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Friday, May 8, 2020

Mystery: The Grand Canyon Grim Reaper

I couldn't find the image without the arrow. Sorry.

After the whirlwind of craziness that made up the story of Seth Rich, I felt it was best if today and tomorrow, we focused on a very fun, light-hearted, and down-to-earth mystery. It’s something you may have heard of, especially if you watch—or listen to—a lot of mystery-centric videos/podcasts. It’s little more than a photo (which serves as the header image for this write-up) and shows a man at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a fishing line. However, if you look a little closer, there’s something deeply unusual about it all: a man peeking around from behind a bush. This man has garnered the nickname of the Grand Canyon Grim Reaper. Edgy name, but is it really Death himself? Let’s find out.

The Story

This story originates from Reddit—which I do my best to avoid when covering stories, but it’s one of the few stories from there that I think is rather interesting. The original post can be found here. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

Our story comes from a user named ZombieGandaffi and centers on his uncle at an unknown period in time (though he says that it was in either the late 1970s or 1980s). Zombie (as I’ll call him) states that his uncle and some of his friends took a trip to the Grand Canyon when they decided to stop and stretch their legs. During this time, Zombie’s uncle had an idea for his friends to take a picture of him standing near the edge of the Grand Canyon, which they did and shortly thereafter, they packed up and drove off to their destination.

Once the pictures were developed though, his uncle noticed something extremely peculiar. Standing not far behind him was a very tall man; he was dressed in all black and his skin was unusually pale. If you aren’t able to clearly see the man in this write-up’s header, here’s a close-up of the weird man.

It’s at this point that Zombie points something very weird out: his uncle and his friends had been standing there for a total of 15 minutes, yet none of them ever noticed the man there. Neither Zombie’s uncle, nor any of his friends, said they knew this man either. Zombie’s uncle also stated that the Grand Canyon had also been lacking in tourism at that time of the year. To this day, Zombie says that his uncle and the photographer have sworn up and down that they aren’t joking about the picture and that they don’t know the man is (or was).

That’s where the story of Zombie’s uncle’s weird picture ends; Zombie told this story on Reddit seven years ago and since then, the image has become known as “The Grand Canyon Grim Reaper” for rather obvious reasons. The man in the picture looks like he’s wearing the iconic cloak that Death is depicted as wearing and his extremely pale features make him resemble a dead body. Though I personally agree with the website “Week in Weird” and think he looks like one of the Engineers from the movie Prometheus. You decide! Speaking of deciding, it’s time to move onto the theories section. There are quite a few of them, so strap in.


1. The man was urinating

One of the most popular theories from skeptics is that the strange man had stopped at the Grand Canyon himself, but in order to relieve himself. To explain his height, it’s been said that the camera had simply resulted in a bit of trick imagery; that it made him appear far larger than he actually was. As for why he was looking at the camera, it’s posited that he was curious as to what was going on or to make sure that he didn’t end up in the picture (or other parts of him).

Of course, like a few other theories, this is one that requires on the dice of fate rolling perfectly to have circumstances align. The Grand Canyon wasn’t experiencing a lot of tourism at the time and as such, the odds of a man having to go pee at that time while this group of friends had stopped themselves and decided to take a silly picture seems incredibly slim. Though as is the case with many other situations in the world, coincidences happen and as such, is it really so crazy to think that this couldn’t happen? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

2. It was the Grim Reaper

Sightings of the Grim Reaper have happened and I want to cover them one day. That said, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Death taking a vacation to the Grand Canyon, but oh well. This theory posits that Death was preparing to take a soul, but Zombie’s uncle—or someone else—ultimately ended up living when their time had been expected to expire. This isn’t exactly surprising given people have died taking photographs like the one that Zombie’s uncle took; it’s a precariously small distance between life and falling into a canyon all things considered. As such, it’s possible that Death had been waiting just in case.

3. It was just a random guy

A theory as boring as can be, this one puts forth the idea that it was just some guy who was there and wanted to see what was going on. It’s creepy in its own right, but you’d be surprised how often people eavesdrop. Then again, if the man was hanging out at the Grand Canyon and saw a group of people who randomly pulled up, I can’t exactly blame him for being curious what was going on.

4. It was a spirit

This theory posits that it’s the soul of someone who died at the Grand Canyon. While I can’t find the names of everyone who’s died at the Grand Canyon, it’s likely that there’s at least one spectre that’s been seen around the park. Though if it were this person in particular, I’m sure there’d be reports of such an eerie looking man beyond this one photograph.

5. It was a hoax

Although it’s been proven that the photo wasn’t manipulated in any way, some think that a friend of Zombie’s uncle was the man behind him and it was all a prank. Personally, I see precisely no reason for Zombie’s uncle (not to mention Zombie’s family as a whole) to be lying for years upon years. They have nothing to gain from it whatsoever. That said, some people pull really long-term pranks for no logical reason.

6. The man was there to commit suicide

This theory and the next one—which is the final one (spoilers)—I heard on a video by the YouTube channel “Top 5s”. Click that hyperlink if you want to watch it. As for the theory, it posits that the mysterious man was planning on committing suicide.

