30 Horror Movies That Are Based On Real-Life Events

No matter how terrifying a horror movie can be, you know in the back of your head that the events that are taking place aren’t real. There’s no way a kid’s doll became possessed by the soul of a serial killer and went on a rampage, murdering everyone in sight… Or did it? Don’t get too comfy because plenty of these movies have roots in reality. You should really take the time to watch #23#12 and #6!

#30. Winchester

In Winchester, the directors Peter and Michael Spierig have taken the Northern California tale at its spooky word, filling the mansion with levitating rifles, rocking chairs that move by themselves, and the specters of an army of long-dead war veterans and murder victims. Then there’s Helen Mirren, dressed head to toe in mourning black, as the mysterious Ms. Winchester.

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Interestingly enough, the veracity of Sarah Winchester’s story, the one that keeps crowds flocking to the San Jose tourist attraction, was in doubt long before the Spierig brothers had their go at it. Sure, there was a real Sarah Winchester, and she did build a house in San Jose. However, according to the biographer Mary Jo Ignoffo, much of what people think they know about the woman and her house involves spooky stories cooked up by journalists of her day.

#29. Veronica

The film takes its cues from the so-called Vallecas case, which took place in a small suburb in Madrid. It’s the only police report which is, according to The Sun, marked as “unexplained”. It revolves around a teenage girl named Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro, who died suddenly in August 1991. Her parents convinced it had something to do with her interest in Ouija boards, which are instruments intended to communicate with the dead.

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Lazaro’s unexplained death is tragic, but it bears little resemblance to the demon-fueled nightmare that Veronica found herself in after playing with an Ouija board during a solar eclipse. However, the Lazaro family’s troubles only intensified after their daughter’s death, and it’s the events that followed that are documented in the police report shown at the end of the movie.

#28. The Town That Dreaded Sundown

The cold case of the Texarkana Phantom is a story unlike any other. This masked killer terrorized a small Southern city over a six month period in 1946. He claimed five casualties and heavily traumatized three others while simultaneously throwing an entire town into hysterics. The Texarkana Phantom’s attacks, which later inspired the classic horror movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown, took place between February 1946 and July 1946. They left five dead, three injured, and an entire town traumatized.

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You probably know some of this story, thanks to one, or both, of two films: the classic proto-slasher, directed by Charles B. Pierce in 1976, and its intense meta-sequel of the same name, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in 2014. But those dramatizations, though extremely chilling, can’t compare to the real-life horror that actually took place over a ten-week period that fateful year.

#27. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

In the summer of 1973, newbie director Tobe Hooper (who passed away on August 26, 2017, at the age of 74) and a group of unknown actors ventured out into the Central Texas heat to make a horror movie. Braving blistering temperatures, on-set injuries, and a shoestring budget, they produced one of the most terrifying motion pictures ever made.

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Leatherface, the chainsaw-wielding maniac who would go down in history as one of horror cinema’s greatest villains, shows obvious influence from the serial killer Ed Gein. Ed Gein was a human murderer and body snatcher who, among many different atrocities, has been known for making masks out of human female skin. In this movie, you’ll see that the character Leatherface comes up with the same gruesome idea.

#26. The Strangers

In 2008, The Strangers, one of the most unsettling movies ever, hit theaters. It wasn’t so much that the film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman boasted a unique concept; it’s your typical, bloody home invasion film. And though it’s a decent horror film, it’s not the execution that makes it so disturbing either. The real reason the film freaks so many people out is because of the way it was marketed. In addition to the whole “true events” aspect, the full-length trailer revealed the eerie phrase mumbled by one of the killers at the end of the film.

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We watch these three masked villains torture a young couple for no other reason except that they happen to be home. The jump in logic is easy: if a random group of murderers can pick a random house and kill a random couple because they’re randomly home . . . this could feasibly happen to anyone, anywhere. And since the film is inspired by true events, this whole “it could happen to me” scenario is that much more likely and that much scarier.

#25. The Silence of the Lambs

In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs scored an unprecedented five Oscars across the Academy Awards’  most prestigious categories: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and, most significantly, Best Picture. It was an achievement made unique by the fact that, to all intents and purposes, The Silence of The Lambs was a horror movie and horror films didn’t tend to receive much in the way of critical acclaim back then.

