Example: [Emrich, 1972]
Two girls were home on vacation from school and were staying alone in one of the girl's homes. It was storming and the electricity went out. While they were lying in bed upstairs, in the dark, they heard a noise. One was frightened, but the other jumped out of bed and put on her robe. The robe had a furry collar around the neck. She went downstairs. Quite a bit of time elapsed and the girl upstairs got more and more frightened. At last she heard the shuffle of feet coming down the hall. At first she was relieved and then she began to worry that it might not be her girl friend, but someone else. She finally decided that when the person came in she would reach up and touch the person's neck and if she felt the furry collar, she would know it was her friend. The steps came closer and closer. The door creaked open and at last the person was right next to her. She reached with both hands and felt the fur and then touched a little higher. All she felt was a bloody stump where her friend's head had been
Origins: The age of this tale is anyone's guess — it appears in a 1972 compilation of urban legends, which means it was being told in the wild long before that. It was also used as the "ghost story" that underpinned a 1956 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (see Sightings
This legend is simply a scary campfire-type story that hardly needs deconstruction, but even finding a plausible scenario for a real-life event that might have inspired it is difficult. Corpses don't reach a state of full rigor mortis until twelve hours after death, so a recently-beheaded person's body would be as limp as a rag and wouldn't remain erect unless something were rigged to prop it up.
The theme of the one left behind's making the gruesome discovery of murder shows up in another urban legend, the venerable Boyfriend's Death. In that tale, the girl who waits all night in the car discovers with the dawn that the horrible scratching noises she's been hearing all night long on the car's roof were the fingernails of her murdered paramour. Decapitation is a common theme in horror legends, manifesting itself in such well-known tales as the Decapitated Biker (an errant sheet of glass got him) and the Beheaded Schoolchild (fatal road sign).
Barbara "remains to be seen" Mikkelson
Sightings: The legend forms the "ghost story" used to frighten a gullible visitor in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("The Gentleman From America," original air date
Last updated: 13 July 2010
Emrich, Duncan. Folklore on the American Land. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972 (p. 336). Stamper, J.B. Tales For the Midnight Hour. New York: Scholastic, 1977 ISBN 0-590-45343-2 (p. 1). American Folklore and Legend. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Assoc. Inc., 1978. ISBN 0-89577-045-8 (p. 397).