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Monday, December 6, 2021

Decemystery (2021) 6: The Clown in the Woods

Today’s story was one which I really hadn’t planned on doing. You see, unlike the past three years, I wrote this Decemystery completely out of order; I just went with whatever I wanted, picked a date in December, and slapped decided that that was when that story would be posted. So when I got around to this story, it was towards the end of November. Nothing really special there, except for one little thing: the website Snopes had recently done an article on this picture. So I wasn’t entirely sure if I should cover it since, well, I didn’t want to seem like I was hopping on some sort of bandwagon.

Though the more I read over the articles Snopes had done, the more it became apparent that their piece on the topic was very inconclusive. There were a lot of lingering questions on my mind and I decided that I would look into the story for myself. To my surprise, there were some things that they omitted that no other website had talked about. That’s because nearly every other website that had an article on today’s story—which is typically referred to as The Clown in the Woods—didn’t add anything new. Instead, they simply copied and pasted the Snopes article and posted it.

Because of this, I decided that I’d take it upon myself to do some snooping around to see if I could come to any definitive conclusion. Yeah, that’s kind of arrogant of me given that I’m anything but a good researcher—let alone a detective—but I thought that this story could use a more analytical look (especially since it seems that there’s never been anything of that sort done outside of, well, Snopes). So come along, dear reader, it’s time we put on our Sherlock Holmes cap and get to work. This is the story that I like to call “The Clown Who Was Clowning Around in the Woods”.

The Story

First things first: let’s start off on Snopes, since that’s where I first found information on this story (although I’ve been aware of the picture for longer than the article’s been up). For those unfamiliar with Snopes, it’s a fact-checking website that’s garnered some controversy over the years for political reasons. However, it wasn’t always that way. Originally, it was a website dedicated to debunking various urban legends that had spawned throughout the years; heck, its original name was the “Urban Legends Reference Page”. I remember going there when I was younger because I liked to read the story of “The Hook” and other spooky stories. Not to mention, it was rather interesting to see when they found possible origins to those stories.

Nowadays, while Snopes still occasionally does articles on those stories, it’s mostly dedicated to your typical “Did Politician So-and-So say this really controversial thing?” event. Cue fact-checking, making sure they meant what they said, and/or if said statement was taken out of context. So with that in mind, it genuinely surprised me that they actually had an article for this image at first—and it’s a relatively decent jumping off point, so let’s not waste any more time on me rambling about this. You know, like I just did.

Snopes’ article begins with what type of picture we’re dealing with, and it’s admittedly something I need to go over because it’s really important. The photo—which serves as the header image for the write-up—is a trail camera photo. Sometimes referred to as a “game camera”, these cameras are used by hunters for various purposes, but their main use is to assist them in tracking wildlife. Sometimes, they capture pictures of deer.

Other times, they capture an image of the New Jersey Devil/El Chupacabra/Dog-Fox-Cat Thing as it chases a deer.

Finally, they sometimes capture promotional material for the video game Resistance 3. No, it isn’t a picture of The Rake, it’s an image from a video game released a decade ago. Seriously, the article links to a tweet from Insomniac from December 10, 2010. They even have a bit-link to an article from the Daily Mail in it. Now we can all stop saying that its a picture of the real life creepypasta and simply enjoy our PS3 games. Feels comfy man.

The point is, trail cameras are very useful for anyone who’s into hunting, whether it be for sport or to find food. The ability to track the movement of wildlife is vital, and as such: these bad boys are really popular, though they can also attract the attention of said wildlife. After all, it’s a strange object that’s typically put onto trees. As such, they tend to be covered up to hide everything but the lens—keep this in mind because it’ll be extremely important later on.

With all of that out of the way, let’s finally get to the actual story, which centers around two pictures. The first one, as I said just before, serves as the header image. The second one we’ll get to in just a moment; I want to just go over the first image. In it, you can see a large man, dressed as a clown, walking through a rather dead looking forest or wooded area. The way the person’s walking is rather exaggerated; he’s clearly making in a manner that someone who’s pretending to be drunk would move. This will be relevant later, so keep it in mind.

