5 Theories about the Death of Bruce Lee


On May 20, 1973, legendary actor and martial artist Bruce Lee told his friend (and mistress) Betty Ting that he had a headache. Lee took some Equagesic, a kind of painkiller, and then decided to take a nap. When Ting later fetched Lee for dinner, she found the superstar unresponsive. After Lee’s producer and doctor arrived, nobody could manage to wake Lee up, and he was promptly rushed to the hospital.

Unfortunately, it was already too late. Bruce Lee, at the mere age of 32, was dead. While the doctors ruled his case “death by misadventure,” it was believed that Lee had an allergic reaction to the painkiller he took, causing cerebral edema. Naturally, fans were devastated. How could a guy as fit and extraordinary as Bruce Lee die so unexpectedly? No less from an allergic reaction? Surely something happened behind the scenes.

Personally, I’m inclined to believe the official diagnosis. Like the cases of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, some people just refuse to believe that such beautiful and amazing icons could die as plainly and tragically as the rest of us. Since Lee’s sudden death 46 years ago, a number of theories have popped up questioning the conventional narrative, many of them ridiculous. As a big Lee fan and skeptic, I’ve compiled a list of five of the bigger theories surrounding his death, clearing up and debunking the claims of the most outlandish and sensational.

1. Bad Feng Shui

According to the ancient Chinese idea of feng shui, a life force called qi flows all around us. To maximize that energy, and bring good fortune to yourself, you need to organize your house, furniture, and Bruce Lee DVDs in a way that won’t block qi. Depending on where you situate your stuff, the place of an object can affect everything from your health to financial status.

When Bruce Lee moved to a house in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Tong district, it was said that the building suffered from bad feng shui. According to Lee biographer Bruce Thomas, the house’s two previous owners had financial issues, and the building “faced the wrong way,” and had disturbed natural winds. To fix this problem, a feng shui adviser ordered a mirror to be put on the roof. This was supposed to deflect the bad energy, but the mirror was knocked off during a typhoon.

Ominously, Lee died just two days after the charm was blown away. While some of Lee’s neighbors apparently linked the two events at the time, the problem with this theory is that feng shui is nothing but a superstition. There’s no scientific evidence for any of its tenets, including qi. At most, feng shui could be regarded as a kind of art. Lee’s death after the loss of his mirror is a simple coincidence. Moreover, Lee died in Betty Ting’s apartment, not in his own house.

2. Murder

The abruptness of Bruce Lee’s death, combined with his extraordinary fitness, made some fans wonder whether something more sinister was at work. People who believe that Lee was murdered have put forward a line-up of suspects. One popular suggestion is that he was poisoned. James DeMile, an American martial artist who’d trained with Lee, argued that his old teacher was poisoned by enemies in the Hong Kong movie industry.

Proponents of this theory sometimes point to producer Raymond Chow as the mastermind behind Lee’s “murder.” Golden Harvest, a studio Chow helped to establish, made most of Lee’s kung-fu movies. (Enter the Dragon was a co-production between Warner Bros and Concord Production Inc., the latter a company founded by Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow). Since Lee had ambitions to become a Hollywood star, the story goes that Chow had him killed so he wouldn’t lose such a valuable cash cow.

In actuality, Chow had nothing to do with a murder plot, but his exploitative behavior probably went a long way toward promoting this theory. After Lee’s death, Chow tastelessly finished the actor’s last work Game of Death, using a body double and including real footage of Lee’s funeral in the movie.

3. The Gangster Connection

Another variation on the murder hypothesis involves Chinese gangs known as triads. In addition to drug trafficking, counterfeiting, and controlling prostitution rings, triads have also had an influence in the Hong Kong movie industry. In some cases, movie studios even hired gangsters to intimidate popular actors into accepting lower pay for their work.

There isn’t any strong evidence that Lee was connected with triads, but they’ve made their way into his lore anyway. It’s generally understood that when Lee moved as a teen to the United States, it was because his parents were afraid that their son was getting into too much trouble at home. This decision was instigated by Lee’s fight with a boy from a powerful family, but more colorful accounts claim that the other boy had a criminal background.

According to this gangster-related theory, the triads never forgave Lee. Another alternative suggests that they killed Lee for refusing to join them, or because he couldn’t be threatened into giving protection money or taking a pay-cut. Other alterations emphasize Lee’s mistress Betty Ting, accusing her of being linked to triads. The fact that Ting would later marry Charles Heung, an actor from a triad family, is seen as further proof. Heung, however, has long tried to distance himself from the criminal underworld, and it’s frankly silly to think that Ting would have a motive in hurting Lee.

4. Heat Stroke

As far as the entries on this list go, the heat stroke theory is the only grounded and probable one. In 2018, author Matthew Polly advanced the idea in his biography Bruce Lee: A Life. Lee was sensitive to heat, and an operation he had that removed his armpit sweat glands probably made his condition worse. The day that Lee died, in fact, was extremely hot.

While he was hanging out with Betty Ting in her roasting apartment, Lee reenacted the fight scenes from his latest project, Game of Death. After he was done, Lee complained that he was tired and had a headache, both of which are symptoms of a heat stroke. Ten weeks earlier, Lee had fainted while working out in a hot room, so it’s possible that he had a second, fatal attack the day of his death.

Another medical explanation for Lee’s demise comes from James Filkins, an American doctor. In 2006, Dr. Filkins proposed that Lee fell victim to an attack of SUDEP (sudden unexpected death in epilepsy). The condition typically affects young men, and appears entirely unprovoked. If this really were the cause of Lee’s death, doctors at the time wouldn’t have recognized it, since SUDEP wasn’t defined until 1995.

