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Clown terrorizes town: Why are clowns scary?

Clown terrorizes town in Britain. A clown has been spotted all over Northampton, U.K., spawning a Facebook page, and a town clown catcher to alleviate concerns. Why are clowns terrifying to some?

By Benjamin RadfordLivescience.com / September 19, 2013

This clown has been prowling the streets of Northampton, U.K.

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A mysterious and sinister clown has been sighted prowling the streets of Northampton, U.K., causing both curiosity and concern. Nocturnal sightings of the face-painted fiend — widely dubbed The Northampton Clown — began earlier this month. The clown has not harassed, attacked, nor threatened anyone; he — or possibly she or It — merely wanders the streets creeping people out (and sometimes poses for photos).

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A Facebook page was set up last week (on Friday the 13th, appropriately enough) called "Spot Northampton's Clown," featuring photos of the clown at different locations throughout the city. Someone claiming to be the clown has posted photos, updates and notes saying he's harmless and just having a bit of fun.

If it all seems like a viral prank, publicity stunt or theatrical melodrama, it may be. In fact, a second man, dressed in his own blue muscle-padded superhero costume and glasses, calling himself "Boris the Clown Catcher," has appeared on the Northampton streets on a mission to capture the creepy clown. Some have suggested that Boris is himself the Northampton Clown, adopting the role of both hero and villain in a social media prank. [Really? The 6 Most Outrageous Hoaxes]

Boston's mystery clown panic

Strange as this case is, it's not the first time that concern over clowns has gripped a city. In May 1981, police in Brookline, Mass., issued an all-points bulletin (APB) asking officers to watch for a vehicle containing potential child abductors. The vehicle, an older model van with a broken headlight and no hubcaps, was reportedly occupied by several clowns in full costume. Several children reported that clowns had tried to lure them into the van with promises of candy.

It was only one of several mysterious sightings of the phantom clowns; the next day, Boston police again searched the city in vain for another van driven by a creepy clown reported to be stalking a public park; once again police searches came up empty. As reports spread to surrounding areas and parents grew nervous, an official from the Boston Public Schools issued a memo to principals in his school district: "It has been brought to the attention of the police department and the district office that adults dressed as clowns have been bothering children to and from school. Please advise all students that they must stay away from strangers, especially those dressed as clowns."

Parents were fearful, children were warned and police were vigilant, but despite searches and police checkpoints, these mysterious clowns were never found. Whether these creepy clowns were real, or the product of mass hysteria, pranks, eyewitness mistakes, the power of suggestion and the media, or some mix of these, no evidence was ever found of their existence.

The Northampton Clown, on the other hand, seems real enough. Though the clown has undoubtedly made some people genuinely uneasy, it seems that most are discussing this phenomenon with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks.

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