Anyways: to his right is a Birch Tree (at least, I’m 99% sure it’s a Birch Tree). To the left, there’s something that resembles a cord, branch, or something else almost dangling in an arching manner. There’s also a tree, but I’m unsure as to what type it is. In spite of that, it’s safe to assume that the photo was taken in the Northern Hemisphere because that’s where Birch Trees are most common.

To digress for a brief moment: there’s a version of the photo that Snopes has on their site which has a watermark belonging to a website called “RealTree”. Snopes states that the “community area no longer exists”, which is more or less true. There is a bit of activity in a few boards, but otherwise: it’s relatively dead. In spite of that, I decided to search the forum’s for anything related to the image (I simply looked up “clown in woods” because I’m so tech savvy) and came up with two results. The first was from September 26, 2016. A user (and administrator) by the name of “wtnhunt” posted the following message:

Reminds me of trail cam pics someone posted of a clown wandering in the woods.

The message was in response to another user who said that an image of Pennywise the Dancing Clown from the 1990 TV film IT scared them.

The second post that I found is one that I will go over later because it’ll derail the story massively and I want to bring you along the journey I went on when researching this entire story. So for now, let’s get onto the second photo.

In this one, the man is now significantly closer and learning to his left (our right) and staring directly at the camera—something that, if I’m to be honest, could close the book on quite a bit of this story right now, but that isn’t the main point of this story. Anyways, everything is more or less the same, though we can get a better look at the clown himself. His makeup is quite sinister looking and it gives me the creeps. For all intents and purposes, it’s clear that whoever this is, their intention was to scare the heck out of someone. Also, in the top-left portion of the image, it looks like there’s either a mushroom or dead leaf sticking out (this can be seen in one other version of the first photo which you can view here).

In both images, in the bottom-right corner, there are a couple of numbers. In the first, the numbers are “17 - 55”, while the second has “17 - 52”. I’m going to be brutally honest right now: I have no idea what these numbers mean. I tried to look for something that might help me figure it out, but I couldn’t find anything. If someone knows what they mean, I would love to know—though before anyone says that it could be military time: it isn’t. Trust me on this.

Moving on: Snopes went on to state that they did some reverse image searching, which proved to lead to one post on Facebook belonging to Field & Stream, a magazine which specializes in hunting and various outdoors activities (like fishing). Said post, which was put up on June 9, 2010, showcased the photo of the clown up close and tagged two people: Maddie Kologe and Jarrett Young. The latter of those two posted a comment saying:

this was on our game camera!!!!

Snopes states that they got in contact with Young and asked them about the picture. He stated that the image wasn’t his and that it was all a prank; he further stated that he likely got the photo off of Google and was only 10 when he submitted it. Despite asking for more information, Young didn’t respond to Snopes.

I was somewhat tempted to try and get in contact with Young, but I figured it would be really weird to do so (especially since Snopes had only recently interviewed him). As such, I cannot add anything to this and I don’t know if it’d be a good idea for anyone else to do so since having a random person ask you about something that you did when you were 10-years-old may be a bit odd. Though hey, if you do try to get more info out of Young, don’t tell him I sent you.

This is ultimately where Snopes’ article ends (more or less). Their conclusion is they have no idea where the picture came from, but they’re certain it had nothing to do with the “2016 Clown Sightings” as it predates those by at least six years.

As I stated at the start, my investigation into this photo really led nowhere. Almost every other website that had information on it was just shamelessly copying and pasting the article from Snopes—word for word at that. While I’m definitely guilty of using direct wording from sources at times, this frustrated me because it felt like I wasn’t getting any unique takes from anyone else. Instead, I was getting the same information over and over.