5. The Lee Family Curse

It seemed certain that Brandon Lee, Bruce’s one and only son, was on track to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was not only a martial artist, but also an actor, most notably starring in the classic 1994 movie The Crow. Oddly, like his father, Brandon would die tragically and young. On March 31, 1993, while wrapping up filming on The Crow, Brandon was accidentally shot and killed by a prop gun.

Given the circumstances, it wasn’t long before more superstitious fans began to argue that the Lee family was cursed. Brandon’s death paralleled a scene in the completed version of Game of Death, in which Lee’s character Billy Lo fakes his death by getting shot on a movie set. As another piece of evidence, believers point out that Bruce’s oldest brother passed away at the age of three months. According to this reasoning, only the male side of the Lee family is affected, which is why Bruce’s daughter Shannon Lee is still alive and well.

What proponents of the curse miss (or choose to ignore) is that Bruce and Brandon weren’t the only men of the family. Bruce’s father Lee Hoi-chuen, also an actor, died from a heart attack at the age of 64. His oldest son Peter, who also suffered a heart attack, died at the age of 68. The youngest of the Lee sons, Robert, is still alive at 70-years-old. While it’s a strange coincidence that Brandon and Bruce would have such tragic ends, it’s an exaggeration to declare the Lee family “cursed.” Unfortunately, the real matter is that people as talented as Brandon and Bruce Lee are just as mortal and likely to die as the rest of us.


If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by pre-ordering my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. If you’re up for something strange and morbid, be sure to check the book out when it hits Kindle on September 23.  


6 Infamous Cases of People Committing Seppuku

Typically, a good seppuku performance would consist of the samurai driving a tanto sword into his abdomen and disemboweling himself by slashing the part from left to right. A second man attending him, called the kaishakunin, would then swing a sword down the samurai’s neck and decapitate him. By Edo times (1600-1867), seppuku had become an elaborate ritual performed in front of spectators. Although certainly a painful and violent way to die, many people saw it as an honorable and even romantic act. Incidents of seppuku decreased as Japan modernized in the late 19th century, but as we shall soon see, there are even records of people committing it in the post-WWII era.

6. The Byakkotai


Poster for a recent drama series about the Byakkotai. (Image source/credit here.)

For decades, anime and action movies have been casually throwing their teenage protagonists into such dangerous occupations as assassins, ninjas, samurai, vampire hunters, and angst-ridden robot pilots. This idea is awesome on screen, but actually tends to be far more terrifying and confusing in real-life. Case in point: the Byakkotai, a military unit of 305 samurai entirely composed of teenagers.

The Byakkotai, whose name meant “White Tiger Force”, participated in a year-long (1868-1869) civil war in Japan known as the Boshin War. On February 7, 1869, during the Battle of Tonoguchihara, the Byakkotai hid themselves in bushes and shot at approaching government troops. The young samurai underestimated the number of enemy soldiers, and as they tried to withdraw, a squad of them led by 16-year-old Shinoda Gisaburo became separated from the main group. With little time to think, Shinoda and the 19 other separated Byakkotai members retreated from the battlefield and fled to Iimori Hill.

What little safety they might have felt quickly evaporated when they looked down and saw that smoke was coming from their town of Aizuwakamatsu. Panic-stricken, they believed that the town had been destroyed and set on fire, meaning that the castle that held their families and lords must have burned down too. Seeing no reason to live anymore, the 20 young samurai committed seppuku on the spot. Only one of them, Iinuma Sadakichi, would survive.

In a cruel Shyamalian twist of fate, the castle hadn’t actually burned down after all. Only the surrounding town, in fact, had been set on fire. The 19 young samurai perished for nothing.

5. Takijiro Onishi

Takijiro Onishi, (Undated)

Picture of Takijiro Onishi (Image source/credit here.)

How does one make amends for helping advocate a military strategy that led to the loss of thousands of young men who took on suicide missions to crash their planes into enemy soldiers? (Pay attention, Al Qaeda.) According to Takijiro Onishi, one of the Japanese military leaders who helped get the kamikaze program off the ground, you disembowel yourself.

Although Onishi originally opposed the kamikaze attacks, he eventually relented and gave the strategy his blessing. Japan sent out its first batch of kamikaze pilots on October 25, 1944 during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. A few days before, Onishi addressed the pilots himself and gave a speech praising their bravery and sacrifice. “Regrettably,” admitted Onishi to what must have been a great shock for the volunteers, “we will not be able to tell you the results.”

Before Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, almost 4,000 kamikaze pilots would lose their lives. After hearing the news, Onishi wrote a suicide note and decided to commit seppuku the next day. In his note, he apologized to the dead kamikaze pilots and their families, offering his own death as atonement. Lastly, to further consolidate his posthumous reputation as a good guy, Onishi urged the young people of Japan not to avenge his death with a nuclear Third World War, but to instead promote peace and rebuild itself.

4. Chujiro Hayashi


Picture of Chujiro Hayashi (Image source/credit here.)

Chujiro Hayashi was a disciple of Mikao Usui, the founder of the spiritual therapy known as Reiki. Unlike Usui and most of the world of alternative medicine, Hayashi was a real doctor, and would sometimes perform Reiki on his patients. One of the biggest practitioners in his day, Hayashi is credited with developing modern Reiki and spreading it outside of Japan.

