Every single time my husband leaves town for a few days, I spend the entire time imagining how I could die while doing totally normal chores around the house, and how badly decomposed my body would be by the time he got back. It's not that I'm obsessed with death or anything; these thoughts don't come from a place of depression or real fear. Instead, they come from a detached, curious place, as if I was the subject of a scientific experiment: if I spilled too much conditioner in the shower, slipped, and then cracked my skull open on our soap dish, then how long would it take my neighbors to complain about the water leaking through the ceiling? And if they found out I had accidentally died in the shower, then how long would it take them to start feeling really guilty about complaining? See — it's just like a high school science class, only you're finally learning some information that you can actually use in life.
Society doesn't tend too give us too much room to worry about the truly gloomy, creepy, and bizarre stuff — but odds are, that doesn't stop you. Hey, if you've never wondered if people really were buried alive in olden times, well, good for you; feel free to click out of this article and into something more wholesome about, say, baking or the health benefits of smiling happily to yourself on a park bench. But if you've ever been the one who brings a conversation to a dead halt by saying, "OK, but do you guys think any of us have ever met a serial killer and we just didn't know it?" Then come on in.
1. Who Was The Zodiac Killer?
We know one thing about the identity of the Zodiac Killer: he wasn't Ted Cruz (though I won't deny that I may have posted that meme roughly several hundred thousand times). But that's one of the only things we do know, because though he was one of the most infamous serial killers in American history, information about the Zodiac Killer is surprisingly thin on the ground.
For those of you who were never goth teens in the suburbs and thus did not memorize the details of every major U.S. serial murder case: the Zodiac Killer is believed to be responsible for at least five murderers in the San Francisco Bay area in the late '60s. However, Zodiac is not remembered because there was anything particularly unusual about his murderers, all of which took place from 1968 to 1969; rather, he is remembered because he taunted the press through letters sent to San Francisco area newspapers from 1969 all the way to 1974. What was he doing in these newspaper missives? Sharing his thoughts on the upcoming school board elections? Not quite; the Zodiac sent cryptic, coded messages that were revealed to contain light cocktail party conversation starters like “I like killing people because it is so much fun.” He also threatened to keep killing if his articles weren't printed on the front page of the paper, and sent many codes and puzzles, including a symbol that looked a bit like a rifle sight.
During one of his last attacks in 1969, during which he assaulted a young man and murdered a young woman, the Zodiac wore a hood and shirt with his symbol printed on them; soon after, he shot a taxi driver to death and mailed a scrap of the driver's shirt to the San Francisco Chronicle, along with a letter threatening to assault a school bus filled with children.
And then...that was it. The Zodiac mailed more letters but was never pinned to any more crimes; the letters themselves dried up in 1974. And though people have tried to pin the crimes on everyone from Charles Manson to their deceased fathers, law enforcement has never formally identified anyone in connection with the crimes. Does that mean you should be suspicious of your neighbor who always likes to regale you with tales of his life in San Francisco in the '60s? Hey, you said it, man, not me.
2. What Things In Your House Are Most Likely To Kill You?
For those of you whose morbid daydreams generally involve being bitten by a black widow hiding inside your makeup drawer: you're wrong. The number one way that people die inside their homes, says U.S. News and World Reports, is falling. According to the Home Safety Council, almost 6,000 people die each year from falls inside their home. But that's mostly an issue for older people; if you're younger or middle ages, the HSC says you're more likely to die from poison. And not just the ol' mistaking-rat-poison-for-low-cal-sweeteners; people mostly die from mixing meds that interact poorly.
3. Are Any Urban Legends True?
Oh god, YES. They may not have happened to your best friend's brother's ex-girlfriend's former sorority sister; but many of our most popular urban legends have their roots in real events, including "the corpse mistaken for Halloween decorations" and "the masked murderer who attacks hapless makeout teens parked on Lover's Lane."
4. Do Your Nails And Hair Really Keep Growing After You Die?
Honestly, there's no reason to be so fixated on this; once you're dead, proper cuticle maintenance will be the least of your problems. But OK, if you're still wondering: no, your nails and hair don't actually "grow" after you die. Rather, as your skin dries and shrinks, it pulls back, revealing more nail and hair surface...which can look like new hair or nail growth. But since a dead body has no cellular growth, you are not actually producing new nail or hair. So stop thinking about that and get back to more pressing concerns related to your own death (i.e. if you become a zombie, will you still remember enough so that you don't bite the people you loved in life?)
