THE CLOWN SIGHTINGS OF 2016
Posted September 30, 2016on:
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[I’m currently updating this one in real time, so bear with me if it can seem a bit scrappy. I shall tidy it up better when this hysteria dies down, hopefully once Halloween is over!].
I think it’s fair to say that 2016 has produced more than its share of craziness and oddities, and it would be impossible to pull out any one particular thing to sum up just how bizarre this year has been at times. The Clown Sightings of the United States, and now Britain as well, must be somewhere on the list though.
IT ALL BEGAN IN AMERICA
During the months of August and September reports were coming out of the United States of sinister clowns seen lurking by roadsides, clowns appearing in vans, clowns yelling at children in school playgrounds, and clowns attempting to lure children into the woods. Clowns were either appearing alone, or roaming in packs. Schools went into lockdown, and police warned that anyone appearing in clown costume in the street would be immediately arrested. Newspaper headlines entitled it “Clownpocalypse”. Police warned the public not to form vigilante mobs and go hunting the clowns down, maps appeared Online showing where the clowns had been sighted, Stephen King said it was all terrifying … and poor old professional clowns bemoaned the tarnishing their job was getting, and the possible knock-on effect on business.
It all began on 29 August, when residents of Greenville, South Carolina, were spooked by tales of a sinister clown appearing, loitering in a menacing fashion, by roadsides, simply staring at people, but also unsettling rumours that he had been offering children money or sweets to follow him into the woods. One woman said she had seen a clown hanging around outside a laundromat. She told police he had stared at her, but didn’t speak or make any attempt to follow her. For a while it became known as the Greenville Clown Sightings. Naturally some wondered if it was a promo event for a film, or an Internet game, like a flash mob event. I even saw someone speculating that it may have been a Derren Brown stunt!
But then things began to get out of control. Residents of an apartment block received a letter from property management asking them to abide by a 10 PM curfew, and to not let children walk out alone at night. In Winson-Salem, North Carolina, on 4 September, children told of a man dressed as a clown who had tried to lure them into woods. An adult told the police they had heard the person, but hadn’t seen him.
The clown sightings took on a momentum all of their own, and spread like a contagious disease across several more counties. Soon the states of Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania all reported clown sightings of their own. To me, it all began to look like mass hysteria, a bit like the Monkey Man Scare in India a few years ago. In that case one resident said that the legend took hold because no one wanted to be the only person in their street who hadn’t seen it, and certainly the Clown Sightings had that feel to it. Police were soon able to confirm that some of the sightings had been outright fabrications. Someone reported seeing a bunch of clowns standing next to a white van, which seemed to have run out of gas. Police searching the van though found no evidence at all of clown paraphernalia.
On 12 September police investigated after receiving threats on Facebook that violent clowns would be targeting three schools in Lagrange, Troup County, Georgia. They would be driving a white van, the clowns helpfully posted. The cops received numerous calls concerning sightings of the clowns around the City, but no one was found. Three days later police responded to worrying threats made on a Facebook page from someone calling themselves Flomo Klown or Shoota Cllown, concerning Flomoton High School. The school was put under lockdown as a safety measure. A 22-year-old woman, Makayla Smith, was subsequently arrested for making a terrorist threat. Smith had posted pictures of herself on Facebook wearing a female clown’s costume, with the words “HI DO YOU LIKE CLOWNS?” written in fake blood on the front.
And still the clown sightings continued to spread. Florida – a state well-known for its crazy news stories – was soon to get in on the act. A Facebook video went viral after someone posted footage of a clown standing by a dirt road. The clown begins to move towards the car in a menacing fashion, and someone in the vehicle utters the immortal words “let’s get the hell out of …” A resident of Palm Bay told Florida Today that she had seen two clowns standing staring at her, whilst she was out walking her dog. She returned home as quickly as she could.
An 11-year-old girl was arrested on 21 September for taking a knife to school in Georgia. She said she had armed herself because she had been spooked by tales of clowns jumping out of the woods and attacking people. In Vermont a 15-year-old was arrested for wearing a clown mask and banging on classroom windows. Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, a 55-year-old man was arrested for wearing a clown mask and boxing gloves, and shadow-boxing outside the windows of Floyd Light Middle School.
On 24 September a man was arrested in Middlesboro, Kentucky, after he was found crouching in woods near an apartment block, wearing a clown mask and costume. Jonathan Martin, aged 20, was charged with disorderly conduct, and wearing a mask in a public place.
Towards the end of September the clown mania seems to be showing no signs of abating. York College, Pennsylvania, issued a security alert, after several clown sightings were reported near the campus. In Phillipsburg, PA, residents claimed they were under siege by clowns. In only two days it was reported that (1) three clowns had come out of the woods and chased a child, (2) a man dressed as a clown sighted walking down a main road, (3) a clown armed with a toy sword chased a child, (3) a truck sighted with clowns hanging out of the windows, and (4) children reported seeing clowns hanging round a nearby school. Police were unable to locate any of the aforementioned clowns.