Hayashi started studying Reiki in 1925, a year before Usui’s death. With the hope that Hayashi could develop his quackery with real medical knowledge, Usui requested that his student establish a Reiki clinic. Hayashi obliged and went one step beyond, going on a tour in Hawaii with his daughter for a few months in 1937. Hayashi gave a series of Reiki lectures and demonstrations there, and he returned to Japan in February 1938.

In May 1940, the Japanese government demanded that Hayashi give them information about military targets in Honolulu, presumably because they weren’t planning anything evil. Although Hayashi was once a naval captain, he was now a pacifist, and so refused to talk. The authorities suspected that Hayashi was a spy. They accused him of treason, and afraid that the honor of his family was being threatened, Hayashi committed seppuku in the presence of his wife and students on the 11th.

3. Yukio Mishima


Picture of Yukio Mishima. (Image source/credit here.)

The genius behind such classics as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima was arguably post-war Japan’s foremost midget novelist. He was a wildly talented and prolific man, writing 34 novels in two decades, in addition to outshining his contemporaries as an actor, bodybuilder, model, playwright, poet, and radical far-right fanatic.

Due to a misdiagnosis of tuberculosis, Mishima couldn’t serve in World War II. Although upset that Emperor Showa renounced his claim of divinity, Mishima saw the unholy meat-bag as the physical essence of the Japanese nation. In October 1968, Mishima founded the Tatenokai, a private militia of attractively muscular young men who swore to protect the emperor.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four of his Tatenokai boy-toys seized a military building and attempted to launch a coup to restore Emperor Showa to his former power. After tying the head of the building up to a chair in his office, Mishima went out to the balcony and gave a speech of the Tatenokai’s demands to a crowd of 1,000 soldiers. Being 25 years too late, however, the soldiers only laughed and ridiculed Mishima. He then returned inside, and in the spirit of his half-assed coup, sloppily commited seppuku. With several slapstick slashes of mild tragicomedy, Mishima’s first kaishakunin repeatedly failed to lop his head off. After a few moments of painful agony, the task was given to another henchman, and Mishima was at last decapitated.

2. Nogi Maresuke


Picture of Nogi Maresuke. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Nogi Maresuke was an army general who served in the Satsuma Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War. The son of a samurai, Maresuke was seen by many as a model of traditional Japanese values like loyalty and self-sacrifice. Even 100 years after his suicide, people pay their respects to what they see as a great patriot.

In one notable incident, after suffering staggering losses in a battle during the Russo-Japanese War, Maresuke asked Emperor Meiji for permission to commit suicide. The emperor refused, telling Maresuke that he wasn’t allowed to die until the emperor himself did. While internet Freudians might easily interpret Maresuke’s devotion to Meiji as some repressed form of intense homo-eroticism, this sort of obedience was only to be expected by any good old-fashioned samurai.

Following the end of the war, Maresuke was granted the title of count and made the head of the prestigious Gakushuin, a school for the children of the Japanese nobility. He also embarked on several philanthropic projects, giving money to hospitals and memorials set up for both the Japanese and the Russians. When Emperor Meiji died in July 1912, Maresuke naturally thought the e̶r̶o̶t̶i̶c̶ honorable thing to do was to kill himself and his wife by seppuku. After the emperor’s funeral, Maresuke slashed his stomach three times and then tossed himself onto his sword for a grand finale. His wife followed him after, although not exactly into the same national veneration.

  1. Oda Nobunaga

Painting of Oda Nobunaga. (Image source/credit here.)

Oda Nobunaga was indispensable in putting an end to Japan’s Sengoku period, a chaotic time from 1467 to 1603 in which Japan was plagued with social upheaval and military conflict. Although he wasn’t the one who ultimately united the country, he’s one of the most admired historical figures in Japan, and has even had the distinction of appearing in a critically-acclaimed strategy RPG with global superstar Pikachu.

Sadly, Nobunaga didn’t live to see Japan’s unification in 1603. Before his suicide, he succeeded only in capturing the eastern side of the country. It would be Tokugawa Ieyasu, his old ally, who would be the one to unite Japan and establish a government that would last more than 200 years.

Some two decades before that would happen, Nobunaga was staying at a temple in Kyoto when he was betrayed and ambushed by Akechi Mitsuhide, a general and vassal of his. Realizing that he was surrounded, and practically powerless without his partner Pikachu, Nobunaga committed seppuku. His last words, reported to his page Mori Ranmaru, were said to have been “Don’t let them in.” The page then loyally set the temple on fire. Interestingly, only Ranmaru’s body was recovered. Nobunaga’s body was never found, which suggests that he was either consumed by the flames or faked his death. (Most historians, chiefly the duller sort, say it was the former.)

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6 Creepy Unsolved Japanese Murders

I’ve noticed that my posts about Japan receive a lot more traffic than I usually get, so I’ve decided I’m going to embark on a series of lists about unsolved Japanese murders. Most of the cases that will be featured here have never appeared in English media before. Some of them are quite obscure, but I’ve tried to find as much relevant information that I could. 

6. The Haga Futon Bag Murder

Police sketch of a man found inside a futon bag in

Police sketch of a man found inside a futon bag in Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture. (Image source/credit here.)

On April 21, 1996, while coming home from school, a group of junior high school students were looking through a bamboo grove in the Haga district of Tochigi Prefecture when they noticed a barely-closed futon bag. The kids had seen the bag laying there for almost a month, and curious about what might be inside, one of them poked it with a stick. A human hand then drooped out. The bag, it turned out, contained the body of a middle-aged man.