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The movie’s basement scenes were filmed in a disused airplane turbine factory in Pittsburgh. The location allowed the crew to construct a multilevel set that meant Brooke Smith could enter her pit-based prison either through a trap door at the bottom or from the sides. Smith found the experience of being trapped down the pit really tough.

#24. The Shining

According to one of Kubrick’s biographers, David Hughes, King wrote an entire draft of a screenplay for The Shining. Kubrick didn’t even deem it worth a glance, which makes sense as he once called King’s writing “weak.” Instead, Kubrick worked with Diane Johnson on the screenplay because he was a fan of her book, The Shadow Knows. The two ended up spending eleven weeks working on the script.

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The book The Shining is respected in its own right, but Stanley Kubrick together with the cast and crew made the movie something unique that is different from other horror movies. The film may not have been nominated for any Oscars, but movie historians consider it to be a truly timeless terror. The finished product may be incredibly rewarding to watch, but the behind-the-scenes footage and stories are almost as interesting as the film itself. 

#23. The Sacrament

Less a strict horror entry than a psychological chiller, The Sacrament is too directly inspired by the 1978 Jonestown Massacre to pack much surprise as to where it’s headed. But it makes savvy use of the well-worn found-footage format, modulating its creepy scenario with considerable skill. The docu-style conceit here is that New York fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is concerned about his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz). She checked into a Mississippi sober-living community after years of struggling with drugs and has since been whisked off with the entire group to an undisclosed foreign country.

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The ominous, pulsating drone of Bates’ music, the increasing agitation of West’s editing, and the raw, video-reporter edge of Eric Robbins’ nervy camerawork all contribute to manipulating the atmosphere into one of engulfing dread in a film that gets under the skin and stays there. Hard-liners may have issues with the decision not to stick too rigorously to the found-footage angle. But the Vice coverage is more a setup device than a binding framework, so a looser approach to it as chaos takes hold seems justifiable.

#22. The Rite

In Mikael Håfström’s The Rite, a troubled young seminarian named Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) travels to Italy and turns to the practice of exorcism under the tutelage of the renegade Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). The film is based on the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by journalist Matt Baglio, who shadowed an American Catholic priest in Rome as he took a course at a Vatican-affiliated university in order to become an exorcist.

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Like many overwrought horror movies, The Rite relies on redundant visual cues to signal the psychological mood. There are only two lighting schemes: dark and darker. Even Rome, one of the most colorful cities in the world, becomes overcast and stormy shortly after Michael’s arrival. That alone would be more than enough to suggest that the path of the exorcist is a dark one.

#21. The Possession

The 2012 Lionsgate horror film The Possession was a box office success, grossing nearly $80 million at the worldwide box office on a low budget. As with other horror films, the studio promoted the movie as being “Based on a True Story”. As many horror fans know, that phrase is used quite often in the marketing of horror films, and rarely do the events of the film genuinely reflect the events they are based on in a significant way.

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The true story is actually quite interesting, and like most of them, hard to believe. I find the idea of buying a complete stranger’s “junk” at a garage sale pretty interesting, mostly because you’ll never know the exact history behind that particular object. The original buyer, Kevin Mannis, says that this box was purchased at the estate sale of a 103-year-old Holocaust survivor.

#20. The Hills Have Eyes

In the late 1970s, Wes Craven was a struggling filmmaker known for only one thing: a little horror flick called The Last House on the Left (1972). Though he was itching to branch out and make other kinds of movies, he could only find financing for horror films, so he agreed to make a movie about a group of hill people savaging a vacationing family. Though he may not have been in a hurry to admit it, Craven found that he was really good at scaring people.

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According to writer/director Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes was inspired by the story of Sawney Bean, the head of a wild Scottish clan who murdered and cannibalized numerous people during the Middle Ages. Craven heard the story of the Bean Clan and noted that the road near where they lived was believed to be haunted because people kept disappearing while traveling on it.

#19. The Haunting In Connecticut

The movie centers on a family who moves from upstate New York to Connecticut because their son Matt has been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. The strains of traveling back and forth to the University of Connecticut hospital was growing too difficult, so his mother decides to rent a house nearby. The house they rent used to be a mortuary, and they find a mortuary room in the basement which becomes Matt’s bedroom.

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The family soon start being haunted by violent and traumatic events from the spirits within the house. Matt contacts a minister who he met while having cancer treatment and the minister informs Matt that the supernatural encounters are a result of the previous occupants’ occult activities, which included séances and necromancy. The movie is based on the Snedeker family who on June 30, 1986 moved to 208 Meriden Avenue in Southington, Connecticut.