However, between the lines, there were a few websites that had information that Snopes and most other sites didn’t have. The first of these was on “The Richest”, which posted a list on September 6, 2017 entitled “15 Creepiest Pics Accidentally Captured On Trail Cameras”. There’s a lot of really good and creepy pictures on there, but the one that stood out was the image that came in second place. It’s the creepy clown picture (what a shock), and the description of it stated that the photo was taken on August 30, 2009. This was the first big lead I found when trying to snoop around Bing for info on the pictures and led to me looking up that specific date alongside “Clown in the Woods Trail Cam Photo”.

It didn’t take me long to find the next big lead: Field And Stream’s website had a list that was posted on September 9, 2009 of “Trail Cam Bloopers”. These “bloopers” contained what the list describes as “Funny and Unusual Trail Cam Photos From Our 2008 Trail Cam Contest”. In total, there are 43 pictures, which the list states are the “funniest, strangest, and otherwise most unusual trail cam photos” that were submitted for the aforementioned trail camera contest. Towards the end, the close-up of the clown is listed. This puts the picture at being from before 2010. So when was it specifically taken?

That question didn’t take long to be answered; a website called slappedham had its own list of “12 creepy trail cam photos” that I “have to see”. I did in fact see them (and the first one, which is supposedly of a Skinwalker, is actually from a film called Xtro) and I must admit, they’re pretty spooky. Though we aren’t here to judge what is and isn’t spooky. No, we’re here to get to the bottom of this mysterious clown picture—and it just so happens that the picture landed in third place. Though this time, it has a bit more to it: a timestamp of when the picture was taken, including the time of day! Take a look.

August 30, 2009 at 7:50 in the morning. This ended up shooting down the initial idea I had that the “17 - 52” and “17 - 55” were meant to be military time (which, for those unfamiliar with that time, would’ve been 5:52 and 5:55 P.M.) and not something else entirely. While it’s entirely possible that the date and time aren’t legitimate and were added there afterwards; I say this because there’s another image that’s watermarked as being from “Wildgame Innovations” of the picture I showcased above of The Rake. While one blog, lost creek medicine show, states that it’s the original image, I swear it’s older than 2010. Maybe one day down the road, I’ll try to see if this is my memory playing tricks on me or not, but I digress. That image isn’t why we’re here.

No, why we’re here is that we now—as of now—the origin of this image. It was from an unknown individual’s trail camera that captured the picture at the tail end of August. Best of all, we have a watermark for where it might have been originally posted: Wildgame Innovations. I checked to see if they have a forum and unfortunately don’t. So why exactly they’re watermarked is unfortunately a mystery to me (unless they had a forum and it’s now defunct).

In spite of that, we at least have something; we can at the very least put the earliest posting of this image in 2009—regardless if the date of August 30 is made up. So that, on its own, is great. Now for one last little thing I found: a forum post on Realtree. Specifically, the one I didn’t go over way earlier.

In a post entitled “Does anyone remember this??”, there was person who went by the name “Swamphunter” who asked the following question:

I'm not sure who posted the pic a couple of years ago of the guy in the clown suit in front of his trail cam (brother in-law, I think?). I was telling a guy at work about the picture and wanted to show him. I still swear that is the funniest thing I have EVER seen on this site. Does anyone know where I can view it?? Thanks

The first response the post got was from an administrator named jcwa, who posted a picture that fails to load. I don’t know why this is, but this may be because the posts are from June 11, 2005. Yup, these posts are a little over four years from before the clown picture was supposedly caught on camera. Sadly, there’s no Internet Archive page for it, so the image link is as dead as dead can be (unless there’s something to get it that I don’t know about).

The remaining replies to the original poster don’t offer too much insight, though one person named “lil hunter” states that a user from the Primos Forums “Epic Xtreme” stole the picture. I have no idea how exactly he “stole” it, but beyond that: the rest of the users seem to find the image funny and/or creepy. I’m a bit hesitant to believe it could’ve been the same picture, but I felt this was worth bringing up because it’s the only other possible lead I have to the origin of the image (and Snopes did mention that the image originated from Realtree).

