USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘murderer’

The Window

I just remember the window… and you know scared me the most was my grandmother… and she would yell at my mom, “He can get in that window!” and I just remember that window. “He’s little and he’s skinny and he can get in that window Becky, and the doggy door!” She would get on my mom, Grandma Muffin. “He could get through the doggy door Becky, you need to close that every night!” So it was hearing my grandmother say it. My parents were careful not to say it.Victor’s mom was super paranoid, she could not be alone in the house. Well and I remember Victor came to the house because you guys were dating at the time and he put like a lock on the window and I was like “Oh man this is serious, like he’s putting a lock on our window.” Yeah it was scary because he kinda went like to different locations and he would sneak into people’s houses and murder them umm… and they didn’t know I mean it took a while to catch him.

This particular piece of folklore was quite frightening because it referred to a murderer based in my hometown of Los Angeles. My informant discussed the importance of windows:closing them at night, installing locks, or placing bars on them. In her neighborhood where she grew up in Pico Rivera, California, the murderer Richard Ramirez, notoriously nicknamed “The Night Stalker,” would sneak into people’s houses then kidnap and murder them in the 1980’s. She told me while discussing murder stories and urban legends from her city. My informant actually lived through this and recalls the significance that windows had in her neighborhood as a source of protection.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Stump Murderer

Folklore Piece

“So this is just an old ghost story from camp, in northern Wisconsin. But this guy who was an old janitor at the camp went out to the woods to start chopping trees to make room for this new court they wanted to build. So he started chopping down trees with an axe and he cut off his leg. So he only had one leg after that, and um, so he uh, filled that with a stump that he had found and used that as his leg. This scared the campers so much that the camp fired him and sent him away. But what ended up happening that next summer, a boy was taking a shower on his own at the shower house at night. And then he would hear footsteps and a log kind of dragging. The story is that each year he comes back once and takes one kid and buries them in the back.”


“Yeah I like the story, It’s pretty morbid actually. I mean, like, here we have these pretty young campers, talking about someone chopping his leg off and stealing children, and yet, like, it’s totally OK, because it’s summer camp. How crazy is that, when you think about it, really? Like, ok, if I went up to some kid at a school, and I told the same story about a janitor working in the woodshop, like, I’d probably be arrested! It’s just funny to me. But, uh, yeah, I love telling this story”


“We’d usually do the whole campfire thing. You know, uh like we would get all the campers around at night and go around telling stories. We would tell this story one of, like, the first nights. It’s actually a pretty clever way to get them to, like, stick together”


Analysis: Upon first listen, I didn’t think much of this story. It seemed like a hodgepodge of a number of different classic folk-tales: the peg-legged pirate, the axe murderer, the former camper turned raging homicidal maniac, etc. However, I think there is something deeper to be found here. At the centerpiece of the story is this rivalry between the janitor and the camp. The camp’s work is what made him lose his leg, and yet the camp are the ones who banished him. Then, when he comes back, he takes retribution upon the camp in the form of taking kids that are alone. This serves two functions. First, it teaches the kids to respect the camp and its dangers, but more importantly, and implicitly, to never wander off alone. The informant mentioned later, once I prompted him with this question, that it is why they tell this story, for fun but also so that they don’t go wandering out at night alone.

As someone who did not grow up going to sleepaway camp, it was also intriguing to me that these nights of sharing scary stories around a campfire during summer camp actually happen. It sounds like a modern ritual to me if I’d ever heard one. The ambiance of the night time, the fire, and the stillness of the forest all provide the perfectly eerie ambiance for a scary ghost story, and now because of its association, one cannot come without the other.