#18. The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door (2007) is based on the Ketchum novel of the same title, which in turn was based on the notorious real murder of a teenage girl named Sylvia Likens in Indiana in 1965. The story is altered somewhat and moved to New Jersey in the 1950s, but the gist of it is the same: the girl (named Megan in the film) and her sister are left in the custody of sadistic Aunt Ruth, who encourages her three sons and other children to join her in abusing the girls in the sickest of ways.

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The film succeeds in translating the brutality of the novel to the screen, although it does lose some of the book’s psychological depth. Ketchum’s story is in large part an exploration of adolescent male sexuality at its darkest, and many of its alterations to the facts of the Sylvia Likens case serve to fit this theme.

#17. The Exorcist

When The Exorcist opened in 1973, people were fainting and vomiting in the aisles. The story of an innocent girl possessed by a demon continues to horrify audiences to this day. Terrifying imagery, brilliant acting, an inspired soundtrack, innovative special effects, and an amazing script came together to create this masterpiece of horror. As with many beloved horror classics such as The Shining, conspiracy theories regarding the movie abound, such as the one about the film being cursed.

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In order to achieve the effect of seeing the actor’s breath, Friedkin had the set for Regan’s bedroom refrigerated. Four giant air conditioners were run all night, reaching temperature of -30 or -40 degrees. The air on set got so cold that when cast and crew members sweat, it froze on their skin. At one point it snowed on the set, on account of all the moisture in the air from the cast and crew’s bodies crammed into the small space.

#16. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a horror film released in 2005. It is a story about a young woman who died of self-inflicted wounds and malnutrition. However, there is a big twist to her story. Emily’s parents, together with the local priests, were sure that she was possessed by a demon. The truly upsetting part about this movie is the fact that it was based on the real story of Anneliese Michel – a young German woman who died at the age of 23 after numerous exorcism rites performed on her.

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On July 1st, 1976, Anneliese Michel died of dehydration and malnutrition at the age of 23. At the time of her death, she weighed only 68 pounds since she insisted on starving herself and refused medical help. She believed that refusing food would lessen the demonic control over her body. Unfortunately, it weakened her to the point where her body wasn’t able to function properly anymore and, eventually, it shut down completely.

#15. The Disappointments Room

Like many horror movies, The Disappointments Room is inspired by a true story. The premise involves a secret room in the attic of an old house, which its new residents discover has a dark history. Kate Beckinsale, Mel Raido and Duncan Joiner play the family that moves in and finds the locked-up space, eventually learning that a “disappointments room” was where people would hide away a disabled child.

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According to the real-life story, a Rhode Island woman discovered a separated room on her third floor that wasn’t locked but did have a deadbolt on the outside. It was at the front of the house and had two windows, so it wasn’t as closed off from the world, but it did have a metal floor that the woman found odd. She did some research and learned that the judge who’d built the house in the 19th century had a disabled daughter, whom he locked in that room.

#14. Annabelle

The opening portion of The Conjuring deals with Annabelle, a doll possessed by a demon. The story about two nurses who wound up with a haunted doll is a real case the Warrens dealt with. Ed and Lorraine really did take the doll back with them to their museum and keep it in a glass case. Among the liberties taken with bringing the Annabelle story to the screen, though, is changing the doll itself. This eerie porcelain American Girl isn’t like the doll from the real case, which actually was a big Raggedy Ann doll with red yarn hair and button eyes.

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Even though this never appeared in any of the movies, it happens to be that Annabelle might have a real victim. During the time it was displayed on the Warren Museum, it is believed that it actually inflicted its evil on someone. According to the Warrens, one day a man came to the museum and banged on Annabelle’s case, mocking the doll until Ed Warren threw him out. Lorraine Warren claims the man’s girlfriend told him the pair were laughing about the doll afterward while riding away on his motorcycle until he mysteriously lost control and crashed into a tree.

#13. The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 is based on another real haunting. The Enfield Haunting is one of the most famous and best-documented supposed hauntings ever, and a lot of what’s seen in the movie is part of the record of what’s actually supposed to have happened. For one thing, the recording of Janet Hodgson allegedly speaking in the voice of Bill Wilkins does exist in some form, as do images that allegedly show the children levitating.