After that however, the trail runs cold (for me anyways). I can’t seem to find anything else worth mentioning; attempting to find the location of where the photo may have been taken is fruitless and as far as I can tell, there aren’t any posts on, say, Reddit or 4chan (the former has one post, but it links to the Snopes article and the latter would be a nightmare to shift through because both the word “clown” and “woods” are used very frequently on /x/). Because of that, I think it’s more or less safe to just end the story off here and instead move onto the theories. Though as always: you’re more than free to tell me in the comments below if I did miss anything major. Anyways, onward!


1. It was a prank

The first and perhaps the most popular theory is that this was all a prank. Easily the biggest piece of evidence that proves this is something that I mentioned way back at the start of the story; the person is looking directly into the trail camera, which would indicate that they were aware it was there. Given that trail cameras are typically covered or masked by something, it would be really hard to have prior knowledge that it was placed there unless they had either been there when it was set up, or if they were the person to have set it. Of course, it could have been dumb luck, but I sincerely doubt that.

Though if it was a prank, what’s the motivation? Well, that’s actually pretty easy to answer. Of course, you’d want there to be something to get out of this, and as we established earlier: people share their “spookiest” trail camera pictures. Heck, I even mentioned there was a contest. This could have easily been a faked picture made entirely for that very contest; someone put a trail camera up, donned some creepy clown makeup, then went back to where they set it up and that was that.

If that wasn’t the case, it’s also possible that two friends were out hunting, one of them saw where the trail camera was set up, and decided to play a prank on their friend by putting on some clown makeup and a costume, then went back and so when they reviewed the images, the friend would be scared. That’s admittedly a bit more out there, but I think it’s within the realm of reason.

However, it is worth mentioning that there’s absolutely nothing to prove this. There’s no information on where this was taken, who originally posted it (let alone where it was originally posted), and as such: we can only speculate. The only thing that really points towards this having been a prank is the fact the person was looking into the camera. While yes, that is very much indicative that the person was aware of the camera’s placement, you can’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that it wasn’t dumb luck. As such, let’s move onto the next theory.

2. It was a real killer clown!

Arguably the most popular theory in the mind of anyone who was totally onboard the clown fiasco of 2016 is that this was an early example of a real killer clown; a 21st century John Wayne Gacy for all of the true crime enthusiasts who are reading. While such a thought is likely to make anyone shiver in fear, I’m unaware of any other killer clowns beyond one person in October of 2016 (I think the 9th or 10th). The person tried to break into a house in Texas while wielding a large knife. Below is a still image from the video (which was posted to LiveLeak, which is now defunct). Also below is a video from LandonProductions. You can just watch the first few seconds; it’s of the clown approaching the door. Though spoiler alert: the general consensus is that the homeowner dressed up as a clown and did it himself; this is believed because the clown had an unusual amount of knowledge about the house. My San Antonio has a good article on it.

Though let’s get back on track because that was a huge digression. My ultimate point is: as far as I’m aware, killer clowns aren’t really a thing. At least, not in the sense that mass hysteria or creative fiction would have you believe. Sure, creepy clowns exist (be it for performative purposes at haunted house attractions or for artistic reasons), but I doubt anyone would put money on encountering a psychopath in clown attire in, say, a forest, dark alley, or abandoned building.

In spite of that, there is still apparently a theory out there which posits that this was, in fact, a real killer clown who was out and about, doing whatever it is he does. Perhaps he was on his way back from burying a body. Perhaps he was looking for some campers. The possibilities aren’t endless, but there are a fair few! I’ll leave it up to you to decide on what they are though; for now, let’s move onto the next theory.

3. It was a “Phantom Clown”

Our third and final one is quite a doozy. This could honestly be its own write-up and because of that, I don’t want to spend too long on it for fear this will go on for too long (the last thing I need is you or someone else getting bored).

The “Phantom Clown Phenomenon” began back in 1981. Over in Brookline, Massachusetts, some kids saw some guys dressed up as clowns who they said tried to lure them into a van. After this, mass panic spread like a virus throughout the northeastern United States, with a bunch of reported sightings of scary/evil clowns.

