My Grandmother’s Aunt

Informant: The subject in question is a 20 year old girl studying screenwriting at USC. She hails from Phoenix, Arizona, while most of her extended family comes from Western Kansas.

So I’m not really sure on the details of this one, another one my dad told me. A family story. And it centers around my grandmother’s aunt. She was in this abusive relationship with this guy who wasn’t a very nice guy. Which, abusive relationship, is kind of implied. And he would beat her and my family would ask what was wrong and she’d say nothing. And the violence would escalate and my family was worried and my family was worried that he was going crazy. And a few days pass and they go to her house. And she’s been killed. And he’s been killed too, in an apparent murder suicide. He shot her with a shotgun and then he shot himself in the face with a shotgun. So they had trouble identifying the body. And this was a long time ago, before forensics stuff, so they had a really hard time identifying the body but who else could it be? So several years later, my grandmother’s other aunt, the woman’s sister, is in another town in western Kansas. And she thinks she sees the husband. And she immediately hides and follows him with her eyes as he crosses the street. And to this day, no one knows if she actually saw him. ‘Cause she swears that she did but they never saw him again. It was an odd situation to begin with. And you never know for sure.
Who’d you hear it from?
My dad.
Why does it stick to you?
It feels like a real life murder mystery about people that I’m related to. Like it feels personal, but it also feels like it could be a really great story.

Analysis: Like the preceding entry, this story resembles an urban legend about a murder mystery or ghost story, but it’s status as a family story and memorate gives it a sense of closeness and reality that amplifies its unsettling nature. The near-fantastical nature of the murderer’s possible return is grounded in the very tragic reality that is domestic abuse, taking a rational fear and amplifying it, much in the same way that a horror film would.

A particular focus must be paid to the structure of this and many other urban legends. In terms of both language and character, the stories are never particularly detailed. They are delivered in primarily conversational diction and characters are rarely developed if even named. However, structurally, they follow a very well-established narrative pattern. An ordinary scenario is presented. A darker or more mysterious element is introduced and slowly amplified. And at the story’s end, an added twist either changes the direction of what is being told or changes the audience’s perspective of what has already been stated. The moment of shock generated by these twist endings gives these urban legends their impact and their long-lasting appeal.