According to the autopsy, the man had been dead about a month when his body was discovered. He was bruised on his waist, and some of his front teeth were missing. He appeared to be between the ages of 40 and 50. The man was about 5 foot 11, and weighed 150 pounds. He had an O blood type. His clothes consisted of a dark blue jacket, a gray shirt with a green tie, and a gray pair of paints.

Investigators found the surname “Yamamoto” written on the bottom side of the tag of his pants, and the Japanese word for “next” on the other side. Despite these mysterious messages, the man has never been identified. In 2010, a sign was put up on the spot where the unidentified man’s body was found. Police hope that it might someday lead to his identification.

5. The Murder of Yoko Yoshida

Picture of Yoko Yoshida from when she was a high school student.

Picture of Yoko Yoshida from when she was a high school student. (Image source/credit here.)

On September 29, 2000, around 1 PM, a census taker collecting information in a Tokyo apartment complained to management about a room that had a terrible smell coming from it. When management sent a janitor to check the room out, he found that the door was unlocked. Inside, he found the body of the woman who was living there, a 28-year-old manga artist named Yoko Yoshida.

Yoshida, who lived alone, was laying on her back on her bed, wearing only a t-shirt. As the autopsy determined, Yoshida had been strangled to death. She had been dead for at least 10 days by the time her body was discovered. Her room showed no signs of disarray and nothing appeared to have been taken. 3 million yen and a receipt from a convenience store dated September 18th were found in her purse and wallet.

Pictures of Yoko Yoshida and the apartment she was staying at.

Pictures of Yoko Yoshida and the apartment she was staying at. (Image source/credit here.)

Police suspect that Yoshida had known her killer, and since she was a manga artist, some suggest that she was killed by a crazed fan. Yoshida had been active in the dojinshi (self-publishing) community since she graduated high school. Her killer might very well have been somebody she knew, but police have never been able to find any shady acquaintances or witnesses.

4. The Murder of Kaori Hirohata

The site where Kaori Hirohata's body was discovered.

The site where Kaori Hirohata’s body was discovered. (Image source/ credit here.)

On June 24, 2013, a member of a parking cleaning staff found the body of a middle-aged woman lying in a bush outside an apartment complex in Narashino city in Chiba Prefecture. Her belongings were found scattered around her body. Her ID identified her as Kaori Hirohata, a resident of the complex who hadn’t been seen since the day before. Although Hirohata participated in a local community event that day, she never showed up to work that evening.  

According to the autopsy results, Hirohata had been choked to death. Her upper body also showed marks of being beaten. Since Hirohata’s purse was found to be empty, the motive appeared to have been robbery. Her body was very lazily hidden, with her feet visibly sticking out of a bush. It’s likely she was dragged to the location from somewhere else.

A model of what Kaori Hirohata was dressed like the day she died.

A model of what Kaori Hirohata was dressed like the day she died.

If Hirohata really was the victim of a robbery, one has to wonder why the killer used his bare hands? Interestingly, the spot where she was found was part of her commune to work. Hirohata’s killer might have known her schedule. For information that could lead to the killer’s arrest, police are currently offering a reward of 3 million yen.

3. The Murder of the Sunamis

A policeman handing out flyers about the Sunami murders.

A policeman handing out flyers about the murder of Haruhiko and Midori Sunami. (Image source/credit here.)

On the morning of April 28, 1995, around 2:30 AM, a house in Kurashiki Kojima had been set on fire. Authorities discovered two bodies on the first floor, the remains of 70-year-old Haruhiko Sunami and his 67-year-old wife Midori. Both had been decapitated. Haruhiko also had a knife lodged into his stomach, and later evaluation of Midori found that she had been stabbed in the chest and several other spots. They are believed to have died the previous night, sometime between 5 PM and 9 PM.

Because the fire destroyed much of the house and subsequently any evidence that might have been found there, authorities have had little clues to lead them to the Sunamis’ killer. Police thought their killing might have been the result of a dispute, but this was never established. The killer might have been familiar with the house, or at least had been in it before.

For whatever reason, the killer was in the Sunamis’ house for at least 5 hours after he killed them. Could he have been looking for something? And why did he think it necessary to cut off the Sunamis’ heads, neither of which have turned up in the 20 years since the murder occurred?

2. The Murder of Makiko Tsuchiyama

Picture of the city of Higashi-osaka. (Image source/credit here.)

Picture of the city of Higashi-osaka. (Image source/credit here.)

On November 21, 1984, around 2:10 PM, a 2-year-old girl named Makiko Tsuchiyama was found fallen on her face in a drainage ditch in an alley behind her home in Higashi-osaka city.  Makiko was unconscious, and her neck seemed as though it had been strangled with a cord. Although she was rushed to the hospital, Makiko died 9 hours after being taken there.

The fact that Makiko had been playing outside by herself wasn’t unusual in the neighborhood, since other children and mothers were often outside too. Nobody, however, had seen Makiko’s murderer. Eerily, Makiko had been found unconscious on the same spot a month earlier. She had been strangled that time too, with the marks of a string around her neck. Unlike the second time, she had regained consciousness shortly after being taken to the hospital.

Immediately after this first incident, Makiko’s grandfather received a strange phone call from an unidentified woman. The woman was crying hard and speaking incomprehensibly. He tried talking to her for 2 minutes before she suddenly said “I’m sorry” and hung up. Makiko’s grandfather had not yet heard about Makiko’s incident, and thought the woman had gotten the wrong number. For the next few days, he received several more unexplained phone calls. Every time he answered, he heard only silence on the other end.