Throughout the years, these reports of what later became known as “Phantom Clowns” would spring up in various parts of the world (though it appears the United States is the hotbed for evil clowns). Arguably the most famous instance of Phantom Clowns is back in 2016, when it seemed that most of western society was gripped by a weird amount of clown panic.

Though is there any logical explanation for this phenomenon? Well, yeah, there likely is. Wikipedia lists a few explanations that have been put forward by a few people. Two of them I’ve already mentioned: Stephen King’s book IT (which some actually thought the 2016 clown sightings were a mass publicity stunt by Warner Bros. to market that film, even though it wasn’t due to be released until the following year; Warner also denied the accusation). Although it may seem odd that a rather old book would still instill fear into the masses, the image of Pennywise the Dancing Clown remains arguably one of the most terrifying things to anyone who suffers from coulrophobia (the fear of clowns).

The second is the aforementioned John Wayne Gacy, the man who dressed up as Pogo the Clown and Patches the Clown, and performed at various children’s hospitals and charitable events. He was responsible for the rape and murders of at least 33 young boys. Whereas Pennywise is the poster child (or poster clown) for fictional clowns that instill fear into anyone with coulrophobia, John Wayne Gacy is the real-life killer clown. Dang near anyone who fears clowns is likely to tell you that Gacy scares the heck out of them.

However, Gacy’s crimes predate the initial pandemonium caused by Phantom Clowns by a few years (Gacy’s reign of terror took place between 1972 and 1978). Also, he lived in Chicago, Illinois, not Massachusetts. This was also before information spread like a wildfire (also known as modern day society), so why would he contribute to the terror? Well, in 1980, the media had released images of Gacy’s unidentified victims, so that might have been the trigger for it— or at least to the spur of clown sightings that took place in Chicago in 2008. Memories never die after all!

The third and final theory Wikipedia lists is that it might have had to do with the fear and paranoia of Satanic ritual abuse. This really needs no introduction if you’re even remotely familiar with the tales of “Satanic Panic”, which gripped the US in the 1980s. It still persists to this day, but is much less prevalent and is usually swept aside as either conspiratorial nonsense or the ravings of a lunatic. If you’re interested in learning about it though, there are some videos about it on websites like Bitchute. Just be forewarned, it’s really dark and sickening (regardless if you believe the claims or not).

Anyways, let’s get to the point now. The idea here is that this image is absolute proof that there are people out there who dress up as clowns for some nefarious purpose, whether it be to kidnap people and do unspeakable things to them or to just scare them. It very much ties into the theory about killer clowns, but it expands upon the motivation[s] by allowing for it to be less illegal and more of someone who just wants to scare the living daylights out of folks.

However, given that these sightings of Phantom Clowns typically come in waves; there isn’t just one sighting and that’s that. As such, I decided to look for anything related to clown sightings in 2009. To my delight, I found a total of two! Go me, go me, I’m so good at research.

The first took place at Ardmore Trail, which is in Indiana. A blog named Copycateffect had an article from August 16, 2009. The blog entry is about evil clowns; it features things about Jack Nicholson’s portrayal as The Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight, and images of President Barack Obama in a similar style to the appearance of Ledger’s Joker. It’s late 2000s Internet at its finest and I feel almost nostalgic for it.

I also somehow forgot to mention that the writer of this blog is Loren Coleman of all people (yeah, I’m serious, the guy who’s arguably the most iconic Cryptozoologist besides Bernard Heuvelmans). I won’t lie, I really like Coleman as I think he’s a really great researcher when it comes to cryptids, but what we’re about to see is rather peculiar.

Anyways, Coleman writes that, on August 11, 2009, WSBT 24/7 News reported on a story of a clown who chased a man near the aforementioned Ardmore Trail. Nothing exactly that spectacular (though this is one of the few times when an adult was chased and not a child). The guy called the cops at 3:00 A.M. and, eventually, the clown ran back into the woods (probably realizing it was fruitless to get a man who was inside of a truck).

I guess clowns don’t like breaking glass.

Coleman goes on to say that he snooped around for more information on stories like this since it reminded him of the Phantom Clown fiasco we touched upon above. During his investigation, he found that a similar story took place on August 6, 2009 in Ardmore. According toDaniel Arbbruster of KXII-TV, a 10-year-old girl was riding her bike close to her home during the evening when a man (who was reported to have been “light-skinned”) walked up to her and told her, in no uncertain terms, to get into his car. The girl refused and she ran home; others who were outside are said to have ‘saved” her because they witnessed the whole thing, and the man presumably realized he would be a goner if he tried to grab her.

After this, Coleman gets into various things about the meaning of Ardmore (it's a Gaelic word apparently) and other Fortean things that surround the city. It’s all very, very complicated and I admittedly didn’t read all of it because I was beginning to get lost; I think it has to do with the fact that both locations were named Ardmore. If you’re interested in reading about it, the link is above.

Anyways, both of these sightings at least make one thing clear: there were Phantom Clown sightings in August of 2009 in the United States. So is it possible that there were more which went unreported, and the picture is of one of them? That’s something I’m going to leave up to you since, for now, it’s time we move onto my take.

My Take

I’m extremely adamant that this was a prank. While the idea of it being someone who’s a part of the Phantom Clown phenomenon is appealing in a “scare yourself” sort of sense, I think this was done in order to win a contest for scariest trail camera photo, or to just scare some folks on a hunting forum. The fact the person (which yeah, I think it’s likely a man) in the photo is staring directly at the camera is a dead giveaway to me. I mean, these cameras are hidden in order to prevent animals from damaging them—or trying to eat them. They’re also hidden so people don’t steal them. There’s no way this thing would’ve been exposed without any sort of covering; that’s just silly.

However, there’s more to it than that for me. One thing that stood out to me is the manner in which the clown walked. Earlier, I mentioned that they appeared to walk in a manner akin to that of someone who’s intoxicated. That wasn’t my own thought, I read that in an article which I sadly didn’t save (because I’m so smart). Though the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that it seemed kind of deliberate; like someone trying to mimic the way that Winnie the Pooh walks at times. Also, speaking as someone who’s been drunk before, I don’t think we walk like that. Though I guess that’s more anecdotal than anything else.

Still, even though I’m dang near certain that this was just something done to either scare some people or to win a contest, I can’t help but have so many questions nagging me. Like, if this was in fact done for a contest, why is there no attribution to who submitted it? That should’ve been done, so it in many ways throws the theory of it being a contest submission out of the window (unless those who entered were to remain anonymous). If they weren’t to keep their anonymity, then I feel like all we’re left with is the idea it was just done to spook people, which is still really possible, but then another question arises: where was it originally submitted to?

Given that this photo was posted as early as 2009, then it’s very possible that wherever it was originally posted is either no longer active and may not even be online anymore. As such, it’s very possible that the thread it was first posted in was never archived and has since been lost to time. Though I’d still imagine that someone out there would be aware of its infamy and would’ve come forward to say something. Though perhaps I’m thinking too highly of the image; that’s very possible.

Yet, above all else, I’d love to know one thing: where was the picture taken? Maybe it’s weird of me, but I’d love to know. Was it the United States? Canada? England? For whatever reason, I wish I knew—mostly because I’d like to know if some creepy clown is going to tap on my window and scare me to Hell and back.

As for the thread I found with posts from 2005, I have no real opinion on that. I mean, it’s very possible that thread has the truth behind everything, but without any way to get the image link to work, I can only speculate on whether or not it’s the same one that we were here talking about.

Oh well, I guess those are questions I’ll likely never know the answer to. In the end, all I can say is that I’m really adamant that it was just something done to scare people for fun. I don’t believe there to be anything truly insidious behind it all.


Now that the confetti has settled, I would love to know your thoughts on this mysterious picture. Let me know in the comments below—and as always: stay safe and stay happy; I shall hopefully see you all tomorrow!

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