The Kidney Thieves
Urban legends are apocryphal stories involving incidents of the recent past, often including elements of humor and horror that spread quickly and are popularly believed to be true (1). They reflect society's deepest fears and anxieties. One urban legend can be retold with different settings and people, but the central theme or idea remains constant. The appeal of these legends is the possibility they can be true and that they bring out the listeners' deepest fears.
The storyteller in the following urban legend is a nineteen-year old man from Annapolis, Maryland. He is currently a freshman at the University, majoring in mechanical engineering. His mother is a nurse and his father, a dentist. One dark Thursday night, he sits me down in his dorm and tells me a chilling story in a hushed tone:
A couple years ago a friend of one of my best friends traveled to L.A. on a business trip. One night he went to a bar that reminded him of one back in Annapolis. He went in and played a round of pool and won--the guy he beat offered him a round of drinks and they got to talking. They talked about home and after a few more drinks, Bob lost track of time.
The last thing he remembers is deciding to call it a night before everything went black. The next thing he knew he woke up in a strange hotel room with a pain in his lower back. He went to see a doctor who told him that he had had major surgery, and one of his kidneys had been removed cleanly and professionally.
While seemingly not a tale of the supernatural or of ghosts, this story definitely includes elements of the uncanny. Many versions of this story are circulated, and one potential source for the story dates to 1988.
In 1989, a Reuters wire report was released that interviewed a Turkish man who had gone to Britain and had his kidneys taken out without his permission in 1988:
Kurdish Moslem Ahmet Koc, 34, said through an interpreter he had been lured to Britain last year with the promise of a job by Turkish businessmen who told him he would need a medical check. He went to a hospital which he thought was a hotel and allowed himself to be given an injection which he believed was a blood test. When he came round he was told his appendix had been taken out. It was only three days later that he was told his kidney had been removed and transplanted into another patient in the hospital but that he would be paid a lot of money for it (2).
This story received a lot of attention from the British public, but the story did not surface in the United States until 1991, when the popular television show Law and Order featured an episode in which a victim’s kidney was removed and sold without his permission. Around the same time, author Jan Harold Brunvand heard about kidney theft, and he later published the general story in his urban legend collection entitled The Baby Train. The craze had begun.
People from all over then country began to send...