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Did you know that the Hodgsons really did get caught faking evidence of the Enfield Haunting? Janet Hodgson said she faked a very small amount of the evidence in the case, claiming it was because so many people were investigating and sometimes spooky things wouldn’t happen on cue. According to at least one investigator on the case, the Warrens’ involvement was much less than in the movie. Supposedly they showed up “uninvited” and stayed only one day.

#12. The Conjuring

Horror films have been on the rise again for a while but have tripped more than once in the last two decades. In fact, it’s kind of safe to say that the Scary Movie franchise has been one of the only real successful runs that have come along in the last twenty years, at least the only one that was almost universally loved by fans. But in the last decade, there have also been rousing successes that have stood out among the rest. Such is the case of The Conjuring.

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The Conjuring was made on a relatively modest budget of $20 million but went on to recoup that figure back nearly 16 times over to become one of the most profitable scary movies of all time. It was also the first horror film since 2004’s Van Helsing to gross over $300 million worldwide and the fifth most successful supernatural tale in US history.

#11. The Amityville Horror

There’s much controversy regarding what exactly happened in the house in Amityville, New York that day on November 13, 1974. What’s for certain is that, in that house, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents, two brothers, and two sisters. Their alleged supernatural experience was documented (and fictionalized) in Jay Anson’s best-selling novel The Amityville Horror, which sparked a pop culture phenomenon spawning multiple films, documentaries, and books.

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During his trial in November of 1975, DeFeo claimed that “voices” told him to commit the murders; additionally, a psychiatrist testifying for the defense said that DeFeo had a dissociative disorder, which meant that he may have experienced the murders as if he was outside his body or “watching” it happen, rather than experiencing them as if committed by himself.

#10. Scream

Scream is without a doubt one of the biggest scary movies of all time. The film, which was released in 1996, helped spark a new interest in slasher movies for a new and younger generation. With a script that gave audiences both a meta take on the genre and references to movies they already loved, like Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm StreetScream became an iconic chapter in horror.

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Most horror movies take place over a condensed amount of time, to begin with. In Scream, though, the bulk of the action takes place in a single night. Known as the “longest night in horror” at the time, the party sequence was a grueling shoot. For 21 days, the crew could only film at night. They even had T-shirts made to commemorate the event, that said: “I survived Scene 118.”

#9. Psycho

The novel from which the film was adapted is loosely based on the notorious murderer Ed Gein. Like Norman Bates, Gein had a domineering mother to whom he kept a shrine and dressed in women’s clothes. Gein lived just 40 miles from Psycho author Robert Bloch. The film earned over $15 million on its initial release, making it Hitchcock’s biggest hit by some distance.

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Hitchcock bought the rights to Robert Bloch’s novel for $9,500. He is said to have asked his assistant to buy all the copies she could find so that as few people as possible would know the film’s twist. Psycho was Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful film, financially speaking. It made $32 million at the North American box office during its first theatrical release, off of a production budget of approximately $807,000.

#8. Poltergeist

A group of ghosts haunt the Freeling family and abduct their youngest daughter, Carol Anne, in the original, Tobe Hooper-directed Poltergeist. The movie has scared audiences for over 30 years and has remained popular to this day thanks to a 2015 reboot, which has revived the discussion over the 1982 movie’s controversial production and its alleged curse.

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Though the Cuesta Verde community in which the Freelings live is based in Southern California, Spielberg claimed the following:

“[The film is] really based the neighborhood on suburban Scottsdale, Arizona, where I grew up. It is the lifestyle of suburban America; two-car garages, tract homes and cul-de-sacs, the U-Totem down the street, and an elementary school within walking distance. The Freeling family in Poltergeist is not atypical of the people I knew and grew up within Scottsdale”.

#7. Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us From Evil is based on the stories written by 16-year NYPD veteran Ralph Sarchie and co-authored by Lisa Collier Cool. Sarchie’s involvement with the paranormal cases he was pulled into was documented in a book entitled Deliver Us From Evil: A New York City Cop Investigates the Supernatural. During his years as an officer, Ralph Sarchie comes across a Castilian/Hungarian priest named Mendoza. Both individuals get involved in a case that deals with demonic possession and other paranormal elements.

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Actor Eric Bana handles the role of Sarchie, while Mendoza is played by Édgar Ramírez. Both men are forced to contend with a solider that’s seemingly possessed by the Devil himself. This soldier (Santino) is played by Sean Harris. Some of the other actors who star in this film include Joel McHale, Olivia Munn, and Dorian Missick.

