The term “apophenia” is defined as the tendency to see things that are not really there. Seeing figures in the clouds or a face in some random object are examples of apophenia. While this error usually has no serious consequences, sometimes it does; even soldiers have confused simple natural phenomena with enemy attacks.
It happens that the human brain can develop this process as a way to recognize potential threats, according to what we already know about them. And we all know that the experience of finding a corpse is both unpleasant and undesirable, so confusing certain objects with dead bodies is also the result of the aforementioned tendency.
But when the object that lends itself to confusion has a human form, for example a dummy or a doll, everything gets worse. Its realistic appearance, almost human, is capable of making anyone think that they have found a dead body. This list will focus on ten of those cases, where false bodies were even able to deceive experts and make them believe that they were in front of a corpse.
10 Underwater Tea Party
Imagine you are calmly diving on a picturesque spring day, when suddenly, you find yourself face to face with the skeletons of two people lying at the bottom of the river. That is what happened to a snorkeler named Martin Sholl, while diving in the waters of the Colorado River (Arizona) in May 2015. When the diver descended to the very bottom of the river, there he discovered two skeletons sitting on chairs. The corpses were partially covered with sediment and the chairs were tied to heavy rocks.
Sholl did not hesitate to call the authorities, who promptly responded to the warning thinking that the case was a real crime. A diver from La Paz County’s local fire department was sent to investigate the skeletal remains, which were facing each other as if they were having a tea party. In the end, the alleged bodies turned out to be just plastic skeletons placed there on purpose. Both had sunglasses on, while one also wore a wig.
Later, a couple from Phoenix (Arizona) confessed to the authorities that they were the ones who put the skeletons in the river, just for fun. As it was not a truly illegal activity, the Sheriff’s Office in the area decided not to file charges against the couple. Finally, it was decided that the skeletons were left there as a tourist spot. However, Martin Sholl was deeply upset that the news sites did not give him due credit for the discovery of the skeletons. So he went down again to retrieve the plastic figures and take them home, with the intention of not returning them to the river until after Halloween.
9 When A Cop Did Not Think Twice
This past February, a passerby in East London (England) noticed what at first glance looked like a corpse inside an art gallery, lying on the floor next to a noose hanging from the ceiling. Horrified, the witness immediately notified the local authorities of what he had just seen. A team of paramedics and police officers soon appeared at the scene.
A recording from security cameras on the building shows a police officer breaking into the gallery by smashing a glass door. Immediately, the officer approaches the “crime scene,” but there was no body. In fact, the corpse was actually a mannequin made of clothes, papers and wires.
The display was the work of Kollier Din Bangura, an artist from Sierra Leone who made the art installation as a way of expressing the adversities suffered by refugees. When the police verified that it was a simple mannequin, the paramedics entered to see it for themselves.
As an apology, the officers left a note saying: “Police forced entry by smashing the window due to getting calls from members of the public regarding a dead body inside the building. If you have any issues please write to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.” Din Bangura was notoriously upset by the situation, claiming that there were posters on all the doors warning that it was an art exhibition.
8 Man Overboard!
On February 6 of this year, a boater was sailing along the south coast of Vancouver Island (Canada), when early in the afternoon he noticed something that negatively caught his attention. From the sea, he saw a person slumped on the rocks on the beach shoreline. It was dressed in an orange survival suit and did not move. The tumultuous conditions of the water and the rugged terrain of the coast did not allow the boater to get closer to see if it was a person or something else.
So to take no risks, the navigator called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The authorities soon went to the beach in question, expecting the worst. But to their relief, the cops discovered that there was no body: it was a dummy from the Department of National Defense (DND). It is unknown if the mannequin was lost during a training exercise, or if it fell off a navy ship in the area, being dragged to the shore.
In a joking tone, the RCMP stated that the dummy suffered “only minor abrasions,” but that its health was “in good condition otherwise.” The local police sergeant thanked the boater for reporting the sighting, which in any other case could have been a real emergency. In the end, the dummy returned to the DND.
7 The Neighbor Who Took Halloween Seriously
For many people around the world, Halloween is usually the date in which they can make their creative ingenuity shine. That day, everyone strives to have the best costumes and themed decorations of the neighborhood. But maybe, in their eagerness to take care of every last detail, some go too far.
In 2017, the local police in Greene County (Tennessee) received calls from several frightened residents who thought they had seen a dead man outside a house. According to the neighbors who called 911, there was “a person lying in a driveway with bloody handprints on the garage.”
The officers went to the house and noticed that there was indeed a body lying on the ground, with his head crushed by the garage door. But as soon as they investigated it closely they realized that it was actually a dummy filled with straw. The “fatal victim” turned out to be a very well crafted Halloween decoration.
According to the creator of the decoration, he did it because Halloween is his favorite time of the year, but he never expected the neighbors to take the dummy so seriously. The police warned the residents that it was just a realistic display for the occasion, and urged them to congratulate the neighbor for such a great -and spooky- idea.
6 All For A Foot
In early January of this year, a resident of the city of Edmonton in Alberta (Canada) told the police that, while he was taking out the trash, he saw a dead body inside a dumpster. Police officers arrived at the alley where the dumpster was, along with homicide detectives and forensics professionals.
Then the police confirmed that there was a human foot visible in the dumpster, although the rest of the body was covered with a blanket. The whole place was cordoned off and the police stayed there for hours trying to solve the crime scene. Some officers even went house to house in the neighborhood asking residents if they had seen anything suspicious.
The initial hypothesis the authorities handled was that the body corresponded to a homeless person who fell asleep inside the dumpster and died of hypothermia . But they soon realized that he or she was not homeless, there was not a case of hypothermia, and there was not even a human body in the dumpster. It was only a mannequin burned and melted, which was later wrapped in a blanket and one of its feet was exposed.
The reason why the forensics unit could not determine before that it was not a dead body, is that the law does not allow tampering a potential crime scene with ease. In the end the police closed the case and everything was nothing but a scare. It seems that this year Canada has been busy with dummies fooling their authorities.
5 The Headless Man
It is quite difficult to distinguish a corpse from a dummy when you can hardly see anything, let alone when the creator of the dummy purposely makes it look like a dead body. On April 16, 2018, a passerby was walking near the river Rems in southern Germany, when he saw what looked like a decapitated body lying on the riverbank, with blood stains everywhere. A police patrol that was in the area also saw the body and reported it.
It was not easy to reach the site where the body was located. It was already night, and the corpse was at one end of an inaccessible drainage pipe. So the police needed help, and in fact, 20 firefighters arrived at the place to recover the body. It was then, once they got close enough, that the authorities understood that it was another ingenious dummy. In addition to the blood on the clothes, the dummy also had its legs tied. Although the causes behind the creation of such false body remained unclear, the authorities said they had little intention of continuing with the case.
4 “A Recreational Mannequin”
Engineers were working in southwestern Ohio in September 2018, when some of them spotted a woman’s body near a forest preserve. The body was abandoned in a hillside, wrapped in a garbage bag. Cops from Colerain, a township near the preserve, went to the site after being alerted by the worried engineers.
There the police recovered the body and took it out of the plastic bag, to end up noting that it was a false alarm. Authorities said the body was actually a “recreational mannequin,” or in other words, a sex doll. According to the police, the doll had a life-like appearance. This, combined with the fact that it was found in an inaccessible hillside, prevented the engineers from realizing that it was not a real body.
After photos of the doll were published, residents in the area began to pay their respects to it -although we can infer a sarcastic tone there. A memorial site was built near the zone where the doll was found, complete with flowers, candles and balloons. But the most curious thing is that people felt the need to name the doll “Mandi.”
3 Please, Stop Calling Us!
Here we go with another Halloween prank. Some weeks before Halloween in 2015, police in Detroit (Michigan) received calls from neighbors on the west side of the city, who were concerned about an individual slumped in front of a house door. From what we saw in previous points, that certainly sounds familiar. But the interesting thing about this case is that the officers did not stop receiving calls about the situation for days. And even more strange is the fact that this “dead body” was put there on purpose.
Since she loves Halloween, Larethia Haddon had been placing realistic dummies in front of her house, no matter where she lived, for 25 years. Every year the same thing happened: a lot of people stopped to help the unfortunate person until they realized that it was just a doll. But in 2015, Haddon’s life-like creation received more attention than usual. The woman said that, day after day, drivers saw the dummy lying in the front of her house, stopped immediately and got out to perform resuscitation techniques on it before realizing the awkward truth.
Due to the numerous calls, the police and the paramedics constantly appeared in the house of Larethia to verify that it was not a real corpse that time. And while the cops took the prank with humor, the paramedics did not find it so funny. According to Haddon, the rest of the neighborhood also started to see the “dead” dummy as fun -once they got used to such a weird display.
2 When A Scarecrow Had A Happy Ending
The following story happened in May 2016 in Reading, a town about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of London (England). A decorator named Neil Maybury placed two scarecrows inside his portion of a community garden, to take care of it. Then Neil went on holiday with his family for a few days, not knowing that in the meantime an intruder stole one of his scarecrows, called Worzel, and threw it out of the garden.
Worzel remained there for four days, until a lady who was walking her dog saw it. But the woman did not notice that it was a scarecrow. Instead, she thought it was a dead body and therefore she called the police. The cops arrived at the place with sirens and lights on, just to end up being surprised that the alleged corpse was nothing more than a dummy made of straw, clothing and plaster.
One of Mr. Maybury’s neighbors, who had his garden plot next to that of Neil, retrieved the scarecrow and put it as it was in the beginning. Then, halfway through the holiday, Neil received a call from his mother-in-law who told him that someone had found his scarecrow. By the time Neil returned home, Worzel was the same as always, placed in the same spot as if nothing had happened. Months later, in August, Mr. Maybury presented his scarecrow Worzel in a horticultural contest, where he won. Now that would be an interesting story for a movie based on real events.
1 “It Felt Real”
On a Sunday like any other in September 2014, a family was picnicking near a temple in Yangju (South Korea). Then, one of the family members saw a female body lying on a waterway that ran across the temple. The alleged woman was bound with blue tape and seemed to have been the victim of a brutal murder. After being alerted, police forces rushed to the site.
And to perform their work effectively, a total of nothing less than 50 officers entered the temple. In the midst of the chaos, the authorities analyzed the woman’s body and discovered that, after all, it was an inflatable sex doll. Apparently, the doll looked very realistic. According to police sources, “the skin texture was so similar to that of an actual person that when the policeman touched it he mistook it for a human body.”
Officials said these sex dolls had being imported from Japan for many years until then, to be sold in adult stores. However, it seems that the authorities were not very aware of such products, since not even South Korea’s strict anti-prostitution laws made a comment about their use.
Economy student, graphic artist, science enthusiast and founder of “A Strange Place Called Knowledge.” My website: