Houston is a big diverse city with a big diverse population, and that more often than not leads to a whole lot of different levels of bunk and bull that must be waded through in order to find the truth. On the other hand, some of those legends are true (Unfortunately it's usually the terrifying ones). We've got plenty of urban legends here, and today we're going to explore the ones that die hardest.
10. The Car Bump Scam About a decade ago the rumor in Houston was that a new band of thieves was using a clever ploy. They would lightly ram a car from behind, and when the drivers got out to swap insurance information the thieves would rob them at gunpoint. There's a kernel of truth to that. In 2004 three young men did go on a huge crime spree that involved robbing 16 people, mostly Hispanic maids over the course of about three hours.
Some of those robberies did involve ramming cars, in motion and stopped at lights, and then pulling a gun on the driver when they got out of the car, but all in all it was the work of a small group of men, all apprehended, and not the start of a disturbing new kind of crime. That said, in the event of an accident, always call the police first and let them know what happened before you leave the safety of your car unless in immediate danger.
9. KLEE Station Identification Houston has a reputation for bizarre radio and television happenings, such as the old KLOL studio being haunted for instance. More unconventionally, in the '50s it was rumored that a signal from KLEE had appeared on British televisions more than three years after KLEE had been turned into KPRC by The Houston Post. The bizarre occurrence was even written up in Reader's Digest as a believe-it-or-not piece, until it eventually came to light that the whole thing was a hoax by a scamster trying to build interest in a television that he said could receive signals from all over the world.
8. The Heights Batman It's hard to top having your own monster, and Houston has an awesome, if extremely rare one in the form of the Batman. Around the same time that people were believing that signals from KLEE could cross the Atlantic, there appeared a mysterious man dressed in something like a paratrooper's uniform and sporting a long set of leather wings. He was only seen on one night in 1953, terrifying several onlookers before vanishing in a halo of light. He has not appeared since, but who knows what may be hiding in the Heights?
7. Katrina Bullshit In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and refugees fled to Houston where they were met with open arms in their moment of need. They were also met with some extremely racist bullshit, and it marks a rather shameful chapter in viral emails regarding our city. For instance, you might have seen the "So I Volunteered..." viral email written by a blogger named Maher that claimed all sort of bad and ungrateful behavior from those in the Astrodome. It's possible that he did see something bad, but the overwhelming majority of volunteers reported nothing but gratitude and civility.
There was also the rumor that Katrina victims refused buses to job fairs being held to try and help them find work. Those rumors were mostly directed at refugees in Dallas and Austin, but also were mentioned here. The truth is that there was a job fair in Austin that did offer free transportation that few used, but mostly because the advertising for the buses was poor since it was unclear if FEMA was going to reimburse the city. A job fair held in Houston did in fact draw 7,500 people looking for work, and was open to both refugees and native unemployed Houstonians.
Finally, there is no evidence that Houston experienced any significant rise in crime post-Katrina. There was indeed a small increase in the number of homicides total in the city, but no real pattern linking them to the influx of displaced Louisianans. The myth that Houston took in the criminal dregs of New Orleans and has been living with them since is just not true.
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6. Heroin in a Ball Pit Poor Kevin Archer of Sugar Land died in 1994 after getting accidentally stuck in the left buttock by a broken off heroin needle that was left in a McDonald's ball pit at his third birthday party. Or so an early scare-mongering chain mail would have you believe. No, there's never been anything more dangerous in a McDonald's ball pit than the bacteria from a gently rotting McNugget, yet this rumor has been attributed to a Houston Chronicle story so much that the paper was actually forced to run a denial that they'd ever published such a story six years after it supposedly happened.
5. Too Much Child Support You might remember this one from earlier this year. Houston man Clifford Hall was sentenced to 180 days in jail for paying too much child support. Mainstream press treated it as a dog-bites-man story, while the Men's Rights "Activists" seized on it as proof of institutional misandry (Side note: It makes me happy Word doesn't recognize the term "misandry" as a legitimate word).
The truth from Hall's side of the story is that his child support and visitation terms were changed without his knowledge, and that he was $3,000 delinquent on payments when he found out the truth. He was sentenced for contempt Including walking out of a court hearing), and there's some evidence from court records that this was just part of a long-running custody issue. Still, he wasn't jailed for paying too much child support.
4. Harwin Islamic Martyrs You can find all sorts of great deal down on Harwin Street, but one Muslim-owned business found itself in hot water when it closed down on September 11, 2009 in observation of the martyrdom of Iman `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, a 7th century cousin of Muhammad who was the first to accept the prophet's teachings. Unfortunately, a combination of ignorance and poor timing led to photos of the sign placed in the Perfume Planet's front door going viral as an Islamic honoring of the hijacking on 9/11 by terrorists in 2001 that claimed nearly 3,000 lives (None of whom were named Ali). The legend (and harassment) of a Houston store owner celebrating the greatest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor persists to this day.
3. The Immigrant Interview On May 1, 2006 there was rumored to be a "Day Without Immigrants", a boycott movement in which illegal immigrants would stay home and not buy anything to show how important they were to the economy. The idea didn't really do much, but it did spark a chain email that was supposedly a transcript between KHOU's Jim Moore and an illegal immigrant named Juan where Juan talked about how much he enjoyed all his government benefits and free healthcare.
Here's a link if you're not in the mood to ask your racist uncle for it, but naturally no such interview ever occurred. KHOU never aired one, and Jim Moore wasn't even working at KHOU at the time.
2. The Killing Fields This one is, sadly, real.
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On a lonely stretch of I-45 between Houston and Galveston bordering the Calder Oil Field is a place that has seen more murder and death than can really be believed. Police describe the area as the "Highway to Hell" because of the unusually high number of traffic accidents that occur there.
If that were not enough it's also been the final resting place of more than 30 murder victims since the 1970s. There are rumors that the Killing Fields are the haunt of a serial killer, as many of the victims have been young girls with similar features. At least one arrest and conviction for a victim, Krystal Jean Baker, has occurred, but the vast majority of the brutal deaths remain unsolved. As federal agent Don Ferrarone once told CBS, it's simply the perfect place to kill someone and get away with it.
1. UTMB Face Houston's greatest ghost story is that of the face that appears on the concrete wall of the University of Texas Medical Branch on the dockside of the Ewing Building. Supposedly the face has moved to a different panel of concrete every time it has been attempted to be sandblasted off, and the common macabre addition is that people have drowned trying to get a good look at it.
Some claim the face is that of the pirate Jean Lafitte, while others say it's the vengeful manifestation of the previous owner of the land. Local Galvestonians swear that the face has moved before, but all the pictures I've tracked down point to it always being on the second floor. There's no argument, though, that it remains a favorite spooky story in Houston whether it's true or not.