Are the Clown Sightings in South Carolina Real?

Police in Greenville are increasing patrols after reports of attempts to lure children into the woods, despite little evidence the clowns exist.

Not the clowns in question. (Jose Cabezas / Reuters)

NEWS BRIEF  Police in Greenville, South Carolina, are increasing patrols near an apartment complex after the community’s residents were warned about clowns reportedly trying to lure children into the woods, despite little evidence the clowns exist.

On August 21, police responded to reports of clown sightings near the apartment complex. In the incident report, the officer wrote: “I was conducting a follow up investigation in reference to residents making several reports of a suspicious character, dressed in circus attire and white face paint, enticing kids to follow him/her into the woods.” According to the officer, a resident said her son told her on August 19 that he had seen clowns in the woods. Those clowns, the boy told his mother, were “whispering and making strange noises.” The woman went to the area and, the officer wrote, she “observed several clowns in the woods flashing green laser lights.” The clowns then ran away, she told the officer.

The woman, identified by local television station WYFF as Donna Arnold, told the station that she initially thought her son was lying.

“And then the next day, there was like 30 kids that came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Donna, Ms. Donna, there's clowns in the woods,’” she told WYFF. “My child was with me, so I knew they had to see something.  There was more than one kid that seen them, so I feel confident that he was telling the truth.”

The police report said another resident also saw a clown early Sunday morning. The resident was walking to her home when she “saw a large-figured clown with a blinking nose, standing under a post light near the garbage dumpster area. She stated the suspect waved at her and she waved back while she made her way to her residence safely,” the report said.

The report also cited “several children of the community” who said the clowns have been “appearing in the woods… [to] try to persuade them into the woods further by displaying large amounts of money.” The children, the report says, “believe the clowns stay in a house located near a pond at the end of a man-made trail in the woods.” The officer wrote that he checked out the house and the pond and saw “no signs of suspicious activity or characters dressed in clown attire.”

Three days laters, residents of the Fleetwood Manor Apartment community received a letter, apparently from the property manager of Fleetwood Manor Apartments in Greenville, warning parents about “a clown or a person dressed in clown clothing taking children or trying to lure children in the woods.”

No police officer investigating the claims has seen a single clown, Ryan Flood, a spokesman for the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, told The Atlantic. The clown sightings, however, seem to be spreading. Flood said a minor at an apartment complex about 20 minutes away from Fleetwood Manor called the police Monday night to say he say saw a clown coming out of the woods. Police were not able to locate any clowns.

The story has garnered national media attention—the Washington Post, USA Today, and BuzzFeed all reported on the alleged sightings. It’s not surprising, considering scary clowns are, after all, one of pop culture’s favorite tropes, as The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert wrote in 2014.

But, Flood says that the media attention may make getting to the bottom of the clown scare more difficult. When asked if he was concerned the police may be chasing the figments of kids’ overactive imaginations, he acknowledged it “a possibility,” but also said the media attention might spur people to start “dressing up as clown to prank the police.”

“That’s obviously a concern,” he said. “But at the same time, if people dressed as clowns are trying to lure kids into the woods, we have to investigate it seriously.”