On 27 September, a woman in Lancaster, Ohio, called police at 2 AM to say she had seen a clown holding a large kitchen knife. The cops talked to other witnesses at the scene, who said they had seen two clowns, one dressed in a gold costume, carrying a balloon, and the other dressed all in black. The following day police in Fort Collins, Colorado, investigated after someone, using a clown profile pic, posted a threatening message directed at Poudre High School on Facebook. The page has since been deleted.
Schools in New Haven, Connecticut began investigations on 3 October after threatening messages began appearing on social-media. The account displayed photographs and the words “wait and see” and “watch out”.
The subject of the Killer Clowns was even said to have been raised at a White House briefing session.
It would be very easy to dismiss the clown sightings as a bit of hysterical nonsense or pre-Halloween “fun” (whatever happened to apple-bobbing?) that has got woefully out of hand, but there has been a very dark side to all this, including a fatality. A 16-year-old boy was stabbed to death in Pennsylvania after a confrontation with someone in a clown mask. It is a very real fear that there could be others. Plus there is no denying that many people are genuinely scared by all this, and not just ones who suffer from coulrophobia (a fear of clowns). Tales of strange people trying to lure children away are not something to be dismissed lightly, and if someone is doing this as a prank, then it is downright irresponsible and sick – and I mean “sick” in the standard sense of the word, not modern slang.
On 18 October the Independent reported a disturbing story of a woman being dragged out of her minivan in Pryor, Oklahoma, and assaulted by two men dressed as clowns. They burned her with a lit cigarette, and wrote “clown posse” on her face.
This whole thing is still very much ongoing as I write this. I can only hope it all fizzles out eventually before anyone else gets hurt. I read a piece by an American political blogger recently who said, for him, the whole clown sightings mania summed up how he felt about America at this stage in its history, of it being led into the dark woods … by a big clown with red hair.
UPDATE: early October 2016 – THE CLOWN SIGHTINGS SPREAD TO THE UK
It was reported in various parts of the British media that the Clown Sightings have spread to Britain. Metro reported that two schoolgirls had been approached in Clacton, Essex, by two clowns in a black van. They asked if the girls wanted to go to a birthday party. There was no attempt to abduct the girls.
Police arrested a 13-year-old boy in Newcastle, after it was reported that a clown had been scaring pedestrians. He was found carrying a knife. A number of random clown sightings have also been reported from Glasgow to Hampshire.
On 6 October BBC News website reported that the clown sightings have also spread to Canada. Folklorist Benjamin Radford was interviewed as part of the article. He divided the clown sightings into two categories, the Stalker Clowns and the Phantom Clowns. The Stalker Clowns are real sightings of people in clown costume. He said they were doing this as “a combination of prank and performance art”. The other type, Phantom Clowns, he dismissed as an Urban Myth, they are either hoaxes, or “schoolyard rumour” (I’m reminded of the Gorbals Vampire Case from the 1950s). He thinks the Clown Sightings may be a symbol of the stress of the times we currently live in, which is quite likely. Radford predicted that the craze may peter out around Halloween.
By the 10 October the clown sightings have been spreading like a rash all over Britain. Originally I intended this piece to be just about the clown sightings of America, but it’s now becoming a real concern here in Blighty now as well. Metro published a map showing that clown sightings have been reported now in Dundee, Newcastle (said to be, at time of writing, to be the Clown Sightings capital of the UK), Leeds, Durham, Manchester, Sheffield, Caernarfon, Liverpool, Gloucester, Bracknell (where a creepy clown was snapped staring through the window of a restaurant), London, Plymouth and Crawley. In Durham schoolchildren were said to have been followed by a clown carrying a knife. Metro reported that so far there had been no sightings in the Midlands. Unfortunately they spoke too soon. The Birmingham Mail has reported that a creepy clown had been sighted in some bushes in the suburb of Shard End late one Sunday evening. There had been similar sightings in Evesham, Droitwich and Worcester.
There have been some very eerie encounters. A student at Leeds Beckett University had the misfortune to meet one in an underpass at 4:30 in the morning, which must have been very unnerving. Not everyone is intimidated by them though. A woman in Chorley, Lancashire, told a clown in no uncertain terms to “piss off”. I hope I have her presence of mind if I encounter one.
BBC News reported that there have now been dozens of sightings across Wales. I’ve also heard of one in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, and a Twitter follower sent me a news link to a sighting in Guildford, Surrey. Even now, just doing another quick Google search, I’ve unearthed further ones from Kent, Leicestershire, Brighton, and one spotted outside a McDonald’s in Kidderminster.
