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The Story Behind These 10 Terrifying Photos Finally Revealed!

What is seen in the photos and what is mysteriously left out are the two key components of all spooky historical images. Some of the most frightening vintage photographs ever taken make it immediately clear why they’re so unsettling when you look at them, but others don’t really start to scare you until you find out their backstory.

In some instances, the photo’s backstory helps the viewer by explaining the bizarre scene that unfolds in front of them. However, almost all of the time the story only creates additional levels of fear that were unthinkable at first.

These are 10 chilling photos and the tales behind them explained. 

Horatio Robley, seated with his collection of severed heads via Wikimedia Commons

#1 The Trophy Heads Of The Māori

The indigenous Maori people from New Zealand were keeping the severed heads of the dead long before European colonists arrived. The heads were hacked off, boiled, smoked, sun-dried, and covered in shark oil before being exhibited or carried around as trophies. These practices are known as mokomokai.

But as soon as the British arrived in the 1840s, they began looting the mokomokai for their own benefit. Major General Horatio Gordon Robley, who fought in the British Army during the New Zealand Land Wars in the 1860s was particularly attracted by the Maori and stole at least 35 skulls for himself. He is depicted in this unsettling vintage photograph with his collection.

Pioneers Defense Drill Leningrad USSR 1937 via Wikimedia Commons

#2 “The Pioneers Defense”

This unsettling historical shot, known as “The Pioneers Defense,” was taken in 1937 by Russian photojournalist Viktor Bulla.

The men, women, and kids shown here, while surely a scary sight, were actually Young Pioneers members, a Soviet youth organization similar to the Boy Scouts.

The Pioneers put in a lot of work during the Great Patriotic War to aid in the military effort. Thousands of them perished in battles as soldiers while fighting against Nazi Germany.

In the years leading up to World War II, as their native country was experiencing waves of loss and terror under dictator Joseph Stalin, they are shown wearing gas masks during a military training exercise in the Leningrad region.

A defective piglet, born in the Chernobyl zone via Wikimedia Commons

#3 Mutated Piglet From Chernobyl

As far as nuclear accidents go, theApril 26th, 1986, Chernobyl disaster in Pripyat, Ukraine, still holds the record for being the worst.

Despite the area gradually appearing to be reverting to somehow suitable conditions for wildlife, the animals who lived in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in the late 1980s weren’t fortunate at all. 

The creature, known only as the “mutated piglet,” was born with dipygus, a genetic condition that causes the pelvis and legs to duplicate and the body to split left and right along the torso. This animal serves as a strong reminder of the damage that nuclear power can produce nearly 40 years later.

The Death Of Robert Overacker by Shane Beavers from Pinterest

#4 The Death Of Robert Overacker

The crossing of Niagara Falls has been attempted several times over the years, but Robert Overacker’s goal was a noble one: to increase support for the homeless. Unfortunately, his attempt in October 1995 didn’t turn out as expected.

Overacker intended to use a jet ski to travel through the water before opening the parachute attached to his back and driving over the edge into the river underneath the falls. However, when his parachute did not deploy, the 39-year-old Californian was the one who plunged 180 feet to his death.

Officer Thomas Detenbeck of the Niagara Parks Police described Overacker’s final seconds as “striking the cement.” People, in his opinion, “don’t really respect the power of the falls”.


Evelyn McHale via Pinterest

#5 “The Most Beautiful Suicide”

On May 1st, 1947, Evelyn McHale, aged 23 years old, deliberately leaped to her death from the 86th floor observation deck of New York’s Empire State Building, landing on top of a United Nations vehicle, where Robert Wiles, a photography student, captured this chilling picture.

Even if McHale wanted no one to see her body after she passed away, the picture became known worldwide and Time magazine published it and dubbed it “the most beautiful suicide.” A print by Andy Warhol even made use of this photo. 

Helen Brenner, Evelyn’s sister, identified her body. Later, McHale was cremated following her request so there was no memorial service or grave.

SPE1971 guards with blindfolded prisoner via Wikimedia Commons

#6 The Stanford Prison Experiment

On August 14th, 1971, college psychology professor Philip Zimbardo separated student volunteers into two groups, each with 10 convicts and 11 guards, to observe how they would act on their own inside a hypothetical “jail.” This experiment was known as the Stanford Prison Experiment.

The objective was to determine if humans are innately good or evil and how quickly and strongly even educated and intelligent individuals may become cruel and sadistic given appropriate circumstances.

Before the experiment had to be abandoned after only six days, the “guards” had frequently mistreated and abused the “prisoners” by spraying them with fire extinguishers and making them wipe toilet bowls with their bare hands. A terrifying glimpse of what people are capable of is presented by the study and the eeriest images that were left behind.

John Lennon’s last ever photo via Pinterest

#7 John Lennon And His Killer

On December 8th, 1980, John Lennon signs an autograph for a fan named Mark David Chapman as he exits his New York apartment building. Chapman would kill the legendary artist on this very spot when Lennon returned home a short time later.

Around 10:50 p.m., Chapman appeared from the darkness and fired four shots into Lennon’s back as he entered the building. About 25 minutes later, Lennon was declared dead at Roosevelt Hospital.

Later, Chapman recalled their conversation from earlier that evening: “He was very kind to me, a very cordial and decent man.”

Even after years, the sorrow of John Lennon’s brutal passing lingers. The locations and actions of millions of people when they first received the news are still vivid in their memories.

Pete Spence via Pinterest

#8 Pete Spence, Hardened Killer Of The Old West

The only image of Pete Spence, an outlaw from the Old West who terrorized Arizona alongside the notorious Frank and Tom McLaury, is a mugshot from 1883.

Spence, who was already a famous thief, was the main suspect in the 1882 assassination of Morgan Earp, the brother of the known lawman Wyatt Earp. However, Spence’s own wife was the only witness. Despite the fact that she reported to have overheard Spence planning the murder with a number of acquaintances, the judge opted to exclude her testimony because of spousal privilege.

But a year after he was detained for killing a man with a pistol whip. Due to the governor’s decision to pardon him, he only completed 18 months of a five-year sentence.

Four Children For Sale via Wikimedia Commons

#9 Four Children For Sale

This heartbreaking image from 1948 shows the extent to which poverty can ruin a family. At the time, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux needed money to avoid being evicted from their Chicago residence. The jobless coal truck driver and his wife made the decision to sell their children as a result.

The children were actually sold to various homes within two years, despite the Chalifoux family’s claims that the mom was paid to fabricate the photo.

Even worse, it was later discovered that the kids (Lana, age 6, Rae, age 5, Milton, age 4, and Sue Ellen, age 2) had suffered terrible mistreatment at the hands of their new families.

Bison skull pile via Wikimedia Commons

#10 The Slaughter Of The American Buffalo

The buffalo, once a representation of the seemingly endless possibilities of America’s westward development, finally came to symbolize the grim reality of “manifest destiny”. There were at least 30 million buffalo wandering the area before European people arrived on the continent of North America. That number fell to about 325 between 1800 and 1900.

This unsettling historical image was taken in Michigan in 1892 and depicts a real pile of buffalo skulls that were waiting to be crushed up for uses like creating bone china, fertilizer, and sugar. Even more upsetting is the reality that the US government deliberately killed numerous buffalo to deny Native Americans access to this important natural resource.

Are you curious about more surprising facts from our history? You should also check out 6 Weird Beliefs People Had 50 Years Ago 


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