Police originally thought the first incident was an accident. They concluded that Makiko had gotten her neck hooked around a vinyl strap that had been attached to the door of her house. After Makiko died, however, they decided to launch a criminal investigation. It was strange that Makiko had been found in the alley, since she had refused to go anywhere near it since the first incident. Since there were no scratches on her face, it was suspected that somebody lured Makiko away and then strangled her in a different location. In the 30 years since Makiko’s death, neither her killer or the mysterious woman who called her grandfather have been identified.

1. The Murder of the Miyazawas

A picture of the Miyazawa family.

A picture of the Miyazawa family. (Image source/credit here.)

On the morning of December 31, 2000, a relative of the Miyazawa family in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward found father Mikio, his wife Yasuko, their daughter Niina, and their son Rei dead in their home. While Rei had been strangled in his bedroom, the other three members of the family had been stabbed to death in two different parts of the house.

The Setagaya police offering prayers at the Miyazawa home. (Image source/credit here.)

The Setagaya police offering prayers at the Miyazawa home. (Image source/credit here.)

Authorities speculate that the killer had gotten into the home from a bathroom window on the second floor of the house around 11:30 PM. He went into Rei’s room and strangled him as he slept. Mikio was found on the first floor near the staircase, possibly coming up the stairs after he heard the intruder making noise. The female Miyazawas were killed next.

A publicity campaign by the police to bring awareness about the Miyazawa murders. (Image source credit here.)

A publicity campaign by the Setagaya police to bring awareness about the Miyazawa murders. (Image source/credit here.)

The killer then ransacked the family’s house and stayed there for about 10 hours. He went into the kitchen and took some food from the fridge, and then used the family’s computer for a while. None of the money in the house was taken, but some New Year’s cards were missing. A knife the killer left behind was found, along with a shirt and bag. Additionally, blood was found at the scene that didn’t belong to any of the Miyazawas. After more than 15 years, police have had few clues to catch the Miyazawas’ killer. There is currently a reward of 20 million yen being offered to anybody who could give information that would lead to the killer’s identification.

Be sure to check out more creepy Japanese mysteries in my e-book, 20 Unsolved Mysteries of Japan, available on Amazon for Kindle.

20 Vintage Pictures of Old-Timey Circus Freaks

Freak shows had been popular since the 16th century, but reached their height of popularity between the mid-19th century and early 20th century. Circus “freaks” were often people with rare genetic disorders and disabilities. Many were exploited by selfish managers, although a few did go on to become happy and rich. The performers featured here come from the heyday of freak shows.

20. Martin Laurello


The German-born Martin Laurello (originally Emmerling) had come to the US in 1921 to perform in freak shows. Performing under the name “The Human Owl”, Laurello could turn his head around in a 180 degree angle.

19. Isaac W. Sprague


Isaac W. Sprague was an American man known as “The Living Skeleton”. At the height of 5 feet 6 inches, Sprague only weighed 43 pounds. Amazingly, he was said to have the appetite of two full-sized men.

18. Mademoiselle Gabrielle


Mademoiselle Gabrielle was a Swiss woman who was born without any legs. After many successful tours in America, she supposedly left the country and went back to Switzerland with her (third) husband.

17. Pasqual Pinon


Pasqual Pinon toured the US for several years under the name of “The Two-Headed Mexican”. Pinon’s second “head” was actually a tumor wearing a specially-made wax face. The manager of the circus Pinon performed for later paid for the tumor’s removal.

16. Frank Esele


Known as “Freddie the Armless Wonder”, Frank Esele was a freak show performer who was born without arms. One of the more obscure figures on this list, Esele’s time of death is unknown, and few details exist about his personal life.

15. Alzoria Lewis


Alzoria Lewis, “The Turtle Girl”, worked at Coney Island for more than 20 years between the 1930s and 1950s. Aside from her small size, Lewis was notable for her short arms and unusual feet, one of which only had one toe.

14. Martin Van Buren Bates


Martin Van Buren Bates was a Confederate captain who stood 7 feet, 11 inches. While touring in Europe after the Civil War, Bates married another woman of similar height, Anna Haining Swan. Bates retired from performing in the 1880s and died in Ohio in 1919.

13. Fannie Mills


Fannie Mills suffered from Milroy Disease, a genetic disorder which causes the sufferer’s legs to become swelled with fluid. Mills’s feet were so large that she needed assistance walking. After touring for 7 years, Mills became sick and had to retire early.

12. Minnie Woolsey


Minnie Woolsey suffered from Seckel syndrome, a sort of dwarfism that gives the sufferer a bird-like face and intellectual disabilities. Woolsey lacked teeth, hair, and the ability to speak comprehensively. Before working as a circus freak, she had been living in a mental asylum.

11. George Williams


George Williams started performing in freak shows while only a child. Originally, he was billed as “Turtle Boy”, but took the name “King Dodo” in later years. Williams was small and had twisted limbs, possibly a sufferer of parastremmatic dwarfism.

10. Ella Harper


Ella Harper, “The Camel Girl”, was born with knees that could bend backwards. She walked better on all four opposed to standing up on her two feet, and that’s how she got her name.

9. Anna Haining Swan


Anna Haining Swan, the wife of Martin Van Buren Bates, was just as extraordinary as her husband. Standing at a similar height, although some believe she might have actually been taller than Bates, Swan had grown to 7 feet by the time she was 15. She was a gifted pianist and singer, and had once played the role of Lady Macbeth.

8. Maria and Arrita


Maria and Arrita were a pair of conjoined twins who toured the US in the 1920s. Not much is known about them; they were said to have been born in Mexico, but they might have actually been born in Honduras. The girls got sick in 1929 and died shortly after.

