one of the women, Judith Dull, who became his first victim in 1957.
11. Most people are familiar with the story of charismatic cult leader Jim Jones, who amassed a huge following and later instigated a mass suicide at their Jonestown compound in Guayana, but few have a true sense of the amount of human devastation this tragedy caused until they pictures like this of the aftermath.
12. During the 1960s, Edward Paisnel, a resident of the Channel Island of Jersey, would frequently don a rubber mask, break into people’s homes, and rape and torture women and children. These pictures were the only evidence police had to go by until he was finally caught with his mask and barbed wire during a routine traffic stop in 1971.
13. Blanche Monnier was planning to marry a man her mother didn’t like, and when she disappeared one day, most people assumed she had run off with him. However, 25 years later, someone tipped police off that her mother was holding her hostage, and when they entered the home they found Blanche bound and starved in the attic.
14. After Tereska was rescued from a concentration camp in Poland, psychologists who monitored her asked her to draw a picture of “home.” Unlike other children, who simply drew themselves and their families before the war, Tereska would only scrawl random, choatic lines, a void left where home used to be.
15. According to popular legend in Odessa, Ukraine, a woman became lost in the catacombs under the city after spending New Years Eve of 2005 drinking down there with her friends. She was never found until another group of teens supposedly stumbled across her body, and snapped this photo, which has circulated widely on the internet.