10 Strangest Mass Hysterias

Halifax Slasher (1938)
Police questioned all kinds of people while looking for the non-existent 'Halifax Slasher.' Stephenson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

For nearly two weeks in November 1938, residents living in Halifax, England, were terrorized by a man racing around in the dark, slashing women with a knife or razor. The panic began Nov. 16, when two women arrived at a local police station, both with head wounds that appeared to be caused by some kind of blade. They'd been attacked by a man, they told police. Five days later, a third woman ran to the police with a deep razor-like cut in her wrist. In both cases, no evidence was found at the crime scenes. Police were stumped, and citizens became concerned [source: Glover].

Over the next week, more people were mysteriously attacked, all suffering some type of cut. By now the public was referring to the attacker as the "Halifax Slasher," and police said there could be up to three different men attacking victims. Businesses shuttered their windows. Vigilante groups formed, sometimes attacking men who appeared suspicious or out of place. Law enforcement officials put in a call to Scotland Yard for help, and two detectives arrived Nov. 29 [source: Gerber].

As the investigators began questioning the victims, their stories collapsed. Suddenly, everyone began confessing that they had actually cut or injured themselves. One woman said she fought with her boyfriend and, upset, sliced her arm because she had heard about the Halifax Slasher. After nine of the 12 victims confessed to self-harm, police closed the investigation. The nine were all criminally charged, with four going to jail [source: Gerber].