Who doesn’t think clowns are creepy? No one, that’s who. If you, for some reason, think that clowns are cute and cuddly, well you’re in the minority, my friend. The trouble with clowns is that killers know they’re creepy, too. There have been recent reports all over the world of “clown sightings” – people dressed up as clowns in settings that just didn’t make any sense. Some were pranks, and some were real.
There are cases of real life clown killers, too, both clown serial killers and clowns who committed one-off crimes. Frankly, we’re creeped out, too. These demons are terrifying, yet somehow it’s still okay to let them attend our kids’ birthday parties. So let’s explore why clowns scare us so badly and whether clown serial killers are really something to be scared of.
Why are Clowns So Scary, Anyway?
Clowns are icky. Everyone knows it. But, as it turns out, there’s a psychology behind that ickiness that actually makes a bit of sense.
Think about this – what is:
- The scariest horror movie you’ve ever seen?
- The worst nightmare you’ve ever had?
- Your worst fear?
If you’re like most people, the answers to those questions will probably be along the lines of:
- Something about the guy next door who kills all his friends.
- A dream in which you die, get in a car accident, or something bad happens to someone you love.
- Heights, spiders, or snakes. (Or clowns)
There’s a reason for that. We’re scared of things which could realistically happen than we are of, say, monsters or the bogeyman.
Enter clowns. Clowns are, in most cases, men or women with terrifyingly bright clothes, a mask or makeup which obscures their faces, and an ungodly chipper sense of humor. (Everything’s funny to clowns, and it’s clear they can’t be trusted.) Why are they wearing that mask? What are they hiding? And what’s so damn funny – what do they know that we don’t?
There’s an eeriness to something which is familiar yet not quite right. A doll with blank, black eyes. A too tall, too skinny movement in shadow. Something that’s recognizable to us but there’s just something… off.
Not all clowns are serial killer clowns, they just look that way. But that doesn’t negate the fact that our brains just can’t handle the slight abnormalities that these horrific creatures possess. The permanent smiles and the disarming clothing, in concert with the fact that they’re not funny yet we’re expected to laugh, make clowns quite terrifying.
Blame the Movies
Somewhere along the line, an author or a movie producer picked up on the fact that clowns are loathsome, and a new phobia was born. You’ll see clowns portrayed in the movies and on television as nothing less than greatly disturbing. There are quite a few examples of this.
The most widely known example is Stephen King’s It. Pennywise the Dancing Clown is a tricky, shapeshifting son of a biscuit eater who preys on neighborhood kids. Somehow, their parents don’t notice.
Pennywise has all the features of a clown that you’d expect. He’s got the red hair, the bulb nose, and the comical eyebrows. But every few decades, Pennywise sneaks up on the kids of Derry, Maine, “season them” with their own fear, and eat them. He’s the ultimate clown serial killer and would make it onto any list of the worst serial killers if he were real.
What about the Joker? Okay, he’s not technically a clown, but just look at him. He’s a former stand-up comedian who jumped into a vat of chemical waste. (As if that weren’t a bizarre enough way to escape – surely there were alternatives.) When he emerged, his skin was bleached and his lips were clown-red.
There are dozens more. Billy from The Saw, Twisty from American Horror Story, Kent McCoy from Clown, and pretty much everybody from Stitches. See our Best Books on Serial Killers and Best Movies on Serial Killers for more.
The long and short of it is that our belief that clown serial killers exist is perpetuated by the entertainment industry. As good creative minds do, they’ve taken our already real fears and played into them. But we’re not all crazy. Real life clown serial killers do exist.
Clown Serial Killers
Because they’re so widely recognized as evil, clowns have been a go-to disguise for killers for centuries. Not all were clown serial killers, of course. Some only claimed one or two victims. And still others of these clown criminals merely sought to freak out the neighborhood kids.
Here are a few of the most well-known cases of clowns doing what they do best – terrorizing the human population.
Pogo the Clown
Once upon a time, there was a character named Pogo the Clown. Pogo had his own ensemble – a patriotic mess of red, white and blue, complete with stripes and pompoms.
John Wayne Gacy was the man under the makeup, and he would dress in his Pogo outfit to attend local charity events. The world didn’t know until much later that, while simultaneously frequenting benefits, John Wayne Gacy was stabbing, asphyxiating and strangling at least 33 victims.
Of these victims, 26 were found buried under Gacy’s home. His wife and children never suspected a thing.
The Clown Who Killed Marlene Warren
The death of Marlene Warren is an unsolved mystery. In 1990, Palm Beach County’s Marlene Warren heard the doorbell ring. When she answered, there stood a clown, bearing balloons and flowers.
Unfortunately, the clown also wielded a gun, and Warren was shot in the face. Her son, who was in the house, heard the shot and found his mother dead on the floor, lying in a pool of blood.
Klutzo the Clown
Amon Paul ‘Klutzo’ Carlock Jr was a clown and a former minister. He’d taught thousands of children in Sunday School and on frequent missions trips around the globe.
Klutzo was returning from a mission trip to an orphanage in the Philippines when he was stopped for a routine baggage check. Authorities, during their search, found photos of small boys, undressed, on his camera. Upon raiding his home, they found enough to charge him with child pornography.
Klutzo died in jail awaiting trial.
The 2016 Clown Sightings
In August of 2016, a 9 year old boy told his mother that he’d seen some men dressed as clowns near his home in South Carolina. They had attempted to lure him into the woods, but the boy had been taught well – he escaped without incident.
By October of that same year, sightings had been reported on five continents. Stores purged themselves of clown costumes and schools and districts banned the clown as a Halloween costume.
There are actually very few reported cases of killer clowns. There are still fewer reported cases of clown serial killers. But the fact remains that clowns are creepy. It’s somewhat comforting to know that our fears are rational, but let’s do the next generation a favor. Ban clowns from kids’ birthday parties. Because the truth is that you never know what you’re going to get under that mask.