1981 Marked The First Appearance Of ‘Phantom Clowns’ — And I Think They’ve Come To Greenville County


In 1981, the United States experienced The Phantom Clown Scare.

You won’t find many details about The Phantom Clown Scare on Wikipedia or in textbooks – you’re lucky if you can still find articles about it at your local library.

The people who remember it whisper of the weird, terrible, and strange stories – they could still feel the repercussions throughout the next twenty years.

My dad was six when it (it being The Phantom Clown Scare) happened. He had been playing outside during recess at school when the first clown appeared. Dressed in a traditional white and red clown suit with a matching red nose, the clown did not pose as a threat. In fact, he would make balloon animals for the children, tossing them over the fence and watched as they played with them. Eventually, animal balloons began talking to some of the kids, often times doing impressions of popular cartoon characters: Scooby Doo, Road Runner, and even Homer Simpson.

Laughter filled the playground when the clown was there; joy was in the air. Kids looked forward to recess solely to see the clown and the tricks he had up his sleeve for that day.

Eventually, the laughter came to an abrupt end when the clown began to lure kids into the forest adjacent to the school.

Now, it’s all happening again in my town of Greenville, South Carolina.


We lived a decent lifestyle; we were not poor, nor were we rich. We were somewhere between. My parents were high school sweethearts, who wanted to get out of their own crummy little town in Massachusetts and start their lives over in South Carolina. It was my dad’s idea, and my mom followed along.

Greenville wasn’t all that bad; we had a small downtown area where stores ranged from boutiques to coffee shops, and one big franchised grocery store. When my parents had first moved here, it wasn’t as booming with civilians as it now. My dad opened up his own mechanic shop, which struggled for a few years, but according to our statements, it seems to be doing much better now; and my mom picked up a part-time librarian job.

Sixteen years later, I was born. My name is Jake, by the way – maybe I should’ve told you that early on. Anyways, after I was born, they waited to have my younger brother, who is now 6 years old, and his name is Daniel.


It doesn’t matter if you live under a rock or don’t listen to the news. You’ve heard what’s happening lately in Greenville County. This week, at an apartment complex called the Fleetwood Manor, children began to complain about clowns standing near a forest, trying to lure them in with toys, candy, and money.

An official letter went out to the residents of Fleetwood Manor and those living near by in a 10-mile radius. Fear spiked the town, children were no longer allowed to go out without supervision, and curfew was effective immediately.

My mother was hysterical when she found out about it on the news. Fortunately, we didn’t live in Fleetwood Manor; we lived a couple streets down in the newer sub divisions that faced the middle of the forest.

Three days ago, Daniel turned six. All he wanted for his birthday was a clown who could make balloon animals like the clown at Terry Dowel’s birthday did.

My parents immediately objected the idea, making a whole ordeal out of it. My mom had walked into the den, immediately occupying herself with a book I know she had read from cover to cover four times. My dad kept his head down as he scrubbed the dishes, claiming he would hear ‘no more of this nonsense’. It was one thing to not like clowns – it was a common thing; but the distaste my parents exhibited was on a whole new level.

When my dad came in to my room later that night to check up on me, I asked him about what happened earlier that day. I told him it was probably some college kids pulling a prank before going back to school, or even a promotional stunt for Stephen King’s remake of the movie It.

I remember my dad looked at me like I was completely out of line. At first, he didn’t want to talk about it, but with lots of convincing and me promising not to repeat this story to Daniel, he reluctantly told me the story.

So, here it is, in his words.


“When I was around Daniel’s age, life was very different in the ‘80’s. Your grandparents raised me in Brookline, Massachusetts in a similar subdivision like the one you live in now. We would ride our bikes from dusk till dawn, we’d stay out late playing in the playground, and we would ride around all over town fearlessly.

Kids didn’t go missing back then; kids were not targets for pedophiles and killers, do you follow me? Okay, good. In May, things changed. Our innocence was ripped from our hands because of these damned clowns.

There was this one clown that would stand outside my school, befriending us kids. At first, we thought he was harmless. He would bring us treats, and make animal balloons. Then, once he gained our trust he would show us things that no child should see – he would threaten to do things to us if we told an adult. Then, Tommy O’Donnell went missing.

Us kids knew what happened; the clown had taken him. The whole town was put under curfew, and there were police all over the streets, just like now. Eventually, kids started to speak up about the clown. What my friends and I did the next night after Tommy was reported missing haunts me to this day. We biked near the school, where there was a connecting forest. We went into the forest to search for Tommy – what we found instead… Jake, I don’t want to scare you.