#6. Dead Ringers

David Cronenberg’s film Dead Ringers centers on twin gynecologists, who use their identical nature to seduce women into unwittingly falling for both of them. Alpha twin Elliot is the first to seduce, then once he has grown tired of a woman, he passes her on to his more demure and shy brother Beverly. All the while the women are unaware of the switch.

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However, some of the elements of the film actually came from true events. Stewart and Cyril Marcus were twin gynecologists on staff at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. The brothers also shared separate apartments in the same building. Then on July 19, 1975, the 45-year-old twins were found dead in their Manhattan apartment. Stewart, who was found completely nude, died first. His brother, Cyril, who was clad only in his underwear, was second to die a day later.

#5. Black Water

Writer-director Andrew Traucki is definitely not a director who’s willing to let CGI do all the work. For his new film, Black Water, which is based off a true story of survival in Australia, he used real crocodiles for the movie. In fact, crocodiles may be even more disturbing than sharks, since reptiles can terrorize on land as well as sea, river, and lake!

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In Black Water, three tourists stop at a crocodile farm before heading out into the mangrove seas of northern Australia, home to some of the most fearsome apex predators—saltwater crocodiles. Everything changes when the three friends and their guide head out into the wild, when their boat is capsized and they are menaced by an unforgiving crocodile.

#4. Dahmer

Pop culture’s current obsession with true crime continues with the film Dahmer. The movie is about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most infamous murderers in U.S. history. In 1992, Dahmer was convicted of killing 17 boys between 1978 and 1991, boys which in many cases he had also raped and eaten.

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Renee’s portrayal of Dahner – a flat, slightly overfed and sleepy Midwestern man – is brilliant. It’s a brave performance on every level, not only in the occasionally graphic displays of savagery but in a deliberate blankness that covers his character like a scum. Davison as Dahmer’s father gives off glints of suspicion, but, like everyone else, nary a grasp of the scale of the depravity before him. But if this sounds scary, wait until you check out our top 3!

#3. Nightmare on Elm Street

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street impressed pretty much everyone back in 1984. Horror geeks went nuts, the box office exploded, and even the film critics seemed a bit jazzed about this dark, twisted, and consistently clever piece of horror cinema. And it’s only gotten more and more popular over the years. Wes Craven was inspired to write the screenplay after reading a few newspaper articles about “mysterious death dreams” reported by several Asian young men

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In 1991, the then-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley proclaimed September 13th (a Friday the 13th) as “Freddy Krueger Day,” mainly because so much of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise had been shot there. But not everyone was pleased with the tribute. “It’s absurd and embarrassing” Tammy Bruce, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, told the Los Angeles Times.

#2. Borderland

As the real-life event says, Borderland begins with a group of three young males who decide to take a well-deserved break in the free and easy land of Mexico while drinking beer and looking for girls. After a short while of having a good time, however, things go awry when one member of the group goes missing on a night out. What these two don’t know is that their friend was kidnapped and kept hostage by a cult, who were planning on using him in one of their rituals.

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It soon turns into a race against time in which the boys seek out to find their friend and rescue him, obviously while avoiding to end up as victims themselves! The violence involved throughout this film is pretty intense and gory: there are severed limbs, eyes gouged out and all sorts of stabbing and slicing with giant knives. If after seeing this film anyone is tempted to be brave and go to Mexico, don’t forger these memories! But if you visit Mexico’s beaches, then try not to feel scared at the thought of our number one story!

#1. Open Water

In 1998, Tom and Eileen Lonergan disappeared off the Great Barrier Reef after a diving company accidentally left them behind. Shot on handheld digital cameras with a shoestring budget, it depicts the disintegration of a happy American couple after they are abandoned in the shark-infested seas off the Bahamas during a dive holiday. After several years of traveling around the world, the couple ended up in Australia.

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Several weeks after Tom and Eileen Lonergan were reported missing, pieces of their diving gear washed up on shore. Inflatable diving jackets and air tanks were found by a group of people on a beach about 75 miles north of Port Douglas. The jackets had the couple’s names written on them. The air tanks had a little air left inside, meaning they were probably dropped when the Lonergans realized the ship wasn’t coming back for them. Evidence continued to be found even eight years after the incident, such as a fin with “Lonergan” written inside.

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  • About Author

    Luke H.

    Certified Translator recently graduated at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.
    Gamer. Bookworm.

    What we do in life echoes in eternity.

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