UPDATE: 15 October 2016 THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY ISSUES CLOWN WARNING
Over the past few days it has all been getting out-of-hand on the clown front. There have been reports of a man being stabbed in the shoulder by a clown in Sweden, and here in Britain the children’s charity ChildLine has reported a huge spike in calls from terrified children upset by the whole craze. It is very easy to see why. On 14 October the Telegraph listed a dozen of the creepiest sightings so far, which included a woman in Walsall, in the West Midlands who said a clown had attempted to get in her car. The Evening Standard reported that a woman had been threatened by a clown brandishing a knife in the early hours of the morning, as she walked home near a hospital. Although the police subsequently scoured the area, no trace of him was found. Northumbria police published a list on Facebook of schools, colleges and hospitals which clowns had threatened to target in the run-up to Halloween, and said they would be posting extra officers in those areas.
Even the Russian Embassy in London has been getting in on the act, by publishing a warning to Russian citizens to be on their guard when visiting Britain as Killer Clowns are running amok here. I suspect the Russians are being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it’s all adding to the rather fevered atmosphere. It has got to the stage whereby a gang of doctors in a Newcastle hospital, who often entertain children there by donning red noses and calling themselves the Clown Doctors, have had to cancel an event after being sent threats by the masked saddos. And it has been put out that the McDonalds mascot, Ronald McDonald, has been urged to lie low (frankly, I’d be glad if he would lie low forever more, but that’s just my opinion). Horror film director John Carpenter has branded the Killer Clowns “idiots”. He’s right.
UPDATE: 17 October 2016 – A CLOWN WITH A MACHETE & A CLOWN ON A ROUNDABOUT
The Telegraph’s latest clown sightings round-up had a nightmarish tale of two teenage girls being chased by a machete-carrying clown in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, at 6:25 PM on Saturday 15 October. The girls ran off when the man moved towards them, saying he was going to harm them. Police – including firearms and dog units – scoured the area, including nearby woods and industrial estate, but found no trace of the miscreant. A clown carrying a hammer jumped out of some bushes, terrifying a 10-year-old boy in Plymouth, and in Workington, Cumbria, a clown carrying an axe chased an 11-year-old girl.
Police officers arrested a 19-year-old man wearing a clown mask and carrying a fake gun in Hillingdon, Middlesex, about 5 miles from Heathrow Airport, a few days earlier.
The tale of a 28-year-old man, Simon Chinnery, being attacked by knife-wielding clown with “piercing black eyes” at a cashpoint in Blackburn, Lancashire, turned out to be a hoax though when Chinnery was exposed as having made the whole thing up. He had in fact cut his hand on broken glass. Likewise, suspicions have been aired over a video which shows a clown jumping out at a disgruntled shopper, who then clouts him with a wine bottle. It’s largely felt it’s a stunt by tedious YouTube pranksters Trollstation. In an interview on Good Morning Britain Piers Morgan ripped into them for causing alarm and distress at a time of extreme terror threats, when people’s nerves are already in shreds.
Another YouTube prankster, Italian self-styled “killer clown” Marreo Moroni (who, incredibly, is 29-years-old) said he had been doing this kind of thing for 3 years, and denied it was cruel. He opined: “I think that a good jog (even if you’re running away from a clown) never killed anybody”. Um … someone with a heart condition? He did concede that the current clown craze is out of control, and may be being used by people to hide criminal behaviour.
In Anstey, Leicestershire, an idiot wearing a mask caused chaos at a traffic roundabout, at one stage chasing a small white car. An eyewitness, Melissa Hadfield, caught the strange incident on camera. She said she was coming out of a meeting when she heard shouting, and saw a man dressed as a clown jumping in front of cars. He went into a nearby pub, removing his mask, and then re-emerged, putting the mask back on. He got in his car and drove off. The video simply shows some sad character in a long wig – which obscures his face – prowling round a traffic island, making growling noises at passing cars, and attempting to chase one of them. At one stage, during a lull in traffic, he simply stands there. Clearly there isn’t much to do in Anstey. Melissa said she reported the incident to the police, who didn’t pursue it any further.
The craze has also spread to Australia, where a clown sighting was picked up on CCTV at Campbelltown Station, Sydney. Although to be honest, it just looks like a young man in a black hat to me. The Australian police though have called for an end to a “dangerous and stupid” trend which is frightening people and draining vital resources. Queensland Police Minister Bill Byrne said “I’d be frightened of anyone who jumps out with a knife or a weapon of any description”.
Meanwhile, New Line Cinema has denied that the Clown Sightings are connected to a remake of Stephen King’s It, which features an evil clown called Pennywise. One non-MSM news site claimed an insider had said the clown craze was begun by Warner Brothers as a viral marketing stunt. The aim was to make clowns appear evil, and was targeted at children as young as 5-years-old. IF this is true, then shame on them. He said they have now distanced themselves from it because it has got out of hand.
