The following real photos have chilling backstories. From a haunting image of a woman who sold her own children to a photo of a man who survived underwater for over two days, we take a look at some historical photos with terrifying backstories.
8. Children for Sale
On first impression, you’d think this photo is staged and couldn’t possibly be true. Sadly, it is indeed real and has a chilling backstory.
In 1948, as the effects of World War 2 could still be felt, a Chicago mother of four, with one on the way, painted a heartbreaking sign, putting her children up for sale.
The sign, which reads ‘4 children for sale. Enquire within’ sits prominently in front of four unknowing kids. Their mother turns her head in shame as the photojournalist captures what would become one of the most heart-rending photos ever taken.
The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, aged 24, was married to 4o-year-old Ray who had just recently lost his job as a coal truck driver. The couple were facing eviction and turned to the desperate measure of auctioning off their own children to make things work.
On the top steps are Lana, 6, and Rae, 5. Below are Milton, 4, and Sue Ellen, 2. RaeAnn and Milton were sold for just $2. Their adoptive parents were farmers John and Ruth Zoeteman.
On the farm, RaeAnn and Milton were reportedly treated like slaves. They were regularly chained up in the barn and forced to work long hours out in the fields.
When the notorious photo was first published in the newspaper it garnered nationwide attention. Heartfelt donations and offers of help poured in but it’s unclear where the money went. Family members accused Lucille of staging the whole photo for publicity and that the money was frivolously spent on bingo and luxury items.
Eventually the entire family of children were sold off to various buyers.
The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, went on to have four more children whom she kept.
Years later, several of the sold off children managed to reconnect with one another through social media.
7. Cook Survives Underwater for Two Days
This photo captures the moment when a cook was rescued after spending more than two days underwater when his boat capsized.
In May 2013, Harrison Okene suffered through a harrowing ordeal deep underwater off the coast of Nigeria.
Okene was a cook onboard a tugboat with a crew of 12. At approximately 4:30 am their boat was towing a oil tanker through choppy waters. Out of nowhere, a rogue wave smashed into the side of their vessel.
In the darkness of the early morning, Okene found himself in the bathroom when their boat turned over and began to sink. “I was dazed, and everywhere was dark as I was thrown from one end of the small cubicle to another,” he told The Nation, a news outlet in Nigeria
Okene managed to swim to an engineers office, where a small pocket of air remained. It was in this dark, wet cavity that he managed to survive. He was half naked, cold and without food. The cook subsisted on a single bottle of coca-cola. He made a small platform out of a mattress which kept him out of the freezing water, barely preventing hypothermia.
Eventually salvage divers, who were looking for bodies in the wreck, spotted a moving hand protruding from a gap in the boat.
After more than two days trapped underwater, Okene was brought to the surface in a decompression chamber. Confused and disorientated, Okene thought he had only been down there for less than a day.
6. Josef Fritzl Enjoying a Holiday
Josef Fritzl is one of Austria’s most notorious criminals. He imprisoned his own daughter in his basement for 24 years. In his dank, underground lair, Fritzl performed unspeakable acts, including sexual abuse, assault and the fathering of seven children with his daughter.
The above photo shows Josef Fritzl smiling and enjoying a holiday like any run-of-the-mill tourist. It was taken while his daughter was trapped in his basement.
Fritzl was eventually arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. He’s now living out his sentence in Garsten Abbey, a former monastery that has been converted into a prison.
The case was so shocking and garnered so much worldwide attention that image campaigns were launched to restore Austria’s reputation abroad.
5. Apollo 1 Training Session
On January 27th, 1967 all three members of United States Apollo 1 program died in a tragic accident. Command Pilot Virgil I. ‘Gus’ Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee were engulfed in flames during a launch rehearsal test at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34.
This photo here, shows the crew of Apollo 1 enjoying themselves while practicing egress procedures in a pool. The men are all smiles as they kick back on floatation devices during training.
In the centre of the pool you can see the command module that was to take the men into low orbit around the Earth. Take note of the hatch of the module that opens inward – it’s this feature that caused their demise.
On the morning of January 27th, at approximately 6:30 AM, the Apollo 1 crew were running through their safety checklists when a momentary increase in AC Bus 2 voltage caused a fire in their command module. The fire spread rapidly, feeding off the pure oxygen in the sealed, pressurised cabin.
The autopsy revealed that all three of the astronauts died, not of burns from the fire but of cardiac arrest due to the high concentrations of carbon monoxide.