Given that the supposed time frame of this photo is between 1970 and 1980, I tried to find a number for the amount of people who’d committed suicide there, but I had no luck. What I can find is that “more than 40 people” have committed suicide since 2002. This number comes from a website called knau in an article published in 2017. So overall, the suicide rate isn’t exactly high, especially when you consider that the state of Arizona has been experiencing a spike in its suicide rate (source: Arizona Department of Health). If you don’t want to read the article, about four people a day commit suicide in Arizona and there are 18 suicides per 100,000 deaths (a number that’s from 2017).

While I won’t judge those who commit suicide, I will say that I think this theory, while certainly not impossible, is astronomically small. The probability of that group of friends having been at the exact spot where this man had intended to jump from at the exact time doesn’t seem at all likely. That said, crazier things have happened. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

7. The man was going to push the Zombie’s uncle off the cliff

The second theory that I heard from Top5s. It puts forth a very malicious theory: that this man had intended to commit a horrific murder by pushing Zombie’s uncle into the Grand Canyon. However, upon realizing that there were people at the other side, he opted to wait until they left. Though he presumably gave up waiting and left.

I was curious if there had been any murders at the Grand Canyon and only one story caught my eye: that of Robert Spangler. On December 30, 1978, he murdered his wife, Nancy, in the basement of their Littleton, Colorado home. He also shot his children, Susan and David. A little over 14 years later, on April 11, 1993, Spangler murdered his third wife, a 58-year-old aerobics instructor named Donna Sunding by pushing her off a 140-foot (40 meter) drop at the Grand Canyon. The photograph I was able to find of Spangler (which you can see below) doesn’t exactly look like the man in the picture, though it at least confirmed to me that someone's pushed someone to their death at the park.

With that said, I can’t think of any serial killer who’s been a serial “pusher” or who was active in Arizona at the time of the picture being taken. Nor can I think of anyone who’d not just take the chance and push the man and run; the distance between the photographer and Zombie’s uncle was likely not small. Though that’s just me. Don’t add me to a list, FBI.

My Take

In my eyes, I think it’s fun to speculate on if the person in the photo is Death. It’s one of those things that makes life exciting and helps to alleviate the monotony of day-to-day life. Though realistically, as I said before, I don’t think it’s really the Reaper. While reports of seeing him—or at least a spirit like him—exist, they all occur when someone is about to die or in a hospital (where deaths are common in some capacity). Had the individual in the photo fallen into the Grand Canyon, I’d be inclined to say that it’s possible the entity was the Reaper (in spite of the appearance of the man not being anything close to what he’s said to look like). 

Because of that, I decided to actually do some detective work on the photo that didn’t involve me having to use any sort of fancy technology. Nay, I instead looked at the photo for some time and tried to find something that maybe others missed. While I’m no photography expert, I figured it was worth a shot to simply try.  So I stared and stared. Then I stared at it some more. Then I pretended I was a part of the NCIS team and stared some more, but I clicked it and prodded it with the cursor.

After staring at it for an inordinate amount of time though, I gave up. While I definitely think the photo is creepy, I found precisely nothing of merit that would point to anything other than a normal human being and not the Grim Reaper or any other spirit. Besides the lack of any death that had occurred when the photo was taken, the manner in which the person is peering out to look at the person who took the photograph makes me think he was more curious as to what was going on.

Now as for the incredible sequence of events that would’ve required this to have happened, I will admit that it’s quite insane that everything fell into place for this image to have been taken; while certainly not the most amazing picture ever taken, I think the mere notion that such an eerie image was taken that resulted in something that could be interpreted as a picture of the Grim Reaper is pretty cool (not to mention creepy). Though every other theory that I’ve seen proposed—aside from it having been faked—doesn’t ring true to me. As for why I don’t think it was faked, As I said earlier, Zombie’s uncle, along with his family, have nothing to gain from such an act after all of these years.

With all of that said, my personal theory on this is that the man was likely peeing; a theory I never thought I’d ever list on this blog in my life, but I’m doubtful the man expected a picture to be taken—or for anyone to even be there at the time.


As I said at the end of the write-up on the Man in the Plastic Bag, I think that it’s nice to remember that some of the creepiest mysteries are the ones that can happen that don’t exactly have anything exceptional to them (per-se). In this case, it’s a simple picture taken at the right time that yielded something unexpected. Though that unexpected thing is something I firmly believe to be perfectly explainable.

Though that’s just me: what do you think? Do you believe that Death decided to take a leak at the Grand Canyon? Tell me in the comments below and remember to wash your hands. I hear it helps prevent Corona!


  1. Personally? I think this is one of those cases where the internet did what it does best. Make a big deal out of nothing. So a guy's standing on a ledge atop the grand canyon. Suddenly he's Death. Whoopee, go you.

  2. Its strange to me… it looks like on some other pictures if the men is coming from a screaming face next to it, on the left side of the mans face. Its like a white layered scream, that moves from left (moment of death) to right (man in ghost state).