Last semester, at universities in the South and Midwest, rumors began to fly that a psychic had predicted on a TV talk show that a mass murderer was going to terrorize the campus on Halloween night.
The programs were "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Geraldo!" and "Donahue," and the universities were Florida State and Purdue. Together the incidents show that students should be wary of urban legends as well as mass murderers.At Florida State, the student paper, The Flambeau, reported that students were saying a psychic, a guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," had predicted the following:
"A knife-wielding maniac, perhaps dressed as Little Bo Peep, would slash his way through a sorority house or a dormitory."
A publicist for the Winfrey show called this rumor "absolutely untrue," pointing out that Oprah had not had a psychic on the program for two years.
At Purdue, as the student paper The Exponent reported, the version of the rumor going around was that a guest on Phil Donahue's show had said that the murders would occur in Meredith Hall, a women's dormitory. Others claimed that a Purdue student's parents had read the prediction in a Minnesota newspaper.
Neither the national TV interview nor the hometown news report existed.
Both rumor scares contained further specific details, although not all students had heard all versions of the story. At Florida State, for example, some students believed that the psychic had predicted that the killer would stalk the halls of a U-shaped building on the campus of "a large university having a graveyard nearby" - an accurate description of FSU.
Others were saying that the psychic had mentioned that the killer was coming to a university bordering the state of Georgia. Supposedly the prophecy had specified that the killings would occur on the dorm's fourth floor.
Meanwhile, up at Purdue some students were saying that the psychic had predicted the deaths of exactly 12 students living in an X-shaped dormitory.
Joining the original rumor in Florida and Indiana was the report that the university administration had ordered the evacuation of all campus residences - a course of action that was never considered.
Still, on both campuses - and doubtless on others where such rumors circulated - some dorm residents moved out for Halloween night. Others grouped up in their rooms and barricaded the doors.
Even students who pooh-poohed the rumors took these extra precautions on the theory that a madman might hear the prophecies and try to act them out.
Rumors about predictions of campus murders recur frequently, generally around Halloween. Usually the stories specify that the killings will occur at a college whose name begins with a certain letter, or one situated near a certain configuration of hills or rivers. Generally the target building is said to be a campus residence of a particular shape or size.
The legend goes back at least as far as 1968, when a similar rumor raged through Eastern and Midwestern universities. The story then was that Jean Dixon had predicted campus murders on a radio program not long before.
Those rumors often noted the precise murder weapon (a hatchet or a fire ax) and the expected number of victims (nine, 10, 12 or 20). It was predicted that the killer would strike at a school whose name began with a "D" or a "B," or one that was situated near a mental institution.
The details about the particular weapon, the maniac who is supposed to wield it, and the murder threat aimed at a women's dorm are also features of "The Roommate's Death," a classic campus horror legend.
This legend typically tells of two female students who are staying alone in a college dormitory over a holiday break. One of the young women is slain in the hallway by an ax blow to her head, while the other one cowers behind the locked door of her room and summons help the next morning through a window.
That story, like the one that went around FSU and Purdue, is nothing but a grisly rumor.
Watch this space for further details about this campus chiller.