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Attack of the Killer Clowns

The Real Life Story

When it comes to clowns, I know that I am not the only one who shivers with a bit of anxiety. Even as a little girl their painted faces scared me and the manic laughs haunted my dreams. Even though the comedy version wasn't for me, I found things like Stephen King's It and Attack of the Killer Clowns from Space seemed to fit their persona a bit more to my liking. No matter the scary movie, I always came back to It. I fell in love with horror at a young age, but what I never expected was for the history of clowns to be covered in real blood.

Let's start with the earliest known tragedy:

Joseph Grimaldi

He is still so widely known that a church in east London has conducted a Sunday service in his honor every year since 1959, with congregants all dressed in full clown regalia. Before him, a clown may have worn a touch of blush to give the idea they were drunken fools, but Grimaldi suited up in bizarre, colorful costumes, stark white face paint, punctuated by spots of bright red on his cheeks, and topped with a blue mohawk. However, his cheery and happy misdemeanor was nothing compared to the dark, overwhelming sadness in his normal life. Grimaldi ended up drinking himself to death by the time he was 31 in 1837.

Jean-Gaspard Deburau's Pierrot

Meanwhile, on the heels of Grimaldi’s fame, the next major clown figure was Jean-Gaspard Deburau’s Pierrot, a clown with white face paint accented by red lips and black eyebrows whose silent acts delighted French audiences. Deburau was as well known on the streets of Paris as Grimaldi was in London, recognized even without his makeup. But where Grimaldi was ravaged by depression, Deburau was evil: In 1836, Deburau killed a little boy with a blow from his cane after he insulted him on the street (he was ultimately acquitted of the murder). So the two biggest clowns of the early modern clowning era were very troubled men underneath all that face paint.

Skip a hundred years and clowns are starting to become more popular and kid-friendly with figureheads such as:

Bozo the Clown, Ronald McDonald, and Circus Clowns

Some would say that McDonald's saw the withdrawal of Bozo as an opportunity for them to get a foot in the door towards a larger audience, but whatever the case is, it worked. People flocked to the circuses or to their local McDonald's, whichever was closer to them at the time. Anyone who was a fan knew about the Ringling Brothers. The world was sad when Bozo the Clown went off the air, but they quickly used the newer things to fill their hearts. What the world didn't know was that one man was preparing to put clowns back on the dark side of people's thoughts.

John Wayne Gacy

He went by many names—Pogo the Clown, Mr. Gacy—but the title most people know him for is Killer Clown. He grew up in a rough situation with an abusive father and a need for approval. John lived through the beginning of his life with the determination to make his father proud. He worked hard at his jobs, he got married, had a couple of kids, and eventually his father even apologized to him, finally expressing that pride he had so desperately wanted. It didn't take long for his true colors to shine.

The earliest known offense was in 1967, where he sexually assaulted a teenage boy. From there it would happen again, and again, and again, until in 1968 where he plead guilty to a sodomy charge. He was given 10 years, but only stayed locked away for 18 months. Gacy was granted parole with 12 months probation on June 18, 1970. Two of the conditions of his probation were that Gacy would relocate to Chicago to live with his mom and that he was to observe a 10 PM curfew with the Iowa Board of Parole, receiving regular updates as to his progress. However, a year later, he started back up with the assault, and throughout the 70s, he would commit over 30 murders of young boys and men. In December of 1978, he drunkenly confessed to his lawyer. From there, a warrant was made and in 1980, he was sentenced the death penalty. It wasn't until 1994 that he finally was executed through lethal injection.

As of 2016

In 1981, there were sightings reported in Massachusetts, where two clowns driving a black van offered some children candy at Lawrence Elementary. In Missouri, a knife-wielding clown was jumping out of bushes and threatening little kids. Pittsburgh, PA police were the first ones to start making connections with all of the sightings and started an investigation.

Of course, we can't forget the world's most famous fictional clown Pennywise. Some people would venture to bet that the Killer Clown trope was practically old news at this point, but It was first published in 1986 right in the middle of all this funny business.

In 1988, across three different counties, children were making reports about a sinister clown offering rides in a red truck.

In 1991 in Erie, PA, a man in a clown suit robs a bank, and over 40 people spotted a clown prowling around backyards, looking into windows. Chicago, IL police become overwhelmed with reports about a clown offering candy to children who drives a van with the words "Ha-ha" written on the side.

One wave of sightings was put to an end in South Carolina in 1992 when a few teenage boys were arrested, but they couldn't be charged for anything, because technically they hadn't broken any laws. Galveston, TX police ended up flooded with calls after one malevolent clown attempted to kidnap a little girl.

All of these events and more have been reported since then. However, thanks to the invention of the AMBER Alert in the late 90s, people do tend to feel a tad safer. In 2016, the reports flared again on a widespread basis, possibly due to the remake of Stephen King's It the following year. In the film world evil clowns had become a new staple. Killer clown zombies, dolls, and even kids (can't forget six-year-old Michael Myers). It's debatable about whether the first scary clown movie is He Who Gets Slapped (1924) or Poltergeist (1982). That doll still gives me nightmares.

At this point who knows when the next surge of clown sightings will be? I am definitely excited to see the Part Two of It though, and hopefully, I'm not offered candy by an evil clown on the way there.

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