5. How did Elisa Lam End Up In That Water Tank?
If you became fixated on the story of Elisa Lam, you're not alone — Ryan Murphy even admitted that the fourth season of American Horror Story was inspired by 21-year-old Lam's mysterious 2013 drowning death in a water tank located on the roof of a Hollywood hotel. But despite three years of intense media scrutiny (and even more intense online conspiracy theories), we're still no closer to understanding how Lam made her way to an off-limits area of the hotel, opened a supposedly locked water tank, and drowned. Did Lam end up in there by accident, or on purpose? Did she have any help getting into the water tank? Did someone else put here there? Why did she appear to be acting erratically in a hotel surveillance video filmed shortly before her death? And, perhaps most creepy of all: how many people drank that water when she was in there?
6. Do We Actually Inhale Eight Spiders A Year In Our Sleep?
First and foremost: I am so grossed out by and terrified of spiders, the above GIF was the closest I could get to looking at a spider without barfing or crying. Secondly: no, thank god, we emphatically do not swallow eight spiders a year.
According to Scientific American's discussion of the issue with Rod Crawford, arachnid curator at Seattle's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, the gaping maws of sleeping humans are not quite as attractive to spiders as we may have imagined — primarily because our snores and heavy sleep breathing probably scare them off: Crawford says that “Vibrations are a big slice of spiders’ sensory universe... [a] sleeping person is not something a spider would willingly approach.” The article also notes that if a spider was crawling on your face in your sleep, it would probably wake you up, which I think was meant to be soothing but IT IS NOT.
7. How Many Active Serial Killers Are There In The U.S. Right Now?
If horror movies are to be believed, basically everyone around you is a serial killer who brutally dispatches strangers on the way home from hot yoga class every night. But if John Douglas, former chief of the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, is to be believed, there are roughly 25 to 50 active serial killers in America today.
So while that's certainly about 25 to 50 more serial killers than any of us would like to hear are active in the U.S. today, it is relatively few — so odds are, you've never met one, and your creepiest neighbor is just a creep (but not a "going out on my nightly murder rounds, brb" kind of creep).
8. What Happens If You Die Alone In Your Apartment?
Anyone who's spent some time living alone has probably wondered what would happen if they suddenly, say, choked on a too-large bite of quesadilla and shuffled off this mortal coil in the middle of their kitchen floor. How long would it take for anyone to find you? Well, if your friends, family members, or coworkers got worried because you weren't responding to texts/ showing up for work/ went eight non-sleep hours without posting to Instagram, they could come knock on your door, or request a police welfare check. People who are worried about a family member or someone else in their life can request that the police check in on them by calling the non-emergency number of the police department in the area, explaining the circumstances, and requesting a welfare check...and which point they would find you, splayed out in those pajamas with the orange soda stains on them, and your soul could finally be at peace.
But if we want to go down the darkest possible theoretical rabbit hole, what if no one was looking for you? How long would it take for your neighbors to, you know, smell that something was wrong? To be unpleasantly frank: a dead body will start to smell after a few days, depending on how hot or cold its surroundings are. This is a product of putrefaction, a process in which the bacteria inside your digestive tract escape into the rest of the body, and begin breaking it down.
Obviously, there are still a lot of factors at work here — like how close your nearest neighbor lives. Some bodies are only finally discovered decades after death, which is why some of us live with roommates, even though we could probably afford a studio.
9. Why Do We Love To Scare Ourselves?
Like, why did you read this article, when you could have been doing something productive with your life, like learning French, or volunteering with a charity, or spying on a local dog run and then running away when some of the dog owners catch you? According to Dr. Margee Kerr — a sociologist and professor at Robert Morris University and Chatham University who also works on staff at a Pittsburgh haunted house called ScareHouse — in an interview in The Atlantic, we enjoy getting scared because we get buzzed on the brain chemicals it releases; we also might feel a sense of self-confidence after the scare is over, because we know that we "beat" whatever made us feel afraid. But we have to know there's no real threat — "to really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know we’re in a safe environment. It’s all about triggering the amazing fight-or-flight response to experience the flood of adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine, but in a completely safe space." And what's a safer space that this here website? Yeah, you're welcome.
Image: Pexels; Giphy