There was the clown, his red lipstick was smeared across his face in a sinister grin; we could see his real teeth – they were sharp and yellow, and his eyes were such a light hazel, they almost gleamed yellow in the moonlight. He was standing near a small fire, and around him – more clowns like the one near our school. Their clothes were tattered and dirty, their makeup smeared and melted through their masks. Their red noses were thrown into the fire along with their white gloves. Their fingernails were coated in dirt, chewed to skin, the cuticles bloody. These clowns were no longer welcoming; they were terrifying.

We spotted Tommy, who was drugged and barely moving. My friend, Kwan, grew up in a family of martial arts fighters, and he ran towards one of the clowns while I hid in the bushes. He went straight for one of the clowns, who had his back turned to us, and jumped on their back. He wanted to rip off the mask he was wearing, but the clown kept screaming. The other clowns were pulling Kwan off the clown’s back, but that little bugger would not let go – he had the grip of a snake. I watched as he tried to rip off the mask, but he couldn’t – it was sewn to his face. Every pull Kwan did pulled at the strings of the mask, which was the clown’s own skin. Have you ever seen muscles under skin, son? The pink and red muscles had an elasticity, which made it convenient to use as string. And the screams, oh God, the screams were deafening. I thought it would never end.

I watched as they finally got Kwan to the ground, drugging him too. I couldn’t run or move – they would catch me. So, I stayed crouched and hidden behind the bushes and watched what they did to Kwan. Slowly, they began to cut the skin off his bones, first starting with the arms, legs, and finally moving towards the face. The worst part was that Kwan was beginning to come to, and he could feel everything. They began to sew pieces together, making another mask, and sewed it onto Tommy’s face, making him unrecognizable. After that, they began to pick at what was left of his body, roasting the skin over the fire like marshmallows, popping parts of skin into their mouth, chewing the bones, eating Kwan until there was nothing left.

This is what they did – they were building a clown cult or something, calling themselves The Phantom Clowns. I waited, behind that bush for hours on end before they finally left. I can’t remember how or when they left, it was as if they disappeared into thin air.

Finally, when morning came, I ran to the police. They went back to the place in the forest, but there was nothing – no body, no skins pieces, no bones; it was as if the clowns weren’t even there. There were no more missing kids after that night, curfew was lifted, and Brookline went back to how it was before.

A couple months later in Kansas, there was news about a group of clowns luring children in through the use of treats and candies. Children went missing – the police could not find a trace. For years, there was nothing – it’s as if the clowns had stopped hunting children. Rumor has it if there is a news outbreak of clowns luring children in, the only way to get rid of them, and for them to move to the next town, is to sacrifice one of your own children of the town.”


I watched as my dad wiped a tear from his eye. I had only seen him cry once before, and that was at Grandma’s funeral. He let out a deep sigh, and closed his eyes.

“You think it’s happening again?” I asked.

My father looked at me, the emotion drained from his face. “Pray tonight, my son.”

He got up and walked towards my bedroom door, his finger hovering over the light switch. I’ll never know what was going through my dad’s mind that night – the way he looked at me was like I was a stranger in my own body.

When I had finally fallen asleep, I dreamt of cannibalistic clowns – go figure. Thanks, Dad.

I had jolted awake, sweat was pooling down my back, and my hair was soaking wet. I slowed down my breathing, and that’s when I heard it.


It was whispers between my dad and my younger brother, Daniel. It sounded like my dad was trying to calm him down – Daniel was known to have night terrors. I had cursed my Dad silently for telling such a scary story while Daniel was up – I was sure he must’ve crept to my room and listened, thus having the same nightmares as myself, and triggering his night terrors.

After a couple minutes, silence filled the house once more. I was finally drifting back off into sleep when I heard the front door close. I opened my eyes, and sat back up, listening for any footsteps.

There was none. Nobody was breaking into our house. I slipped out from under my covers, my feet touching the cold hardwood floor.

I walked towards the window and peered out into the darkness that cloaked the town. The small streetlight was flickering on and off, ready to give out. Under the streetlight, I could make out two figures, one taller man, and a small child.

It took me a minute to realize that the tall man and the small child were my dad and Daniel. I watched as they held hands and walked towards the edge of the forest.

I pounded on the window, shouting, “No! No! What are you doing! Come back! Dad! Daniel!”

I watched in horror as my dad stopped at the edge of the forest, pausing before looking down at Daniel. Daniel looked up at him; I could imagine the confusion in his eyes as he obeyed my dad’s wishes. My dad knelt down to kiss Daniel on the forehead before giving him a gentle nudge to walk forward towards.

That was the night I lost my brother.

He was officially reported missing after 48 hours.

When the police questioned my parents, my dad claimed to have no recollection of that night, but I knew better. I had watched as my dad sacrificed his own son to the clowns to rid them from this town. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog