12 of History's Most Baffling Mass Hysteria Outbreaks

The crowded city streets of Taipei. Shutterstock

The Taipei Slasher

For a fortnight in 1956, the population of Taipei in Taiwan was terrorized by rumors of a crazed slasher roaming the streets, surreptitiously slicing people with a razor blade as he brushed past them, then disappearing into the crowds and teeming throngs of the city. About twenty one victims were reported, mostly poor and poorly educated people from the lower classes.

A typical example was that of an older gentleman who told police that he had been slashed by a stranger. After a medical examination revealed that the injury was caused by a blunt object and could not have resulted from a razor, the “victim” admitted that he did not really know how he had been injured, but assumed that he must have been slashed “because of all the talk going around“.

Another example of a phantom slasher attack was caused by incompetent doctors who examined another older gentleman who showed up with a laceration on his wrist. When the patient casually mentioned that a stranger had brushed against him around the same time that he noticed the bleeding, the doctors put two and two together and came up with nine, attributed the wound to the feared slasher, and contacted police. A followup examination by more competent doctors revealed that the laceration was simply an old wound that had been reopened by scratching.

In reality, there had never been a slasher, but simply a mass delusion or hysteria, amplified by sensationalist press reporting. After thorough investigation, police concluded that the “victims” had simply suffered the kinds of everyday accidental cuts and slight injuries that most people endure from time to time without hardly noticing. In the fevered atmosphere of the slasher scare, people simply attributed any rip in their clothes or scratch on their bodies to a surreptitious attack from the imaginary slasher. As the final report of the police investigation put it, out of twenty one reported “victims” of the crazed slasher: “five were innocent false reports, seven were self-inflicted cuts, eight were due to cuts other than razors, and one was a complete fantasy“.