Later investigations revealed that one of the major causes of the accident was the hatch cover that sealed the cabin. It couldn’t be removed quick enough at high pressure.
4. Omayra Sanchez
This chilling, famous photo has been shared thousands of times, all over the world. Each time it never fails to shock viewers who have never seen it before.
The girl in the photo, with her piercing black eyes, is Omayra Sanchez. She’s a 13 year old Colombian girl who was trapped and killed in the 1985 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz.
On November 13, 1985 a town in Tolima, Columbia was doomed to suffer the wrath of an enormous volcanic eruption. The catastrophic event was particularly nasty as volcanic debris mixed with ice forming what’s known as a lahar – a violent mudflow of rocks, water and pyroclastic material. These natural disasters are capable of wiping out whole towns and that’s just what it did.
The lahar rushed into the river valley, smashing through villages, killing an estimated 23,000 people.
Sanchez’s home was demolished. She was left pinned beneath the wreckage of her house. Trapped, scared and alone, no one could hear her screams for help. She remained stuck, half-submerged in filthy water for three days.
Eventually rescue efforts discovered Sanchez and began the arduous task of removing tons of debris so they could get to her. Despite their best efforts, Sanchez died after some 60 hours of agony.
It’s thought a combination of gangrene and hypothermia were the cause of death.
This chilling famous photo was taken by French photographer, Frank Fournier. The image went on to win the World Press Photo of the Year for 1986.
3. Unearthed Caskets, Georgia 1994
In 1994 an intense tropical storm dubbed ‘Alberto’ made landfall over Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
The storm took a heavy toll, with 32 deaths and over $1 billion in damages.
A previous cold front caused Alberto to stall over Georgia. An astounding 27 inches of rain was recorded, causing massive flooding along the Flint and Ocmulgee rivers.
The massive build up of water caused soil to become unstable which forced hundreds of coffins in nearby cemeteries to be unearthed.
As you can see in this creepy photo, disinterred caskets were swept away in the flood waters. They began to gather at various natural dam sites in towns throughout Georgia.
The threat of disease spread throughout the state, as officials were left with not only the devastation of the storm, but the confronting task of having to rebury hundreds of unearthed caskets.
2. Three Heroes of Chernobyl
On the 25th and 26th of April 1986 one of the most dangerous nuclear power plant accidents in history occurred near Pripyat, Ukraine. It became known as the Chernobyl disaster.
During a botched safety test, several explosions caused uncontrolled reactions throughout the power plant.
An open air graphite fire and steam explosion caused plumes of fission products to be released into the atmosphere.
While it’s difficult to put an exact number on the amount of casualties caused by the Chernobyl disaster – it’s safe to say thousands, if not tens of thousands of people were affected by the accident.
That number could have been more than a million if it weren’t for the men pictured in the above photograph.
In the photo, Alexei Ananenko (second left) and soldiers Valeri Bezpalov (center) and Boris Baranov (far right) prepare for a deadly dive.
Ten days after the disaster began, the plant’s water-cooling system had failed, leaking into a cavity directly under the radioactive reactor. The reactor which was overheating, becoming almost lava-like, began burning through the remaining safety barriers. If it had of burnt through the barriers and fallen into the pooled water below, it might have caused large steam explosions, much larger than what was already happening. Bursts of radiation could have entered the atmosphere, spreading across parts of Europe, Asia and Africa – putting millions of lives at risk.
Alexei, Valeri and Boris volunteered to dive into the water and drain the pooling liquid underneath the overheating reactor.
The mission was successful and managed to avoid an even bigger disaster than had already occured.
1. Murder of Travis Alexander
On June 4, 2008 Travis Alexander was brutally murdered by his ex-girlfriend Jodi Ann Arias. This photo was taken moments before he died.
Alexander was stabbed nearly 30 times, had his throat slit then was shot in the head.
When police arrived at the murder scene, Arias claimed she had been attacked and acted in self-defence.
A digital camera was discovered in a washing machine. Investigators were able to recover several deleted images from the camera. The recovered photos depicted Alexander in the shower, naked and concerned.
This photo is one of the last in the series. It shows Alexander looking straight at the camera. He looks as though he’s resigned to the fact he’s about to die.
When the media got wind of the incident, these images were spread around the world, with intense coverage particularly in the United States.
Arias was convicted of murder, given life in prison without the possibility of parole.