10 Terrifying Real Life Orphan Stories
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10 Terrifying Real Life Orphan Stories

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
In honor of the release of Orphan: First Kill on Paramount+, here are some real-life orphan stories that are sure to creep you out! For this list, we'll be looking at factual, disturbing stories involving orphans, be they post-adoption or at orphanages themselves. Our countdown includes Liverpool Seamen's Orphan Institution, St. Mary's Orphans Asylum, Barbora Skrlová, and more!
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10 Terrifying Real-Life Orphan Stories


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re looking at 10 Terrifying Real-Life Orphan Stories.

In honor of the release of Orphan: First Kill on Paramount+, here are some real-life orphan stories that are sure to creep you out! For this list, we’ll be looking at factual, disturbing stories involving orphans, be they post-adoption or at orphanages themselves. We’ll be allowing for some semblance of myth, so long as its foundation is based in reality. Obviously, adopting a child in need is a tremendous thing, but these are just some cases where the process didn’t go well.

Know of any heartwarming orphan stories? Lift the mood in the comments below.

Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution


You’ll be seeing quite a few now-abandoned US orphanages on this list, but this entry takes us across the pond to the UK. Opened in 1874, this Victorian orphanage in Liverpool housed as many as 1,000 orphaned children with the advent of World War I. While that must have been quite an undertaking to operate, if reports are to be believed, some of the childcare methods were less than ideal. It’s been widely reported that the staff handled misbehaving children by locking them in what’s been called, “naughty cupboards,” which were about as dingy as they sound. Seeing as the institution later became the Newsham Park Hospital in 1954 where they managed mental patients, it’s disconcerting to know how minor the transition was.

Gettysburg Orphanage


Since the Gettysburg Orphanage opened in 1866, just a year after the conclusion of the American Civil War, it’s not surprising to learn it housed widows as much as orphans. Though the early years saw the orphanage flourish - even being visited by then-future President Ulysses S. Grant - things took a dark turn upon the appointment of Rosa J. Carmichael. Replacing the previous headmistress, Carmichael proved to have a much more severe touch. Much like with the Liverpool Institution, Carmichael manufactured a dungeon with the express purpose of punishing the youths. We won’t go into detail, but thankfully an escapee outed and put an end to her crimes. The building later served as a soldiers museum until 2014.

Frédéric Bourdin


We’ve all heard horror stories about adults posing as orphans, and the tale of Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin is no different. Known as “The Chameleon,” Bourdin is what you would call a “serial imposter,” assuming his first false identity at a young age. Trouble is, Bourdin retained a youthful appearance well into early adulthood, allowing him to pose as minors. He was continually caught and jailed, only to get right back to it. In 2005 at age thirty-one, Bourdin passed himself off as a fifteen-year-old Spanish orphan. Caretakers allowed him to wear a hat for the excuse of having “embarrassing scars,” but once they got wise and removed it, they saw a receding hairline instead. Bourdin has supposedly been clean ever since.

St. Mary’s Orphans Asylum


In August of 1900, an eventual Category 4 hurricane ravaged the city of Galveston, Texas. Situated on Galveston Island was the St. Mary’s Orphans Asylum where ninety-three orphans and ten religious sisters presided. Though they took all the precautions they could, including hunkering down in the sturdier girls dorm, things sadly didn’t go well. When it became clear that the building would eventually fall to pieces, the sisters took to tying everyone together for safety. Unfortunately, this proved moot as the hurricane wiped out the area. The catastrophe was heartbreaking, though three children did manage to survive.

Ellie Gertz


While many adoption stories can be heartwarming, that of Ellie Gertz unfortunately is not. Taken into the Gertz family as an infant, Ellie began displaying vicious tendencies at a young age. Often threatening violence, Ellie eventually pushed matriarch Lori downstairs as she was eight-months-pregnant. Thankfully both the mother and fetus survived, but Ellie’s behavior didn’t improve once the baby was born. Experts later diagnosed Ellie with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Worried for the safety of their other children, the parents relinquished custody of a seven-year-old Ellie to a family who could better address her condition. This decision proved highly controversial in 2010, and Ellie’s well-being did not improve.

Montana State Orphanage


Also known as the Montana Children’s Center, this orphanage in Twin Bridges, Montana had an unfortunate history from the start. It was founded in 1894 during a very difficult time in state history. The mining economy was taking a turn for the worse, and many families found themselves unable to provide for their children. While some residents were parentless orphans, just as many were deliberately sent there out of desperation. Years after the orphanage closed in 1976, unfortunate stories began popping up from former residents. Some recall being severely put through the ringer for bedwetting, physical ordeals no one should have to go through. Many children even took to rising early just to dry their sheets on radiators to avoid punishment.

Natalia Barnett


Kristine and Michael Barnett adopted six-year-old Natalia in 2010. However, they soon came to believe that she was much older. Afflicted with dwarfism, Natalia reportedly started exhibiting sociopathic behavior, threatening to kill her new family. This, coupled with supposed maturity, led the Barnetts to believe Natalia was actually a grown woman. They had medical tests done to determine her real age, and even moved to Canada after setting Natalia up with her own apartment. However, Natalia and others have since refuted these claims, officially having her birth year changed back to 2003, which eventually led to the Barnetts being charged with felony neglect. Whatever you believe, this is one adoption story that didn’t have a happy ending.

St. John’s Orphanage


Opened in 1913, the St. John’s Orphanage in New South Wales, Australia was originally intended to house 100 children. But with the coming of World War II, this number doubled and then some. Due to overcrowding, there was only one toilet for approximately every seventeen children, leading many to do their business elsewhere. This would lead to severe disciplining from staff, who were known to not even need a reason to go this far. Unspeakable acts were reportedly also committed there, both by caretakers and older children. Essentially, the grounds became a cesspool for depravity and illicit behavior, before the orphanage was closed for good in 1978.

Arthur Hutchens, Jr.


As a runaway, twelve-year-old Arthur Hutchens, Jr. technically wasn’t an orphan, but his virtually forced adoption made for one of the most infamous developments of the 20th century. In 1928, nine-year-old Walter Collins went missing and was later determined to have been killed. However, Hutchens appeared purporting to be Walter, and was promptly delivered to the latter’s mother Christine. Christine immediately denied this was her son, but was forced to keep him by a dismissive LAPD. When Christine continued to deny Hutchens, the officer on the case had her committed. She was eventually released once Hutchens confessed, who said he only came to LA and put up this front to meet his favorite actor. Christine then successfully sued the LAPD.

Barbora Skrlová


Similar to the Natalia Barnett case only 100% for real, the story of Barbora Skrlová is deeply disturbing. As a thirty-four-year-old woman, Skrlová successfully managed to pass herself off as a young teen. She initially came to live with two sisters in the Czech Republic, one of whom had two sons. Due to mental illness in one of the sisters, Skrlová was easily able to manipulate them into erroneously punishing the boys in horrific ways. The sisters were eventually arrested, but Skrlová escaped and made it to Norway. There, she began posing as a missing thirteen-year-old boy, purportedly with the help of the boy’s parents. Once again her ruse was exposed.
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