Urban Legends

3 of the creepiest photos ever taken — and the stories behind them


Today I’m investigating a frightening home invasion, a phantom hand, and an astronaut displaced in time or space—in the form of three highly mysterious and unexplained photographs…

The boy with three arms?

See anything weird about this photo shown below? Take a closer look at the topless boy with his tongue out. He’s got his arms round the two boys on either side of him, and making the devil horns sign with both hands.


Hang on. Do you see the fist with the thumbs-up just beside the head of the boy in the dark t-shirt? Whose hand is that? On first glance, it looks like it belongs—again—to the topless boy, because its position and alignment mean it can’t belong to any of the other three. But that would mean topless boy has three arms!

I’ve tried to investigate the origins of the photograph, which has been floating around for years, continually popping up in “Weird photos” articles (like this one you’re reading!). Every previous article I’ve found says that the person who took the photo has no explanation for the mysterious extra hand, because only four people were in the shot. But none of the articles identify the photo-taker or the four boys.

Could it be as simple as a fifth child ducked down behind them and giving a thumbs-up? It’s certainly feasible, and probably the most likely scenario. Equally it could be that the ghost of a dead boy was feeling left out and fancied a bit of photobombing, topless boy could be an alien with three arms, or… well, it could be Photoshop trickery. In any case—WEIRD.

Picnic with an astronaut

In 1964, fireman, photographer and local historian Jim Templeton snapped this famous photograph while picnicking with his wife and daughter on Burgh Marsh, overlooking the Solway Firth in Cumbria, England.


The photo depicts a mysterious figure resembling an astronaut standing behind Templeton’s daughter. Templeton said there was no one else present when he took the photo, and that the only other people on Burgh Marsh that day were a couple of old women in a car at the other end of the marsh. He stated:

“I took three pictures of my daughter Elizabeth in a similar pose — and was shocked when the middle picture came back from Kodak displaying what looks like a spaceman in the background.”

Analysts at Kodak confirmed that the photograph was genuine. The figure was thereafter dubbed the ‘Solway Firth Spaceman’ and was keenly debated in UFO circles.

And following the publication of the photo, the plot thickened. Templeton claimed that two men who said they were from the government paid him a visit. They refused to show their identification, saying that “they were only identified by number”. After taking the men to the site of the photos and explaining that there was no one else present when he took them, the men became angry and drove off, leaving Templeton to walk home. Templeton later decided that the two men were probably frauds:

“It all looks like a leg pull to me. I’m sure the men were not security agents.”

A further thread to this story was explored in 2008 when Templeton was interviewed by BBC Look North. Just days after the photo was taken, a missile launch at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia was aborted because two strange figures were spotted on the firing range. The figures subsequently disappeared and couldn’t be located. Apparently, technicians who later saw the Solway Firth Spaceman photograph in an Australian newspaper said the figures on the firing range looked exactly the same.

So what gives? Were these astronauts from another time, or another universe, inadvertently slipping into ours before returning?

Contemporary analysts have a rather more mundane theory. The ‘spaceman’ in the photo is none other than Templeton’s wife, Annie, who was present at the picnic on the marshes and seen in several other photos taken that day, including this one…


It’s argued that Annie momentarily walked into shot and Templeton didn’t see her because he was looking through the viewfinder. It’s said that Annie was standing with her back to the camera and her light blue dress appeared white due to overexposure.

This is certainly possible, but Templeton stuck by his story when he was interviewed by the BBC in 2008, and remained determined that it wasn’t his wife. And what about the story about the figures on the firing range in South Australia? Perhaps these incidents are evidence that something is happening to the barriers between dimensions…

Hanging around

The photo below was taken in the 1950s and depicts four members of the Cooper family, plus one very unwelcome guest.

Cooper Family + Guest

The story goes that sometime in the 50s, the Coopers, a family from Texas, moved into an old house. On their first night, Dad took a photograph of Mum and Grandma posing with the two kids at the dinner table. When the photo was developed, they were horrified to discover a dead body, face blacked out, falling or hanging from the ceiling next to them. The apparition of a former tenant?

According to some, the whole Cooper story is fiction. Apparently it was fabricated sometime in 2013, at which point it became attached to this photo, which had already been circulating online for several years. The photo itself, however, remains a mystery. Researchers agree that it’s older than the Cooper tale. Whether or not it was taken in the 50s is mere guesswork. It’s also been claimed that there is some evidence of digital tampering in the photo.

Still, no one has been able to confirm that the photo is a fake. Despite it going viral, no one has come clean as its ‘creator’. And to this day, nobody knows who the people in the photo are, who took it, and where it originally came from.

I suspect it was created as a piece of horror art, perhaps by a member of the family in the photo. As happens frequently, it was later mistaken for a real vintage photo and escalated into an internet urban legend. Meanwhile the architect of this simple deception is watching—and having a right laugh.

Next week: fiction updates and how to plan a story

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