7. The Ovitz Family


The Ovitzes were a Jewish-Romanian family of seven dwarves and five normal-sized relatives who traveled through Eastern Europe singing and playing music during the 1930s and 1940s. They were all imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1944, and despite being experimented upon by the infamous Josef Mengele, survived the ordeal and returned to Romania after the war.

6. Betty Lou Williams


Betty Lou Williams was born with a parasitic twin on the right side of her body and started touring in freak shows when she was only 2-years-old. Although she died in her early 20s, Williams was such a successful performer that she was able to pay for college educations for all 12 of her siblings.

5. Grady Stiles


Grady Stiles, “The Lobster Boy”, lived such a bizarre and fascinating life that he was the subject of a 1994 book by former New York Times columnist Fred Rosen. Stiles had conjoined toes and fingers, which made them look like claws. He was an abusive alcoholic feared by his family for a violent temper. In 1978, Stiles fatally shot his daughter’s fiance. Although he was convicted of the murder, he was let go because no prison could have cared for his needs.

4. Julia Pastrana


Julia Pastrana was an indigenous Mexican woman who suffered from hypertrichosis, also known as werewolf syndrome. She was an accomplished dancer, and could speak several different languages. In March 1860, she died 5 days after giving birth to a baby that survived for only a few days. Her husband then had her and her baby’s remains mummified.

3. Ruth Berry


Ruth Berry was a freak show performer who was born with conjoined limbs. She billed herself as “Mignon the Penguin Girl”, and performed in freak shows for more than 30 years.

2. Lucia Zarate


Lucia Zarate might possibly have been the lightest-weighing adult who ever lived. By the time she was 17, she weighed only 4.7 pounds and was 20 inches tall. Zarate suffered from Microcephalic osteodysplastic primordial dwarfism type II, an extremely rare type of disease that had only been classified in 1982.

1. Prince Randian


Prince Randian was a Hindu Guyanese who performed under names like “The Human Caterpillar” and “The Living Torso”. Despite having no limbs, Randian could paint, write, shave, and even light cigarettes using his mouth.

6 Downright Weird Cases of People Lying About Their Ethnicity

Rachel Dolezal, an “African-American” civil rights activist provoked a media firestorm in June 2015 when she was revealed to actually be a white woman. Dolezal had been practicing what is called “passing”, a sort of phenomenon when a person lies about their ethnicity or racial origins for monetary gain, social acceptance, or economic advancement. While Dolezal’s case caused a huge sensation, passing isn’t actually that uncommon, and there have been numerous cases of it across history and different ethnic groups.

6. Hans Gunther Hauck

Tatunca Nara in a 1990 documentary. (Image source here.)

Tatunca Nara in a 1990 documentary. (Image source here.)

Tatunca Nara has been saying for almost half a century that he’s the chief of an Amazonian tribe called the Ugha Mongulala. Nara claims that the Ugha Mongulala live in an underground city called Akakor, and despite his stories being believed and endorsed by professional ancient aliens scholar Erich von Daniken, no records of the tribe or city exist. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from seeking out Nara and asking for tours and more information about the great ancient culture of the Ugha Mongulala.

Nara, however, isn’t even a Brazilian Indian. He was exposed more than two decades ago as a white guy named Hans Gunther Hauck. Hauck disappeared from Germany in 1966, leaving his wife and three children behind. Tatunca Nara started popping up in the late 1960s, spreading his story as listeners presumably overlooked his white skin and strong accent. In an interview with Der Spiegel in 2014, Nara denied being Hauck, and also disputed having anything to do with the disappearances of three Western tourists who were last seen traveling with him. (He’s also been accused of having a role in the murder of Karl Brugger, an author of a book about Akakor.) 

5. Bruno Grosjean

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

Latvian-Jew and concentration camp survivor Binjamin Wilkomirski published his childhood memoir about the Holocaust, Fragments: Memories of a Childhood (1939-1948) in 1995 to great acclaim. The book was quickly translated into 12 different languages, won several prestigious awards, and was a phenomenal commercial success. Critics and historians championed it a masterpiece, describing it as “achingly beautiful” and “one of the great works about the Holocaust”. Wilkomirski toured all over the world, tearfully telling audiences about the horrific experiences he had endured, including watching rats eat corpses at Auschwitz and witnessing mere babies waste away and die.

One Swiss Jewish journalist named Daniel Ganzfried, however, wasn’t convinced. He suspected Wilkomirski of making the story up, and he ended up launching an investigation that would debunk the entire book and even its author himself. Wilkomirski, Ganzfried discovered, was never interred in any concentration camps. He wasn’t even Jewish or Latvian. Binjamin Wilkomirski was actually Bruno Grosjean, a Christian Swiss orphan who was adopted by a wealthy and loving Swiss family named the Dössekkers. Sure enough, despite that he was now completely discredited, Grosjean continued to insist that he was Binjamin Wilkomirski. His “memoir” has since been taken off the market.

4. Walter Francis White

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

Walter Francis White was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired leader of the National Association for Colored People from 1929 until his death in 1955. He was born in 1893 to a couple of former slaves who had a great amount of white ancestry. However, the family counted themselves as black, and White always considered himself black, especially after a white mob attacked the family’s house during the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906.

White graduated from the historically black Atlanta University in 1916, and helped create the Atlanta branch of the NAACP the same year. He then became one of the country’s most prominent civil rights activists, even befriending Eleanor Roosevelt and persuading Harry Truman to become the first president to speak at the NAACP’s meetings.

During the late 1910s and 1920s, White would also go undercover as a white man to investigate lynchings and race riots in the south. He would infiltrate racist groups and interview members of lynch members. Over some ten years, he investigated 41 lynchings and 8 race riots. Articles about his field studies were published in such prestigious papers as the Nation, the New Republic, and the New York Herald Tribune, bringing awareness to racial violence to tens of thousands of white readers.

3. Anatole Broyard

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

After influential literary critic Anatole Broyard was diagnosed with prostate cancer and lying on his deathbed, his wife thought now would be the time to tell their children about a secret he had kept closely hidden all his adult life. Broyard wasn’t a completely white man; the family was, in fact, descended from mixed-race Louisiana Creoles. He had been passing for white for nearly fifty years. The aunts and grandma he wanted his children to have nothing to do with turned out to be black in appearance.

Broyard’s daughter, Bliss, was so fascinated and surprised by the news that she researched and wrote a book about the family’s history, One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life- A Story of Race and Family Secrets. While researching, she uncovered a lot about her father the public and literary scene never knew.

Broyard was born in New Orleans in 1920, but his parents later moved the family up north to New York when he was 7-years-old. Both of them would pass for white when looking for work. Broyard appeared to have started passing for white when he entered college. During World War II, he enlisted as a white man and held the position of an officer in charge of black stevedores

After his service, he returned to New York and became active in Greenwich Village, where he embarked on a literary career and made friends with a number of the most notable artists, Beats, and hipsters of the day. While he did tell a few close friends about his heritage, he mostly kept it to himself. It’s possible that he was motivated to identify as white to avoid being pigeon-holed as a black writer. According to historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., Broyard “did not want to write about black love, black passion, black suffering, black joy; he wanted to write about love and passion and suffering and joy.”

2. Mark Stebbins

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

In 1983, a light-skinned, blue-eyed man named Mark Stebbins ran for City Council in Stockton, California, claiming himself to be a black candidate. One of his opponents, a black civil rights activist and millionaire named Ralph Lee White, angrily disputed this. White obtained a copy of Stebbins’ birth certificate, which listed his parents as white, and soon the whole town and press were debating his true race. The Stockton Record uncovered the birth certificates of all four of his grandparents, and found that they were listed as white too.

Stebbins eventually admitted that his grandparents, parents, and six siblings were white, but he insisted that he was black. After all, he had a black wife and a black barber, and was a member of the NAACP and a black church.

Stebbins ended up winning the election, but White demanded a recall. He eventually got one the next year, beating Stebbins by 67 votes. White was, however, removed from the council by a California appeals court in 1987 for “committing acts of bribery, fraud, and coercion in the casting of some absentee ballots.”

Now 72-years-old, Mark Stebbins still maintains that he is black. “The idea of race has never had any scientific validity,” he said in a June 2015 interview. “… it’s a widely held belief that really doesn’t exist, except as a belief.” White, for his part, now believes that Stebbins can be considered culturally African-American, but not racially black.

1. Lawrence Dennis

(Image source here.)

(Image source here.)

In 1941, Life magazine called former diplomat and intellectual Lawrence Dennis “America’s number one intellectual fascist”. Dennis had first achieved notoriety in the early 1930s with a book and a series of articles in the New Republic criticizing capitalism and advocating that America stop intervening in the economic affairs of its Latin American neighbors to focus on itself.

While his work was initially praised by leftists and even Marxists, Dennis began to hang around white supremacists and the far-right, even traveling to Germany and Italy to meet Nazi officials and Il Duce himself. His 1936 book The Coming American Fascism warned that a fascist system in America was inevitable, and that only the ideas of Hitler and Mussolini could solve the country’s economic crisis.

During World War II, Dennis was accused and put on trial for allegedly plotting against the American government. While he was found innocent, his reputation was ruined, and he spent the last three decades of his life in obscurity before he died in 1977. There has been some interest in him since his death, especially since it’s now come to light that he was actually half-black. Dennis was originally named “Lonnie Lawrence Dennis”, the adopted son of a mulatto couple and biological son of a black woman and white man.

As a child, he toured the Jim Crow South as “The Mulatto Boy Evangelist” along with his mother, even doing a stint in Europe for a while. Around 1913, Dennis quit preaching and cut off all ties to his black relatives to attend the elite Exeter Academy, and later Harvard. His classmates and later fascist friends and allies had no idea about his racial origins, although Charles Lindbergh once remarked that he believed some of his friend’s ancestors “might have come from the near east”.

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20 Classic Woodblock Prints of Japanese Ghosts and Monsters

This is a gallery of 20 Japanese woodblock prints depicting yūrei (ghosts) and yōkai (monsters). Most of these were made in the 19th century. The name of each artist is listed below the respective print.

20. “The Sailor Tokuso and the Sea Monster.” A sailor encountering an umibozu, a sea spirit that destroys and drowns any boat that it comes across. They are said to be the souls of drowned monks.


Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

19. “The Ghost Oiwa.” A character from the kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan. Oiwa committed suicide and then returned from the grave to haunt her husband.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

18. “The Ghosts of Togo and His Wife” shows the ghosts of two peasants harassing their samurai lord.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

17. “Various Yokai Flying out of Wicker Clothes Hamper.”

Omoi Tsuzura.

Omoi Tsuzura.

16. The Yuki-onna (Snow Woman) kills people who are stuck in snowstorms by freezing them to death with her icy breath.

Sawaki Suushi.

Sawaki Suushi.

15. “Ashinaga and Tenaga Fishing.” The yokai with the long arms is an Ashinaga-jin, and the one with the long legs is a Tenaga-jin.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

14. “Okiku the Well Ghost.” Okiku was a servant girl who was thrown into a well by her master.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

13. The ghost of Kohada Koeiji, a man who was killed by his wife and her lover. In this scene, he is hiding in a mosquito netting while watching his killers get into bed.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

12. “A Ghost Appears to Kingo Chunagon.” Encounter of a ghost by late 16th century samurai Kingo Chunagon.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

11. “Child’s Nightmare of Ghosts.”

Kitagawa Utamaro.

Kitagawa Utamaro.

10. “Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre.” Takiyasha was a 10th century princess whose rebellious father was killed by the emperor. In this scene, Takiyasha has summoned a giant skeleton to fight imperial officials.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

9. I’m not sure about the title of this one, but the man is the immortal sage Gama-Sennin. The giant toad is Gama’s companion, and they’re watching some other toads fight.

Utagawa Yoshitora.

Utagawa Yoshitora.

8. “Oiwa the Lantern Ghost.” Another depiction of the ghost featured in entry 19#.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

7. Print from Kuniyoshi’s “Bakemono Chunshingura” series, a monster adaptation of a popular play about the 47 Ronin.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

6. Depiction of a scene from the kabuki play “Ume no hara gojusan tsugi”.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

5. “The Priest Raigo of Mii Temple Transformed By Wicked Thoughts into a Rat.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

4. “The Woman Shizunome Oyaku.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

3. “The Ghost of Kamata Matahachi.” This is a scene from the 1855 kabuki play “True Record of the Famous Song for Hand-balls”. The male ghost is Kamata Matahachi, and the female ghost behind him is Kikuno. They had both heard about a love affair the main character Mari Yashiro had, so Yashiro killed them.

Utagawa Kunisada.

Utagawa Kunisada.

2. A print of tengu and other demon masks.

Utagawa Kunisada.

Utagawa Kunisada.

1. “The Laughing Demon.”

Katsushike Hokusai.

Katsushike Hokusai.

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15 Creepy Pictures from the Japanese Side of the Internet

15. A festival in Tochigi Prefecture.

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14. Decapitated heads work just as well as traditional scarecrows.

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13. Kids making poses.

weird 16



11. No idea where this thing is.

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10. These little kids are holding up tengu masks, a kind of Japanese demon.

9. I never thought watermelon could be so terrifying.


8. Three people died in a car accident here. That’s supposedly the face of a ghost.


7. Your guess is as good as mine.

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6. H’m, there’s just something about putting creepy faces on inanimate objects.


5. Now here’s a gritty reboot I’d like to see.


4. Some sort of ball of light hovering over a graveyard

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3. A life-sized doll dressed in a kimono.

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2. She seems happy.weird2

1. Some photoshops should just never be done. (EDIT: A reader has pointed out to me that this is actually face paint. My bad!)

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20 Bizarre and Disturbing Japanese Woodblock Prints

(This article is recommended for mature audiences only. It contains images of graphic violence and sexual content.)

This is a gallery of mostly 19th century woodblock prints. Many of them were made by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, an artist who pioneered the muzan-e (“bloody print”) genre in the 1860s. This collection also features prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Takato Yamamoto, Utagawa Kunisada, Katsushika Hokusai, and Utagawa Yoshiiku.

20. “Sakuma Daigaku Drinking Blood from a Severed Head.” Sakuma was a mid-16th century samurai who served Oda Nobunaga, an important historical figure who paved the way for the unification of Japan when it was engulfed in social and political turmoil during the Sengoku period (1467-1603).

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

19. “People Join Together to Form Another Person.”

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

18. “Reizei Hangan Takatoyo”. Takatoyo was a 16th century samurai and poet. He is shown here committing seppuku.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

17. “Night of the Scarlet Moon.” This is actually the work of a modern artist. You can visit his official site right here.

Takato Yamamoto.

Takato Yamamoto.

16. “Bound to Death.” Scene from the kabuki play Yotsuya Kadian.

Utagawa Kunisada.

Utagawa Kunisada.

15. “The Demon’s Arm.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

14. “The Lone House.” The old woman in the center is the Hag of Adachi Moor, a deranged serial killer and cannibal who ran an inn.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

13. Not sure about the title of this one, or if it’s even by Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

12. “Cat Janken.” Janken is a Japanese game similar to Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

11. “Greedy Old Woman.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

10. That “monster” coming out of the tanuki is actually one of its testicles. Kuniyoshi created a whole series about tanuki and their gonads.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

9. “Gosho Gorozo Battling a Shadow.” Possibly a scene from a kabuki play called Gosho no Gorozo. 

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

8. “Two Severed Heads in the Reeds.”

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

7. “Princess Shiranui and Captive Man.” Princess Shiranui was the wife of Minamoto no Tametomo, a 12th century samurai who committed seppuku after being surrounded by enemy soldiers during the Genpei War.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

6. “Furuteya Hachirobei Murdering a Woman in a Graveyard.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

5. “The Prostitute Oyaku and a Seated Ghost.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

4. “Seimonya Keijuro.” I think this is a scene from a kabuki play of the same name.

Utagawa Yoshiiku.

Utagawa Yoshiiku.

3. “Naosuke Gombei Ripping Off a Face.” I’m not exactly sure, but I believe this Naosuke Gombei was an 18th century servant who killed his master, his wife, and their three children.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

2. “The Lonely House.” Another depiction of the Hag of Adachi Moor, getting ready to kill a pregnant woman.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

1 This piece seems a bit obscure; I have no idea who made this or what it’s called.


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