"In the spring of 1981, Boston, Massachusetts, appears to have been the port of entry for a strange new version of the Pied Piper story. During the first week of May, some individuals in multicolored clothes began trying to entice schoolchildren into coming along with them.
On May 6, 1981, the Boston police, responding to persistent complaints, warned parents and school officials that men in clown suits were harassing elementary schoolchildren. One of the men was seen wearing a clown suit just from the waist up; from the waist down he was naked. According to reports, the clown had driven a black van near the recreational horseshoe site of Franklin Park in the Roxbury area of Boston. He also appeared in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston near the Mary F. Curley School.
A day earlier, in the adjoining city of Brookline, two clown men reportedly tried to lure children into their van with offers of candy. The Brookline police had a good description of the van: older model, black, with ladders on the side, a broken front headlight, and no hubcaps. After the clown men and van had been seen near the Lawrence Elementary School on Longwood Avenue in Brookline, the police told school administrators to be “extra cautious.”
By May, 8 reports of clown men in vans harassing children had come in from East Boston, Charlestown, Cambridge, Randolph, and other cities near Boston. Police were stopping vehicles with clowns delivering birthday greetings and “clown-a-grams,” but no child molesters were arrested.
Frustrated policemen finally pointed out that virtually all of the reported sightings originated with children aged five to seven. The headlines in the May 9 issue of the Boston Globe told the story: POLICE DISCOUNT REPORTS OF CLOWNS BOTHERING KIDS. The public had been calmed, and that was the end of the story. Or so the papers could have had us believe.
The focus of activity now shifts a thousand miles west to Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. On the afternoon of May 22, police cruisers on the Missouri side crisscrossed the city chasing a knife-wielding clown in a yellow van that had been reported at six different elementary schools. Earlier in the day, at eight thirty, a mother had watched a yellow van approach her children as they walked to a school bus stop. The van stopped, and someone inside spoke to her two girls, who then screamed and fled; the vehicle sped away.
The children told their mother that a man dressed as a clown and carrying a knife had ordered them inside. By noon the police had received dozens of similar reports- of a clown in a yellow van. The calls did not taper off until five o’ clock that afternoon.
Residents of the two Kansas cities called it the Killer Clown Affair. Some parents in Kansas were even keeping their children out of school. Before long, “group hysteria” was touted as the explanation for the reports. But incidents continued. The police and volunteers were never able to capture any clowns, but witnesses insisted the costumed figures they had seen were real and not imaginary.
The story of the phantom clowns went unnoticed on a national scale until I began getting a hint we were in the midst of a major new phenomenon. Slowly, after contacting fellow researchers by phone and mail, I discovered that the phantom clown enigma went beyond Boston and Kansas City. Indeed, the reports filtering in demonstrated that a far-reaching mystery was developing. Local media in the individual cities were not aware they were living through a series of events that were occurring nationwide. The national media was not spreading the word, but something quite unusual happened in America in the spring of 1981.
But what was it that happened? Was it a group hysteria, as some newsmen would have us believe? Or more? Phantom clowns in at least six major cities, spanning over a thousand miles of America in the space of one month, is quite a mystery. Were the “clowns in vans” sighted elsewhere in the United States? Are they still being seen? Only time will tell.
Today people kindly try to inform me that the phantom clown sightings of 1981, were just mass hysteria caused by Stephen King’s It, which tells a scary story about a clown who tries to abduct children. But the first editions of Mr. King’s book were not published until 1986. So much for that theory."