Graveyard Shift

13 Creepy Stories and Urban Legends from California  

Laura Allan
918.8k views 15 items

When you think of California, you probably don't think of creepiness. Hippies, surfers, beaches, Hollywood... it's all pretty weird, sure, but not scary or spooky, right? Well, believe it or not, creepy California does exist, if you know where to look. The state has ghosts murders, legends, and monsters, and you might be surprised to see that some of them are about as scary as you can get.

Between ghosts and creepy serial killers, California has a genuinely bloody history, dating back to its formation. It could be the home of Big Foot, and old west ghosts are around, shooting it out in some of the nation's finest ghost towns. If you're all about the weird and paranormal, look no further than the Golden State.

You don't have to read this at night, and you don't have to turn off your lights. But with the scary stories and terrifying urban legends in California that we're about to delve into, we definitely recommend it. 

Alcatraz Might Have Kept a Demon in Its Cells
Alcatraz Might Have Kept a Dem... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 13 Creepy Stories and Urban Legends from California
Photo:  William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Alcatraz is extremely haunted. There are ghosts of prisoners who died there and ghostly security guards. The place is full of spooky rooms, like those in the medical ward, which creak and groan like any good haunted prison should. There's a room called "the hole" in the depths of the prison that was used for solitary confinement, and it is the source of one pretty unnerving legend.

According to legend, sometime in the 1940s, a man was put down there and, throughout the night, screamed to the guards about a demonic creature with glowing eyes in the cell that was trying to kill him. The guards ignored this as an excuse to get out. When they opened the cell in the morning, they found the man strangled to death. No one knows exactly how he died.

Creepy Clowns Haunt Central California
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Video: YouTube

It all began with the Wasco clown. In 2014, residents of Wasco, CA, noticed a creepy clown standing around, being generally terrifying. Police were called, an investigation conducted, and, eventually, it was revealed the clown was involved in a photography project, so, no harm, no foul. Although the project is pretty f*cking creepy.

It all could have stopped there, but it didn't. Inexplicably, copycat clowns began showing up all over southern and central California, and they weren't out to take spooky pictures. Instead, they were weaponized. Yes, multiple armed clowns terrorized small towns, for no reason anyone can discern. One 14 year old was even arrested for running around as a clown and chasing children

Hotel Tap Water Runs Black With Death
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So many aspects of this story sound like urban legend, but it's all true. In 2013, guests staying at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles reported their water was a dark color. The hotel sent a maintenance man to fix it. It turns out the problem was a human corpse in the water tank, which had been decomposing for at least two weeks. The body belonged to Elisa Lam, and police never figured out who killed her (or whether she killed herself).  

But wait, it gets creepier. When police looked at security tapes of the elevator on the suspected day of Lam's death, they saw the victim acting... strangely. She got in the elevator, pressed a bunch buttons, and peered out when the door opened, as if looking for someone. She looked terrified the entire time. When she finally left, the doors of the elevator opened and closed a second time, as if someone else was there, but unseen. Was she being followed? Or was Lam, diagnosed as bipolar and depressive, having an episode? We may never know. 

Want to hear something else creepy? Her blog continued to update after she died. It's possible she had posts in her queue scheduled to publish, but still. Some suggest Lam had tuberculosis, and point out that the test used to determine whether someone has TB is called LAM-ELISA. 

The Black Dahlia Remains a Gruesome Mystery
The Black Dahlia Remains a Gru... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 13 Creepy Stories and Urban Legends from California
Photo: Trijnstel/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

On the morning of January 15, 1947, police in Los Angeles made a horrifying discovery: a woman, sliced cleanly in half at the waist, posed such that onlookers thought she was a manikin. The murder victim, identified as Elizabeth Short, was a young actress, and the public became entranced with the murder, nicknaming her The Black Dahlia. A massive manhunt ensued, but no one was ever charged, and the murder remains unsolved.

Almost 70 years later, we're still searching for the person who performed this gruesome and bloody murder, and their motive.