Here’s a story that includes an old house in the middle of nowhere, a stranger lurking in the shadows (and not in the friendly Boo Radley way) and a popular hook-up app. It just might be the scariest modern dating story you ever hear...but is it real?
This story, which we’ll get into momentarily, has all the trappings of an urban legend—it happened to a “friend of a friend,” the location changes depending on who’s telling it, etc. I first heard it from a friend (who claimed it happened to a friend of her friend) in August of 2016, but since then it has continually bounced back to me in various strange ways and now—like Ringu—I pass it along to you in the hopes of solving the persisting mysteries of the ever-evolving Tinder horror story.
The first version I heard begins with a twenty-something woman who has just moved to Boston to start her graduate program. An aunt, who will be away in Europe for a month, offers up her home in the suburbs as a crash pad until the woman finds something more permanent and centrally located.
Soon after moving in, the woman begins to hear odd noises, but chalks it up to the standard “settling” of older buildings. Still, her unease persists and she decides to call her father for peace of mind. He agrees that it’s probably nothing, but encourages her to call the police and have them come check it out, just in case.
The woman calls 911 and explains her worries to this dispatcher, all while recognizing that it’s “probably nothing.” The dispatcher asks if she’s alone in the house (she answers yes) and agrees that it’s probably paranoia, but promises to send an officer when one is available. That said, it’s a very busy night and it will probably be about 40 minutes until anyone arrives. In the meantime, the dispatcher agrees to stay on the line with the woman in case of an emergency.
Not three minutes later, a squadron of police cars screech onto her aunt’s lawn. The police search the house and find a man in the basement, along with an intricate lay out of sinister tools that could be used to torture or dismember a human body. Upon seeing the squatter, the woman immediately recognizes him as a recent Tinder date who learned she was staying alone in the house after dropping her off following an odd-but-not-alarming date.
The dispatcher—so the story goes—had been bluffing during the woman’s 911 call, having heard strange activity—the sound of someone listening in—on the woman’s landline. By saying that the police would arrive in 40 minutes, the dispatcher hoped to take the intruder by surprise—and before he could do anything violent.
The story has several alarm bells—a millennial woman using a landline over her cellphone among the most glaring, though maybe her aunt’s house has terrible service! But the limited ubiquity of the story as it has made its way back to me (it has most often cropped up in media and publishing circles) is strange, too. When it was first told to me, I was told that the real victim would be writing up her experience as a first person essay in Seventeen magazine. The supposed article has yet to appear and Jezebel was unable to get a statement from Seventeen on whether or not this is something the magazine planned on eventually publishing.
A similar story was submitted by a listener to macabre podcast My Favorite Murder, only this one was set in the Adirondacks, at a family cabin where the woman was spending a weekend to clear her head. Also in this version: The man had been building a cage in the basement to keep her in. (The hosts of My Favorite Murder have not returned requests for comment.)
And above is a text sent to Deputy Editor Kate Dries from a friend who, after hearing the story from us, heard it again from someone entirely unrelated. Searches for similar crimes in Boston or the Adirondacks have turned up nothing—and neither has my search into Reddit and online horror story forum creepypasta. Until now, it seems, the story has only been traded orally. (How quaint!)
It makes sense that this is a story that people would latch onto because it has all of the folklore appeal that humans have enjoyed since they began telling fables. Take out the mention of Tinder and replace it with a blind date and the story would fit perfectly into Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. (In fact, it reminds me a lot of High Beams.) Relocate the story from Boston to the forests of 19th century Bavaria and it’s practically Brothers Grimm. Girl unwittingly encounters danger, nearly encounters grisly fate, and is saved last minute by a mostly unseen guardian. Tale as old as time, song as old as getting murdered in a basement.
Despite knowing it would lead to a dead-end, I still wanted to track the Tinder story. Unfortunately, it only led to fruitless Google searches, friends of friends of friends of friends, and one or two extremely puzzled publicists. Think you can help me solve the Tinder mystery? Email me.
And Happy Valentine’s Day!