True crime is among the most popular genres of television, movies, and books in the United States. Between the gore, scandal, and horror that these stories entail, Americans simply cannot get enough of them.

But what many people don’t realize is that you don’t have to watch a TV show to learn about real-life horror stories that happened throughout history.

Check out these tales that are as horrifying as they are true. Number 15 is particularly horrific…

1. An American airplane crashed in Chichijima, Japan during World War II. Out of the nine soldiers on board, eight were captured—and eaten—by Japanese officers. The only American who was saved by a U.S. submarine was George H.W. Bush. 

George_H._W._Bush_inaugurationLibrary of Congress / wikimedia

2. The Brazen Bull was a medieval torture device created by the Greek tyrant Phalarus. It was a hollow bronze bull in which criminals were locked while a fire was lit underneath, effectively roasting the person alive. A system of tubes allowed for steam to imitate a bull’s low roar.

320px-Pierre_Woeiriot_PhalarisPierre Woeiriot / Wikimedia

3. According to the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis, the Permian-Triassic extinction—which annihilated the dinosaurs 232 million years ago—was caused by melting permafrost that contained methane. This prompted ocean toxicity and global warming. This theory is debated within the scientific community, but it does make you wonder…could the same thing be happening right now?

dinosaursNoodle36 / reddit

4. Roanoke, Virginia was the first permanent colonial settlement in North America. Proprietor John White was summoned back to England for a supply trip, and when he returned the colony of 100 people had completely disappeared. The only clue left behind was the word “Croatoan” carved on a post and “CRO” carved into a tree. White thought this meant the settlers had gone to Croatoan Island 50 miles off shore. But upon inspection, they were nowhere to be found.

Croatoanunknown / wikimedia

5. Henry A. Murray, a researcher at Harvard University, performed the three-year study on multiple Harvard students, including one Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, that involved humiliating the participants to cause them stress. These experiments may have solidified Kaczynski’s anti-technological theories and subsequent despair, leading him to become the Unabomber. 

unabomberUnknown / Wikimedia

6. Edgar Allen Poe’s only novel, titled The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, included a scene wherein members of a shipwrecked crew drew straws to sacrifice someone to feed the others. The death straw was drawn by a character named Richard Parker. Forty years after the book’s 1838 release, a real shipwrecked crew ended up eating a man named Richard Parker when they didn’t have enough provisions for survival.

poeThe NewGate Calendar / Wikimedia

7. One of the lesser known atrocities of World War II was Japan’s Unit 731, which performed deadly experiments on 3,000 enemy civilians and soldiers. These prisoners were used as guinea pigs for research on what the human body can handle, such as removing organs from live bodies to test the effects of disease. People were also put into pressure chambers to record how long it took for their eyes to pop out. 

maddoctorsBlackCaaaaat / reddit

8. The story of Gregory Rasputin’s death is a widely debated one. The relationship between the spiritual advisor and the Imperial Romanov family dwindled as the czar found increasing evidence that Rasputin was a bad influence. The czar felt his only choice was to kill him. Some say that assassins first tried to poison Rasputin, then shot him multiple times in the back and head. When he was still able to stand and react, they threw him in a river, where he drowned while trying to claw his way out.

rasputinUnknown / Wikimedia

9. Delphine LaLaurie, a socialite in 19th century New Orleans, was exposed as a prolific torturer and killer after her cook, who was chained to the stove, set a fire in an attempt to escape the torture The fire prompted a group of men to LaLaurie’s attic, where they found slaves chained with spiked iron collars.

madameSalem Cat / Deviantart

10. The Jonestown Massacre was the largest single loss of U.S. civilian life up until September 11. Jim Jones was the leader of the People Temple communist cult; in November 1978, he coerced his 909 followers to drink poisoned punch, one third of whom were children and infants. Jones himself was shot in the head. It is still unknown whether it was self-inflicted.

11. Outside Groebern, Germany there was a farm called Hinterkaifeck in the early 1920s. The Gruber family lived there and they were known among members of the neighboring town of Kaifeck. On April 4, 1922, townspeople went to check on the Grubers, as they had not been seen in quite some time. Three members of the family were found killed, with their bodies stacked neatly under a pile of hay. The remaining Gruber and the family maid were also found murdered in the house. To this day, not a single person has been apprehended for the crime.

Hinterkaifeck-HofAndreas Biegleder / Wikimedia

12. In the 1920s, Soviet scientist Sergei Bryukhonenko kept the head of a dog alive using a lung and heart machine. He also documented the re-animation of a dog’s head after death. Sergei made a film of his experiments, which some believe to be Soviet propaganda.frankendoggyButtersTheGreat13 / imgur

13. In December, 1937, the Japanese army murdered 200,000 to 300,000 civilians and soldiers out of a population of 600,000 in Nanking, the capital city of China’s Jiangsu province. Over the following six weeks, Japanese officers held beheading contests and published the results in papers. An estimated 20,000 to 80,000 women were sexually assaulted. It was said that the streets of Nanking literally ran red with blood.

nankingTokyo Nichinichi Shimbun / argunners

14. June and Jennifer Gibbons of Wales were twin sisters who never left each others’ side. They both had a speech impediment, which made it difficult to understand them. As adults, the sisters became involved in deviant behavior—like the burning of buildings—which got them sent to a mental institution for eleven years. Within moments of release, Jennifer collapsed, dead. Some believe this was so that her sister could live a normal life. 

twinsyattix / amazonaws

15. In the early part of the 17th century, Countess Elizabeth Bathory was found torturing young girls in her home of Csejthe Castle in Hungary. She believed that human blood kept her young and healthy, and often kidnapped peasant girls in order to eat their flesh or jam needles under their nails. Bathory gained the name the Blood Countess and was thought to be one of the first recorded stories of vampires.


16. The Dancing Plague of 1518 took place in Strasbourg, Alsace. It all started when a woman named Frau Troffea began to dance in the street, and kept dancing for nearly a week when more people joined in. Some called it hysteria, while others say they all caught a fever from some kid. But the dance-a-thon lasted from July to September, and about 400 people died.

dancingplagueEvan Andrews /

17. During the American Revolutionary War, there wasn’t enough space to house the American POWs, so the British began housing them on the HMS Jersey, a ship off the shore of Brooklyn. But the condition of these ships were so horrible that prisoners died in droves. More Americans died on this “ghost ship” than had died in all of the battles of the war combined.

Wow, these are some scary stories. It’s dizzying to think of all the other horrifying moments in history that were not recorded as well as these.

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