UPDATE: 20 October 2016 – AN EERIE TALE FROM WESTERN SWEDEN
Early on Saturday evening, 15 October, eight-year-old Oliver was left alone briefly in the family apartment, whilst his mother and sister popped out to get some groceries. Hearing loud banging on the front door, Oliver ran to answer it, thinking it was his mum. He was confronted instead by a tall, adult male wearing a clown suit. Oliver fled from this person in terror, and jumped off the balcony, landing 3 metres down in the communal courtyard below. Neighbours said they had seen him jump, and had seen a clown standing in the living-room window. Thankfully, Oliver only suffered sore feet from his fall. His mother called the police, and although both she and they scoured the apartment for intruders, no sign of the clown was found. Oliver told the police that he was most scared in the evenings “because that’s when the clowns come”.
UPDATE: 21 October 2016 – A CLOWN GETS BLOWN UP IN CAMBODIA
A man had reputedly been terrorising residents of Samraong in northwestern Cambodia, by dressing up as a clown and acting in an aggressive manner. The Times of Cambodia reported that male residents chased the clown into the jungle – they apparently just wanted to make him apologise for scaring people – where he stepped on a landmine … and presumably went to the great circus in the sky. He is thought to have been a 25-year-old local male, who had recently returned to Cambodia after spending some time studying in the United States.
In other clown-related news, women are to be given self-defence classes in Beverley, East Yorkshire, to protect themselves against killer clowns. The World Clown Association has reported that professional clowns are advised to take bodyguards when going to gigs at children’s parties. In Cumbria a man is dressing up as Batman in order to protect children and scare off killer clowns.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, a clown-hunting competition is planned for Halloween, when 50 clowns wearing face masks, will be released into a restricted part of the city, and competitors are to chase and catch them for a cash prize. It is – unnervingly – promised to be a “high adrenaline” evening.
UPDATE: 25/10/2016 – IT’S ALL GOING A BIT FLAT
And as we head into the final week before Halloween, it’s all going a bit “meh” on the clowns front. “Shocking” footage of a violent confrontation between a clown and a member of the public in Australia has largely been met with indifference (apart from The Sun that is), probably because most suspect it’s another tedious YouTube prank.
Meanwhile a Facebook page claiming to warn people to stay indoors on 30 October, because of a Killer Clown Purge, has been deleted.
What a time to be alive.
UPDATE: 2/11/2016 – FINAL UPDATE
Well Halloween has been and gone, and I said I’d bring this piece to a close afterwards. The much-vaunted Clown Apocalypse didn’t materialise, and I think it’s fair to say that the peak of the clown frenzy was between the beginning of September and the middle of October, in spite of certain sections of the tabloid media trying their level best to keep the “frenzy” going.
In the last few days we’ve had the story of the young man in Singapore trying to spook passers-by by dressing up as a clown and … well I expect you get the drift by now. “Stoic Singaporeans unimpressed by killer clown prankster” was one headline. The young man in question issued a public apology and has promised never to do it again. I would like to believe that was true. Here in Britain, a “killer clown” barged in on a prestigious dinner at a Cambridge college, waving a plastic machete. The MailOnline screamed that everybody reacted in “terror”, although the accompanying pictures seem to suggest more that he was greeted with bored indifference. In fact, many of the diners don’t seem to be taking any notice of him at all, as if clowns barging in waving plastic machetes was a regular occurrence (at Cambridge that may well be true!).
The impression I get is that the general public have become bored and exasperated with the whole thing in the past 10 days. When it first appeared it seemed genuinely odd, and then, for a short while, quite disturbing, but as more saddo’s trotted out with their puerile Facebook/Twitter threats and their YouTube pranks, the whole thing felt more and more like tedious student jokes which only they find funny. As Halloween limped nearer, some more weird US news sites tried to claim that A Clown Purge would take place on 30 October. If it did it didn’t generate many headlines! In Britain we had bikers making menaces of themselves with “Halloween rideouts” in Leeds and London, but seem to have been more a drag and a nuisance than anything else.
It was interesting to witness a form of mass hysteria as it happened, though not something I can honestly say was enjoyable. The clown frenzy may well reappear again at any moment, and I don’t suspect, sadly, that we’ve seen the last of the YouTube pranksters, or the social-media buffoons (one gormless self-styled Killer Clown on Twitter had “your next” in his bio, which made me want to bash him over the head with his own keyboard), and in the US presidential election may keep it going for a while, but I’m hoping that the main bubble has burst. In times to come, the Clown Sightings/Killer Clown Craze will be regarded as just yet another weirdness of that mad year 2016.